George Kennan’s Prescience About the Military-Industrial Complex

Kennan, George

In a 1985 article in Political Psychology, which I recently found while browsing JSTOR, John Kennan was quoted by author John E. Mack.* Kennan, the political scientist and diplomat whose ideas informed the U.S. policy of “containing” the Soviet Union wrote (in “Letter to an American,” the New Yorker, September 24, 1984):

The habit of spending from two to three hundred billions of dollars annually on preparations for an imagined war with Russia ― a habit reaching deeply into the lives and interests of millions of our citizens both in and out of the armed services, including industrial workers, labor-union officials, politicians, legislators, and middlemen: This habit has risen to the status of a vast addiction of American society, an addiction whose overcoming would encounter the most intense resistance and take years to accomplish even if the Soviet Union had in the meantime miraculously disappeared from the earth.

In other words, he foresaw how unlikely it was that the United States, however flush with victory over the Soviet Union (or more accurately, it didn’t col) would issue itself a “peace dividend,” improving the economy by spending less on defense. While U.S. military spending would decrease during the decline of the Soviet Union, as we all know it went through the roof after 9/11. As with the Soviet Union after World War, the rise of Islamic terrorism arrived just in time to infuse the military-industrial complex ― not to mention the American psyche ― with the adrenaline boost in fear they both thrive on.

*Yes, the very same John Mack who, a psychiatrist, Harvard Medical school professor, and Pulitzer-prize-winning biographer, later in his career investigated and wrote about alien abductions.