Crisis and Liberty: The Expansion of Government Power in American History

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8. Crisis and Liberty

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09/03/2004Robert Higgs

The post-WWII operation of the national security state has been a major avenue for the expansion of government. A tremendous military-industrial-Congressional complex built up during the war. Some 40% of GDP was devoted to military purposes. The US in 1945 was the world’s military superpower.

Rather than dismantle those forces, the US created a policy of containment of Stalin’s Soviet Union that required those forces in a cold war against what was seen to be an evil empire, even though Russia had been allied with us. Central and Eastern Europe was under Soviet control. Truman took readily to this cold war, but the paying Americans did not. Red Army threats were built up. Tensions rose. The Soviets closed off land access to Berlin in 1948 and the US decided to airlift cargo into Berliners. War was averted.

Congress reorganized the military, creating the Department of Defense, the Army, the Navy, and a new Air Force. The same Act created the National Security Council with its own staff. The Central Intelligence Agency also emerged.

Outbreak of war in Korea promoted a huge buildup of military that was then used to justify our permanent Cold War. The Korean action ended in a stalemate that continues today. Like Russia, North Korea made atomic bombs. For fifty-five years these situations continue to smolder.  Today’s Cold War is the War on Terrorism - a permanent war that can never be won. Two other events were part of the Cold War that made Americans extremely angry: Vietnam and the 1980 hostage taking in Tehran.

Lecture 8 of 10 from Robert Higgs' Crisis and Liberty: The Expansion of Government Power in American History.

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