Disturbing account of a weapons conglomerate’s rise and undue influence on domestic politics.
Hartung (How Much Are You Making on the War Daddy?: A Quick and Dirty Guide to War Profiteering in the Bush Administration, 2003, etc.), director of the New America Foundation’s Arms and Security Initiative, constructs an accessible, unnerving history of the evolution of Eisenhower’s prophesied “military-industrial complex.” As the Pentagon coddled companies like Lockheed Martin throughout the tumult of downturns, mergers and wars hot and cold, a monster was unwittingly created. The resulting conglomerate commands considerable power, in ways that are largely opaque. Hartung tries to cut through the thicket, examining recent controversial projects like the F-22 Raptor—at $350 million per plane, the most expensive ever built—and demonstrating a repetitive pattern in which the supposedly transparent relationship between the military and contractors inevitably leads to cost overruns, fraud and the notorious “revolving door” relationship between public service and the private sector. Strangely, Lockheed Martin had modest beginnings. The Loughead brothers were tinkerers who struggled to break into the aviation field during the 1920s and ’30s, when they achieved respect with the Electra, plane of choice for Amelia Earhart. World War II brought financial success and convinced the rapidly expanding company that the future lay in aggressively embracing military sales rather than the civilian market. In the ’50s, Lockheed’s pursuit of projects like the Polaris missile system facilitated its transformation “from an aviation company…to a genuine aerospace giant.” By 1970, the company was mired in controversy over its enormous C-5A transport, whose safety issues and wasted millions led to congressional hearings. Yet Lockheed thrived again during the ’80s. Most recently, the company has moved in Orwellian directions, including maintaining FBI fingerprint databases and IRS records. Hartung is a skillful researcher and persuasive journalist, yet his neutral tone has the odd effect of dulling the impact of the many outrages he unearths: e.g., Lockheed and the Army rigged the 1984 tests that suggested Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” dream was feasible, a deception that went undiscovered for a decade.
A bit more polemicism might have increased appeal for a still-relevant topic.