War Profiteering in the Time of Corona

On 11 March, executives from the war corporation CACI, which sells goods and services to CIA, NSA, and the U.S. Armed Forces, rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. That ceremony embodies the war industry’s business as usual approach to the coronavirus. Industry executives are doing their best to keep the gears of war churning, however, as portions of the overall military-industrial-congressional triangle stumble, the working class must seize the moment to obtain peace in our day.

The war industry received 367 distinct deals (contracts or contract modifications) during March 2020, a figure I tallied based upon the Pentagon’s public records. This is above average. A typical month of contracting sees between 240 and 350 contracts issued. Salient military contracts issued to the war industry during March included a state-of-the-art logistics system for DARPA, the burial of nuclear reactor components in Washington state, nearly $1 billion on a single day for Lockheed Martin’s THADD, plenty of missiles, science & technology operations and support for the Defense Intelligence Agency, and $4.9 billion on a single day for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter boondoggle.

Business for the Big Five continues largely uninterrupted. Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman have put in place distancing measures and trimmed the number of personnel required to show up to work, but have yet to take the necessary step: shuttering all plants while paying workers throughout the duration of the pandemic. Lockheed Martin, the biggest war corporation, has made its priorities clear: pushing sales and operations, securing supply chains, and maintaining recruitment and hiring practices. Boeing has temporarily closed some factories in Washington state, but plants in St. Louis and elsewhere remain open to produce bombs, fighter jets, and drones. The war industry frames its actions as caring for employees and providing for the national defense. Executives across the war industry claim their hands are tied: orders came from the federal government to stay open. Executives do not mention that they have lobbied Congress and flexed their muscles in the Pentagon in order to achieve said result.

Pressure groups are one of the many creative ways industry sways the military and congressional sides of the military-industrial-congressional triangle (MIC). The 2020 Air Warfare Symposium was held at the end of February at the Rosen Shingle Creek luxury hotel in Orlando, Florida. This symposium was arranged by a pressure group known as the Air Force Association (AFA). A 501(c)3 organization funded by war corporations, AFA advocates for industry under the guise of caring for the Air Force and its airmen. At this year’s symposium, a variety of war corporations sponsored events and pitched goods and services from eighty booths on the display floor. Eric Fanning, president of the pressure group known as the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), pressed Congress to designate the war industry “essential’ and hence exempt it from any local or state ordinances regarding distancing or stay-at-home orders, the Washington Post reported on 24 March. Like the most proficient captains of war, Fanning has touched all sides of the military-industrial-congressional triangle during his career: congressional staffer, Secretary of the Army, and now chief of AIA.

Throwing salt in our collective wound, the war Industry continues to plan the next generation of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles—nuclear weapons, which will be produced by Northrop Grumman. This is part of the overall $1.7 trillion expected to be spent on the nuclear weapon sector of the war industry in the coming years, threatening all of humanity. One year of U.S. nuclear weapon spending could provide 35,000 ventilators, 300,000 intensive care beds, and pay the salaries of 75,000 doctors, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons recently calculated, as reported by Newsweek. In a time when the public is questioning the D.C. regime’s spending priorities, nuclear weapons are a great place from which to redirect funds.

The elites steering the MIC are scrambling to keep afloat the list of enemies. The MIC needs ‘enemies’ in order to justify its authorities, budgets, and bloat. The White House has tightened already brutal sanctions on Iran, harming a nation that D.C. had already devastated and cut off from the international financial system. Then, the federal government, including FBI and the militarized State Department, blamed Iran (without evidence) for the apparent death of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who was on an “unauthorized” CIA mission in 2007 when he went missing on an island in the Persian Gulf. Building on earlier efforts, the federal government has deemed Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro a “narco-terrorist,” part of a comprehensive approach to punish a government with the world’s largest proven oil reserves that doesn’t bow to the D.C. regime. The Pentagon then launched a military operation in the Caribbean, which included warships and aircraft to patrol near the Venezuelan coast. This is part of a larger expansion of operations in SOUTHCOM, the U.S. military command in charge of hegemony over much of Latin America. U.S. intelligence agencies (the bulk workload of which, by the way, is conducted by war corporations) have weaponized fear of the coronavirus to demonize China in mainstream media. And, of course, the New York Times is publishing screed after screed demonizing Beijing and Moscow, part of the MIC-initiated “great power competition” that demands a buildup of military weaponry vis-à-vis Beijing and Moscow instead of cooperation, understanding, and mutual respect.

Struggling to keep the U.S. Armed Forces in the game, the Pentagon has reduced non-essential functions in favor of core operations. U.S. military exercises—large-scale training events—across globe have been scaled down and cancelled. A planned U.S. Marine deployment to Darwin, Australia, was postponed. As of 31 March most basic training was still on, through the Marines have put a hold on accepting incoming recruits. On 26 March, the U.S. Space Force launched its first space mission, using an Atlas V rocket produced by a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The payload was a military communications satellite, a Lockheed Martin product. The Pentagon has ordered its military leaders to prepare to escalate operations against Shi’a paramilitary groups in Iraq. The U.S. military occupation in Iraq is repositioning forces and hiring corporations to build new infrastructure there. U.S. military operations across Africa continue. General John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summed it up: “Right now we have no impact to our ability to conduct operations in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Middle East—wherever we need to go.” All of this is subject to change, as U.S. troops overseas and at home become increasingly restive and Pentagon officials stumble in their attempts at managing the imperium during its exacerbated descent.

Coronavirus cases in the ranks of the military are on the rise. One Navy aircraft carrier reportedly has over 100 case of the virus aboard. Leaning on secrecy, the Pentagon has ordered military bases and individual units to stop releasing figures to the public about the number of coronavirus cases. (The Pentagon will still release total military coronavirus cases, for now.) Industry can continue to sell to the military, and the military can continue to purchase from industry, but the vessels (the troops) and the avenues (the bases) through which industry routes goods and services are afflicted, increasingly unable or unwilling to perform basic military duties. Furthermore, the blue-collar workers who manufacture the vehicles, ordnance, aircraft, and most other products in the war industry are angry that corporate executives are carrying on with business as usual. In recent days, I’ve been in touch with a handful of employees who work at war industry facilities in Connecticut, Florida, and California. Though there is disagreement among them about the extent to which executives should close down industry, all of the workers with whom I’ve corresponded recognize two facts: industry executives continue to profit, and workers are increasingly at risk.

The pandemic provides a unique opportunity to disrupt the parasitic MIC and end the post-9.11 wars, which send the working class off to fight while the ruling class profits again and again and again. Tools can include creative acts of protest, civil disobedience, wildcat strikes, seizing the means of production to produce medical supplies instead of war matériel, working through Alternative Use Committees (pdf) to convert the war industry into peaceful industry, planting gardens as spring progresses, passing legislation at the local and state levels to hold capitalist oppressors accountable, and sharing resources. The workers’ imagination is the only limit. Though the corporatized surveillance state is expanding—tracking U.S. citizens and residents under the guise of monitoring the coronavirus pandemic—and the Department of Justice is trying to establish the legalese to detain people indefinitely, the U.S. public sees through the haze. Kind, non-corporate thought is spreading. A new society, manufacturing peace and mutual aid instead of war, can bloom if we mobilize to shed the MIC parasite. The MIC’s decision to stay up and running has highlighted what people have long understood intuitively: the ruling class doesn’t care about the people. It cares about corporate profits. Anything is possible now, including an end to our collective cancer.

Christian Sorensen is a novelist and independent journalist. His work focuses on the U.S. war industry. Read other articles by Christian, or visit Christian's website.