The Complex by Nick Turse

This could've been written while sitting at one desk and never even seeing the inside of the Pentagon, or any military establishment, or speaking to a single person with any knowledge on the subject.

The Complex

Publisher: Metropolitan
Subtitle: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives
Author: Nick Turse
Price: $24.00
Length: 304
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 0805078967
US publication date: 2008-03

At some point while readers are perusing his The Complex, associate editor Nick Turse appears to want readers to put the book down and breathe out a quiet, awed, "Whoa". The idea seems to be that readers will have had no idea, none, about the extent to which the military has thrust, crawled, and seeped into practically every aspect of our society over the past few decades. The result would then apparently be something like the moment in The Matrix -- that all-purpose touchstone of the 9/11 Generation when it wants to convey the naiveté of humanity -- when Neo realizes that everything around him is controlled by sinister and all-powerful forces. There is no moment like that in The Complex, though it's certainly not for a lack of evidence.

Evidence, in fact, is the only arrow Turse seems to have in his quiver as he goes about describing the exact extent of the modern military-industrial complex. Starting out with a day in the life of an imagined couple (Rick and Donna), Turse details how every single one of the brands they use and encounter throughout their life have some connection to the military. Whether it's their computer by Hewlett-Packard (military contractor), the foodstuffs in their pantry (all of whom supply the military, from Sara Lee to Hershey), their Saturn in the garage (owned by GM, which also makes the Hummer), or their iPod (yep, even Apple works for the men in uniform), everything is tied into what Turse calls The Complex, or more tellingly, "the real Matrix."

In short order, Turse is able to show that everything in the daily life of the average American has some defense establishment tie, but that's where the argument ends. Turse seems so taken with the idea of the Pentagon as octopus-tentacled uber-fiend that he forgot to take much time to step back and explain what in fact is wrong here. It may come as a shock to Turse and some of the folks at the American Empire Project which The Complex is an installment, but the mere connection of a product to the Pentagon (like video games developed in association with the Marines) is not going to shock or even upset every person who reads this book. Not every American believes that the military is by definition evil and so would not be automatically disturbed by its taint. But in the manner of fellow fulminator and Sorrows of Empire author Chalmers Johnson, this is a point that Turse seems hardly to have considered.

That said, Turse has obviously hit upon a topic of great worry, arguably one of the most pressing problem facing the future of American democracy, namely the insidious growth of the military-industrial complex to where its ubiquity appears to dwarf even its already gargantuan size at the time of Eisenhower's prophetic farewell speech warning against just such an establishment. The idea that the American military has had essentially a blank check to spend mostly unmonitored sums on just about anything it pleases, and has co-opted a huge swath of private and public institutions from schools to companies to further its goals, is one that hardly augers well for a lasting and fruitful democracy.

But Turse's seeming lack of true knowledge about his subject keeps him from engaging with it on any deeper level than surface-oriented dismay. A large portion of The Complex is given over to showing how the military markets itself to the youth market with X Games-style extreme coolness, hip ads, MySpace pages, and a well-calibrated trend-consciousness in order to brand itself as an awesome way for kids to get some money and see the world. Similarly Turse (being the data-hunter that he is) shows the rapidly growing level of financial incentives that the Pentagon is using to increase volunteer enlistment during wartime. Again, this is all good information, though it has certainly been well reported on in the media for some years now. Also, Turse's mostly non-analytical style here makes the book seem particularly naïve, as though it would purport that any large state military throughout history has not done everything within its power to garner recruits and burnish its image? The problem lies with a civilian leadership that has allowed the military to essentially set its own agenda without oversight; one shouldn't be shocked that TV ads for the Marines don't include a reality disclaimer: "Warning: You May Die."

Just like far too many current muckraking books, The Complex doesn't seem to rely much on humans for its hair-raising figures. Turse is research director at the Nation-affiliated, and his background shows in the material collected here. Most of the book's stats and figures appear to have come from the murkier recesses of government accounting, particularly Department of procurement data and reports. (Assumedly, that's how readers will discover in the "Military-Doughnut Complex" chapter how the army spent $147,689 at Krispy Kremes in Georgia and Kentucky during 2002.) A lot seems to have been dredged up from Wired's future-war blog Danger Room, and the work of other investigative reporters, who only get credited at the end. It's a book that could have been written while sitting at one desk and never even seeing the inside of the Pentagon, or any military establishment, or speaking to a single person with any knowledge on the subject.

As such, The Complex is an airless and rather pointless recitation of facts that feels cut-and-pasted rather than written. Yes, it's certainly a maddening frisson of Heller-ian proportions that, as Turse reports, Guantanamo has three Starbucks stands. But he never follows up on that bizarre fact, just leaves it dangling there. Any accounting of the Pentagon's legendarily byzantine and wasteful expenditures is always a worthwhile endeavor, whether it's showing how the US military spent $6 million on sheet music, accessories, and instruments in 2005, or runs an excessive-sounding 172 golf courses worldwide. But with only the occasional blog-style snark breaking the monotony (and when Turse tries to be funny, the results aren't pretty) and no deeper analysis of why all of this is a problem, how it came about, and what can be done about it, The Complex becomes more an angry recitation of data (think of all those menacing lines of code from The Matrix) than a book.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.