April 24, 2008

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The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, by Nick Turse (2008, Metropolitan Books)
By Eric W. Saeger lparsons@hippopress.com

These days, liberals and other politically disgruntled citizens wouldn’t expect a single member of the Dick Cheney junta to be hauled away in chains for the craziest conceivable offense. Nothing would happen, they reckon, even if, for example, high-def video evidence surfaced of Cheney and the CEO of Exxon-Mobil making foreclosure-crisis jokes while torturing a Code Pink protester to death.

Since those cynics are right, the Bush administration is perfectly safe from Nick Turse’s well-researched list of Defense Department-cum-corporation abuses, crimes and just-plain-rotten misdeeds, from charging taxpayers for $35,000 golf carts (which go with the 300 military-owned golf courses that have nothing to do with the DoD mission statement) to a major kiddie-pizza-restaurant chain’s desperate angling for military sponsorship (you’ll know which one if you’ve ever noticed the Pentagon-made pro-military footage looping on video screens at the place).

Turse’s thematic proposition — he’s a snarky 30something Salon.com type, freelancer for Village Voice and L.A. Times, big Chalmers Johnson fan — is that we’re all in A Real Matrix, a military-industrial-congressional complex so vast that just about every major U.S. corporation — not just the usual Lockheed/major media/big-oil suspects — feeds at the military trough to increase their profits.

And it’s true, it’s true, of course. The Major Hip Coffee-Bar Chain has a military contract, as does the Country’s Biggest Doughnut Chain (Turse does drag out the “Military-Doughnut Complex” gag a bit too long). MySpace has been used as a military recruiting tool with the company’s own people chipping in to help tweak the Army’s page’s look and drive possible recruits to it. Even the Biggest Exercise-Leotard Manufacturer is in on it.

To some people, these will not be earth-shattering revelations. The one thing I’ll never forget about Poppy Bush’s Desert Storm operation in Iraq was how, the very night before the “Storm,” the movie Aliens debuted on prime-time network television in all its splatter-gut glory. That was a quantum leap in network TV violence, completely out of nowhere, and with a couple of days’ hindsight I thought it was fishy — did Someone Somewhere want to increase our bloodthirst as we went on national offense? Thus it was no great shock reading Ian Bryce, a producer of last year’s popcorn-buster flick Transformers, happily admitting for the record that a mutually beneficial “consulting” relationship with the Pentagon resulted in making both the movie and the Pentagon in the movie look good.

A few chapters into things, it’s clear that the situation is all but hopeless, and that if you’re hoping to compile an unabridged list of corporations to boycott it’d be easier just to grow your own food, that sort of thing. Meanwhile, the DoD has thus far been able to escape any real audit, and don’t expect one anytime soon.

If Turse aspires to nothing else, he demonstrates that the United States’ economy revolves around the business of war to a literally immeasurable extent. More unfortunate is the accuracy of his comparison to the Matrix: if our shopping malls, cell-gadgets, useless-info-superhighway and “good TV” shows were ever to become suddenly unavailable all at once, one has to wonder what the proletariat —deprived of health care, a growing number of constitutional rights, and even the bitter mercies of bankruptcy and tort protections for a few years now — would do to entertain themselves. A-Eric W. Saeger