The Money Defense Shield

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I once sat on a plane in front of two drunk arms traders, on a flight from Dallas to Washington DC. They'd sold helicopters to both sides during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. When the helicopters got shot down, the countries bought more, then more again, so the arms traders made more money each round. They laughed wildly about the story, considering it a perfect deal.

This incident came to mind when I heard the Bush administration talk of kindly sharing their proposed national missile defense system with their allies. Why not? The more countries, the more orders. And the more benefits to those truly protected and benefited by this project-the weapons producers who've spent over $40 million in the past two years on campaign contributions and lobbying.

A group of Lockheed Martin employees essentially acknowledged this, when I gave a talk, a few years ago, at their Missile & Space Division, in Sunnyvale, California. The company had invited me to discuss a book of mine on the values of current students-their future employees. I hesitated, then decided to speak as honestly as I could, even though it would mean raising discomforting questions. Introduced by a former Air Force General then serving as a Lockheed Martin Vice President, I talked about the generation's complex worldview and struggles to engage some of the critical issues of our time. When students feel that the world is corrupt and can't change, I said, they often point to the political clout of weapons companies, citing corporate bailouts, pork barrel contracts, and military systems that are useless but still make millions. I mentioned how Boeing, well before it acquired Rockwell and McDonnell Douglas, had more staffers in its Washington DC lobbying office than the entire DC staff of Washington State's Congressional and Senatorial delegations combined. The students were beginning to believe, I said, that political access comes only when you give at the door.

After mentioning some respected critics of military buildups, such as former Reagan assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, I cited the famed Eisenhower quote: 'Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed--those who are cold and not clothed.' Since the average American household now pays over $200 each year to finance Lockheed Martin's government contracts, I challenged the audience to question their corporate culture and not assume that just because a contract provided money and jobs, it automatically served a greater common good. I specifically questioned some of the company's missile defense systems, which critics were calling politically destabilizing and technologically problematic. A man in the audience quickly jumped in to defend the company's role in developing them.

Then one of his colleagues spoke up. 'Let's get real,' he said. 'We all know that if anyone ever attacks America, the bomb is going to be delivered by a suitcase, a car or a truck, or in a boat. It's not going to come from a missile, because you can track where a missile comes from and retaliate. We all know that we're lobbying for these programs because they make us money. We don't care whether they'll ever work, or even be useful. We care that the dollars come our way.'

The room was silent. The original questioner answered briefly, but no one else jumped in. The conversation moved on to my original topic of the students. It was as if people were ashamed to respond.