Trump, Ike, and the myth of the military-industrial complex

Moreover, the pleas of the Pentagon and defense contractors didn’t stop Congress from sharply rolling back the defense budget in the wake of the Vietnam War, and again after the Cold War. “When the Cold War ended, there were 107 major defense firms,” writes Christian Brose, former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “By the end of the 1990s, there were five.”

If the military-industrial complex was so formidable, one might have expected more of its members to survive.

Finally, while Cold War defense spending did reshape the American economy, it was mostly in a good way. Military outlays supported industries, such as aerospace, that altered the economic landscape of entire regions. By one estimate, over $50 billion in defense dollars flowed into California alone during the 1950s; the rise of Orange County and other areas around Los Angeles was a byproduct of the Cold War. Federal funding allowed private firms to push the frontiers of innovation: In 1959, nearly 85 percent of American research and development in electronics was funded by the government.

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