100 percent (Militarized) American

[If anything, this is long overdue, and surprising that it did not come from an anthropologist first — not that the professional designation ought to be taken too seriously, especially as a lot of good anthropological work on issues of great public significance is now done by many non-anthropologists. I am speaking here of Nick Turse‘s The Complex, from which I typed the following extract. It almost appears to be a marriage of anthropologist Ralph Linton‘s classic “100 percent American,” and President Eisenhower‘s farewell address dealing in large part with his warnings of what he called the “military-industrial complex.” This extract comes from the Introduction of The Complex, “A Day in the Life.”]

Rick is a midlevel manager in a financial services company in New York City. Each day he commutes from Weehawken, New Jersey, a suburb only a stone’s throw from the Big Apple, where he lives with his wife, Donna, and his teenage son, Steven. A late baby boomer, Rick just missed the Vietnam era’s antiwar protests, but he’s been against the war in Iraq from the beginning. He thinks the Pentagon is out of control and considers the military-industrial complex a danger to the country….

Rick believes that, despite its long reach, the military-industrial complex is a discrete entity far removed from his everyday life….

So wake up with Rick and sample a single autumn morning as the alarm on his Sony (Department of Defense contractor) clock interrupts his final dream of the night. Donna is already up and dressed in fitness apparel by Danskin (a Pentagon supplier that received over $780,000 in DoD dollars in 2004 and another $456,000 in 2005) and Hanes Her Way (made by defense contractor and cake seller the Sara Lee Corporation, which took in over $68 million from the DoD in 2006). Committed to a healthy lifestyle, she’s wearing sneakers from (DoD contractor) New Balance and briskly jogging on a treadmill made by (DoD contractor) True Fitness Technology.

Rick drags himself to the bathroom (fixtures by Pentagon supplier Kohler, purchased at defense contractor Home Depot). There, he squeezes the Charmin, brushes with Crest toothpaste, washes his face with Noxzema, then, hopping into the shower, lathers up with Zest and chooses Donna’s Herbal Essences over Head & Shoulders– “What the hell,” he mutters, “I deserve an organic experience.” (The manufacturer of each of these products, Procter & Gamble, is among the top one hundred defense contractors and raked in a cool $362,461,808 from the Pentagon in 2006).

In go his (DoD) supplier Bausch and Lomb contact lenses and down goes a Zantac for his ulcer (from DoD contractor Glaxo-SmithKline). Heading back to the bedroom, he finds Donna finished with her workout and making the bed–with the TV news on–and lends her a hand. (Their headboard was purchased from Thomasville Furniture, the mattress from Sears, the pillows were made by Harris Pillow Supply, all Pentagon contractors.) They exchange grim glances as, on their Samsung set (another DoD contractor) the Today Show chronicles the latest in chaos in Iraq. “Thank god we never supported this war,” Rick says, thinking of the antiwar rally Donna and he attended even before the invasion was launched. (NBC, which produces the Today Show, is owned by General Electric, the fourteenth-largest defense contractor in the United States, to the tune of $2.3 billion from the DoD in 2006, and has worked on such weapons systems as the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and F/A-18 Hornet fighter/attack aircraft, both in use in Iraq.)

….As they putter around in their kitchen, getting ready for the day ahead, they move from the wall cabinets (purchased at DoD contractor Lowe’s Home Center) to the refrigerator (from defense contractor Maytag), choosing their breakfast from a cavalcade of products made by Pentagon contractors. These companies that, quite literally, feed the Pentagon’s war machine, are the same firms that fill the shelves of America’s kitchens….Today, just about every supermarket staple has ties to the Pentagon.

The same holds for many household appliances. In Rick and Donna’s dining room, a small Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner buzzes around the floor. Rick thought it would be cute to have the little mechanical device trolling around the house making their hectic lives just a tad easier. Little did he know that Roomba’s manufacturer, iRobot, takes in U.S. tax dollars ($51 million of them from the DoD in 2006, more than a quarter of the company’s revenue) and turns them into PackBots, tactical robots used by U.S. troops occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and, beginning in 2008, Warrior X700s–250-pound autonomous robots armed with heavy weapons such as machine guns….

Sitting on the dining room table is Rick’s HP (Hewlett-Packard) notebook computer. HP is another company that has grown its civilian know-how with generous military contracts, like the multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal it signed, in 2005, with DARPA….

Meanwhile, Rick and Donna’s son, Steven, is still upstairs, having a hard time tearing himself away from his computer game. His room is a veritable showcase of the new entertainment-sports-high tech-pop culture dimension of the twenty-first century Complex: there are NASCAR posters (in 2005, more than $38 million in taxpayer money was spent on U.S. armed forces’ racecars); National Football League (NFL) jerseys and baseball caps (the NFL has partnered with the Pentagon to create military profiles aired during TV broadcasts of regular and postseason games, while individual NFL teams have hosted “military appreciation” events); X-Men comic books (the Pentagon teamed up with Marvel Comics to produce limited-edition “military-exclusive” comic books, with pro-Pentagon themes…), and a wastebasket filled with Mountain Dew bottles (the air force was one of the sponsors of the Dew Action Sports Tour, a traveling show featuring skateboarding, BMX, and freestyle motorcross contests)….

Steven finally shuts down Tropico: Paradise Island–a nation-building simulation video game where the player, as “El Presidente,” attempts to lure tourists to his/her fun-in-the-sun resort. Neither father nor son is remotely aware that the software maker, Breakaway Games, does taxpayer-funded work for such military clients as DARPA, Joint Forces Command, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the United States Air Force–as well as having developed 24 Blue, a simulator used to improve aircraft carrier-based operations. They are blissfully unaware of even the existence of Breakaway’s Pentagon-funded game that could conceivably lead to more effective bombing of targets abroad. Steven grabs his iPos MP3 player (from DoD contractor Apple Computer) and heads downstairs to leave with his father. Heading for the door, Rick goes to his bookshelf and scans a selection of progressive texts whose publishers just happen to be DoD contractors, including a reissue of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin), Bushwhakced: Life in George W. Bush’s America by Lou Dubose and Molly Ivins (Warner Books), before choosing the Hugo Chavez-approved Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky (ahem, Metropolitan Books from Macmillan publishers). As the last one out, Donna sets the ADT alarm system (ADT took in more than $16 million from the Pentagon in 2006, while its parent company, Tyco International, cleaned up the tune of over $187 million)….

Rick might be an aging baby boomer, but he still tries to look cool (to Steven’s embarrassment). As he pulls the Saturn [made by defense contractor GM] out of the driveway, he dons a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Oakley supplies goggles and boots to U.S. troops….Driving along, Rick glances over at his son. “Are those the Wolverine boots we just got you?” “Yeah, Dad,” answers Steven, looking down at his now-ratty footwear. Rick’s already thinking about the next pair he’ll need to buy his son, not about the five-year multimillion-dollar contract the company signed in 2003 to supply the army with an upgraded infantry combat boot, or the other deals, worth tens of millions of dollars, that Wolverine signed with the Pentagon in 2004, 2006, and 2007….

…Steven shoots his father a big smile as he opens the car door, “Alright! Well, I’ll see you tonight, Dad.” “Do you have your cell phone?” Rick asks. Steven whips a Motorola from his pocket. (Motorola made almost $380 million from the Department of Defense in 2004, while the phone’s service provider, Verizon, took home more than $128 million in DoD contracts, and $50 million more from the Department of Homeland Security, in 2006.)

With Steven at school, Rick heads for work. He gives the local Exxon station (ExxonMobil took in more than $1.17 billion in DoD dollars in 2006) a pass and instead pulls into Shell, which likes to portray itself as kinder, greener oil giant. As he signs the receipt of his Bank of America credit card (a firm which issues special credit cards to Pentagon employees to streamline the process of buying supplies for the DoD0, Rick has no way of knowing that Shell’s parent company, N.V. Koninklijke Nederlansche, was the thirty-first largest defense contractor in 2006, reaping over $1.15 billion dollars in DoD contracts.

Rick’s route to work doesn’t pass an army barracks, an air force base, Halliburton’s offices, or a single factory of a defense giant like Boeing or General Dynamics. Nevertheless, he manages to zip by a veritable who’s who of defense contractors or their subsidiaries even if they look like the staple businesses of Anytown, USA. They include:

  • an AMF bowling alley
  • a Wal-Mart
  • an OfficeMax office supply store
  • an Ace Hardware store
  • a CompUSA computer store
  • a Hilton hotel
  • an Avis Rent-a-Car
  • a Staples office supply store
  • a Home Depot, and,
  • a BP gas station

Entering the Holland Tunnel on his way to Manhattan, Rick realizes that, with Steven driving next year, he can start taking mass transit to work. The PATH train into the city–recently restored under the watchful eye of Bechtel, the fifteenth-largest defense contractor of 2004 and the recipient of more than $1.7 billion in DoD contracts that year–will, he believes, lessen his “footprint” in the planet.

Keep in mind, Rick is now only a couple of hours into his long day. In fact, no part of the hours to come will be lacking in products produced by Pentagon contractors–from the framed photographs of Donna and Steven on his desk (taken by an Olympus camera and printed on Kodak paper) to the beer he drinks with lunch (Budweiser) to most of the products around his office, including: 3-M Post-It notes, Microsoft Windows software, Lexmark printers, Canon photocopiers, AT&T telephones, Maxwell House Coffee from Altria, Kidde fire extinguishers, Xerox fax machines, IBM servers, paper from International Paper, Duracell batteries from Procter & Gamble, an LG Electronics refrigerator, and paper towels by Marcal Paper Mills.

Later in the day, Ricks drops in to the see the head of the company’s IT department, and, gazing around the room, notices the name on some software: Oracle, “the world’s largest enterprise software company.” Even if he knew that Oracle received over $93 million from the DoD in 2005, what would remain invisible is the way many corporations that supply the military additionally belong to a tight-knit, mutually reinforcing clan of contractors. For example, not only do “7 of the top 10 aerospace and defense companies run Oracle applications,” including top arms dealers Boeing ($20.3 billion in sales to the DoD in 2006) and General Dynamics, but so do other tech-industry heavy hitters such as IBM….

After a long day at the office, Rick heads home ready to catch NBC Nightly News and later Law and Order (both products of defense giant General Electric). Or maybe he’ll tune into CBS and watch NCIS (Naval Criminial Investigative Service), the action-drama starring Mark Harmon that has received assistance from the U.S. military. Or, since the whole family will be home, they might even play Scrabble. While it’s decidedly low tech and far from cool, even Scrabble has ties to the Pentagon. The game’s maker, Hasbro, has had a long relationship with the military….

Rick is, of course, a fiction, but the rest of us aren’t–and neither is the existence of the real Matrix.

President Eisenhower on the Military-Industrial Complex

As Nick Turse tells us in his book, at the time of Eisenhower’s address above (1961), the Pentagon was spending $23 billion a year for services and procurement of weapons. In today’s terms, that would be $200 billion. Instead, the recent defense budgets in the U.S. have exceeded three time that amount, or more when you factor in spending on all activities related to the military, usually exceeding $1 trillion per year including the formal defense budget. Almost ten years after Eisenhower’s address, there were about 22,000 prime military contractors. Today that number exceeds 47,000, with well over 100,000 subcontractors. This post was typed using a Hewlett Packard computer — also a Defense contractor. My other option was to use the Dell, also a Defense contractor. Others might sit down to produce their blog posts while sipping a Starbuck’s coffee (also a Defense contractor), on their Apple computer (Defense contractor), and do searches of the Web using Google (another Defense contractor).

Writing in his famous book The Power Elite (1956), sociologist C. Wright Mills foresaw and warned us much in the same way as Eisenhower:

“In so far as the structural clue to the power elite today lies in the enlarged and military state, that clue becomes evident in the military ascendancy. The warlords have gained decisive Political relevance, and the military structure of America is now in considerable part a political structure. The seemingly permanent military threat places a premium on the military and upon their control of men, materiel, money, and power; virtually all political and economic actions are now judged in terms of military definitions of reality: the higher warlords have ascended to a firm position within the power elite of the fifth epoch.”

If American politics is military politics, its economy is military capitalism:

“In so far as the structural clue to the power elite today lies in the economic order, that clue is the fact that the economy is at once a permanent-war economy and a private-corporation economy. American capitalism is now in considerable part a military capitalism, and the most important relation of the big corporation to the state rests on the coincidence of interests between military and corporate needs, as defined by warlords and corporate rich. Within the elite as a whole, this coincidence of interest between the high military and the corporate chieftains strengthens both of them and further subordinates the role of the merely political men. Not politicians, but corporate executives, sit with the military and plan the organization of war effort.”

For some other useful sites, see:

Tom Engelhardt Interviews Nick Turse on The Complex

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

6 thoughts on “100 percent (Militarized) American

  1. Bob Bateman

    Meh. The reason you’re not getting many comments on this one, (and the reason the book will flop) is pretty simple.

    The fact that normal companies, like Houghton-Mifflin, Lowes, and Apple do business with the US Government is something of a yawner.

    Give us more meat Max!


    1. Maximilian Forte

      Not getting comments can mean very little. The articles I have written that are among the most reproduced on other sites, also receive few comments here. This article, for example, has already been copied by other sites. As many Italians well tell you, silence around the dinner table is the best compliment to the cook. Sometimes the greatest activity on a blog post comes from those trying to fill in perceived gaps, trying to control representations, etc. This one was received silently…because what is one going to tell Turse? “No, you’re wrong!” ?

      As for the book “flopping”…by what measure? The same measure that tells us “comments = popularity = good article”? I think you need to spend some more time studying methodology.

      In the meantime, I am using the book in one of my courses, where far from being a flop, it has been extremely well received by students.

      What is most instructive, and this really makes Turse’s point for him, is an American (not to mention one in the military) finding his facts to be a “yawner.” Of course they are — they are normal, taken-for-granted, business as usual, unexceptional, routine, mundane. That’s the problem he is talking about. It is a collective blindness from which institutions such as yours profit. You depend upon it. The fact that the majority of public debates in the U.S., around the budget deficit and government spending, routinely take record-breaking massive military budgets and effectively assign a value of zero to them, exemplifies that collective blind spot. Spending on health is a problem — but questioning military spending is off limits, it’s a given, a constant, always there, removed beyond sight, and beyond debate. Turse wakes readers up to that fact, and the muteness of some may be disbelief, astonishment, or a sense of guilt. Who knows.

      1. Bob Bateman

        Nah, I still think it’s a yawner.

        I get the point, both yours and Turse’s. But it still seems so mundane that it redefines boring.

        One could, with only a small change, make the same connections for, say, the Swiss or the Canadian militaries.

        I think there is a good book that could have been written on this topic. Unfortunately, this is not it.


  2. ishtar enana

    In my experience for more than 7 years with internet blogging, usually good, comprehensive, filled- with- facts articles have few comments if at all. The reason is what Maximilian said: the readers have nothing to add or oppose.

    The quantity of comments does not evaluate a post. Sometimes, the same reader, to stress his point of view, comes back again many times in different names (as much as 30 as one member of my blog did); also, if you consider the hundreds and thousands of commentators to a news item in Yahoo news section, for instance, you will realize that majority of comments have nothing to do with the focus story, but are diverted by bias , racism or just silliness to other topics. Sometimes, readers will comment on the most commented topic even if it is not worthy, but out of the flock instinct. So You can not judge an article by the comments, or no comments that follow.

  3. Pingback: Militainment: U.S. Military Propaganda in the News Media, Hollywood, and Video Games « ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY

Comments are closed