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William Hartung of the Center for International Policy discusses the ways in which the arms industry disguises its activity behind euphemisms and obfuscations in order to make billions off of war

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WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, if you’re gonna say all those things, I should just stop there. I’ve had a long experience dealing with these companies. There was a time when they didn’t know who I was and they said all kinds of interesting things, but of course now they hate me. But one thing about them, which is kind of amazing, is despite what they do, they would like us to believe there’s nothing wrong with what that do, that they’re patriotic companies that are protecting our country and our troops and just doing what the government tells them to do. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Their products kill people and that’s really what they’re about, and that’s the last image they wanna project.
For example, if you look at a press release from Lockheed Martin, the thing it says at the end is, “Lockheed Martin is a high technology company.” Well, yes, but it’s kind of a euphemistic way of putting it. Northrop Grumman, on their website, says, “Northrop Grumman’s a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products, and solutions to government and commercial customers worldwide.” What could be bad about that, right? The whole discourse, the Pentagon and the companies, is about things like defense trade, building partner capacity. The Pentagon has its own little arms brokerage and they call it the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. So everything they can do to kinda distance themselves from the fact that they’re basically war profiteers, merchants of death, profits drenched in blood, you won’t see those on any of their websites.
I think we have to puncture that image, and I think it’s not that hard to do but I think it’s important to do. Every once in a while, something will kinda leak out to indicate that actually they’re quite happy to be profiting from war. Marillyn Hewson, the CEO of Lockheed Martin, was asked by a stock analyst … this was about the time of the Iran nuclear deal coming together, and some of the analysts were concerned that the deal would be bad for arms merchants. God forbid, it creates a more peaceful region, fewer weapons to be sold. So on one of these investment calls, they asked Hewson about this. She said, “Well, there’s still gonna be a lot of volatility, a lot of instability, a lot of things happening in the Middle East and Asian Pacific that’ll make them growth areas for Lockheed Martin.” So basically, she was staking their future on continued war and basically saying, in euphemistic terms, “War is good for business,” which isn’t surprising but it’s surprising that she would acknowledge it in that fashion.
We’ve already heard about the reality of what these companies do and how their products are used to kill people. If you look at the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan, conservative estimates, quite conservative, are that 300,000 people have died in those wars, about two-thirds of them civilians. Then you have Yemen, where U.S. bombs, planes, tanks, ships have been used to kill thousands of civilians in bombing raids to blockade the country, 10 million people on the verge of famine, a cholera outbreak like we’ve never seen that could have a million victims by the end of this year. These are all weapons made in the USA, made in the UK, made in the other western countries, but about half of them, to Saudi, come from the U.S. and about a third from the UK. You got a little inkling of the UK-Saudi connection in that snippet from Shadow War that we saw.
So that’s the reality of what they do, and of course they’re profiting from our current policies. Even before our current narcissist-in-chief took power, United States was involved in seven wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and there’s lesser levels too. I mean, they’re cycling Special Forces through the Philippines, and perhaps one of the most under-reported things is the U.S. role in Africa. When the foreign soldiers were killed in Niger, suddenly the newspapers noticed that the U.S. had troops in Africa. There’s 800 U.S. troops in Niger, there’s a drone base, a new one under construction. Dozens of African countries have U.S. Special Forces there. They go on visits, they go on training mission, but they also go into combat. Places like Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Mali, South Sudan, and many, many more have a U.S. Military presence. The U.S. Policy in Africa has a military face, and any one of these could spiral into a war that has even larger U.S. involvement. This is how these companies make their money, on a policy of permanent war.
I took a look recently at the … where does the money go? ‘Cause the other myth is that we have to spend a lot on the Pentagon because it’s for the troops. Of course it’s for the troops. It ends up, more than half the Pentagon budget, 300 billion-plus per year, goes straight back out the door to corporations. The top five, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics, get about a third of that 300 billion. So that’s where a good chunk of the taxes are going is to these companies, and they pay their CEOs quite handsomely. The top five that I mentioned, just their CEOs cumulatively make about $100 million a year of our tax money. If you look at the board members and the lower level executives, it’s hundreds of millions more at a time when people are going hungry, when healthcare is being dismantled, when the needs in our country are growing more and more stark.
We’re taking money dollar-for-dollar out of these programs to pay for a Pentagon build-up, and it’s not like we were giving them chump change before. We were already at near record levels and now trump wants to add 54 billion. Senate said, “Oh, no. That’s not enough. Let’s give them an extra 90 billion.” We’re doing what we can to stop that but it’s gonna be a tough fight under this regime. Then you have the war at home, which I’m sure we’ll hear about, but Department of Homeland Security giving military equipment to local police forces, Pentagon giving surplus military equipment also to police forces, our own drones and surveillance equipment at our borders, intelligence, National Security Agency, CIA, FBI, all contracting out their work of surveillance to companies like Lockheed Martin.
In my final couple minutes, how do we go after this behemoth? There’s already been a lot of good ideas mentioned but I think there’s a couple things I would say. First of all, a lot of the most successful campaigns, divestment from South Africa, United Farm Workers boycott, BDS on Israel-Palestine, have been initiated by the people who are on the receiving end of these policies, African National Congress and Black Consciousness movements, the Palestinian Movement, the Farm Workers and their union. So I think the people who are the victims, I don’t like to think of them entirely as victims since they’re fighting hard for their freedom but nonetheless, the people who are at the end of this repression have to be central to this story.
The other thing I would say is focus on some of the most egregious cases like Raytheon’s bombs being used to kill civilians in Yemen. Look at some of the cross issues, companies that both have arms going to the police or helping militarize the border, involved in private prisons, and also involved in our wars overseas because I think that can help build a different and interesting kind of movement. Go after all their image-building, all the charity giving they do. Susie Snyder mentioned that Northrop Grumman tried to do a comic book and they got shut down because the folks who do that kind of thing, which don’t include myself, went after them and said you can’t do that. You can’t have this military contractor sponsoring a comic book. They’ve done stuff like they tried to advise the city of Burlington, Vermont, Lockheed Martin did, on how to make it a greener city. The response was, “What?” so that didn’t happen.
There’s many other examples. This is an old one but this guy Jack Murtha, the late Jack Murtha who was sort of the king of pork barrel politics, his wife was a big advocate of the symphony in their small town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. They had a world-class orchestra ’cause it was funded by Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, all to curry favor with this member of congress who was helping to keep the flow of money going to them. And then, I think it was mentioned, the science programs for kids. Friends of mine had … their daughter came home with a slap bracelet from a science camp she had gone to that said Lockheed Martin’s Mission Success. So there’s a lot of ways at it, a lot of hooks, and I think we need to grab on to them. The more people and organizations that find some aspect of this that they care about and participate in some way, the bigger the impact will be. I feel I’ve close to exhausted my time, right? Oh, I have time. Well, I’m not gonna use it because we have a great panel, and we’ll talk more. Thank you.

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William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He is an internationally recognized expert on the arms trade, nuclear policy, and military spending. He is the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books: 2011). His previous books include And Weapons for All (HarperCollins, 1995), a critique of U.S. arms sales policies from the Nixon through Clinton administrations; and Lessons from Iraq: Avoiding the Next War, co-edited with Miram Pemberton (Paradigm Press, 2008). Prior to working at the Center for International Policy Mr. Hartung was a project director at the New America Foundation and a Senior Research Fellow at the New York-based World Policy Institute. He also worked as a speechwriter and policy analyst for New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams and a project director at the New York-based Council on Economic Priorities.