How our daily consumer choices are linked to the military
By John Vogan
As the military-industrial complex continues to grow, even a bowl of cereal is militarized.
General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, profited $930 million from 2005 to 2009 through the Department of Defense. If you use Land O’Lakes milk on that cereal, you’re supporting a company that received $79 million from the DoD. The list continues: Hormel Natural Choice Meat ($179 million from the DoD) and Sara Lee bread ($68 million from the DoD in 2006 alone). American consumers are linked to the military in hundreds, if not thousands, of ways.
With more than 700 U.S. military bases worldwide and roughly a quarter million deployed military personnel, it’s easy to understand why the Department of Defense must rely so heavily on companies that also dominate civilian life. If they can adequately provide for 300 million American consumers, it makes sense that they would also be called upon to provide food and supplies for those serving overseas. As a result, the lines between private companies and the military are increasingly blurred.
Every day at 5 p.m., the DoD website announces approximately 10 new contracts that have been awarded to companies, each valued at $5 million or more. Contracts under $5 million are not announced on the website, so the actual number of contracts is difficult to ascertain.
Virtually no one is exempt from an indirect association with the military. Even at Ithaca College, where a majority of students are liberal and hold pacifist views, there is an ATM for HSBC, which ranks No. 16 out of “The 25 Most Vicious Iraq War Profiteers” on businesspundit.com. After the fall of Sadaam Hussein in 2003, HSBC took control of 70 percent of the newly created Iraqi national bank, which generated $91 million in assets.
William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, focuses specifically on problems of the military-industrial complex. Hartung spoke in early January at the organization’s forum, “The Military-Industrial Complex Revisted: Eisenhower’s Warning 50 Years Later.” During the discussion, Hartung raised several crucial concerns the country is currently facing, including an inflated defense budget being allocated to an industry that has become densely concentrated among only a few major arms and technology companies.
“We used to have a separate firm called Lockheed, we had Boeing … Martin Air, McDonnell, Douglas, Rockwell,” Hartung said. “Those are now two companies: Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The concentration of the ‘90s … has given us a smaller number of firms chasing a bigger pie.”
Many people expect large weapons contracts. On Feb. 22, for example, Boeing was awarded two contracts in the same day—one for $5.7 million and the other for $20.5 million. The situation is further complicated, however, when even seemingly non-military companies, like food businesses, also receive military contracts. This makes it more difficult to avoid the reach of the military in everyday life.
“It’s all about business,” said Jim Murphy, who coordinates Chapter 38 of Veterans for Peace in Ithaca, warning that war has become lucrative for many companies.
Part of the reason for this profit motive is that politicians are becoming more closely connected to private businesses. Murphy points out that political figures are often prompted to make concessions for companies that perpetuate the complex, particularly those who give sizable campaign contributions, in order to safeguard their own self-interest.
So what are the solutions? The military comprises thousands and thousands of serving soldiers with basic needs. Should we be blaming and targeting these companies simply for providing the same necessities to serving men and women of the military as the rest of us?
Even if we were to blame these companies for their military affiliations, it would be impossible to boycott them all. That’s not to say you should abandon all material possessions. There are more practical ways of dealing with the matter.
First, there’s the age-old philosophy of buying local whenever possible. Nick Turse, the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, suggests approaching the challenge from both ends of the spectrum—giving up commodities that may come from the largest war profiteers, as well as from the smallest companies, which draw relatively small portions of their profit from the military. Because their customer bases aren’t quite as massive, these smaller companies would be especially sensitive to protests such as boycotts and letter writing campaigns.
“Aside from supporting businesses locally, the best answer is just refusing to participate in war,” Murphy added, asserting that people should be fully aware of the numerous effects of the military.
Perhaps the most effective approach to ending the complex is the most direct one: a widespread public outcry denouncing such aggressive military action in the first place. If a majority of Americans make it clear that they do not want their military acting above and beyond what seems reasonably necessary, the Department of Defense would have no choice but to scale back on military operations, which would therefore lessen the need for supplies from companies. Only then can you enjoy your cereal guilt-free.
John Vogan is a freshman journalism major who loves Cheerios but hates war. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.