The era of “big science” was ushered in by the scientific advancements of World War Two. Because that war, in particular, required a stunning advancement of technology to keep up with the Axis powers, the government invested heavily in research laboratories, industry, and universities. This relationship grew stronger after the end of WW2 and was solidified with the commencement of the Cold War. This relationship continues today.
Concern about the relationship between government, academia, and the military are by no means consistent among politicians. Interestingly, both major parties have elected members of both the hawkish and dovish variety. Concern is actually bipartisan. (If a bit rare) That said, there are a number of reasons that politicians favor a large military-academic-industrial complex. The prolific rate of discovery and manufacturing that results from this arrangement is difficult to dispute. Because so much in the way of jobs and profits come from the relationship, politicians are unlikely to call for it’s dismantling. Despite all of the manifest benefits, some clear-eyed politicians voice concern. Both parties seem likely to lead the US into new wars or continue ongoing wars. The Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, the Balkans, Iraq again, Afghanistan and so many other conflicts indicate that the existence of a military-industrial complex influences decisions regarding war. Another concern is, of course, the enormous cost of the venture. The increase in the marginal cost of war at scale is the downfall of nearly every empire in history. There is a lesson in that for American politicians. Many of the students in this class will have seen the US involved in active conflict their entire lives. New soldiers sent to the Middle East today are unlikely to have been born when the impetus for this conflict occurred. As long as the incentives are strong for bright minds, and industrial power to engage in science for the sake of war, endless wars will continue. For this reason, I have and will continue to turn down jobs and research offers from defense contractors and university defense programs. (Unfortunately in many cases, that represents roughly a $20,000/year pay cut to work in private industry)