Last Sunday, David Barstow of the New York
just how effectively the Pentagon orchestrated a propaganda campaign for "information
dominance" when it came to the president's various wars (and prisons). Pentagon
officials, from the secretary of defense on down, put together a "rapid reaction
force" of retired generals and other retired military officers (aka "message
force multipliers" or "surrogates"). With copious Pentagon help and perks,
these "experts" became key go-to guys for the mainstream media when it came
to the War on Terror and the war in Iraq. As the Nation's Katrina vanden
the matter, "This was an all out effort at the highest levels of the Bush
administration, continuing to this day, to dupe, mislead and lie to the American
people – using propaganda dressed up and cherry-picked as independent military
analysis. As one participant described it,'It was psy-ops on steroids.'" The
Pentagon's Brent T. Kreuger put it another way, speaking of the months leading
up to the invasion of Iraq: "We were able to click on every single station
and every one of our folks [the retired military men] were up there delivering
our message. You'd look at them and say, 'This is working.'"
But let's face it, as today's TomDispatch post indicates, the Pentagon, however
unseen, is increasingly everywhere in our world. That it's been in bed with
cable news, the major TV and radio networks, and our leading newspapers via
retired-generals-tied-to-military-contractors-turned-pundits, can't really
shock anyone who's bothered to listen to anything this bevy of talking-heads
has had to say these last years. The fact is the Pentagon is now the most incestuous
organization in America. If it regularly embeds reporters in its ranks to ensure
decent coverage of its operations (think of this as a military version of Stockholm
Syndrome) and, as Jon Stewart recently pointed out, embeds its retired generals
in the media, it's also regularly in bed with itself in a way that can only
be called perverse.
Take a simple example
of such in-beddedness, a $50 million Air Force contract involving another of
those retired generals. Given our near trillion-dollar
defense budget, the sum itself is military chump change. As the Washington
Post's Josh White described the process, a seven-person "selection team"
charged with picking a contractor to "jazz up the Air Force's Thunderbirds
air show with giant video boards," under pressure from a higher-ranking officer,
gave the contract to Strategic Message Solutions, "a company that barely existed
in an effort to reward a recently retired four-star general and a millionaire
civilian pilot who had grown close to senior Air Force officials and the Thunderbirds."
It's hardly surprising that taxpayer dollars in amounts that would have staggered
Croesus have led to a revolving-door system of rampant corruption; more surprising
is just how much that system is linked into your everyday life. In a sense,
the militarization of America is happening right in your apartment or house.
Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, the new book
by Nick Turse, who has long written for TomDispatch on Pentagon matters, makes
this point strikingly. (By hook or by crook, it should be on your bookshelf.)
You'll get the idea as, in the adaptation of the book's first chapter below,
with the fictional "Rick" you live through an all-too-real, all-American militarized
morning at home. (And while you're at it, just imagine some of those retired
generals offering lulling, Pentagon-inspired commentary in the background about
how all of this is healthy, none of it really matters.) Tom
The Real Matrix
The Pentagon invades your life
by Nick Turse
Rick is a mid-level 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 Web sites, 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.)
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
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
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 are now deployed
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 21st-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
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
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 Web site, 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,
"All right! 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 21st 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.
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 Web site
is NickTurse.com. To
view a short video interview with Turse, click
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