The citizen’s starter kit to understanding the new global information cartel
Introduction by Matt Taibbi
On January 17, 1961, outgoing President and former Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower gave one of the most consequential speeches in American history. Eisenhower for eight years had been a popular president, whose appeal drew upon a reputation as a person of great personal fortitude, who’d guided the United States to victory in an existential fight for survival in World War II. Nonetheless, as he prepared to vacate the Oval Office for handsome young John F. Kennedy, he warned the country it was now at the mercy of a power even he could not overcome.
Until World War II, America had no permanent arms manufacturing industry. Now it did, and this new sector, Eisenhower said, was building up around itself a cultural, financial, and political support system accruing enormous power. This “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience,” he said, adding:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes… Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
This was the direst of warnings, but the address has tended in the popular press to be ignored. After sixty-plus years, most of America – including most of the American left, which traditionally focused the most on this issue – has lost its fear that our arms industry might conquer democracy from within.
Now, however, we’ve unfortunately found cause to reconsider Eisenhower’s warning.
While the civilian population only in recent years began haggling over “de-platforming” incidents involving figures like Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos, government agencies had already long been advancing a new theory of international conflict, in which the informational landscape is more importantly understood as a battlefield than a forum for exchanging ideas. In this view, “spammy” ads, “junk” news, and the sharing of work from “disinformation agents” like Jones aren’t inevitable features of a free Internet, but sorties in a new form of conflict called “hybrid warfare.”
By SUSAN SCHMIDT, ANDREW LOWENTHAL, TOM WYATT, TECHNO FOG, AND 4 OTHERS