The military draft in the United States has disappeared. There’s no major U.S. war and military affairs rate little attention in the media. The U.S. public embraces the pervasive influence of the military-industrial complex across U.S. society. The U.S. Congress seems never to hold back on wildly exorbitant military spending.
Travelers entering North Carolina on Interstate 95 almost immediately see a sign proclaiming “Nation’s most military friendly state” – a sign paid for, in part, by the N.C. Bankers Association. In high schools, military recruiters “insinuate themselves into school life at every level.” Loudspeakers at sports events sound out tributes to veterans and active-duty troops. The latter may receive free tickets to performances, preferential parking, and discounts on merchandise.
Unveiling of the new “Welcome to North Carolina” sign for interstate highways in the state – Fayetteville Observer
Author Joan Roelofs has written a new and much needed book that explains much about praise and support for the U.S. military. The Trillion Dollar Silencer, provides atravelogue of sorts through the U.S. military-industrial complex. It moves from the military establishment and big corporations to colleges, universities, NGOs, philanthropies, foundations research institutes, and other kinds of defense contractors.
Her thesis is that dependency on the part of civilian institutions involved with the military establishment has the effect of shielding the military from widespread popular outrage at war-making and big spending. She asks, “Why is there so much acceptance of and so little protest against our government’s illegal and immoral wars and other military operations?”
The author shows her anti-war perspective in rejecting NATO and in criticizing U.S. military interventions, subversion, and covert military actions as violations of international law. She condemns U.S war-makers’ use of Cold War and anti-terrorism pretexts to have free rein to maim and destroy.
Roelofs, a retired professor of political science, is the author also of Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (SUNY Press) and Greening Cities (Rowman and Littlefield).
She argues that the incentive for civilian institutions and private companies to support military funding and U.S. military purpose lies in their interests being satisfied. Propaganda, distractions, and fear of repression, she points out, are other persuaders. Her new book is about “the interests created by [the] military’s penetration into so many aspects of civilian life.”
Roelofs writes about large and small defense contractors and private, public, and non-profit ones. They are colleges, universities, research foundations, healthcare organizations, and groups working on political and legal issues and the environment. They provide the military with supplies, logistics, weapons development, human services, defense against atypical threats.
She indicates that, “75% of the [Defense Department] budget is paid to contractors.” These had enough funds, she reports, to financially support dozens of think tanks and foundations. Money, we suggest, is basic to the “interests” cited by the author.
Other observers point out that U.S. companies in 2019 accounted for 57% of the arms sold by the world’s 100 top weapons manufactures. The world’s five biggest weapons manufacturers are U.S. corporations.
Lockheed Martin took in $58.2 billion in revenues in 2020 and showed profits of $9.1 billionin 2021. Raytheon Technologies reported arms sales of $36.8 billion in 2020 and profits of $5 billion in 2021. Boeing’s profits in 2021 were $5.19 billion. Northrop Grumman sold arms worth $30.4 billion in 2021 with $7.0 billion in net income. General Dynamics’s arms sales totaled $25.8 billion; its 2021 profits were $3.3 billion. The average salary of the CEOs of these companies was $20,795,527, according to inequality.org.
According to the book, defense contracts provide economic rescue even for next-door operations. In 2012 an $866,000 three-year contract for making cribs for childcare centers helped to revive a children’s furniture manufacturer in the author’s hometown Keene, New Hampshire. Granite Industries of Vermont was declining until it received a contract for making up to 4000 headstones a year for Arlington National Cemetery.
Surprises turn up as to who are the big defense contractors. The for-profit health insurance company Humana is the seventh largest of all of them, according to Roelofs. Massachusetts Institute of Technology ranks in 38th place.
Relationships are tight within the military industrial complex. Upper-level employees of universities, philanthropies, and non-government organizations and the top military brass and Defense Department officials oscillate between one sphere and the other. According to the author, Defense Department grants to philanthropies, foundations, and to environmental and civil rights groups are oriented to reforms and not so much to basic social change.
The single-issue orientation of most of the contracting philanthropies and NGOs fits with military and official preferences; their fear would be that different issues seen as connected might encourage critical thinking and even dissent. Roelofs looks at the role of state and local government entities in reaching out to youth to serve military needs such as ROTC units, recruitment, and encouragement of scientific and technical educational paths.
Roelofs’ purpose has been to make “the extent and implications of the military industrial complex more visible.” But, as she notes, “many look away, and the mountain is huge to move.” Additionally, “Our political system … does not afford citizens much democratic control over policies, and hardly any over foreign policy.” The question is: “What can be done.”
Roelofs is alluding to the powerful forces attached to the economic and political status quo, among them the civilian enablers of the military establishment. She is saying, in essence, that the process of consciousness-raising that does lead to useful political action would be a long and arduous one.
Her book, which is written in a readable, accessible style, would have us start out at the beginning. The first item on the agenda is that of persuading ordinary people to say “No.” They would stand up, test the waters, be active in some way, and make a few gains.
She calls upon her readers to speak out, write to editors, contact elected officials, join and work with antiwar organizations. She advocates for a Green New Deal, a “national service program,” and “conversion to a civilian economy.” She is evidently hoping that masses of people will build a resistance movement, score some victories, gain confidence, and learn.
If Roelofs had presented all-encompassing themes like past U.S. military misadventures and the evils of a profit-driven political system, her call to action would have yielded almost nothing. Instead, more promisingly, she is lending support to a protest movement in its infancy. Now is exactly the right time for her highly recommended book.