Bombs away

So “Boeing” is “leaving” Seattle.


Amid all the mawkishness about the loss of part of Seattle’s soul, the ghost of old Bill Boeing, and so forth ad nauseam, an essential fact is being ignored—as it has been resolutely ignored by civic Seattle for several years now.

Put simply, the only resemblance between the hometown-flyboy-made-good mythology, which has continued to surround Boeing in its local media and political treatment, and the reality of today’s transnational arms merchant is the name.

There is, to be sure, a commercial aviation division to take pride in; that’s not what’s leaving. What’s leaving is the overall management of the company—more like the soul of Mercer Island.

Those brains, imported from across the country, transformed a reasonably successful commercial airplane maker that crafted jets for the Pentagon on the side into one of the two biggest weapons makers in the world, one that makes incalculable amounts of money from the planet’s booming markets in death while tolerating, for now, its soon to be much smaller, moderately successful civil wing.

The long-term shareholders are undoubtedly happy. But is it what Seattle wanted? Is it what we’ll miss?

Once Boeing bought North American Rockwell and then McDonnell Douglas in the mid-’90s, it became something Seattle has pretended did not exist: a company divided between “the good Boeing” (the local jet boys) and “the bad Boeing” (the military everything else). Buoyed by endless corporate welfare and government largesse, guess which side was destined to predominate?

The other corporate U.S. arms behemoth, also a product of Clinton-era megamergers, is Lockheed Martin. I called up a friend in New York who works for one of the world’s leading arms control outfits because I couldn’t remember where LM’s corporate headquarters is. She couldn’t, either. (We looked it up. For the record, it’s in Bethesda, Md., right by the congressional trough.)

The whole of Boeing, military and commercial, represents an economy larger than most Eastern European countries—roughly the 78th largest in the world. It is the largest U.S. arms exporter. A modern weapons company like Boeing or Lockheed Martin owes its loyalty to no country, let alone any community. Production is outsourced all over the world to cut costs and clinch sales; domestically, Pentagon contracts are won by littering facilities in as many congressional districts as possible. Boeing was long gone as a “Seattle” company. The commercial portion, which is where the actual jobs are locally, will remain only so long as Boeing can’t find a cheaper place to do it. Expect no loyalty; that’s how business is done now. The most laughable part of this has been politicos like Gov. Gary Locke whining that if Boeing had only asked for keys to the store, we would have given it.

Merchants of death

All this angst about Seattle’s loss of Boeing is so much hooey. We’re losing a thousand administrative jobs, very little tax revenue, the ghost of a company that no longer exists . . . and one of the more venal corporations on earth.

Look at a quick roster of local economic icons that people in other parts of the country identify as “Seattle.” Leaving out sarcastic asides, there’s Microsoft, which streamlines and increases productivity in offices and homes across the world. There’s, which brings books, and whatever else it can sell, into the living rooms of millions. There’s Starbucks, which retails another product, coffee, that brings daily enjoyment to millions.

All to the good. And there’s Boeing, which produces jets that safely transport people between cities all over the world every day. Wonderful. However, Boeing also produces something that, in the case of National Missile Defense, costs trillions and does absolutely nothing. It also produces airborne weapons systems that the Pentagon uses to threaten people and that are also sold, at exorbitant cost, to whichever state mafioso can afford them, anywhere in the world. The roster includes, in recent years: F-15 Eagles (Israel, Saudi Arabia); the new 767 AWACS aircraft (Japan, Saudi Arabia); AH-64 Apache attack helicopters (Egypt, Kuwait, Israel, United Arab Emirates); Harpoon anti-ship missiles (Egypt, Brunei, Thailand, Taiwan, Pakistan, Singapore, Turkey, Greece, South Korea, Japan); TA-4J Skyhawk attack aircraft (Argentina, Indonesia); Chinook helicopters (Egypt, Greece, South Korea); Hughes/Rockwell “Hellfire” anti-tank missiles (Kuwait, United Arab Emirates); TH-57A “Sea Ranger” utility helicopters (Chile); and on, and on.

Many of Boeing’s clients are notorious human rights abusers, indiscriminately using our Seattle-identified products essentially to blow civilians to bits when they feel like it. Gives you that hometown glow, eh? We notoriously insecure locals love to encounter the word “Seattle” in national business, sports, and cultural news, but not all publicity is good.

This was never Bill Boeing’s dream. The only relationship to it is that the modern-day Boeing’s death-dealing weapons are airborne. If Boeing needs a corporate HQ with better hub connections to hell, let it go.

Pundits and politicians are warbling that Seattle has somehow lost part of its soul. They’re wrong. Exeunt the death merchants. Seattle is getting some of its soul back.

For more on the Boeing departure, read International tough.