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As a visitor to our nation's capital, I cannot tell you how disconcerting it is to step off
the metro and find yourself face to face with a F-35 fighter jet. Where you would
normally expect to find ads for cell phones or museum exhibitions, Washington's
subway, the second busiest in the country, instead displays full color backlit billboards
for some of the most deadly – and expensive – weapons systems ever produced.
The ads for such companies as Lockheed Martin, the world's largest weapons producer,
Goodrich, KBR, AGI, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman can be found in many of
the metro stations in the Washington metropolitan area. Not surprisingly, the heaviest
concentration is at Pentagon City and near government offices at the Federal Center and
Capitol South stations. Undoubtedly, the ads aim to influence key decision-makers, but
they also serve the purpose of selling to the general public the concept that only our
superior military prowess can protect us from a hostile world.
The billboards range from explicit ads for attack helicopters and combat vehicles to
more subtle billboards for companies such as little-known DRS, owned by Italian
weapons maker Finmeccanica and 26th among the top 100 Pentagon contractors, or for
"rugged" Dell computers designed to meet Defense Department specifications for
Far from subtle is Northrop Grumman's marketing approach in the Capitol South metro
station, the closest to Congress. In an all out assault on the visual senses, the station has
been literally festooned by the country's third largest military contractor. Apparently
considering the usual ad space along the tracks to be insufficient, Northrop Grumman
ads can also be found on all four sides of columns installed near the turnstiles, on
banners strung up along the railings upstairs and even on the floor just before the
escalators. CBS Outdoor, responsible for the ad space in DC metro stations, claims that
"Capitol Hill Station Domination is an impactful way to get your message in front of the
Congress and decision-makers in DC."
estimated 17,000 Capitol South metro passengers are confronted daily
with Northrop Grumman Global Hawks and X-47 Unmanned Combat Aerial
Vehicles, which boast a 4500-pound weapons bay, E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes,
Viper Strike-armed Fire Scout unmanned helicopters and E-8C Joint
Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems (STARS), all designed "for an
unsafe world." According to the centrist Brookings Institute, 90% of
drone casualties in "targeted" strikes in Pakistan have been innocent
civilians. Yet ads for these systems, which carry price tags ranging
hundreds of millions of dollars when factoring in development costs,
are on full display.
Perhaps most startling of all the Capitol South billboards is the ominous scene of a
bombed out apartment building above the slogan "By the time you find the threat, we've
already taken it out of the picture." Northrop Grumman fails to fill us in on what
happened to the people living in those apartments.
Following the trend of major defense companies wishing to cozy up to powerbrokers in
Congress and at the Pentagon, Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to relocate
its California headquarters to the DC area. Officials from Washington, Virginia and
Maryland have been falling over themselves trying to influence the decision of the $34
billion company. The District of Columbia has gone as far as offering a $25 billion
incentive package for what Northrop Grumman estimates to be a measly 300 jobs,
which will be filled primarily by company executives moving from Los Angeles!
The defense contractor presence on the DC metro is but one example of the ubiquitous
signs of militarism in Washington. Standing out like sore thumbs, military personnel
dressed in camouflage can be seen everywhere from the food court at the shopping mall
to the line at the bank. Combat fatigues were ordered everyday wear for all service
members, including those with desk jobs, following the September 11, 2001 attacks. I
asked several camouflaged service members the reason behind the combat uniforms and
all sheepishly replied that is was in support of the "troops in the field." One woman told
me, "That's a good question. You feel kind of funny wearing this." Looking down at her
desert boots, she said, "It's not exactly office wear." But it is a clear and constant
reminder that the nation continues to be on a war footing.
Signs calling for support of the troops can be found on everything from restaurant walls
to dump trucks. Cheering on the "troops in the field" is also the Liberty gas station on
Columbia Pike in Arlington. Directly above the gas pumps is a red, white and blue sign
that reads "Support Our Troops." This is either the result of disturbingly twisted logic or
an astonishingly candid call for protecting U.S. access to Middle East oil reserves.
Walking the halls of Congress, you will find memorials at the offices of many
representative and senators for the fallen troops from their district or state. What you
will not find are any memorials for the 2,200 veterans who died in 2008 as a result of a
lack of health insurance.
At Union Station, Amtrak passengers should not be surprised if a soldier or two cut in
line. Signs in the station invite uniformed military personnel to skip to the head of the
ticket line. According to Amtrak, which is the only Department of Defense approved
rail passenger carrier in the US, it is a way for the company to "extend their thanks."
That's all and good but why wouldn't Amtrak want to do the same for teachers,
healthcare professionals, firefighters, librarians or non-profit volunteers?
Much of this is not necessarily new; the militarization of our society has been
progressing for decades, permeating our schools, research and development programs,
law enforcement and culture. And despite the heavy concentration in Washington DC,
the phenomenon is certainly not limited to the nation's capital. The signs of militarism in
our country are ever-present to the point of becoming virtually invisible, while
subconsciously persuading us to accept violence and war as not only a suitable solution
to conflict, but the only one.
The fighter jets and missile-firing drones are anything but invisible to the people in Iraq,
Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let's rebel against their apparent "normalcy" here in the US.
As a start, contact Dan Langdon, CBS Outdoor's Vice President and Regional Manager
letting him know that ads for deadly weapons systems have no place on the DC metro,
or anywhere else for that matter! Dan.Langdon@cbsoutdoor.com
Stephanie Westbrook is a U.S. citizen who has been living in Rome, Italy since 1991.
She is active in the peace and social justice movements in Italy and spent the month
of March in Washington DC participating in anti-war activities. She can be reached