Hartung’s ‘Prophets of War’ a tell-all on Lockheed Martin

“Prophets of War,” William D. Hartung’s exposé of the world’s most pervasive private corporation that benefits from military weaponry, could have carried an alternate title that sounds the same when spoken but carries a different spelling: “Profits of War.”

Lockheed Martin has received an incomprehensible amount of money from U.S. taxpayers by building massive warplanes and other hardware. Much of the product has cost much more than estimated, has failed to operate as advertised, and has yielded fewer jobs than claimed. Yet corrupt or naïve or ill-informed members of Congress, Defense Department bureaucrats and lobbyists continue to reward Lockheed Martin while the federal budget fails to provide adequate food, education and insurance for many of the taxpayers underwriting the multinational corporation, Hartung writes.

Hartung calculates that every taxpaying household in the United States contributed $260 to the company during 2008 to support its federal contracts totaling $36 billion. That amount can fairly be termed “the Lockheed Martin tax,” Hartung says.

Although civilian researcher Hartung, employed at the New America Foundation, delineates outrage after outrage, his book’s message is somewhat blunted by his ho-hum prose, his unfortunate penchant to bury major points with a barrage of details, and his lack of a sustained narrative. Put bluntly, Hartung’s writing does not adequately showcase his investigative findings.

Depending on the perspective of the reader, Lockheed Martin is a savior of democracy under attack by shadowy enemies outside U.S. borders, or is a sycophantic corporation whose sub rosa tactics subvert the very democracy it purports to serve.

Nothing about the stratospheric income of Lockheed Martin was preordained. Lockheed began in the minds of two California brothers, Allan and Malcolm Loughead, described as “carnival performers who had become enmeshed in the birth of the aviation industry.”

They formed their aircraft-manufacturing company in 1916. American involvement in World War I demonstrated the weakness of airborne military offense and defense within the U.S. military. So the government began awarding contracts to manufacturers, which failed to build in cost and quality controls.

The Martin portion of Lockheed Martin arrived decades later, when the smaller Martin Marietta company merged with Lockheed. Martin Marietta chief executive Norm Augustine became the hand on the throttle of the expanded firm, and its increased clout within the military-industrial complex.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II, famously warned about the power of the military-industrial complex as he left the White House. If anybody could be taken seriously about the war machine and the role of defense contractors in it, Eisenhower is that person. Hartung, like countless other authors who have exposed the unpatriotic behaviors somehow sold by industry as patriotism, cites the Eisenhower warnings repeatedly.

Yet for all their prescience and powerful verbiage, Eisenhower’s warnings ring hollow circa 2011. Only a small percentage of congressmen, Defense Department bureaucrats and lobbyists have spoken out in a sustained, effective manner. Hartung profiles some of the few, with former senator William Proxmire and Air Force analyst A. Ernest Fitzgerald especially courageous and memorable.

Does the hegemony of Lockheed Martin matter to the future of democracy? Absolutely, Hartung says, and his evidence is convincing. But is there an effective way to reduce that hegemony so one corporation is less controlling? Hartung’s book lacks detailed reform proposals. He has sounded the clarion call through a combination of original investigative reporting and compiling evidence gathered by predecessors. But whether policymakers and those who elect them will translate outrage into reform seems doubtful.

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