In reality, despite our Enlightenment ideals, most of America’s military excursions haven’t passed the democratic test. Though “private interest” now refers to the profit of corporations instead of local lords, the line between private interest and public resources (soldiers and tax dollars) remains blurred. The distinction became functionally irrelevant during World War II, thanks to the top-secret Manhattan Project that created the atomic bomb. As Garry Wills writes in his book Bomb Power:
For the first time in our history, the president was given sole and unconstrained authority over all possible uses of the Bomb. All the preparations, protections, and auxiliary requirements for the Bomb’s use, including secrecy about the whole matter and a worldwide deployment of various means of delivery, launching by land, sea, air, or space – a vast network for the study, development, creation, storage, guarding, and updating of nuclear arsenals, along with an immense intelligence apparatus to ascertain conditions for the weapons’ maintenance and employment – all these were concentrated in the executive branch, immune from interference by the legislative or judicial branches. Every executive encroachment or abuse was liable to justification from this one supreme power.
Indeed, the creation of the bomb itself, Wills explains, necessitated a parallel, secret government that could draw on vast public and private resources well out of the watchful public eye. When the war eventually ended, this parallel infrastructure of national defense cannibalized our democratically controlled military, replacing it with the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address.
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