U.S. defence spending in recent years has either matched or exceeded the military budgets of the rest of the world combined. Presented with that fact, the next logical question is, where is all the money going? The answer is simple: Everywhere.
In "The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives" (Henry Holt, 2008), Nick Turse carefully follows the money trail of the Defence Department into everything from the traditional players in the defence contractor industry to a handful of Southern catfish restaurants.
The book takes its title from the Military-Industrial Complex -- the one President Dwight Eisenhower warned about on his way out of office, but nonetheless appears to have run rampant since. However, the 'Military-Industrial' part of the moniker was dropped as the armed forces and defence giants have lost their monopoly on the system.
And the 'invasion' that Turse regards as veering into the fabric of U.S. civil life is not simply alarmist rhetoric; the Complex rears its head everywhere from high schools to Hollywood to your local Dunkin' Donuts.
"[T]he DoD [Defence Department] is well tied to the doughnut trade -- more proof of the ridiculously expansive (if not simply ridiculous) reach of the military-corporate complex," writes Turse in "Chapter 8: The Military-Doughnut Complex (MDC)", documenting at least 3.2 million dollars spent on doughnuts in 2005 alone and linking the MDC back to the traditional Military-Industrial Complex with defence contractor Carlyle Group's 2005 purchase of Dunkin' Brands -- Dunkin' Donuts' parent company.
The doughnut example is typical of Turse's engagement of the Complex. Through an often hilarious acknowledgement of the absurdity, Turse follows all the connections by relying mostly on Defence Department documentation of spending, pulling key dollar amounts and other figures from what must have been a painstaking research effort.
The book begins with a fictitious (but completely realistic) "day in the life" of a typical U.S. citizen and all their contacts with the Complex, proffering a nifty chart of food brand names and their associated parent companies -- all of them DoD contractors. Even if a reader skips over the numerous charts throughout the book, they will understand the broad reach of the Pentagon; this first chart has two columns and runs three full pages.
Next, Turse tears through the "old-school" Complex of defence contractors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Three of the top five contractors when Eisenhower made his famous speech remain at the top of the list, and Turse notes that consolidation has created an alarming monopoly for many of the firms -- "a 2003 Pentagon report found that the fifty largest defence contractors of the early 1980's have become today's top five contractors," he writes.
Then there's the traditional Military-Academic Complex, which Turse reveals as going far beyond the military's own university systems and into the "increasingly militarised civilian university". The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, pulled in a cool 600 million dollars in Pentagon research and development contracts just in 2005.
"The Pentagon has both the money and the muscle to alter the landscape of higher education, to manipulate research agendas, to change the course of curricula, and to force schools to play by its rules," warns Turse before launching into the real crisis, whereby augmenting the U.S.'s military might may go against the raison d'etre of universities -- places for free thought -- and "gives the idea of the ivory tower, or perhaps now an up-armored titanium tower, new meaning."
But that was the Complex of old, says Turse, and today's Complex has traded in its "olive drab...with the emphasis on drab" for flashier means of reaching its tentacles into the daily comings and goings of U.S. citizens.
The military, with its insatiable need for young men and women to staff its ranks, works hard to up its "cool" factor by cooperating with Hollywood on blockbuster movies. In exchange for access to military equipment, personnel as extras, and authentic filming locations, the Pentagon gets portrayed positively in the final cut.
Or take the military sponsorship of the U.S. stock car racing circuit, NASCAR, which Turse points out has 8.5 million fans at the prime recruiting ages of 18 to 24. In 2005, the army, navy, air force, and marines "spent more than 38 million dollars in taxpayer money to fund various racecars."
Fans of the same age are also likely to play video games, which, in addition to glorifying the military, serve to "pre-train youngsters". So the Pentagon has opened up its programmes developed as training tools to civilian games, hoping to breed strong fingers and quick responses for today's and the future's high-tech computer equipment.
The Complex also still employs its old recruiting network in high schools -- but has loosed it on youth to a new level in line with the recent strains put on the force by retention problems and recent troop-intensive misadventures in the Middle East.
But the most troubling of Turse's chronicle of the spread of militarism through the Complex is the literal invasion of everyday lives -- both at abroad and, shockingly, soon to come locally in the U.S.
Turse offers up as an example a Long Range Acoustical Device that blares at a tone so painfully loud it incapacitates those who hear it. The company producing the weapon was bragging about good test results from the battlefields of Iraq in 2006, but it was apparently already at the ready for the New York Police Department's handling of protests against the 2004 Republican National Convention.
"The only question now is when will its eardrum-shattering tones be brought to bear on civilians in the U.S. 'homeland'?" Turse asks.
In fact, the acceleration into a domestic branch of the Complex has exploded since the attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, when "a previously diminutive arm of the Complex -- the domestic security component -- began to grow at an exponential rate," writes Turse.
Leave alone the NYPD sound blaster, or that the Los Angeles Police have reportedly been using military developed unmanned drones for surveillance, it's not just the Complex showing up in the U.S. 'homeland'; the military itself is getting in on the action.
With the 2002 creation of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) the Pentagon put "America's homefront" within its military purview.
NORTHCOM has formed domestic links with the CIA and FBI, working on such projects as "report suspicious activity" programmes, providing links via armed services websites, such as the air force.
"Among behaviours that merit the air force's attention," says Turse, "are the use of still or video cameras, note taking, making annotations on a map, or using binoculars. (Bird watchers beware!)"
"Having garrisoned the globe," Terse writes in his conclusion, "the Complex is returning home in new and unnerving ways."