Interview: Five questions with Christian Sorensen, author of Understanding the War Industry
Speaking Security Newsletter | Advisory Note for Organizers and Candidates, n°67 | 1 February 2021
Christian Sorensen is a researcher, novelist, and independent journalist mainly focused on war profiteering within the military-industrial-congressional complex. An Air Force veteran, he is the author of the recently published book, Understanding the War Industry. Sorensen is also a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of independent veteran military and national security experts. His work is available at www.warindustrymuster.com. He tweets @cp_sorensen.
1. What’s the war industry and why is it important to understand it?
The military-industrial-congressional triangle (MIC) is an insulated authority consisting of the Pentagon, the war industry, and Capitol Hill. The war industry is comprised of the corporations that sell goods and services to the U.S. Armed Forces and allied governments and regimes around the world. The war industry drives the MIC for the sake of profit. It lobbies Congress and funds Congressional campaigns. It funds and runs pressure groups (e.g. NDIA, AIA, AUSA) to dominate the Pentagon, administer arms fairs, and push favorable policies. It funds think tanks and corporate media to keep the narrative pro-war. It floods the Pentagon’s civilian offices with corporate executives (e.g. Esper and Austin, Secretary of Defense; Lord, Undersecretary for Acquisition & Sustainment; McCarthy, Secretary of the Army). It recruits retired generals and admirals (e.g. Dunford at Lockheed Martin, Mattis at General Dynamics, Winnefeld at Raytheon) to leverage their knowledge for profit. For its part, the Pentagon regularly lies to the public, wastes tax dollars, and opens inherently governmental jobs to Corporate America.
It is critical that we understand how the war industry and the larger MIC function if we ever want to stop the wars, bring the troops home, and start taking care of the U.S. public.
2. By analyzing the war industry through Department of Defense (DOD) contracts, you were able to go in-depth in a range of specific issue areas while painting a broad picture of how the war economy works. What led you to adopt this approach?
I had never intended to write a book on the war industry. I started casually studying DOD contract announcements after I separated from the military in 2011. In 2013, I started studying these contracts in earnest. By 2018, I realized I had enough information to start putting pen to paper. It was incumbent upon me to present this information to the public.
3. Looking at how the government actually spends public funds often contradicts stated policies, legislative priorities, or other narratives. Can you discuss one of those contradictions exposed by your analysis?
This is one of the reasons I love your think tank, SPRI. This question can be best answered by your work, actually. In a recent article for Jacobin magazine you demonstrated convincingly how Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives get paid by the war industry, and how this affects the policies these representatives put forth.
You showed how, on average, Democrats who voted for the recent National Defense Authorization Act received far more campaign finance from the war industry than those who voted against it. This is scandalous in its own right. You then noted that the party’s base, the actual voting public out there, is not supportive of such a sky-high military budget (roughly $740B) that the NDAA implemented. So that’s a double scandal: House Democrats accepting legalized bribery from the war industry while simultaneously ignoring the wishes of the party’s working-class voting base.
My favorite part of your critical analysis, however, is when you point out that the war industry is actually subsidized by the U.S. taxpayers (for example, you point out that 70% of Lockheed Martin’s total 2019 revenue came from Pentagon funding). The war industry then recycles a portion of these public subsidies into corrupting Congress with campaign finance (legalized bribery). This voting public must know how this corruption works if they ever want to address this dismal state of affairs.
4. What changes (if any) in war industry contracting do you suspect will occur with the incoming Biden administration?
Biden’s cabinet and close confidants are a smooth blend of vicious capitalists and career militants, to put it bluntly. I see no change coming from a Biden White House when it comes to the basics of war and peace. He will do nothing to address the profitable nature of war inherent to the military-industrial-congressional triangle. He will likely revert to an Obama-style militarized foreign policy of corporate primacy, drone strikes, massive espionage, and use and abuse of special operations forces.
5. Let’s talk about your (policy/political) recommendations, which confront the military-industrial-congressional complex from a bunch of different angles. What is a specific policy or general political approach that you’d most like to see included in the current debate/advocacy efforts?
I have very few recommendations in terms of policy, because the military-industrial-congressional triangle is insulated from the needs and wants of the U.S. public. Yes, we elect the congressional side of the triangle, but Congress is captured by the war industry via strategic spread of factories across the country, campaign finance, and lobbying. I do not expect Congress to take care of the U.S. public. To do so would involve Congress turning its back on its true constituency (e.g. Wall Street and executives of war corporations).
If Congress were somehow responsive to the needs of the public, then I would advocate for immediate nationalization of the top ten corporations within the U.S. war industry. Upon nationalization, the U.S. government ought to convert the war industry to an industry that satisfies human and environmental needs. This would have to happen in close consultation with the workers who man the factories. Unfortunately, nationalization is unlikely to happen in a capitalist society whose ruling class profits professionally and financially from non-stop war.
If Biden were so inclined, he could use executive orders to ban war profiteering. He could also use executive orders and declaration of national emergency to divert military funding away from war and into genuine needs, such as healthcare, education, and sustainable energy, each of which produces more jobs than war. (The precedent has been set, as President Donald Trump used executive orders to reroute Pentagon funding to build a wall.) This would be a great start.
The working class must rise to the occasion, as Capitol Hill is captured by corporate interest. If we ever want to see the end of the wars, a reduced military budget, and a reinvestment of that budget into programs of social uplift, then it is incumbent upon the working class to democratize the workplace. Democratization of the workplace involves the workers seizing the factories of war corporations.
They would democratize the workplace for several reasons:
It is not in their class interest to produce goods and services that harm the working class in other countries, which is the primary function of the war industry.
The war industry, just like all other capitalist industries, puts profit over people; it is only a matter of time before a given job within the war industry is eliminated, shoved into the gig economy, automated, or sent overseas. Democratizing the workplace allows the workers to save their jobs before it’s too late.
Given the war industry’s venality, anti-democratic operations, and environmental pollution, seizing the factories freezes out the executives and allows the working class to immediately cease such deadly activity. It is a power play. It says, physically, “We’re not going to take it anymore.”
Democratization of the workplace allows the workers (not a handful of executives) to make the decisions. Once a workplace is democratized, the workers can pay themselves a living wage, which many workers (e.g. welders, construction workers, laborers) do not currently make in the war industry. Once a workplace is democratized, the workers can decide what to make, how to make it, and who to sell it to. Right now, they have no say in those matters.
A class-conscious workforce in a democratized workplace will utilize their deep knowledge regarding supply chains, inputs, and the machinery within the factory in order to turn the war industry into an industry that meets human and environmental needs.
Thanks for your time,