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From War Profiteer to For-Profit War

As a boy in the 1950s, I can remember my father, a World War II vet, becoming livid while insisting that our family not shop at a local grocery store.  Its owners, he swore, had been “war profiteers” and he would never forgive them.  He practically spat the phrase out.  I have no idea whether it was true.  All I know is that, for him, “war profiteer” was the worst of curses, the most horrifying of sins.  In 1947, Arthur Miller wrote a wrenching play on the subject of war profiteering, All My Sons, based on a news story about a woman who turned her father in for selling faulty parts to the U.S. military during my father’s war. It was a hit and, in 1948, was made into a movie starring Edward G. Robinson. war_inc.jpg

Now, skip 42 years.  In September 1990, I wrote an op-ed for the New York Times with the title “Privatize the Pentagon,” a distinctly tongue-in-cheek column suggesting that it was time for the U.S. to develop what I termed a “free-enterprise-oriented military.”  “Looking back,” I wrote then, “isn’t it odd that unlike the environment, the post office, the poor, and Eastern Europe, the military has experienced no privatizing pressures?”

No privatizing pressures?  Little did I know.  Today, if my dad were alive to fume about “war profiteers,” people would have no idea why he was so worked up.  Today, only a neocon could write a meaningful play with “war profiteering” as its theme, and my sarcastic column of 1990 now reads as if it were written in Klingon.  Don’t blame my dad, Arthur Miller, or me if we couldn’t imagine a future in which for-profit war would be the norm in our American world, in which a “free-enterprise-oriented military” would turn out to be the functional definition of “the U.S. military,” in which so many jobs from KP to mail delivery, guard duty to the training of foreign forces, have been outsourced to crony capitalist or rent-a-gun outfits like Halliburton, KBR, Xe Services (formerly Blackwater), and Dyncorp that think it’s just great to make a buck off war.  As they see it, permanent war couldn’t be a dandier or more profitable way to organize our world.

If one giant outfit gives for-profit war-making (rather than war profiteering) its full modern meaning, it’s Lockheed Martin.  If you don’t believe me, just check out William Hartung’s latest piece “Is Lockheed Martin Shadowing You?”  The giant for-profit war-making corporations are to this century what the robber barons were to the nineteenth century, and like Rockefeller and Morgan, they deserve their own biographies.  Now, Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, has done just that, writing Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex, the definitive account of how that company came to lord it over our national security world.  It’s a staggering tale that would leave my father spinning in his grave. 

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