The Enloe Strikes Back at the Phantom Menace of Business Militarization

By Keshav Krishnamurty.

UMass Boston was honored to host distinguished guest speaker Prof. Cynthia Enloe (Clark University) during the lunch session of the AIBNE Frontier Conference on October 23, 2015. Prof. Enloe is one of the most prominent and distinguished scholars in the world to study the complex intersections of feminism, women, the military, war, politics and the international economy.

After being introduced by Prof. David Levy (UMass Boston College of Management), Prof. Enloe spoke about how she spent a lot of time thinking about the field of militarism and the processes of militarization, the processes by which anything and anybody can be infused with militaristic ideas and depends for their well-being on militarization. These processes can occur at the macro-level and micro-level, from daily life to public policy. Her talk, she said, would be about the militarization of business, a process that happens in several different ways.

First, militarism is surprisingly prevalent in industries where one would rarely expect. For instance, during the Cezar Chavez grape boycotts of the 1970s, the largest buyer of grapes in American agribusiness turned out to be the Pentagon. As a result, that sector of American agriculture had heavily militarized. There are other companies that do not necessarily have obvious military connections (obvious ones being for instance, Boeing, Saab, Sikorsky) but there is, for instance, Pizza Hut, which is dependent increasingly on military contracts due to the all-volunteer military and the need to cater to the food interests of soldiers. Watching the militarization of the fast-food industry over the last 15 years, they have grown increasingly militarized due to their massive contracts with the US Military. To what extent, Prof. Enloe asks, do company strategists think whether a company’s military contract is good for their country’s long-term future as well as their company’s role in society’s life? This dependency changes the nature of say, Pizza Hut’s role in American society even if most consumers are not aware of it. The militarization of a company, therefore, changes not only consumer dependency but also the nature of the society from which the company profits.

Second, there is the commercialization of many state militaries, such as the Egyptian military which is deeply embedded in the Egyptian state economy and which continues to be a major business player even after the Arab Spring. The military senior officer corps had a double stake in suppressing the Arab Spring reforms because the more secular reformers posed a serious political and economic threat to their interests. The close relationship between the Egyptian business elite and state political elite sealed the fate of the reform movement. In China, there has been a push to push the military out of its business holdings and more towards its military role.

The third kind of militarization involves the way companies use military force to control their business sites and suppress labor activism, with a Guatemalan women’s rights activist showcasing the Guatemalan military’s cooperation in suppressing resistance against Canadian mining companies in the Guatemalan highland. The military was also responsible for working alongside private military and security contractors to push indigenous Guatemalans off their land in order to secure land for mining. The militarization of mining is immensely prominent in post-conflict sites.

The fourth way in which business is militarized involves the major business of private military companies themselves, providing armed militarized security – the most infamous being Blackwater/Xe, along with Triple Canopy, Dyncorp, and others. In addition, those private security companies hire mostly men, more so than most NATO militaries. She included a recommendation to watch the movie Whistleblower on the role of private security companies within Bosnia in running sex-trafficking rings, which she noted was based on the work of a real whistleblower at Dyncorp.  This way, she said, a company can this way be turned into a private military.

This militarization of anything is very dangerous to civic life and a vibrant democracy, and it also has powerfully gendered consequences. Militarizing anything would privilege certain kinds of masculinity, again and again and again. Even though there are feminized secretarial roles in these companies, that doesn’t change the fact that the militarization of these companies depends on the militarization of many things – foreign policy, security…and those processes have the effect of privileging a certain kind of masculinity for the sake of that business success. That militarization is something to be worried about, to try to monitor.

After her keynote address, discussion continued for a good half an hour. Among the questions fielded was the dependence of a civil society on a dictatorial military in protecting freedom, based on the work of Samuel Huntington. Prof. Enloe said that research since Huntington’s work has shown that the militarization of civic life dampens civic life and dampens it, reducing voice and narrowing the example of who can be a “real citizen” – the examples of Kenya and Cambodia counteract the selective evidence of World War Two. Even in Britain, a Labour government emerged after Churchill to oust the Tories because the British had been used to having a political life where the military was not a dominant political force for elite mobility unlike the British civil service, and therefore voted in a Labour government that wanted to create a National Health Service in 1944 to rebuild a civic life in the aftermath of war. The notion that militaries are the best protectors of civic life is fraught with problems of evidence and problems of logic, since it makes the soldier the perfect citizen, but those entering the military lose almost all their rights making this a very, very flawed notion.

Other questions dealt with the countries that had been militarized, the consequences of the militarization of countries and the difficulty in demilitarization. Prof. Enloe talked about a topic that may have been hard to stomach over lunch but she managed to unmask the phantom menace of militarism in companies where one would least expect it. In her own words, to what extent is militarization increasing or decreasing? To what extent are certain companies vulnerable to being thoroughly militarized? How does it matter to the people working in those companies and the society in which those companies are working in? She concluded with a pithy, “Enjoy your lunch!”

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