By Nick Turse
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. If you asked him, it’s a subject on which he would rate himself as knowledgeable. He puts effort into educating himself on such matters. He reads liberal websites, subscribes to progressive-minded magazines, and is a devotee of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
In fact, he has no idea just how deep the Pentagon rabbit hole goes or how far down it his family already is.
Rick believes that, despite its long reach, the military-industrial complex is a discrete entity far removed from his everyday life. Now, if this were 1961, when outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the country about the “unwarranted influence” of the “military-industrial complex” and the “large arms industry” already firmly entrenched in the United States, Rick might be right. After all, he doesn’t work for one of the Pentagon’s corporate partners, like arms maker Lockheed Martin. He isn’t in the Army Reserve. He’s never attended a performance of the Marine Corps band (not to mention the Army’s, Navy’s, or Air Force’s music groups). But today’s geared-up, high-tech Complex is nothing like the olive-drab outfit of Eisenhower’s day: It reaches deeper into American lives and the American psyche than Eisenhower could ever have imagined. The truth is that, at every turn, in countless, not-so-visible ways Rick’s life is wrapped up with the military.
So wake up with Rick and sample a single spring 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 more than $780,000 in DoD dollars in 2004 and another $456,000 in 2005) and Hanes Her Way (made by defense contractor and cake seller Sara Lee Corporation, which took in more than $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 contractor 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, he 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 100 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 (from DoD contractor GlaxoSmithKline) for his ulcer. 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 14th-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 multimission fighter/attack aircraft, both in use in Iraq.
A Who’s Who of Your Life
Of course, the Pentagon has long poured U.S. tax dollars into private coffers to arm and outfit the military and enable it to function. At the time of Eisenhower’s farewell address, New York Times reporter Jack Raymond noted that the Pentagon was spending “$23,000,000,000 a year for services and procurement of guns, missiles, airplanes, electronic devices, vehicles, tanks, ammunition, clothing and other military goods.” Today, that would equal around $200 billion. In 2007, the Department of Defense’s stated budget was $439 billion. Counting the costs of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number jumps to over $600 billion. Factoring in all the many related activities carried out by other agencies, actual U.S. national security spending is nearly $1 trillion per year.
Back in Eisenhower’s day, arms dealers and mega-corporations, such as Lockheed and General Motors, held sway over the corporate side of the military-industrial complex. Companies like these still play an extremely powerful role today, but they are dwarfed by the sheer number of contractors that stretch from coast to coast and across the globe. Looking at the situation in 1970, almost 10 years after Eisenhower’s farewell speech, Sidney Lens, a journalist and expert on U.S. militarism, noted that there were 22,000 prime contractors doing business with the U.S. Department of Defense. Today, the number of prime contractors tops 47,000 with subcontractors reaching well over the 100,000 mark, making for one massive conglomerate touching nearly every sector of society, from top computer manufacturer Dell (the 50th-largest DoD contractor in 2006) to oil giant ExxonMobil (the 30th) to package-shipping titan FedEx (the 26th).
In fact, the Pentagon payroll is a veritable who’s who of the top companies in the world: IBM; Time-Warner; Ford and General Motors; Microsoft; NBC and its parent company, General Electric; Hilton and Marriott; Columbia TriStar Films and its parent company, Sony; Pfizer; Sara Lee; Procter & Gamble; M&M Mars and Hershey; Nestlé; ESPN and its parent company, Walt Disney; Bank of America; and Johnson & Johnson among many other big-name firms. But the difference between now and then isn’t only in scale. As this list suggests, Pentagon spending is reaching into previously neglected areas of American life: entertainment, popular consumer brands, sports. This penetration translates into a remarkable variety of forms of interaction with the public.
Rick and Donna’s home is full of the fruits of this incursion. 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 — from Ballpark Franks (Sara Lee) and Eggo waffles (Kelloggs) to Jell-O (Kraft) and Coffee Mate (Nestle) — 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 Warrior X700s — 250-pound semiautonomous robots armed with heavy weapons such as machine guns, that may be deployed in Iraq this year.
In addition to selling millions of Roombas to civilian consumers, the company uses government tax dollars to make money on the civilian side of its business. According to the company’s December 2006 annual report (which listed as its “Research Support Agencies” the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA], the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, and the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center), government funding “allows iRobot to accelerate the development of multiple technologies.” Yet iRobot retains “ownership of patents and know-how and [is] generally free to develop other commercial products, including consumer and industrial products, utilizing the technologies developed during these projects.” It’s a very sweet deal. And iRobot is hardly alone.
Entering the Digital World with Guns Blazing
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 to “develop technologies to improve the performance of mission-critical computer networks used during combat and other vital operations.” A spokesman for the company noted, “Our work for DARPA is aimed at significantly improving the performance of the Internet…. If we can successfully create new approaches to the way Internet traffic is detected and routed, we may start seeing the Internet used as the de facto communications and information network in areas where it previously would’ve been thought too risky.” Success would certainly translate into more lucrative civilian work, as well.
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, that are now sought after by civilian collectors); and a wastebasket filled with empty 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 motocross contests).
During Ike’s time, when civilian firms like Ford and AT&T were the big military suppliers, the payroll showed an utter lack of cool companies. Now, the Pentagon is reaching into virgin territory in new ways with new partners. Today, hip firms like Apple, Google, and Starbucks are also on DoD contractors’ lists. And while Ike’s complex was typified by brass bands and patriotic parades, today’s variant is a flashy digitized world of video games, extreme sports, and everything cool that appeals to potential young recruits.
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, the 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 video game that could conceivably lead to more effective bombing of targets abroad.
Steven grabs his iPod MP3 player (from DoD contractor Apple Computer) and heads downstairs to leave with his father. On his way to 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), Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America by Lou Dubose and Molly Ivins (Random House), and Jon Stewart’s America (The Book) (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 to the tune of over $187 million.)
The Pentagon on Wheels
Rick and Steven hop into the Saturn parked in the driveway. Rick is proud of his car choice — after all, Saturn has such a people-friendly (even anti-Detroit establishment) vibe. Admittedly, he is aware that General Motors owns not only the Saturn but the Hummer brand — the civilian version of the U.S. military’s Humvee — but he believes that, in this world, you can’t be squeaky-clean perfect. But Hummer isn’t the half of it.
How could Rick have known that, in 1999, GM formally entered the Army’s COMBATT (COMmercially BAsed Tactical Truck) vehicle development program? Or that GM actually had its own military division, General Motors Defense, when his Saturn was made? Nor could Rick have known that GM Defense formed a joint venture with defense giant General Dynamics to create the GM-GDLS Defense Group (which was awarded in excess of $1.5 billion in DoD contract dollars in 2005). Or that GM took in $87 million from the Pentagon in 2006. Or that, in 2007, GM entered into a 50-year lease agreement to build a $100 million test track on the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds. Or that the maker of his Saturn’s tires, Goodyear, was America’s 69th-largest defense contractor in 2004, with DoD contracts worth nearly $357 million.
Rick might be an aging baby boomer, but he still tries to look cool (to Steven’s embarrassment). As he pulls the Saturn out of the driveway, he dons a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Oakley supplies goggles and boots to U.S. troops. And while the military purchased goggles from firms such as the American Optical Company during the 1940s, it’s unlikely that anyone ever called that company’s designs “badass,” as Powder, a skiing magazine that runs Army recruitment ads on its website, called one of Oakley’s products.
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.
As they drive to his school, Steven perks up. “That’s it, Dad!” he says, pointing at a Ford Escape that just pulled into the high school parking lot. “Whaddaya say, Dad? Next year, when I get my license?”
Rick remembers hearing on the radio that Ford makes an Escape hybrid-electric vehicle. “You know what, son? I think maybe we just might look into it.” He experiences a little burst of satisfaction. Not only can he feel like a good dad, but as a bonus he can even help the environment. (Ford Motor Company and its subsidiaries have, of course, garnered rafts of defense contracts and aided the Army and Navy in various projects.)
Overjoyed, 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 $308 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.)
The Real Matrix
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 a 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 DoD), Rick has no way of knowing that Shell’s parent company, N.V. Koninklijke Nederlansche, was the 31st-largest defense contractor in 2006, reaping more than $1.15 billion dollars in DoD contracts.
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 15th-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” on 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: 3M Post-It notes, Microsoft Windows software, Lexmark printers, Canon photocopiers, AT&T telephones, Maxwell House Coffee, Kidde fire extinguishers, Xerox fax machines, IBM servers, paper from International Paper, Duracell batteries, an LG Electronics refrigerator, and paper towels by Marcal Paper Mills.
Rick is, of course, a fiction, but the rest of us aren’t — and neither is the existence of the real Matrix.
In the 1999 sci-fi movie classic of the same name, the Matrix is an artificial reality (resembling the Western world at the dawn of the twenty-first century) created by sentient machines. Humans, who are grown as energy sources and wired in to the Matrix using cybernetic implants, are kept in a coma-like state — ignorant of the very existence of the artificial reality that they “live” in. In explaining the situation to Neo, the movie’s protagonist, Morpheus, a leader of a group of unplugged free humans who wage a guerrilla struggle against the machines, reveals:
“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
At one point in his farewell speech, Eisenhower presaged this point, suggesting, “The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — [of the conjunction of the military establishment and the large arms industry] is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.” But only Hollywood has yet managed to capture the essence of today’s omnipresent, all-encompassing, cleverly hidden system of systems that invades all our lives; this new military-industrial-technological-entertainment-academic-scientific- media-intelligence-homeland security-surveillance-national security-corporate complex that has truly taken hold of America. [For the original article, go here to TomDispatch.com.]
Nick Turse is the associate editor of Tomdispatch.com. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, Adbusters, the Nation, and regularly for Tomdispatch. His first book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, has just been published in Metropolitan Books’ American Empire Project series. His website is NickTurse.com. To view a short video interview with Turse, click here.
From the Book The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives by Nick Turse. Copyright © 2008 by Nick Turse. Reprinted by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.