Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A walking tour of the military-industrial complex

Working in and around Washington, DC can be something of a weird, albeit illuminating, experience. Unlike other U.S. cities, where waterfront properties with a perfect view of the city's skyline would be full of high-priced condos, Washington's nearby suburb, the grossly misnamed "neighborhood" of Crystal City, is largely home to the merchants of death, their advocates, and -- as you'll see below -- their enablers. 

Having worked in the physical manifestation of the military-industrial complex for a number of months now, I have almost become accustomed to riding in an elevator full of men and women in fatigues while defense contractors in ill-fitting suits -- those men (and occasionally women) who directly profit off of war and its accompanying misery -- fret about landing that next big contract to build the Pentagon's latest weapon of mass destruction.

But while I've become somewhat used to living in world dominated by the military and militarists, I got to thinking: maybe the rest of the world isn't (one can hope?). So with that, I bring you the first of what is likely to be a long-running, recurring installment of "a walking tour of the military-industrial complex":

What tour of the military-industrial-congressional complex would be complete without a stop by Senator John "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" McCain's campaign headquarters? 

True story: about three weeks ago I was waiting in line at a sandwich shop behind some young McCain campaign staffers who were so sure of their candidate's impending victory that they were loudly discussing their planned "victory" vacations to various tropical paradises. Perhaps they know something we don't -- could William Ayers be Barack Obama's real father? -- but, in light of the recent polling data and the state of the U.S. economy, they might want to reconsider that drunken, celebratory romp through the Virgin Islands.

About a block away from McCain's campaign headquarters are the offices of Lockheed-Martin, which is a bit convenient, seeing as it just so happens that McCain's chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, "used to be" a lobbyist for said merchant of death. That connection, I'm sure, in no way impacted the Maverick's recent call for the Bush administration to expand its military aid package to Taiwan -- which, it just so happens, McCain would like to see include a bunch of Lockheed-manufactured F-16s. Nope, nothing to see here. Move along, move along...

This is the Crystal City underground, an odd mixture of restaurants, electronics stores -- and as you see here -- defense contractor gift shops and "Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)" offices. If one thought the "military-industrial complex" was a mere fiction created by clove-smoking hippies and Dwight D. Eisenhower's speech writers, this place would put your doubts to rest. 

Watch out Banana Republic -- here comes the official Boeing gift shop. Impress the ladies with your sense of sophistication when you show up to the Hamburger Hamlet bar wearing your B-50 bomber Polo shirt. Oh yeah.

Gulf War II, baby! A fixture of the Crystal City underground, this store is your one-stop-shop for all your war glorifying merchandise needs -- my personal favorite being the kid's t-shirt commemorating Harry Truman's brave decision to nuke Hiroshima, complete with mushroom cloud: "This 'Little Boy' is the Bomb!" 

[Ok, so I actually haven't seen that shirt -- but considering the other war porn available in Crystal -- it isn't that far-fetched.]
Have you ever taken the train to work and found yourself wondering, "What are my enemy's movements?" Do you often find yourself pondering that eternal, omnipresent concern shared by so many students and business professionals: "Do I have enough troops?"

Well, fear not, for the Crystal City metro has got you covered, its walls plastered with ads selling the latest in expensive products designed to streamline the insurgent-killing process.

This ad, also in the Crystal City metro, is notable mostly for the existentialism embodied in the phrase it uses to sell war enhancement products -- "The Enemy is Uncertainty" -- but also for its bold commitment to "defeat the common enemy" and its Rumsfeldian pledge to "[m]ake the unknown known".

What better way to end this "walking tour" installment then with an ad that displays the basic inhumanity inherent in the military-industrial complex. After the endless stream of advertisements and politicians heralding war as a force that gives us meaning, its useful to point out that those that actually partake in it -- and aren't completely taken in by the military's dehumanizing brainwashing -- tend not to like it all that much. Some even want to kill themselves because of what they've seen and/or done in Iraq and other illegal wars of aggression. Yet while the military has a seemingly endless stream of money to pay for recruitment ads during sporting events and other television programming aimed primarily at young men, the best they can do to prevent suicide among their "employees" is an ad in a random subway station.

You gotta have priorities, I guess.


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