Defense Contracts as Limitless Loot: Juan Bosch’s Pentagonism

The dead thing stretched across savannas and knolls and the winds swept dust over it. Afterwards, that dust died too, and it settled on the gray skin. — Excerpt from The Woman by Juan Bosch

Juan Bosch: a Biography

Juan Bosch was a Dominican teacher, author, and statesman. Between 1938 and 1962, he was exiled for opposing the regime of Rafael Trujillo. While traveling from Cuba to Palestine, he was a beneficiary of CIA funding in his capacity as a noncommunist dissident — although, it wouldn’t be long before he’d proclaim “I’d rather die a communist than die being pro-Yankee”.

In December 1962, Bosch was democratically elected president of the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of Trujilo’s assassination. Bosch led the Dominican Revolutionary Party, which he founded in 1939 in an effort to lift Dominicans out of poverty. As president he gave 70,000 families 25 acres of farmland each and opened schools to train them on the principles of cooperative ownership. He also introduced a populist constitution that specified the rights of women, workers, and other protected classes.

The right wing accused him of communism. Militarists, landowners, and industrialists disapproved of his leadership because he reduced martial powers, broke up latifundia, and empowered laborers. What’s more, Bosch didn’t capitulate to the US; on at least one occasion he refused to export sugar on terms that disadvantaged Dominicans.[1]

In September 1963, seven months after he was freely elected, Bosch was overthrown in a military coup. He was supplanted by the triumvir Donald Reid. Fidel Castro charged that “Professor Juan Bosch was overthrown because he refused to be an instrument for imperialism. The US was behind the deposing of Bosch.” The events of the ensuing Dominican Civil War corroborate Castro’s accusation.

The war started in late April 1965 with a “Constitutionalist” rebellion aiming to reinstall Bosch. “Loyalists” of the three-member junta mobilized to suppress the rebels. Right away, Lyndon Johnson sent arms and thousands of troops to the island in an effort to prevent the Constitutionalists from compassing a “communist revolution” (his misconcern). In May, at least a thousand people were “mopped-up” in Santo Domingo by “Dominican troops under American leadership”.[2]

By the end of the war in 1966, “Inter-American Peace Force” squadrons and 23,000 US troops had created the conditions for Joaquin Balaguer to become president. Balaguer was “a conservative with links to international finance and a go-between whose conciliatory role was sweetened by massive US aid”.

Thereafter, Bosch left the Dominican Republic “to feel free of the insufferable pressure the US maintains there”. He returned three years later and unsuccessfully ran for president in a series of elections. In the meantime, he refused a fellowship in the States, advised his party to “shun all contacts with Americans”, attended socialist party congresses in several European countries, and visited Communist China, North Korea, and North Vietnam as an official guest. This was the context in which Bosch wrote Pentagonism: a Substitute for Imperialism — the subject of this review.

Pentagonism was originally published in 1967 in Spanish. It preceded two related books by different authors, Pentagon Capitalism and The Pentagon Propaganda Machine, which independently built upon the themes of Pentagonism. In 1968, an English edition of Bosch’s work was translated by Helen Lane and printed by Grove Press, a publisher of controversial books. I discovered the text when I came across a copy for sale in which the bookseller had penciled “weirdly uncommon”. As it turns out, Pentagonism is hard to find, both off- and on-line. To say the least, it’s weirdly uncommon in the English-speaking world. But it is here that it has amassed potential energy.

Bosch was acquainted with imperialism to the greatest extent that a cosmopolite could be. He rose to and fell from power on account of US meddling in Dominican affairs. He was the central figure of a revolution in the Caribbean that was suppressed by the US military. In light of these events, it is surprising that Bosch, of all people, concludes that “imperialism is a shadow of the past”.[3] But he maintains exactly this in Pentagonism. All things considered, his 1968 thesis was anomalous.

Bosch argues that capitalism has transcended imperialism and leveraged a new scheme he dubs “pentagonism”. “Pentagonism” is a metonymy for the collective action of a cabal of bankers, industrialists, businessmen, journalists, scientists, advertisers, generals, and politicians who conjure up national security threats in order to justify, and subsequently profit from, military spending. Pentagonism is less risky and more lucrative than imperialism, which called for the successful conquest and exploitation of colonial territories. Contrariwise, the success of pentagonism does not hinge on the outcome of wars, but on the occupation of the war-waging country. That is, according to Bosch, pentagonism has prevailed by virtue of colonizing the people of the United States and exploiting them as a source of service personnel, moral support, labor, and tax revenue. Unelected defense secretaries have appropriated roughly half of the federal discretionary budget, hundreds of billions of tax dollars annually, with which they undemocratically contract corporate manufacturers, who in turn profit handsomely and instantly. These earnings translate into the “accumulation of capital and therefore into new investments with which they raise their profits all over again”.[4]

Even though Bosch incorrectly reduces the multifactorial issue of American[5] imperialism to just one of its factors, his argument is timeworthy.

What is Pentagonism?

Bosch’s first order of business is to distinguish pentagonism from imperialism. He writes that “the essence of imperialism was the conquest of colonies in order to invest the surplus capital of the conquering country in them and to take out the raw materials”.[6] In this context, colonies were locales of valuable elements, cheap labor, and untapped markets that were subjugated by capitalist states. Bosch treats imperialism as a structural feature of capitalism. In the most basic terms, it was the expression of an economy that had outgrown its own borders in search of resources to which it had no right, but with which it could further develop.

Of course, imperialism required militarism as a precondition. In order to economically exploit distant territories, imperialists had to conquer them. Once established, colonies were repressed by the threat and use of force, the appropriation of local armies, indirect rule, and high-interest loans. The goal of the imperialist state was to make colonies safe for high-margin industrial activities, labor processes, and commercial markets. In this respect, imperialism was a long-term investment.

Whereas imperialism sought war as a means to a bankable end, pentagonism seeks war as a bankroll in itself. Thus, pentagonism shares the most “destructive and painful” characteristics of imperialism in the form of military escalation and peremptory combat. But, Bosch challenges us to see through the hecatomb.

The military forces of a pentagonist country are not sent out to conquer colonial territories. War has another purpose; war is waged to conquer positions of power in the pentagonist country, not in some far-off land. What is being sought is not a place to invest surplus capital for profit; what is being sought is access to the generous economic resources being mobilized for industrial war production; what is being sought are profits where arms are manufactured, not where they are employed.[7]

The earnings of weapons producers counted as an expense of imperialism rather than its payoff. Under pentagonism the windfall of weaponry is the lucre of war and the weapons industry is the de facto war-maker. If this is where we are, how did we get here?

The Birth and Expansion of Pentagonism

First and foremost, pentagonism tracks with the logic of capital accumulation. It materialized because “a contract for bombers brings in several times more profit, in a much shorter time, than the conquest of the richest mining territory”.[8] Bosch reasons that this circumstance was the inevitable product of converging economic, geopolitical, and sociological conditions.

Between the First World War and the Atomic Era, the US made unprecedented scientific progress and industrial capitalism took advantage of it. Advances made readily available a plethora of basic materials which had previously been obtained through imperialist methods. Before long, Bosch explains, capitalism reached a state of overdevelopment. “Overdeveloped capitalism” realized the ability to synthesize fundamental compounds cheaply and expeditiously within its own bounds, leading to new domestic markets and purchasing power. Bosch suggests these occurrences cut out the need for the colony in the accrescent stream of capital accumulation.

Additionally, Bosch highlights the fact that World War II triggered a wave of decolonization. From the dissolution of Germany’s Lebensraum to the disbanding of imperialist forces in Indonesia; between the rise of the “great anti-colonialist power” Communist China and the victory of the Algerian National Liberation Front. In response to these developments, imperialist countries withdrew colonial troops but upheld economic predominance over their colonies. It’s worth noting, as Bosch does, that this strategy had already been used by the US. Nevertheless, imperialism “was in its death throes after the Second World War”, paving the way for pentagonism.[9]

Excluding the wartime years between 1939 and 1945, when the US acted for the Allies as the “Arsenal of Democracy”, Bosch tallies that US “military expenditures since 1925 had always been less than those of the federal government by a sizable percentage; but beginning in the year 1951 military expenditures began each year to take more than half of the funds raised through taxation”.[10] This shift in balance can be explained by the fact that the United States built up a “permanent military organization” during the Cold War. For Bosch, the balance sheet reflects the putsch of pentagonism. If political power in the United States “is measured above all in terms of money”, then the fact that the Pentagon has more money at its disposal than the civil government indicates that it’s “really and truly more powerful”.

Cold War spending further accelerated the rate of productivity in the United States and institutionalized war preparation. This made it possible for capital gains to be reinvested each year through ever greater military budgets in an unprecedented cycle of accumulation. As military expenditures increased, the economy grew, and the shadow of pentagonism supposedly expanded.

Assuming pentagonism gained a foothold during the Cold War, it came into itself during the Vietnam War. Bosch quotes Lyndon Johnson sharing that “the Vietnam build-up virtually assured American businessmen that no economic reverse would occur in the near”.[11] Thanks to investments owing to the escalation of the war, “GNP advanced at an average of 16 billion a quarter” in 1965. The next year, 165 new millionaires were made. And “if the diamond mines of the Transvaal were situated in Vietnam, they would not produce in fifty years of intensive exploitation what the United States spent fighting in Vietnam in 1967”.[12]

By then, bankers, executives, and politicians had arrived at a costly understanding in Bosch’s eyes. Namely, that “pentagonism provides the most rapid and safest means of capitalization conceivable in the world of business, since all of the profits — or almost all — get into the hands of war merchants even before the military equipment has been put to use”.[13] Bosch goes so far to say that,

from a certain point of view, it would not matter to those who accumulate profits through the production of these goods whether they were thrown into the sea or used up in war maneuvers. But in the former case the endless chain of production — high profits, high salaries, greater sales, ultra-rapid accumulation of capital and increase in production once more, and so back to the beginning of the cycle — would be broken, since the production of such expensive and such short-lived equipment could not be justified if it was not meant for war.[14]

 The Vietnam war ended nearly a decade after Bosch wrote Pentagonism. The American military dropped — and contracted for — more bombs in Southeast Asia than were dropped in all of World War II. Their air raids employed aircrafts, which were manufactured for profit by American aerospace companies, and their aircrafts spent fuel, which was profitably supplied by American oil companies. A construction consortium consisting of four major American corporations known as RMK-BRJ built airbases and other infrastructure throughout South Vietnam in return for $1.9 billion (close to 15 billion in 2022 dollars). One member-company, Brown & Root, had sponsored President Johnson since the beginning of his political career. The American government spent more than 1 trillion in 2022 dollars on the war, much of which went towards private contracts. Lockheed Corporation, Dow Chemical Company, Caterpillar, and Boeing made away with considerable profits. As many as 2 million civilians died in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, along with tens of thousands of American soldiers.

Was the Vietnam War really waged in order to capitalize on defense contracts? It was not. Pentagonism is compelling up to the point one realizes that it is not incompatible with imperialism. The rise of pentagonism does not mark the fall of imperialism as Bosch would have it. In whatever shape or form it might exist, pentagonism ought to count as a component of imperialism, not a substitute for it. As a matter of fact, the US had economic interests in Vietnam. As early as 1953, the American owning class feared “losing its potential tin and tungsten resources to the native Communists”. During the war, the World Bank and the Development and Resources Corporation “got busy programming postwar development… a general economic strategy for the postwar period”.

It might be the case that defense contracts are easier and more profitable than pre- and post-war development escapades. But Bosch fails to consider the loss of profits the United States would incur in the event its grip on the global economy was loosened by sovereign competitors (especially communist ones). Bosch is correct that American imperial strategy transmuted after WWII, but wrong to describe it as pentagonism. Instead, the United States surveyed the postwar world and designed a “Grand Strategy” for economic and military supremacy. The plan included the “limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” that might interfere.

President Bosch was himself quashed in 1965 to the end of old-fashioned capitalization. In 1979, Gulf & Western was the largest private landowner and employer in the Dominican Republic. The American conglomerate dealt mainly in sugar and made more in annual sales than the GNP of the Caribbean country. More recently, the Organization of American States — an arm of US power that was exercised on Bosch in 1965 — backed the 2019 coup in Bolivia. Then president Evo Morales had nationalized the largest reserves of lithium in the world, which are integral to the production of batteries. Infamously, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were motivated to a great extent by oil, the fuel of imperialism. The US military took control of Iraq’s oil fields upon invading and awarded Brown & Root a no-bid $7 billion contract to rebuild them. These counterexamples alone disprove Bosch’s argument that pentagonism has replaced imperialism.

Although, in 2011, ten years after the Afghanistan war started and ten years before it would end, Julian Assange commented that “the goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the US and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal is an endless war, not a successful war”. Bosch wrote 44 years earlier that “the plan of pentagonism” was “to keep a military market through permanent war”.[15] US taxpayers spent an estimated $7 trillion on military contracts over the course of the war in Afghanistan. Just five corporations, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman won a third of them.

In 2021, the CEO of Raytheon, the world’s third-largest defense contractor, said to investors on an earnings call “look, peace is not going to break out in the Middle East anytime soon. I think it remains an area where we’ll continue to see solid growth.” This statement came a year after President Biden had appointed a former member of Raytheon’s board of directors, General Lloyd Austin, to Secretary of Defense. Austin oversaw a $752 billion budget, or 46% of all discretionary spending. The “average taxpayer paid $929 just for Pentagon contractors in 2021, representing 18 days of work. That’s nearly half the total contribution for the military, and it’s more than five times the amount the same taxpayer contributed to K-12 education”.

Pentagonized Politics

We’ve covered the objective conditions that, supposedly, gave rise to pentagonism. Bosch makes his case in view of subjective conditions also. He hints that the Roaring Twenties brought about the practice of public relations, which facilitated the transformation of America into a “mass society”. Overdeveloped industries utilized mass media to influence American society and culture. The practice of public relations (PR) clashed with the historical motif of individualism in American culture, resulting in a characteristically American cognitive dissidence that was ripe for exploitation. PR campaigns held sway over mass society because it consisted of individuals who mythologized their freedom.

In Bosch’s view, traditional institutions were not suited to the engineering of consent (aka PR). Therefore, mass society was co-opted by organs of power outside of the constitutional framework. To name one, the Pentagon appropriated mass society. “There suddenly appeared, in the midst of a people whose organization was eminently non-military, a military power that in less than fifteen years came to be stronger than the civil power”.[16] Granted, Bosch makes sense of pentagonism’s rise to prominence by cataloging America’s history of militant racism and of glorifying men in arms.

Bosch’s point comes across when he’s considering the fact that Americans reserve the right to elect representatives at all levels of civil government. That is because their lives are affected by the actions of officeholders. But, Bosch points out that Americans are also affected quite possibly to a greater extent by the decisions generals and colonels in the Pentagon make on behalf of the country’s military. He is certainly right about this. For one thing, it’s the leaders of the Pentagon who play the odds of nuclear annihilation and climate catastrophe, since they preside over the second largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world and operate one of the world’s most pollutive institutions. Despite this, Americans are unable to vote for or against these authorities, even as Americans supply the Pentagon with hundreds of billions of budgetable dollars and to say nothing of the fact that the Pentagon commissions Americans to serve overseas.

In his chapter Politics and Pentagonism, Bosch dichotomizes American politics. He argues that in the international field, the United States is a military power directed by pentagonists, i.e. “bankers, industrialists, and military leaders who have their own plans”; while at home the United States is a civil power directed by corporate functionaries. Except, pentagonism uses its financial assets to direct domestic policy. In a 2003 commentary on the Iraq War, longtime antiwar journalist Tom Engelhardt reaffirms Bosch:

Money talks, they say. If so, having a $400 billion budget, still on the rise, while the rest of the social budget is being strip-mined, makes the Pentagon the 800 pound gorilla in any room. The interlocking system of the petro-military-industrial complex, at whose heart sits the Pentagon, is a juggernaut and its men are in the process of taking over global planning, much of foreign policy, and aspects of domestic policy as well.

 Engelhardt even uses the phrase “pentagonized foreign policy” to describe this phenomenon, but doesn’t make reference to Bosch’s obscured text.

Bosch alludes to the fact that corporations fund political campaigns and public policies that advantage them and attack those that disadvantage them. Seeing as “a contract from the pentagon is a blank check”, Bosch believes corporations are inclined to support pentagonist policies. Better yet, politicians create jobs for their electorate when they carry out pentagonist programs. In case principled politicians try their own agenda, corporate firebrands and lobbyists disquiet or disqualify them. On account of this circumstance, Bosch concludes that American two-party politics has been reduced to an electoral contest. Candidates pander to voters as a means of increasing their likelihood of getting elected. Substantive policies are preordained by pentagonism. In Bosch’s own words, the office dictates the office holder. Case in point: “for an American, an idealist is a dunce since he risks the office, which is what is really valuable, in order to defend an ideal, which is something that has no palpable reward”.[17]

Bosch sees the political backdrop of the Vietnam War as evidence of pentagonism. The United States went to war against the North Vietnamese Republic without an official declaration from the legal representatives of its people. Congress had “neither a voice nor a vote” in military expenditures only they could authorize. All but confirming Bosch, today’s left-most members of congress are voting to allot billions of tax dollars to defense companies in order to arm Ukraine against Russia. Dozens of the congressional representatives and senators who delimit this spending have personal investments in key defense contractors. Moreover, a group of Congresspeople who cautiously entertained the possibility of international diplomacy in Eastern Europe renounced the idea under pressure.

Bosch surveys the western hemisphere in his chapter Pentagonism and Latin America. He observes Pentagonism cartelizing foreign militaries and militias by training them and supplying their weapons. “The significance of this was that the territories were destined to consume products of the United States’ war industry. It was in this unavoidable exportation of military equipment that pentagonist industrialists were to find the source of the profits they were seeking” (46). Here and now the US “manages approximately $55 billion per year in new sales of defense equipment to foreign allies and partners”.

Pentagonized Society

Pentagonism cannot succeed without the support of mass society. First of all, since pentagonism increases America’s GDP it raises the standard of living. But for every secure family there is necessarily an insecure one, since American capitalism pits workers against each other in competition for disproportionate shares of the national wealth. According to Bosch, citizens are thereby coerced into steady employment with the prospect of personal security.

In an interesting passage, Bosch asks if an everyday worker in South Dakota is responsible for the death of a Vietnamese civilian at the hands of the American military. It’s hard for him to say. On the one hand, the Dakotan unquestioningly does his part through taxation to fund his military. On the other hand, he is each night worn out by a day’s labor, which he performs honestly in return for a relatively comfortable life. Ultimately, Bosch calls upon Americans to answer this question themselves. He is nevertheless especially wary of the careerists who are all the more seduced by the “drug of well-being” to work under pentagonist pretenses.

Bosch argues that television is the most effective mode of mass propagandization. The moving image pacified mass society; it “freed Americans from the task of choosing”. When Bosch’s imagined South Dakotan gets home from work he turns on the television and is inculcated with the tenets of American Exceptionalism and the virtues of anticommunism. He believes some form of the telecommunicated notion that “every effort at revolutionary change anywhere in the world is contrary to the interests of the United States”.[18]

According to Bosch, the hypothetical South Dakotan, a microcosm of mass society, has been “unconsciously pentogonized”. He sells his labor power to create the products of pentagonism (in return for a modest lifestyle), siphons a great portion of his wage to pentagonism, is unable to influence pentagonism’s inhumane course of action, and, if he is not made to champion it, he is made to disregard it. This state of affairs leads Bosch to the controversial conclusion that pentagonism has “colonized” America.

However, it is clearly irresponsible to say that mass society has been “colonized” by pentagonism. In the first place, while Pentagonism was in print, the anti-Vietnam War movement was taking off. More importantly, the United States is predicated on the material colonization of America’s First Peoples and Nations. In an incisive history of American Imperialism, Manu Karuka explains that

Key sectors of the US economy, farming, ranching, manufacturing, mining, all of these originated in war and war remains central to their ongoing operation. Samuel Colt of Hartford, Connecticut, innovated the assembly line production of firearms. His fledgling company was kept afloat by contracts during the US wars against the Seminole Nation, which was the most expensive military engagement the United States had fought until that time… Colt’s guns were later favored by the Texas Rangers in their wars against the Comanches. In 1847, Colt’s manufacturing company signed a lucrative contract to provide firearms for the US invasion of Mexico. With the profits from this contract, Colt began to invest in mining operations in the Arizona territories that the United States had captured in the course of that war.

Pentagonism is inseparable from imperialism and imperialism is inseparable from the historic United States. From Manifest Destiny to Grand Strategy, the continuum of American military and economic dominance consists of interdependent weapons manufacturers and resource extractors. This nexus, between war profiteering and economic expropriation, characterises American Imperialism.

Perhaps pentagonism has occupied the American psyche, but in accordance with imperialism it has occupied the physical lives and homelands of Indigenous Peoples. Ongoing indigenous struggles, waged against pipelines in America’s heartlands and broken treaties on America’s coasts, are cynosures of resistance in the face of American Imperialism — and so too pentagonism.

Pentagonism on the March Toward Total Power

Bosch fears the prospect that Pentagonism might “little by little” come to take over every part of the United States. At present, the Pentagon edits the scripts of Hollywood blockbusters, which, as Micheal Parenti laid bare in his book Make Believe Media, can serve as American military propaganda. In the domain of education, Florida formally incentivized pre-bachelor’s military veterans with no prior teaching experience to fill vacant K-12 teaching positions. Pentagonism takes discrete steps like these on its “march towards total power”. But, of the many steps it has taken in this direction since Bosch wrote Pentagonism in 1968, he would be especially troubled by the National Security State’s infiltration of corporate news outlets and the coinciding censorship of independent journalists, international sources, and alternative opinions.

According to files the CIA kept on him, at the time Bosch wrote Pentagonism, he was “obsessed with the prospect of a US war with China”. He ends his book with a warning along those lines.

pentagonism can gradually take the place of the civil government… if a war of long duration or one costing huge sums of money and many lives enters into its calculations; for example, if pentagonism is thinking of attacking China, it needs to be sure that while it is acting in China the American people will be firmly united behind their military leaders, furnishing pentagonism the steady stream of mechanical and human materiel it asks for, no matter how long the conflict lasts.[19]

China has one international military base. The United States has more than 800 around the world and has been at war just about every year it has existed. But, just as Bosch warned, the pentagonists are declaring China the number one national security threat; are recklessly building up arms in the South China Sea; and are saturating mass society with sinophobic messages. Things are going according to plan.

Bosch saw the writing on the wall for American antimilitarism when he was formulating pentagonism in the 1960s. Whatever is left of it today has an urgent job to do with dwindling resources: we must exercise our moral and intellectual autonomy in the tradition of Bosch. After all, “the most powerful arm that a nation can count on, either in its favor or against it, is not the H-bomb or orbital missiles; it is the world of public opinion”.[20]

Tyler Poisson is an independent researcher who contributes to the left alternative press.

[1] Juan Bosch, Pentagonism, Grove Press (1968), 71.

[2] Pentagonism, 118.

[3] Pentagonism, 14.                

[4] Pentagonism, 29.

[5] Following Bosch, “America” and “American(s)” refer narrowly to the US and its citizens throughout this essay.

[6] Pentagonism, 17.

[7] Pentagonism, 22.

[8] Pentagonism, 22.

[9] Pentagonism, 31.

[10] Pentagonism, 36.

[11] Pentagonism, 24.

[12] Pentagonism, 23.

[13] Pentagonism, 27.

[14] Pentagonism, 27.

[15] Pentagonism, 75.

[16] Pentagonism, 41.

[17] Pentagonism, 84.

[18] Pentagonism, 92.

[19] Pentagonism, 125.

[20] Pentagonism, 132.

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