It’s a familiar story: Robert Johnson traded his soul for the ability to play the guitar like no one else. Dr. Faustus traded his for the ability to effect cures and other medicinal wonders. In modern western society, it is the citizens and their governments who sell themselves (and their souls) to oil and the military. Nowhere is this Faustian deal more complete and pervasive than here in the United States. Virtually every large city and many smaller towns have some type of defense contractor or military outpost that represents this deal. It doesn’t matter if the town’s politics are liberal or conservative, leftist or right-wing, pro or antiwar; nor does it matter what the political slant of its elected representatives is, although districts where legislators are known for the support of the war industry do tend to have more military contracts.
For example, if one comes to Burlington, Vermont and drives south about a mile and a half on Pine Street s/he will see a small factory on the right with a good deal of security–a guard post, razor wire, and a fence all around it. This is the site of an armaments plant. Originally owned and managed by General Electric, it changed hands in 1992 to Martin-Marietta after a Wall Street deal was made with the former. Since then, it has changed ownership to Lockheed (when Martin-Marietta and Lockheed merged), and is currently owned and operated by General Dynamics. No matter which master of war has their name attached to it, however, the business inside continues. That business is the manufacture of some of the most inhumane weaponry known to humanity–no small feat in today’s world of weaponry. This is even truer under General Dynamics, a Virginia-based company with facilities in the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico and Canada, who make absolutely nothing but weapons systems and the technology used to guide those weapons in their destruction. In a 1999 speech to the Washington Economic Club, the company’s current CEO, Nicholas D. Chabraja, attacked those who desired a peace dividend in place of increased weapons spending and called for increased public spending on weaponry in the hope of forging not just another “American Century” but an “American Millenium.” In other words, another century (if not a millennium) of war for profit.
Perhaps General Dynamics’ most (in) famous product is what is currently known among arms purchasers as the Vulcan armament system. This system is currently used on the United States Air Force’s F-16, F-16, and F-18 fighter bombers and (as the company’s web page puts it) “features a 20-mm Gatling gun which provides reliability up to ten times greater than single barrel guns. The system’s M61A1 Gatling fires at 6,000 shots per minute and places a controlled dispersion of projectiles in the path of the target.” If one has never seen footage of what 6,000 shots per minute can do to a person, think of what your dog would look like if you placed a dynamite stick in its mouth. I hope that’s graphic enough to give the reader an idea. The prototype of this system was the Gatling gun, which was first used by Union troops during the Civil war. That earlier version was capable of firing a couple hundred shots per minute (with less accuracy) and, once the Union troops figured out how to use it without injuring themselves, gave a clear advantage to their side in those battles where the Gatling was present. Since that time, it has been used in Korea, Vietnam, Colombia and Iraq (among others). Its cousin, currently catalogued as the RAH-66, which is designed for use on helicopter warships, also raked the killing fields and deserts in Vietnam and Iraq and was destined for use during the war against Yugoslavia in 1999, until NATO decided against the use of helicopters. This ghastly gun is but one of General Dynamics’ fine products. Others include missile firing systems that can be mounted on both air and land vehicles. Indeed, the Israeli military uses some of these systems on the helicopters they use to attacks Palestinians in the Gaza and West Bank.
Since the events of 911 and the resulting expansion of the military budget, General Dynamics’ sales have jumped more than 18% and its profits have increased $16 million. Much of this can be attributed to it being awarded over $4 billion dollars in contracts, much of it in new weapons systems. Some of the profit increase can also be traced to the company’s ongoing practice of outsourcing work to non-union shops and laying off unionized workers. Why does General Dynamics get so many contracts? One reason might be the amount of advertising it does in the Congressional Record. Another might be its ability to get so-called critics of the defense industry like Senator Leahy of Vermont to push for these contracts because such contracts are supposed to create jobs. This is where towns like Burlington make a compromise. Its civic leaders and citizens trade their apprehension and misgivings about the war industry for a few jobs and the income these jobs bring into a community. In doing so, they begin a trek down a road that is hard to veer away from because of the money and politics that become involved. On a greater scale, the supposed good times that the war industry brings depends on their opposite somewhere else. Good times in this country mean bad times somewhere else. In the United States, good times also mean that our war-based economy must be doing well. This is certainly the case nowadays, with the United States ranked as the number one arms seller in the world and outranking its nearest competitor tenfold.
A group of activists who are linked with Action for Community and Ecology in the Rainforests of Central America (ACERCA) in Burlington are stepping up a campaign against General Dynamics as part of their work around US involvement in the war in Colombia. This work is the successor to a multi-year campaign against the weapons plant in Burlington that took place in the 1970s and 1980s when it was run by General Electric and employed a couple hundred people. Various other working groups organized against General Dynamics during the 1990s, as well, culminating in a protest at the company gates in April 2001 during the actions against the FTAA Summit of the Americas in Quebec (when Burlington served as a border convergence center). ACERCA is a Coordinating Committee member of the National Colombia Mobilization (NCM)-a network of peace and antiwar organizations working to end US military aid to Colombia, in part by challenging the corporations that profit from that aid. ACERCA’s work against General Dynamics has involved mostly generating publicity about its products to this point, with the intention of stepping up its campaign in future months.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org