Making Things That Go Boom In The Night

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

As is often the case, I opened the Monday newspaper curious to find out how the weekend had gone at the movies. The headline read, "'Ghostbusters' Is No. 2 Behind 'Secret Life of Pets.'" That meant Universal Studios' animated film had again been the big winner, taking in an estimated $50.6 million for a two-week domestic total of $203.2 million. In the industry, it was feared that China, the world's number two market and gaining fast, might not let another hit, Ghostbusters, be shown, given its paranormal themes. Still, all in all, it had been an upbeat week for one of the two dominant American product lines that go boom in the night and also have a remarkable grip on their respective global markets. The first of those -- think action films, superhero movies, and space operas -- comes out of Hollywood and, in multiplexes globally, one thing is guaranteed: you're not going to get the next Avengers sequel or Fast and Furious 23 from Russia, France, or China. Not surprisingly, since Hollywood rakes in billions of dollars annually from the rest of the planet for entertaining us all, weekly news about its business successes and failures is a regular feature of our world.

And, oh yes, then there's that other business, the one that actually makes things that go boom in the night. I'm talking, of course, about the weapons trade. As TomDispatch regular Bill Hartung, author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex, points out in "There's No Business Like the Arms Business," it has an almost monopolistic grip on its global market and, like Hollywood, regularly has cheery news to offer about the billions of dollars it pulls in from countries at war or fearing future conflicts. In fact, for a business that -- bottom line -- kills people rather than simply thrilling them with bloody mayhem, it, too, has a remarkably upbeat sense of itself.

Take Thomas Kennedy, CEO of Raytheon, a major arms maker, presently cleaning up when, as Defense News reports, it comes to the "missile defense interceptor, as well as air-to-ground missiles and air-to-air combat missiles fired by fighter jets" that it's selling across the Middle East (and in some cases in Asia, too). The company is projecting a revenue rise of 3%-5% this year and, according to Defense One, "When investors visiting Raytheon's factories ask 'How's business?' Kennedy tends to respond like this: 'Did you notice you couldn't get a parking space?... 'Where else can you find a factory in America that you can't get a parking space?'"

So here's the puzzle: two major industries with certain similarities grip their global markets in similarly overwhelming ways. One is the focus of almost constant reportage and attention, the other largely avoids notice in our world. Why is that? Fortunately, TomDispatch can call on Hartung's expertise when it comes to the remarkably little known "success" story of America's weapons makers to offer the sort of picture of one of this country's stellar industries that you won't find anywhere else.