The biography of a vast building that “came to possess agency—the capacity to act in ways that transcended the wills and purposes of the people who claimed responsibility for the Defense Department at any given time.”
National Book Award–winner Carroll (Crusade, 2004, etc.) grew up in the shadow of the Pentagon, the son of an Air Force general; like many military brats of his generation, he dreamed of taking his place there one day, then found himself outside, protesting war and aggression. His book tells three interwoven stories. The first is the history of the building itself, constructed as a military annex during WWII; its groundbreaking took place, eerily enough, on Sept. 11, 1941, 60 years to the day and nearly the minute when American Airlines flight 77 would crash into its south wall. The second strand is the history of the military-industrial complex that the great building would inspire; by Carroll’s careful account, the place seems to have legitimated a culture born in WWII that dismissed as standard operating procedure the targeting of civilian populations for military ends, the active intervention in the affairs of sovereign nations in order to maintain American suzerainty. Two hallmark moments in this amoral history, when the military became a fist of civilian policy that threatened sometimes to overwhelm the body, occurred on Sept. 11: one in 1973, when American-trained and -backed forces overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile, the other in 1990, when George H.W. Bush declared the existence of the “new world order . . . [whose] purpose his son would attempt to fulfill, beginning exactly eleven years later.” The third element of this grand narrative is Carroll’s own story, a life marked by gruff nods from Curtis LeMay and the eventual distancing from a father whose ideals his son no longer shared.
Altogether excellent, and essential for understanding the birth of America’s empire.