The Military-Industrial Complex in Madison, Wisconsin

The Military-Industrial Complex in Madison, Wisconsin

We’re all aware of the gargantuan size of the U.S. military industrial-complex. President Eisenhower warned that it was a threat to democracy as he left the White House.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

We may have liked Ike for two terms, but it seems we didn’t listen to him carefully as he was on his way out the door. The military-industrial components of President Trump’s 2021 Budget of the United States are startling, inducing both anger and despair. The president’s budget allocates $740.5 billion for the Department of War, funding imperialist military operations ($20.5 billion for current operations; $32.5 billion for “enduring requirements”; $16 billion for other programs), an updated and expanded nuclear program ($28.9 billion, a 19 percent increase), and $15.4 billion to begin the destabilizing process of militarizing space through the creation of a Space Force. Trump’s military planners have even included $20.3 billion for something akin to the Reagan-era “Star Wars” program, now called, more prosaically, “Missile Defeat and Defense.” There are hypersonic weapons, tanks, ships, bombers, and $11.4 billion for the F-35, which may soon pollute the groundwater and the skies over Madison.

According to David Vine, author of Base Nation, the U.S. military has around 5,000 bases, 800 of which are in someone else’s country. Statista.Com reports that slightly over 1.1 million Americans are on active duty with the Army (largest branch), Navy, Air Force, and Marines; another 1 million people are in the Guard and Reserve, and the Coast Guard has 48,837 active duty and reserve personnel.

Of course, these numbers, large as they are, under-report military expenditures, because many overseas contingency operations are funded separately. Much of the budget of the Department of Homeland Security ($49.8 billion for operations, plus $5.1 billion for disaster relief) is, by definition, for “defense of the homeland,” a fine, authoritarian sounding phrase that includes brutalizing migrants in concentration camps. Money for nuclear weapons development ($19.8 billion, a 18.4 percent increase) is buried in the Department of Energy’s budget. The National Intelligence Program, which includes the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), and six other black box agencies (but not military intelligence) has a 2021 budget of $61.9 billion. The Department of Veterans Affairs, the sometimes forgotten “backside” of our military adventurism, receives $243.3 billion in President Trump’s budget, a 10.2 percent increase. The VA serves approximately 18.2 million (and counting) veterans, and its current budget makes it the second largest component of discretionary spending, second only to the source of its clientele, the Department of War.

So, the total budget for war and its aftermath is really a combination of all these sources, and it totals $1.1 trillion ($1,115,300,000,000) for fiscal year 2021. Admittedly, this isn’t the standard way of presenting the budget, which focuses on the top line of each department without adding them together. But add them we must if we’re to have a clear understanding of the enormous costs of the American empire. Plus, total expenditures present a jaw-dropping amount of opportunity cost, as economists say, for action on climate change, infrastructure projects, universal health care, and education. And when a drone attack on a wedding in Afghanistan kills 30 men, women, and children, how many young men vow to join the fight against U.S. imperialism? Ten in Afghanistan, plus 10 in the tribal areas of Pakistan, plus 20 somewhere in the Middle East, plus 10 scattered across Europe and the U.S.? Who knows, but the War on Terror facilitated by large war budgets creates terrorists as least as fast as we kill them. This obscene amount of military spending, repeated year after year since 9/11, under both Democratic and Republican regimes, has not made us safer. One could even argue that it has made us more vulnerable.

We’re often told the U.S. has the finest, best trained, and best equipped military in the world; certainly, we have the most expensive. CNBC reports that the U.S. accounts for 37 percent of the world’s military spending, and the National Priorities project notes that the U.S. war budget is larger than the combined budgets of the next seven nations – which includes our new/old Cold War competitors China and Russia. reports that the U.S. is home to five of the 10 largest defense contractors in the world, and American companies account for at least 57 percent of all arms sales, racking up $398 billion in global sales. In comparison Russia, the second largest arms dealer, sold $37.7 billion in weapons (China isn’t included because reliable data doesn’t exist). General Dynamics ($19.5 billion), Northrop Grumman ($22.4 billion), Raytheon ($23.9 billion), Boeing ($26.9 billion), and Lockheed Martin ($44.9 billion) are the top five U.S. weapons manufacturers. It’s worth nothing that just one company, Lockheed Martin, sells more weapons than Russia.

It might seem reasonable to ask what we’re getting for our money. Well, it turns out that we’re not getting as much as we should for a gushing spigot of dollars. The U.S. has not won a war since it was part of the Allied Forces in World War II, and the only “war” our arms build-up might be said to have prevented is a nuclear war. The Cold War period of our history wasn’t cold; there were dozens of hot wars around the world, many of which involved the U.S. Korea and Vietnam are merely the largest and best known, but there were wars and coups in Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia in which the U.S. participated, if not precipitated. In more recent times, we’re involved, directly and indirectly, with wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and an unknown number of countries in Africa. But we’re still faced with the conundrum of why the best armed and trained military in the world cannot win, or even reliably end, a war. It seems that we have incompetent generals and mad politicians, and the rest of us are fools for tolerating them.

Why are we doing this? The short answer is money.

Defense contractors make money, a lot of money, when we’re at war, so they have no interest in ending them. According to, lobbyists for defense contractors, 73 percent of whom are former government employees, spent $111,295,096 on Washington politicians in 2019, so it’s not in the interest of politicians to seek an end to war. Generals, the men and women charged with prosecuting war, know their retirement incomes improve significantly if they sit on a defense-industry corporate board. Ending a war makes generating profits more difficult, and the winning general might not be offered a post-retirement board seat, so generals have strong motive for not ending wars that are the source of profits for their corporate masters.

George Orwell was right:

“The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance . . . In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.”

The “ruling group” of the 21st century are capitalists and their profits, and our endless discretionary wars are not Eurasia against East Asia, as Orwell’s novel has it, but the working class of the U.S. against the working classes of nearly every non-European country on the planet.

Military Side of MIC in Madison

What of the military industrial complex (MIC) in Madison, a medium-sized, comparatively liberal city in the Midwestern heartland of America? Surely it has little to do with the vast grasping octopus of militarism and defense sales. Surely.

Ah, no. Madison, as the self-help mantra goes, “leans in” to the military industrial complex. Let’s begin with the most obvious artifacts.

Truax Field, home of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing and its F-16 aircraft, tops Madison’s list. A frequent source of noise complaints, and a contributor to air and PFAS pollution, the wing is subject to new controversy because of a U.S. Air Force proposal to base F-35 fighters in Madison. In addition to being a grossly over-priced ($78 million per plane) and minimally functioning aircraft (800 unresolved software flaws, 13 of which are “must fix,” and a 25mm rotary cannon doesn’t shoot straight), the deployment of F-35s to Madison will increase noise levels (50 percent after-burner use) and air pollution, and construction at Truax Field will stir up PFAS in the soil, contributing to water pollution (one well in Madison is already closed). The greatest impacts will be felt by working class neighborhoods around the airport.

In addition to the Air National Guard, the headquarters detachment of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 64th Troop Command, along with the 54th Civil Support Team, is based in Madison. The Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs, commanded by Adjutant General Brigadier General Joane Mathews (who reports to Governor Evers), which supports Guard units statewide, is also in Madison. There are three U.S. Army Reserve Centers and U.S. Naval and Marine Reserves components in the city.

Casting a wider net, there are seven military recruiting stations in Madison: three Army, two Air Force, and one each for the Navy and Marines. The University of Wisconsin in Madison also recruits students for the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs it offers for each branch of service. The military pays tuition, room and board, and a monthly stipend to students enrolled in any of the programs, which makes it attractive to students from low income families. Students in ROTC earn a military officer commission while completing an undergraduate degree, and after graduation they enter the military for at least five years (guaranteed employment is a valuable benefit in today’s economy). To support ROTC, the university has a Military Science program (Army), an Aerospace Studies program (Air Force), and a Naval Science program (Navy and Marines). Non-ROTC students can also take courses, which have titles that might appeal to a larger audience: Leadership and Teamwork, Leadership and Ethics, etc. To the extent such courses appeal to non-ROTC students, they are points of recruitment and an opportunity to normalize the military and its way of thinking into everyday life.

There are no Junior ROTC programs in Madison High Schools, so military recruiters do not have a “primed” source of recruitment in schools. However, recruiters do have access to students during career and college days, and, as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, schools are required to provide military recruiters with the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of high school students.

Finally, the William S. Middleton Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital in Madison is a major employer in the Madison area. It serves 180,000 veterans in Wisconsin and Illinois. In addition to the main hospital, it also operates a primary care clinic in Madison West.

Industry (Business) Side of MIC in Madison

That’s the explicitly military half of the military-industrial complex, but what about the industrial half? It’s . . . rather large, given the size of Madison’s economy. According to the latest data available on, between 2000 and 2018 there were 336 defense contractors in Madison, working on 5,358 contracts valued at $1,856,584,086. Even though it’s spread over a number of years, it indicates that the military makes a significant financial contribution to Madison’s economy.

In 2018, the latest year for which data is available, Madison companies won 769 defense contracts, for a total of $96,515,973.

Some of the contracts are tiny, such as a $3,600 contract awarded to the American Society of Agronomy, or a $6,895 contract awarded to a construction engineering company. In fact, a typical 2018 defense vendor in Madison has one to 10 contracts worth less than (sometimes significantly less than) $500,000.

In terms of the number of contracts won, the largest defense vendor was Wisconsin Aviation Madison, which was awarded 523 contracts valued at $1,244,372. The company provides general aviation services, most likely for the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

The largest dollar value of defense contracts in 2018 were issued to the Wisconsin Physicians Services Insurance Corporation. It received only two contracts, but their combined value was $71,816,527. Over the entire reporting period (2000 to 2018), the value of Wisconsin Physicians contracts was $1,290,551,122!

Other items of interest. The University of Wisconsin System (presumably not just Madison, but significantly Madison) won defense contracts worth $38,796,563 between 2000 and 2018. Madison Area Technical College won three contracts worth a total of $54,477. The City of Madison had nine contracts worth $763,325. More ominous, perhaps, is the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s 28 contracts for $199,495.

Significance of MIC in Madison

The Military-Industrial Complex is embedded in Madison’s economy, on both the military and the industrial (business) sides of the equation. This opens potential new avenues for protest and pressure to reduce the war budget.

Opportunities: (1) Regular picketing at military recruiting stations and coordinated picketing at all of them simultaneously on select days (Armed Forces Day, during a build-up to U.S. military action) will help raise awareness of the ubiquity of the military in our lives. The anniversary of the establishment of a branch of the military is also good day to picket specific locations. Counter-recruitment materials can be distributed. (2) Military recruiters have an advantage not available to counter-recruiters: the names, addresses, and phone numbers of students. As part of counter-recruitment efforts, it might be useful to reach parents of students as early as the 8th grade, to let them know they can opt out of the military recruiter notification system when their child enters high school. (3) Although the businesses in Madison receiving defense contracts are small and diffuse, an informational picket of the offices of Wisconsin Physicians Services Insurance Corporation might be useful, although as part of Medicare for All rather than for anti-militarism purposes. A private insurance company reaping a billion dollars in taxpayer money might raise questions in many people’s minds.

Although significant cuts to the war budget are long overdue, activists need to be aware of the local impacts of budget cuts and, if possible, develop strategies to mitigate the negative effects on the city.

Impacts from budget cuts: (1) An excess supply of commercial real estate as defense companies reduce their size, shut down, or move away. An excess supply will depress the commercial real estate market. (2) An excess supply of homes and apartments, as defense contractor employees move. This will depress the housing market and if you’re a homeowner, that’s bad news, because the value of your home will decline. However, if you’re a homebuyer, it’s good news and for the same reason. A glut of vacant apartments will reduce rental rates, which is good news for renters but bad news for owners. (3) A decline in employment. Fewer defense contracts means fewer jobs, and if defense employees without jobs remain in Madison, the city’s unemployment rate will rise. Total wages and salaries will fall, which will negatively impact retail sales, potentially causing a new downward spiral. (4) Sales tax revenue will decline, affecting services dependent on them. (5) Small defense contractors will fail. Although they may only have small defense contracts, they are likely important to the profitability/viability of the small businesses who receive them.

Militarism has invaded Madison, creating a mostly unnoticed presence in our lives. Activists can make this presence obvious through actions at military recruiting stations and select defense contractor offices. Joining forces with environmental groups, and even Medicare for All advocates, can increase our impact.

But the war industry also pumps a significant amount of money into Madison’s economy. Activists – and business owners and city planners – need to be aware of the likely impacts of a long overdue reduction in the war budget. Planning for alternative uses of the capabilities of small businesses – and the expertise of their employees – will help mitigate negative impacts.