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Self-consuming artifacts.

It's not often that I respond to an opad, but I couldn't help noticing Grumman's in the New York Times for May 11. Under the header, "We Read the News Before It Makes the News, papers," the defense contractor's copywriters were peddling Joint STARS (advertised as "a revolutionary long-range surveillance and targeting system") to the Time's upscale readers, as well as a high-tech (and certainly big, ticket) infrared satellite surveillance system.

Over the past several years, the American defense industry has gone direct. In addition to its cynical efforts to keep the international arms bazaar buzzing despite the end of the Cold War, the industry now feels compelled to sell "just folks" on their wares. During the Gulf War, for instance, the media was saturated with (primarily televisual) images originating with the major defense contractors: so-called Pentagon file footage of fighter jets, bombers, and missles in operation more often than not came from the press offices of Raytheon, General Electric, Lockheed, and Grumman.

At least 16 of the fighter planes and helicopters "featured" on the evening news during the Gulf War were powered by GE-made engines (including the operationally disastrous Apache helicopter). GE is, of course, the sole owner of NBC, whose own Tom Brokaw regularly oohed and aahed over the inflated performance of Patriot missiles, also fitted with GE parts.

In short, we the viewing public were repeatedly shown clips from expensively produced commercials posing as news footage, commercials once intended to be seen only by armaments buyers in the Department of Defense--another, quite limited community of consumers altogether. In this way, we were treated as the "prospective" purchasers of military hardware we could neither legally buy nor realistically afford.

The Gulf War was (and continues to be staged as) a grand commercial for fetishized weapons systems--consumer goods which quite literally consumed themselves every night before our very eyes. And the war itself has provided still more valuable footage for the weapons industry. Just months after the formal cessation of Operation Desert Storm, the world's major weapons exporters gathered at the Paris Air Show. A total of 1,769 exhibitors from 38 countries hawked their goods inside a huge airport hangar. Outside the main hall, "static displays" of weapons lined the tarmac, with close to 500 "chalets" erected by governments and companies to entertain prospective buyers with food and wine.

French Gazelles were billed as "the helicopter of the Gulf War," British Tornado fighters became "Gulf killers," and Grumman peddled its Joint STARS system as "the eyes of the Storm." Desert Storm drinking cups, Desert Storm hats, and Desert Storm bumperstickers were everywhere.

The cost of transporting much of the hardware was picked up by the United States government, which brought 20 "aircraft of Desert Storm" to Paris under the guise of flying training missions to France--thus saving defense contractors hundreds of thousands of dollars in transport and leasing fees.

So, with all the money made and saved with virtual subsidies from the U.S. government, major defense con, tractors like Grumman can now sell their goods directly to us--still bedazzled as we are by the technowar and its goodies, many of which failed to live up to their warranties.
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Title Annotation:Against the Grain; defense industry
Author:O'Sullivan, Gerry
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:531
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