By Andrew Stone
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 325

The Complex

This article is over 15 years, 11 months old
Nick Turse, Faber and Faber, £16.99
Issue 325

After two terms in the White House, in which he engaged in stratospheric arms spending and plotted the overthrow of several unfriendly governments, a Republican president did something profoundly unexpected: he denounced the “military-industrial complex” dominating political life. In the reasonable expectation that George W Bush will not be expanding on Dwight Eisenhower’s insight in his own closing address to the nation, Nick Turse has stepped into the breach by producing a damning and well-researched dossier on the ever more pervasive “complex” of the 21st century.

He begins by showing the number of “civilian” corporations who work as contractors for the Department of Defence. Astonishingly “the number of prime contractors tops 47,000 with subcontractors reaching well over the 100,000 mark”. The more familiar aspects of the military-industrial behemoth – the “iron triangle” of Congress, big military contractors and the Pentagon – have begotten a more monstrous beast, encompassing catering to computer games, schools to social networking.

The exposé of the cynical corporate-military symbiosis behind games, such as American Army and Full Spectrum Warrior, in indoctrinating and training a new generation of soldiers is particularly illuminating. This is an entirely deliberate two-way strategy, with the controls of new vehicles and weapons designed to emulate popular game consoles.

The chapter on military recruitment is proof, if it were needed, of the importance of the policy we passed at this year’s NUT teachers’ union conference against “misleading propaganda” in schools. Enmeshed in a draining and unpopular war, the US government combs the personal data of 30 million young people to target them with phone calls and emails, expands the recruitment criteria to include felons, 42 year olds (up from 35) and the functionally illiterate. Its websites (often disguised as educational materials) promote career prospects and extreme sports, yet are strangely silent on the death and destruction awaiting the recruits.

The extent of Turse’s empirical evidence, and unflinching anger, is impressive. But an overarching analysis is lacking. Turse’s description of the failure of liberal pluralism to restrain the complex would be hard to better, but he is vague as to the source of this failure – was it avoidable or does it reflect something intrinsic to imperialistic capitalism? The answers are complex, but need to be approached.

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