Inside the War Industry

Let’s do away immediately with the euphemisms “defense industry” and “Department of Defense,” and call them pejoratively but correctly what they really are, the “war industry” (and related spy business) and the “Department of War.” The latter, in case you didn’t know, had that official name until 1949. Can you just imagine some PR consultant having been hired who asked the Grand Poohbahs “do you think the fast food industry would ever sell dead cow burgers?”

Going inside the war industry to take a look at it, the intent of this article, must be like trying to find all the stars and black holes in the universe. Try as I might, I could not pin down just how many there are of merchants of death (i.e., weapons and ammunitions makers), makers of various and sundry war and spy supplies, and the multitudinous contractors with their hired hands on foreign soil doing all sorts of clandestine and open dirty work, all of which are done in our name and out of our pockets.

But simply knowing the war “galaxy” is too big to count is telling us enough. Moreover, the government can’t even count it, or itself, for that matter. While it is infamous for its sloppy, lackadaisical bookkeeping, I seriously doubt that even five-star accounting firms not on the take could keep the books with any degree of certainty. Let’s just sum it up by saying that the US has the largest military budget and force than most nations have even if strung together.

The adage, “if the only tool available is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail” can be revised I think to describe the war industry and its patron, the government; vis a vis, ‘if any nation can be turned into an enemy then the only tool available is the war industry.” It may be a stretch, but it makes sense to me because I have always contended that the US from its inception has created foreign enemies to justify its exploitative, external regime changing through wars declared and undeclared.1

So, it was at the start. The American Revolution need never have occurred. There were viable alternatives.2 But the new plutocrats from war addicted England would have none of it. And they gave the assignment to George, the other George, not the rich, royal one the new upstarts were dead set on unseating.

Poor George had to rely on a ragtag army and ragtag sources of supplies, the most critical of which was the musket. Some muskets were supplied by local gunsmiths, some by European manufacturers, and some from dead British soldiers. Contrast poor George’s arsenal with that of his 45th successor!

Looking inside the war industry is not a pursuit of idle curiosity. There can be nothing idle about the work of serious peace and social justice activists. There is no leeway for any ignorance about the enemy of peace and justice. The enemy must be thoroughly known from inside out, what it is, how it operates, and, most importantly, exactly what its lifeline is that gives it sustenance and unbridled growth. At the end of this article we shall see how knowing more about the industry’s largest war corporation yields some insight into how that corporation could benefit the world by changing what it does for a living.

The Industry’s Owners

The more powerful members of the industry are publicly traded corporations owned by their owner/investors and directed by the owners’ representatives who sit on the corporations’ boards of directors. About all they really do is sit because most are sycophants of the corporations’ CEOs. Moreover, the shareholders are not about to mutiny and switch their money to other stocks. Why would they jump ship? A writer for Forbes magazine gives five reasons why other sectors are not as good an investment as is the defense industry sector: its stocks weather economic storms better; it dominates the market “selling Uncle Sam a billion dollars in goods and services every day, seven days a week;” it is “politically protected” (that’s an understatement); it’s oblivious to any “waning demand;” and its future prospects are more publicly known through news of any impending dips in the defense budget and thus give cautious investors pause to reconsider.”3

How the War Industry Works

In a nutshell the war industry works by yoking Uncle Sam. The war industry, not the American people at large, tells the government what its annual war/security budget should be, what its war/security purchases should be, for what purposes, and how much they should cost, and what minimal legislation and oversight would be acceptable. The industry exercises this stranglehold in several ways.

(a) The Industry Puts its Pawns and Patrons into Office. The industry donates millions of dollars in campaign contributions. The main purpose is always to ensure that members of Congressional committees important to the industry get re-elected.

(b) The Industry Strategically Locates its Facilities. The industry’s lifelines and profit bonanzas come from contracts awarded by influential and courted members of Congress. Locating facilities in their Congressional districts and States helps ensure that contracts will be steered to them. Few things make a member of Congress more anxious than the prospect of a facility moving out or a member more pleased by a facility moving in. If I’m not mistaken, there are one or more war contractor facilities in every state of the union.

(c) The Industry Swarms Capitol Hill with their Touts. In one year alone, millions of dollars were spent to send about 1,000 touts (i.e., lobbyists) up Capitol Hill to cash in on all those campaign financing bribes from the sector by telling their elected officials to keep boosting the federal budget for the sector, what and how to legislate and regulate the sector’s business, and to peddle its products and supplies.4 Trade associations are clusters of touts concentrating on a particular war business and thus represent not one but all of the corporations in that business. These associations include the Aerospace Industries Association, Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems, Intelligence and National Security Alliance, International National Defense Industrial Association (INSA), and the Submarine Industrial Base Council.

You might find it humorous and just desserts to learn that two days after publishing a paper on cyber security one of those organizations peddling security discovered its website had been hacked.5 I seriously doubt the organization lost its security clearance.  If the hacker were found, the organization should have hired the person as its new Top Spy.

(d) The Revolving Door. Now you see them in industry. Then you see them in government as influential political appointees, before, of course, they return later to industry. What better way to keep the government in tow than to infiltrate it with people from the top ranks of industry? As just a latest example of these peripatetic shufflers, former Lockheed Martin executive John Rood is now the Trump administration’s undersecretary of defense and will be responsible for, you guessed it, overseeing business dealings with Lockheed Martin and the like. And it’s no guess who such appointees will favor when disputes arise.

(e) Politicians are given Junket Trips and Other Perks. Congressional members vital to the war industry are plied with junkets to sunny places in the winter, honored with awards, and in other ways to cater to their egos, palates and pleasures. For example, the Aerospace Industries Association in 2011 handed one of its top awards, the Wings of Liberty, to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), one of the co-chairmen of the special deficit-cutting committee. The award was given to her, not coincidentally, “on the same day the congressional super committee held its first public business meeting,” presumably to influence her vote on any budget cut that would hurt that Association’s industrial interests.6

(f) Politicians are wooed at Trade Shows. Whenever there is a new, expensive prototype developed that can be hyped and sold the industry puts on a glitzy trade show and invites its patrons, the politicians. I can’t imagine any not obligated to the industry would decline. Here’s a true story about a drone trade show. It illustrates quite well I think the flow of money and favors between government and the industry.

If the two were not tied together at the groin and all parts above and below, you would expect the show to be held at a private facility, like say, a big arena rented by the “Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). But this is a true story, not fiction. Instead, the event, publicly masked as a “science fair,” was held in the large foyer of the Rayburn House Office building adjacent to Capitol Hill. The host was the U.S. House Unmanned Systems Caucus (USUMSC), a bunch of politicians who care more about robots than people, except, of course, themselves and their kind of people. I’m not sure which name came first, but I would guess that AUVSI did and then convinced “the industry’s man on Capitol Hill” —to start an Unmanned Systems Caucus—.” And as fast as a knee jerk its members have since been “showered —with cash.” At the trade show hawkers “in suits, polo shirts or military garb” from a host of companies were showing “the hottest new drones, robots and mini blimps.” Well, they weren’t the real thing obviously, just toy replicas.

The author of this story, John Amick, director of Brave New World Foundation’s “War Costs” project, concluded the story with this witty remark, “The toy du jour for this [marriage] is the drone. New technology, same game.”7 And the game is endless. A trade show for each new toy. The story John told was just his “drone edition.”

(g) The Industry’s Members sit on the War Policy Board. Officially named the Defense Policy Board, its members advise the Department of War on, well, on matters of war. When the Center for Public Integrity several years ago reviewed the backgrounds of the Board’s 30 members the Center found that at least nine have ties to companies that have won more than $76 billion in defense contracts in just a two-year period, and also that four members are registered lobbyists, one of whom represents two of the three largest defense contractors.8 The Board sits just outside the revolving door so to speak. Although the Board officially “serves in the public’s interest,” unofficially and obviously the Board serves its own kind and handsomely so. Makes sense, doesn’t it, even as despicable as it is? War is a big business and alongside its astronomical profits are rivers of blood and lands of misery and destruction, nothing more, nothing less.

The Industry’s Leviathan

Lockheed Martin

Let’s take a brief spin around the war galaxy’s largest star, Lockheed Martin. It is the most expensive, the most powerful, the most profitable, and the largest, defense contractor in the world. It has cost the taxpayers around a quarter of a trillion dollars in just 10 years; its annual arms sales are over $35 billion; its total profit around $3 billion; well over 100,000 people are dependent directly for livelihood on this behemoth employer.9

Like all the others in the industry Lockheed Martin knows how to buy and manipulate the federal government. As already mentioned, it places through the revolving door key people in influential government positions; its political campaign contributions over the years total more than $25 million; and its lobbying expenditures over the years total more than $172 million.

Buying and plying politicians help explain why this defense contractor continues to do business with Uncle Sam even while being high on a list of instances of misconduct by defense contractors (the list covers cases of contract fraud and environmental, ethics, and labor violations).10 If you and I had even a small fraction of those violations you know where we would be living.

Meet the “Herk”

“Herk” is my nickname for the C-130 Hercules, a mid-sized transport airplane first designed and built in the 1950s (it’s so big it could also be nicknamed the “Hulk”). The author of the article about it tells us to “consider this a parable to help us see past the alarmist talking points issued by defense contractor lobbyists, the public relations teams they hire, and the think tanks they fund. It may help us see just how effective defense contractors are in growing their businesses, whatever the mood of the moment.”11

The mood in the late 1970s for Herk and its maker was anxiety over the future of its sales. The Pentagon had decided that it didn’t need any more Herks and stopped asking Congress for any more of them. This decision had followed two earlier setbacks for the defense contractor. One, the Air Force awarded a lucrative contract to a competitor, but Congress gave the loser, Lockheed Martin, a bailout of about $1 billion in loan guarantees and other financial relief. The other was having been caught using some of the bailout money to bribe foreign officials to buy Herks.

It was a needless worry. The contractor knew reflexively what to do next. It ignored the Pentagon and by giving more campaign money to key Congressional members up for reelection and then bombarding them with lobbyists got Congress to earmark money for more Herks. Not content to settle for just that sweet deal, the contractor next collaborated with advocacy groups of local Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard to lobby governors and Congress to keep bases scheduled for closing open for the surplus Herks, to argue for even more Herks, and to keep the older ones from being mothballed.

The story of Herk is a never ending one. The contractor recently sold a bundle of the planes to the Royal Saudi Air Force, and the Pentagon apparently now has a hankering for a more modernized version of Herk. This is indeed a plane that continues to enrich the contractor and rob the taxpayer.

And the F35

I don’t want to finish this vignette without mentioning Herk’s sibling, the F35, reportedly the most expensive military weapons program in US history. Not at all atypical performance in the industry, the contractor’s projected cost of $226 billion for 2900 planes and a fly date of 2012 has since become $400 billion for 500 fewer planes with a fly date delayed to 2017. The Pentagon’s plan to terminate part of the shoddy program was thwarted by the contractor marching up Capitol Hill to lobby the House Armed Services Committee.12

We may never see the end of the F35 boondoggle. It has become the premium cash cow for its maker.

In Closing

There is no need to look into any of the rest of the war galaxy. Its members are basically indistinguishable at a distance from one another. What they have in common is far more than what differentiates them.  They are all merchants of death or complicit accessories. They all wallow at the bottomless government trough. They all, along with government, the patron saint, are enemies of humanity and peace. Their threat to the long-term survivability of our species can’t be underestimated nor must their current depletion of resources needed to uplift the common good today be overlooked.

Swords into Plowshares?

Looking inside the war industry is easy to do. Changing it to a “peace” industry clearly quite another. My dozens of proposals for what to do collect dust as do those of others. But, in closing, I want to resurrect one of them I cited in one of my books, the civilianization of the war industry. I learned of the idea from Ellen Hodgins Brown, lawyer, prolific book and article writer, and founder and chair of the Public Banking Institute. Her idea is to “civilianize” the war industry.13 Turning swords into ploughshares, of course, is an old idea and one that has worked temporarily in the past as when at the end of WWII a large portion of America’s GDP was converted from military to civilian outputs. Ms. Brown gives as examples of civilianization turning bases into industrial parks, schools, airports, hospitals, and recreation facilities; and converting factories that churn out war machines into factories producing consumer and capital goods such as machine tools, electric locomotives, farm machinery, oil field equipment, and construction machinery for modernizing infrastructure. She cites evidence of how a well-designed military conversion program can create more jobs, not less than the military can create. Moreover, successful conversion would avoid throwing millions of trained people out of work.

Another reason I highlighted Lockheed Martin is because it is a very diversified corporation. Besides being a merchant of death, it sorts the mail but is not the USPS; cuts Social Security checks but is not the SSA; counts the census but is not the Bureau of the Census; monitors air traffic; but is not the FAA; runs space flights but is not NASA; and helps spy on Americans but is not NSA.14 Lockheed Martin, in other words, knows how to do a lot of things. It would seem ripe for civilianization. Give its owners and top management perp walks before the court of public opinion if not also before the International Criminal Court and rehabilitate the underlings with good, socially responsible civilianized jobs.

  1. See pp. 166-168 of my book, America’s Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying, Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2015. []
  2. Ibid., pp. 33-34. []
  3. Thompson, L. Five Reasons the Defense Industry Is Still A Better Investment Than Other Sectors. Forbes, September 10, 2012. []
  4. Brumback. Ibid. p. 124. []
  5. Lake, E. Top Spy Website Hacked. The Daily Beast”, September 16, 2011. []
  6. Dayen, D. Defense Industry Gives Top Super Committee Democrat An Award, September 14, 2011. []
  7. Amick, J. When the Defense Industry and Congress are Indistinguishable: Drone Edition.  September 14, 2012. []
  8. Verloy, A. & Politi, D. “Advisors of Influence: Nine members of the Defense Policy Board Have Ties to Defense Contractors”, The Center for Public Integrity, May 19, 2014. []
  9. See,  Hartung, W., “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military- Industrial Complex”, Nation Books, 2010; Wikipedia; and Weigley, S. “10 companies Profiting the Most from War”, 24/7 Wall St., March 10, 2013. []
  10. Project on Government Oversight, Federal Contractor Data Base. December 26, 2013. []
  11. Goulka, J. Lockheed Martin’s Herculean Lobbying Efforts”, Mother Jones, March 11, 2013. []
  12. Van Dorn, M. “Lockheed Martin No Stranger To Ethically Questionable Lobbying”, Truthful Lobbying, June 24, 2013. []
  13. Brown, EH. “The Military as a Jobs Program: There are More Efficient Ways to Stimulate an Economy“, Dissident Voice, June 23, 2011. []
  14. See lockheedmartin.com; also, Hartung, W.D. “Is Lockheed Martin Shadowing You? How a Giant Weapons Maker Became the New Big Brother”, TomDispatch.com, January 11, 2011. []
Gary Brumback, PhD, is a retired psychologist and Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science. He is the author of The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch; and America’s Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying. His most recent book is Corporate Reckoning Ahead. Read other articles by Gary, or visit Gary's website.