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Monday, 12 May 2008 11:58

Nick Turse Probes the 'Military-Industrial Complex' of the 21st Century -- It's Not Just Boeing Anymore

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A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
If you produce a "Top Gun" where you’re glorifying pilots, the military will give you every assistance. But if you are arguing something that’s critical of what the military would be doing, you’re probably going to get the cold shoulder.
A film like "Ironman," based on a Marvel comic, portrays the military in a positive light, or even more so, as morally correct. It’s seen as a real recruiting vehicle in tough recruiting times.

-- Nick Turse, author, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives

* * *

Nick Turse, associate editor of TomDispatch.com, is the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, just published by Metropolitan Books. In the book, Turse provides evidence that the military-industrial complex has invaded our daily lives in ways largely unknown by the population in general. Nick Turse also has written for the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation and the Village Voice, and he recently earned his doctorate in sociomedical sciences from Columbia University.

The Complex is an eye opener to the next stage of the military-industrial complex expansion that Eisenhower could never have imagined.

* * *

BuzzFlash: We’re talking with Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, which is part of The American Empire Project series. When most people think of the military-industrial complex they recall Eisenhower’s quotation about being wary of the military-industrial complex. You’ve gone a step further to say that the military is invading our everyday lives. How is the military invading my life?

Nick Turse: I describe the complex as something that’s moved far beyond Eisenhower’s idea. His, I think, is now completely outdated, and it has been replaced by something that I call the military-corporate complex, or complex for short. It is almost akin to “The Matrix” of the movies -- a vast system of systems that clandestinely invades our everyday lives. Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex didn’t extend far beyond the Lockheed factory floor. In his formulation, it consisted of large arms makers like Lockheed and Boeing, and mega-corporations like General Motors. Today, Lockheed, Boeing and GM still form the core of the complex, but they’re dwarfed by tens of thousands of other contractors that you wouldn’t necessarily guess were hooked up with the military. I’m talking about civilian organizations like Apple computers, Starbucks, Oakley sunglasses, Pepsi, and thousands and thousands of small-town businesses, or even Christian bookstores in Mississippi. Today, the complex is everywhere, but it goes relatively unnoticed.

BuzzFlash: Let’s take two of the names you tossed out there, Starbucks and Pepsi. Is it just that they’re vendors to the military, or is the military involved in some other way?

Nick Turse: Their main connection with the Pentagon is that they’re functioning as vendors of their food and beverage products, although Starbucks also has set up some other programs for the military to support. Troops occupying Iraq and Afghanistan received free items. But the fact is that these companies allow the Pentagon to function day in and day out. These are the firms that allow the Pentagon to make war, and to make occupations possible.

BuzzFlash: We need to broaden our sense of the industrial defense complex, because there are many, many more corporations who benefit from the defense industry. It's like the insatiable plant that ate people in "The Little Shop of Horrors" that says, "Feed me, feed me." Many more companies are part of this feed me, feed me growth in the defense industry budget. Apple Computer is a beneficiary when there's a larger defense industry budget.
Nick Turse: That’s right. These companies fly under the radar. People view them as familiar firms and never think that they’re tied to the military in any way.
BuzzFlash: Your last chapter is called “Homeland Security State.” Is that because we’ve created a Department of Homeland Security which, whether it’s necessary or not, becomes an industry unto itself?

Nick Turse: The Department of Homeland Security has actually become sort of a mini-Pentagon within the much larger complex. Not surprisingly, the same firms that show up as the top contractors for the Pentagon have now found another gravy train with the DHS. You see the same companies: Bechtel, Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed, General Dynamics, Boeing. They’ve all had a massive influx of funds from Homeland Security.

BuzzFlash: Who monitors all of this? We’ve posted stories on BuzzFlash about the performance problems of KBR-Halliburton, for one, having provided polluted water to soldiers, for example. Henry Waxman is always a bulldog about these things. He tries to get answers, but even if he gets answers, it seems nothing happens. KBR-Halliburton just continues going along. There doesn’t seem to be any punishment -- they’re not even put on probation. It's sort of an industry without any sort of oversight, it seems, at this point.
Nick Turse: Waxman and the GAO do make valiant attempts sometimes to get at this. But one reason we don’t know what’s going on with the Pentagon is the fact that it actually never gets an audit. In fact, Donald Rumsfeld admitted a few years back that $1.3 trillion in spending had just gone missing. Back in 2004, the DoD set a goal of undergoing a full audit by 2007. But that deadline passed and there’s no audit, and they moved the deadline now to 2016. Even in 2016, no one, not even the Defense Department, thinks that it can actually pass an audit. So it’s going to be almost ten years until the Pentagon can fail its first audit.

BuzzFlash: Let’s focus on one of the companies you mentioned. How is Apple Computer related to this, just as an example of a company we wouldn’t normally imagine benefiting from the military-industrial complex?

Nick Turse: Since the Eighties, Apple has been working hand in hand with the U.S. military. They’ve entered into what they call cooperative research and development agreements. They’ve worked on the F/A-18, which is the hornet fighter bomber. In recent years, they’ve had dozens of contracts for computer equipment. Apple Powerbooks were used during the invasion of Iraq for targeting purposes. And those F/A-18s have been in flight over Iraq for years -- instrumental in the decimation of the region in 2004. In addition to that, the military has also been using Apple’s consumer products. They’ve used I-Pods as giveaways to get personal information from potential recruits, and given away free I-Tunes music downloads.

BuzzFlash: This is what Eisenhower, in essence, warned about -- that institutions, as they grow, become self-protective and self-perpetuating. The prison industry also comes to mind. We do have a crime problem, just as there are real people who are perhaps enemies of the United States such as those responsible for 9/11. But you have to decide, what do I do about this problem? What’s a valid and the most cost-efficient way to deal with it?
I bring this up because we have the highest incarceration rate in the world, and there’s money to be made in the criminal justice industry. We have prison guards. We have small towns competing for new jails, where they actually put promotional packets together to try to lure new jails to town. We have unions like a prison guard union in California being enormously powerful. We have the court system, that includes judges, bailiffs, clerks, sheriff’s deputies, lawyers, prosecutors, defenders, bail bonds individuals. It goes on and on and on. The cost of feeding prisoners, of housing them, is not minor. In fact, there’s a lot of incentives to keep the criminal justice system large. A downturn in violence could mean a loss of jobs to people.
It struck me, what happens also with the defense system is you’ve got all these corporations now that are dependent on the enormous defense budget every year. Whether that money buys what is needed or not, corporations are dependent upon that institution, they need the military-industrial complex, to grow, not to shrink. It becomes really an employment agency, in some ways, a profit center for corporations.

Nick Turse: Right. You could call it military socialism in some ways. These tax dollars are shuttled to the Pentagon. They dole them out to their favorite corporations.
BuzzFlash: In addition, we’ve seen the privatization of the military. Privately owned companies like Blackwater are taking on what were formerly duties of the Army -- actually involved in shooting activity. You have more of a corporate interest and more lobbyists involved, because it goes beyond people providing the hardware. Now you have companies actually providing soldiers of fortune.

Nick Turse: That’s right.
BuzzFlash: You also write about Hollywood and the Pentagon. What’s the relationship between Hollywood and the military?

Nick Turse: It’s a long relationship that goes back to the silent era, but in recent years, it’s really been ramped up. In earlier decades it was more of an ad hoc relationship between the two. Now, the Pentagon has set up a one-stop shop right in Hollywood. It’s on one floor of an office building that’s in Hollywood itself. There are liaison offices for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Department of Defense at large.
If you have a movie project that requires you to have the latest technological gear -- flashy weaponry, fighter jets, that type of thing -- if you want the realism and the glitz that the weapon systems provide, you go there, make your pitch, show them your script, and then, if they like the script, if it portrays the military in a favorable light, if it could be useful for recruiting, they’ll let you use the equipment. If there are some aspects of it that trouble them, they’ll suggest changes to the script. If you make them, then generally they’ll allow you to use their bases, their weapons, even their people as extras.

BuzzFlash: So they in essence vet the script. They won’t support a film that they feel will not enhance the image of the military.

Nick Turse: Generally. You know, in tough times, like during and after the Vietnam War, sometimes they’d get involved in films just to try and temper the worst aspects in the script. But these days, generally, it’s just movies that celebrate the military, and that have a good chance of getting in front of young eyes for recruitment purposes, like last year’s big summer blockbuster, "Transformers," which was really a sales vehicle for the military.
BuzzFlash: They had a role in that?

Nick Turse: Yes, they provided bases for filming, lots of new high-tech equipment, special aircraft -- and extras in the film were military personnel.

BuzzFlash: I assume that they probably did not support Brian de Palma’s "Redacted"?

Nick Turse: Definitely not.

BuzzFlash: So there’s a price to pay. If you produce a "Top Gun" where you’re glorifying pilots, the military will give you every assistance. But if you are arguing something that’s critical of what the military would be doing, you’re probably going to get the cold shoulder.

Nick Turse: Exactly. A film like "Ironman," based on a Marvel comic, portrays the military in a positive light, or even more so, as morally correct. It’s seen as a real recruiting vehicle in tough recruiting times.

BuzzFlash: What is the relationship between the military-industrial complex and academia?

Nick Turse: Since World War II the military has been heavily involved on college campuses around the U.S., but since the 1950s, it’s really exploded. The Department of Defense funds projects on 350 colleges and university campuses. It’s so powerful that the Pentagon’s able to dictate, in many instances, what type of research gets done and what doesn’t. The latest figures that I’ve seen show that the DoD accounts for 60 to 70% of all federal funding for electrical engineering, well over 50% for computer science, over 40% for metallurgy and other metal materials engineering, and even a significant portion -- 30 to 35% -- for oceanography. They can really dictate the type of science that goes on in these fields and to some degree what research gets done.

BuzzFlash: When universities are doing their research budgets, many of them are factoring in that they’re getting grants from the Pentagon, funded through our tax dollars and, of course, the national debt.

Nick Turse: They rely on that, and they really can’t do without it. This was really driven home a few years back when the Harvard Law School tried to bar recruiters from the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, because the military rejected those qualified students who were openly gay or lesbian or bisexual. What the government did was they took a look at the federal law, and they threatened Harvard with the loss of all its federal funding, which was over $300 million a year. Harvard quickly took a look at that, and it was obviously frightened by the prospect of losing all that money. So there’s been access to military recruiters, despite the discrimination that still goes on.

BuzzFlash: What is the role of the Pentagon in the computer gaming industry?
Nick Turse: The connections go back to the beginning of video games. The Pentagon had some contacts with the industry in the early 1980s, but nothing like what goes on today. Today, the Pentagon and the video industry are completely intertwined. Right now, the top games that are produced by civilian firms are now regularly turned into military simulators, and military simulators created for training the troops are now turned into computer games. There’s a game out there for Microsoft X-Box and home computers called "Close Combat: First to Fight." This was a Marine Corps combat simulator. It’s used for urban warfare training and created under the guidance of troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was put together by a company called Destineer Studios, which now has an intimate relationship with the CIA, as well. They turned this game into a civilian game, a very popular one, so, in effect, they can pretrain youngsters in military urban warfare tactics at a young age. Going the other way, there’s a game, Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear. It was a civilian game. The Army took a look at it and thought it would be very useful for their training purposes.

BuzzFlash: Another one of your chapters is about the "Military Petroleum Complex." Can you explain what that is?

Nick Turse: Everyone has heard the phrase “no blood for oil.” But if you look down the list of all their contractors, there’s somewhere around 150 companies that are providing energy services to the Pentagon. We're told it is necessary to protect the petroleum resources in the Middle East and make them available for U.S. civilian use. But people don’t really take a close look at how that oil powers the military's ships, its planes, its helicopters, all their vehicles. So in that chapter, I took a look at just how much oil the military uses each month in Afghanistan and Iraq, and look at all the contractors on the Pentagon’s payroll. And they’re the oil services and big oil companies that we know, like BP and Shell and Halliburton.
BuzzFlash: The Pentagon is basically protecting the oil reserves for the companies from which they buy oil.

Nick Turse: That’s right.

BuzzFlash: So taxpayer dollars are being used to insert the U.S. military to make sure that Western oil companies have access to the Iraqi oil fields. And then in turn, the Pentagon buys the oil from those companies.

Nick Turse: That’s right. Companies like Exxon, Mobil Oil, Dutch Petroleum. In 2006, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Petroleum, which is Shell, and BP took in collectively $3.5 billion from the Pentagon. We’re talking about big money in just those three firms.

BuzzFlash: What kind of tools is the Pentagon using that we probably aren’t that aware of, to create a positive image for recruitment?

Nick Turse: Well, one that we talked about is taxpayer-funded games like America’s Army, which was originally given away as a CD ROM at recruiting stations and made available online for download. In addition to that, there are lots of websites out there now that the Pentagon puts together -- flashy websites that are explicit in their recruiting methods. Others are geared towards parents and young people alike that seem like civilian sites, for career guidance, but they push the military. They’ve gotten involved with social networking technology. The Army and Marines both have MySpace pages. The Air Force had one for a time. These are all key methods. They’ve also gotten into sports. They’ve forged relationships with the NFL, with some professional golfers, like Tiger Woods. But most importantly for them is their ties to Nascar. They spend over $10 million a year sponsoring Nascar racing teams.

BuzzFlash: What would you say to those who are concerned about the growing and mammoth military-industrial complex? How should one keep one’s eyes out for its growth and intrusion into so many aspects of American life?

Nick Turse: Well, the reason I wrote the book was to just try and open people’s eyes to all the ways that the Pentagon interacts in their daily life. I hope by just pointing out some of these interactions that people will begin to examine the products that they use, and the companies they work for or invest in, a little bit more thoroughly. I hope they’ll be informed on how the military functions, and who enables the wars it wages. I’m just grateful that they’ll take a closer look, and I hope my book helps open a few eyes.

BuzzFlash: In essence, we can conclude that it’s not your grandfather’s or Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex anymore. It has grown and built spider legs into every aspect of American life.

Nick Turse: That’s exactly right.

BuzzFlash: Nick, thank you so much.

BuzzFlash Interview conducted by Mark Karlin.
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