The Complex by Nick Turse

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The Complex by Nick Turse

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Simon Regan
Reviewed by Simon Regan
Summary: In The Complex, Nick Turse presents the provocative thesis that Western society is being silently militarised with a dry wit and admirable evenhandedness. Turse's writing is lucent, well-sourced and assured, although his arguments occasionally fail to hit the mark.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: June 2009
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571228201

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In 1961 Eisenhower warned about the threat of the 'military-industrial complex,' an ever-expanding corporate cabal bankrolled by the various branches of the armed forces. Today, we consider ourselves a demilitarised society, with little connection between our everyday lives and the war machine still grinding away in Afghanistan and Iraq. The idea that we could be surrounded and influenced on a daily basis by military propaganda seems preposterous – the stuff of conspiracy theory.

But that's just what historian Nick Turse contends in The Complex, an intensive investigation of the military's modern corporate bedfellows, futuristic weapons programmes, and extensive ties to the entertainment industry. The cover art and promotional copy for The Complex suggests that Turse is specifically going after movies, TV, and video games as military training tools; in fact, Turse sees a significantly larger picture – where everything from the New York Times to Dunkin' Donuts is complicit in perpetuating a military establishment bloated to the point of absurdity.

His investigations unearth some surprising conclusions; for example, whilst no-one is likely to be shocked that chequered giant Microsoft is in cahoots with the Department of Defence, how many hip anti-war protestors purchase their computing and media equipment from Apple? Apple Computing has worked with the military to develop training tools for the F/A-18's HARM missile, with thousands of the company's popular iPods given out by the army in exchange for teenagers' personal information in a 2007 recruitment drive. But Apple isn't unique – if Turse's provocative thesis is accurate, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent every year building a real Matrix: a massive network of US and UK companies outwardly free of military ties, but secretly supported by defence spending.

In terms of tone, The Complex sits somewhere between smoothly persuasive polemic and academic treatise – whilst the book itself does not contain a full set of footnotes Turse hosts a rigorous chapter-by-chapter bibliography online, with exhaustive citations and additional information for those who wish to explore the subject in greater detail. Turse's prose style is light and eminently readable; he possesses a dry wit that makes the otherwise grim subject far less troublesome to wade through than one might expect.

At times, however, Turse's arguments do fall short of the mark – and can even seem a little specious. For example, as part of his ongoing fictional exposition of the average family's day, he notes that even playing Scrabble supports the war in Iraq. How so? It turns out the current manufacturer of Scrabble boards, Hasbro, also owns the license for the Action Man franchise, and has consulted with the military to ensure the accuracy of the camouflage gear worn by the toy soldier. Most would not see this as incontrovertible proof of the warmongering potential of Scrabble. To Turse, it's a smoking gun, and it's not the only such instance of guilt by association in The Complex – perhaps betraying an underlying weakness in the work.

However, this is also one of the greatest strengths of The Complex: Turse's uncompromising inquisition allows him to critically examine institutions usually well beyond the reproach of left-leaning commentators. Consider that epitome of liberal chic Starbucks – Turse doesn't hesitate to reveal the company's fully sanctioned kiosks at Camp America, the US facility in charge of Guantanamo Bay.

Whilst for the majority of The Complex, Turse remains focused on the military-industrial complex itself, he also treats us to a glimpse of where all the money goes. Whilst one can't help but agree, for example, that the Pentagon's purchase of a $2,187 door hinge speaks of an unrestrained waste culture, some of the DARPA projects Turse uncovers are genuinely fascinating, if not a little sinister. With remote-control insects, weaponised robots, powered exoskeletons, and super-soldier programmes, these sections of the book make great reading (albeit unintentionally) for military buffs.

Overall, Turse presents a compelling case for his Complex – as an exposé of a grand conspiracy it fails, but as a sober evaluation of the growth of Western military influence and the various dubious projects embarked upon by army think-tanks, it's both intriguing and horrifying. As such, it comes highly recommended for anyone wanting to see for themselves how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Further reading suggestions: The New Rulers Of The World by John Pilger and Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right by Frank Furedi.

Buy The Complex by Nick Turse at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Complex by Nick Turse at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Complex by Nick Turse at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Complex by Nick Turse at Amazon.com.

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