Contextual Content

The Pentagonization of US life

Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt of Tomdispatch.com, in the second part of their interview to Pepe Escobar, talk about the ramifications of militarism in American life – how over 100 contractors are now in the Pentagon’s payroll. This is closely connected to the way the Bush administration expanded militarization abroad through the worldwide US "empire of bases." The backlash was inevitable. Engelhardt says the Bush administration "may have single-handedly given birth to a multi-polar world."

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Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: We’re back with Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse of TomDispatch.com. Nick, question to you. You wrote an absolutely extraordinary book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives. You describe Americans being subjected to, I quote you, "a military-industrial-technological-entertainment-scientific-media-intelligence-corporate complex." In other words, this is the Matrix, and we’re all inside it, and we’re under its spell. How do you explain, briefly of course, how does this complex works? And how does it interfere with our everyday lives all the time?

NICK TURSE, TOMDISPATCH.COM: Well, I mean, you know, back in Eisenhower’s day, the military-industrial complex really didn’t extend far beyond the, you know, Lockheed factory floor. This was, you know, the major weapons dealers, armaments manufacturers, and the mega-corporations like, say, General Motors. Now, today, Lockheed, Boeing, they’re still the largest of military contractors, and, you know, GM still plays a part in these big mega-corporations. But today, you know, the Pentagon has tentacles that extend far beyond that. They’ve gone into—they’re just about every sector of American life. So, you know, the contractors today include, you know, such well-known civilian firms as Apple and Starbucks, and, you know, even down to, you know, small restaurants, catfish restaurants, or religious stores. At this point, you know, there’s somewhere around 100,000 or more, you know, at least, subcontractors on the Pentagon payroll.

ESCOBAR: Tell me about the research that went into your book, because it’s incredibly detailed. Were you tracking basically what newsletters the American media for the past five years or so [inaudible]?

TURSE: Well, you know, Tom kind of alluded to this. I’m used a lot of open-source information. You know, there’s a lot of this spread around the mainstream media. It’s in the last paragraph of newspaper stories or buried in the, you know, pubic relations literature from these corporations who are Pentagon contractors. And, actually, the Department of Defense itself puts a lot of information out there. They bury it in websites. They produce a lot of propaganda. But if you look beyond, you know, the spin out of extremely useful information, and then the trick of it is to try to put it together in some coherent way so you can tese out the real stories.

ESCOBAR: So you would say that American life is totally Pentagonized.

TURSE: Yeah. There’s been a real militarization of the entire society and the economy, but not one that people realize. You know, there aren’t, you know, parades with tanks rolling down the street and guys in uniform, but this is going on covertly. It’s in the pop culture, in the hottest movies—last year, Transformers, the movie, a huge blockbuster hit, major Pentagon influence; this year, Ironman. They find ways to infiltrate the American mainstream culture.

ESCOBAR: Would you say, Tom, that we are more or less repeating the script during the buildup towards the war against Iraq in 2002? We are more or less repeating the split now in 2008 in terms of an attack on Iran? Would you say that this is just a matter of who is going to attack Iran—the US, Israel, or both? And before or after the presidential election? Or it’s much more complex than that?

TOM ENGELHARDT, TOMDISPATCH.COM: I think I’d go for "much more complex than that," because I have to say as a start that TomDispatch raised the possibility of an attack on Iran. Ray McGovern wrote a piece way back in, I think, 2003 suggesting that this might happen, and in fact we have to remember that in the prewar period one of the neocon quips was, "Everybody wants to go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran." I’ve never forgotten that. On the other hand, and certainly this administration wanted to take out Iran, and it’s clear that the vice president still does. Nonetheless, my own feeling, despite if you’re on the Internet, it seems as though we’re about to attack Iran every third second, I actually think it’s going to be increasingly hard for the Bush administration to attack Iran. By the time you get to the moment where it might happen, October, November, whatever it might be, oil’s probably $170. It becomes almost impossible to imagine the $400 barrel of oil or whatever it is, even for relatively—they are kind of mad dreamers, and anything’s possible. I don’t rule anything out. I think it’s going to be hard. I don’t think Israel—you brought up Israel. I don’t think Israel could attack Iran without the United States. It would be a really perilous thing for them to do, almost inconceivable. And I don’t think they could just attack Iran with the okay from a faction, even the Cheney faction, within the American government. I just don’t see that as possible. So I think, actually, that an attack on Iran is actually, despite all the bluff and bluster, and everything that’s being done, including terror tactics against Iran and the building of bases along the Iraqi border, I don’t expect this actually to happen. I could be proven wrong, and I’m certainly [inaudible].

ESCOBAR: What you’re seeing, maybe, you know, three out of four American voters, they’re saying that gas prices determined in their decision how they’re going to vote in November. So could we be contemplating a case that high oil prices in November will work against Bush decision to keep the military option on the table? Bush will be defeated by gas prices, in fact.

ENGELHARDT: I think he will. And, in fact, one of the real—.

ESCOBAR: And the Dick Cheney faction, of course.

ENGELHARDT: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’ve argued in TomDispatch over the years, and so has Nick—I mean, it’s kind of an argument of the site—that the thing that the Bush administration did was it actually misunderstood the nature of power in our world. And, actually, the Bush people and the neocons fell in love with the American military. They were romantics about the American military. They believed that not just the threat of force but actual force could rule the world, literal military force—not just destroy, but remake the world. They do believe this, and they were wrong. And so they’ve got much of what they wanted. They have their bases in Afghanistan, they have their bases in Iraq, they have quite a string of bases that should control that world, and yet those bases sit rather neatly, those little, American, fortified towns, which are huge, sit rather neatly in those countries and rather quietly in those countries amidst utter chaos, you know, a situation that’s devolving, a world in which the United States has visibly, imperially lost power. The Bush administration has almost singlehandedly brought a multipolar world into existence. This is a remarkable accomplishment of sorts that they never wanted.

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