Friday, June 25, 2010

Hey, Buddy! Looking for a Sweet Deal on Some Weapons?

The Washington Post today carries an article about the rash of defense contractor advertising that has become common in the DC media. The mass of commuters who pass ads in Metro stations aren't exactly in the market for a new littoral combat ship or jet fighter. Nonetheless, defense contractors think it's worthwhile to make the effort.

Of course, the whole point is visibility with the expectation that the ads will provide some margin of favor for their sponsors. In reality, most of the people who are exposed to the ads have neither interest in nor influence over the contracts to be awarded. But that's okay as far as the contractors are concerned. They have plenty of money. Ads for combat systems in subway stations make combat part of everyday life.
But even if you don't sit on a House or Senate subcommittee, the ads may still be working on you in subtle ways. Repeated exposure to an advertising message has a cumulative effect, slowly shaping attitudes over time, says Angela Lee, a professor of marketing at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. "The more you're exposed to it in your environment, the more you're internalizing the message," she says. "You start to take it for granted that this is normal."

In other words, heroic images of the latest firepower may contribute to a generally positive climate for military contractors and Pentagon spending in Washington -- a point that isn't lost on antiwar activists. "This absolutely isn't a fair fight," says Dennis Lane, executive director of Veterans for Peace, an organization that promotes alternatives to militarism. "The defense industry has the money to shout louder than anyone, and it just keeps pushing for more. It's a self-perpetuating cycle. It just keeps going and going."

Ah yes, the business of war, without which the United States would have little else to export. We no longer manufacture much of anything and our economy is in shambles. But America does seem to have plenty of money when it comes to weapons. Just look at the numbers discussed in the article and then look to see if anyone is complaining about deficits when it comes to weaponry. You won't hear much beyond the objections of groups like Veterans For Peace. Frankly, I'm surprised that an establishment organ like the Post even included the quote from VFP. Usually such voices are roundly ignored in those circles.

The article actually describes the real purpose of these weapons: killing. The ads, on the other hand, are more discrete.
Defense ads also are striking in the way they resort to euphemism when discussing the principal attribute of most kinds of military equipment -- their efficiency in killing people. Code words like "dominance," "powerful" and "strength" crop up frequently, which makes them sound like copy for a sports drink. Moreover, it's never clear who's supposed to be on the receiving end of these impressive instruments of warfare. Some ads speak darkly of "emerging threats," but the enemies are never named.

Back in political science school, I learned about the Iron Triangle of special interests, Congressional committees and bureaucracy. These ads tell me that nothing has change in the past half century.

War. It's good for business.

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