Military–entertainment complex

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

U.S. Air Force airmen acting as extras during the filming of the 2007 film Transformers at Holloman Air Force Base. A camera operator on an ATV can be seen filming them on the right.

The military–entertainment complex is the cooperation between militaries and entertainment industries to their mutual benefit, especially in such fields as cinema, multimedia, virtual reality, and multisensory extended reality.[1][2][3]

Though the term can be used to describe any military–entertainment complex in any nation, the most prominent complex is between the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and the film industry of the United States.


During World War 2 the United States sought to weaponise entertainment as a form of propaganda[citation needed]. In 1943 the Office of Strategic Services (a precursor to the CIA) circulated a memo stating the cinema is "one of the most powerful propaganda weapons at the disposal of the United States" and recommended "the voluntary cooperation of all motion agencies not under the control of the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff]".[4]

The United States Office of War Information utilised cinema for its own ends to rally the public behind the war effort. Director Elmer Davis stated "The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people's minds is to let it go in through the medium of an entertainment picture when they do not realize that they are being propagandized".[5]

In 1953 US President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared "The hand of government must be carefully concealed, and, in some cases I should say, wholly eliminated" and that "a great deal of this particular type of thing would be done through arrangements with all sorts of privately operated enterprises in the field of entertainment, dramatics, music, and so on and so on."[6][7]


Actor John Wayne in military uniform with helmet and gun stands by a man in a cap and a man in uniform.
Major General Graves B. Erskine talks with John Wayne during the filming of Sands of Iwo Jima

In Hollywood, many movie and television productions are, by choice, contractually supervised by the DoD Entertainment Media Unit within the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon, and by the public affairs offices of the military services maintained solely for the American entertainment industry in Hollywood, Los Angeles[citation needed]. Producers looking to borrow military equipment or filming on location at a military installation for their works need to apply to the DoD, and submit their movies' scripts for vetting. Ultimately, the DoD has a say in every U.S.-made movie that uses DoD resources, not available on the open market, in their productions.[8]

During World War II, Hollywood "became the unofficial propaganda arm of the U.S. military".[citation needed] The United States Office of War Information (OWI) had a unit exclusively dedicated to Hollywood called the Bureau of Motion Pictures. From 1942 to 1945, the OWI's Bureau of Motion Pictures reviewed 1,652 film scripts and revised or discarded any that portrayed the United States in a negative light, including material that made Americans seem "oblivious to the war or anti-war."[citation needed] Elmer Davis, the head of the OWI, said that "The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people's minds is to let it go through the medium of an entertainment picture when they do not realize they're being propagandized".[9]

Four decades after the release of the 1954 adult animated film Animal Farm, Cold War historian Tony Shaw discovered, through looking at archives of the film, that the CIA had secretly purchased the rights to the film. The CIA also altered the ending of the film so that the pigs, who represent communists, were overthrown by the other animals on the farm.[9]

The 1986 film Top Gun, produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer at Paramount Pictures, and with DoD assistance, aimed at rebranding the U.S. Navy's image in the post-Vietnam War era. During the showings of the film, military recruiters set up tables in cinemas during its premieres. However, claims enlistments spiked as high as 500% are a myth, and enlistments only rose by approximately 8% in 1986.[10][11] By the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, Hollywood producers were stressing script writers to create military-related plots to gain production power from the U.S. military.[12]

Some American movies co-scripted with the DoD include:[13]

The website Spy Culture compiled a list of 410 DoD-sponsored movies.[14]

The CIA collaborated extensively in the production of the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty.[15]

The documentary Theaters of War (2022) says that more than 2,500 films and TV shows have been supervised by the military, mostly, as well as the security services.

Music videos[edit]

Katy Perry's 2012 music video "Part of Me", in which she signs up to join the Marines, was shot at USMC Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, with the support of the Marines.[16][17][18]

On YouTube, a new music video genre appeared, the military music videos. Typically, these are video clips portraying singers in military equipment and surrounded by military vehicles and weapons. This video genre is used by a number of armed forces across the globe (list of examples below)[17]

The United States Air Force has an official rock band, Max Impact, and released a punk version of its official anthem.[17] In early 2019, the U.S. Army released a promotional military hip hop video, "Giving All I Got", with the explicit intent to get the attention of the younger crowd.[19][20]

Video games[edit]

In his book From Sun Tzu to Xbox, Ed Halter wrote "The technologies that shape our culture have always been pushed forward by war". Video games "were not created directly for military purposes, [they] arose out of an intellectual environment whose existence was entirely predicated on defense research". The first known virtual military training equipment, a flight simulator made of wood, was created in the 1920s by Edward Link. Since the Second World War, the U.S. Army and its sub-agencies played a major role in the development of digital computers.[21] The DARPA, an agency of the DoD, contributed to the development of Advanced computing systems, computer graphics, the Internet, multiplayer networked systems, and the 3-D navigation of virtual environments.[21]

Arguably the first video game (faux-military simulation), the PDP-1-powered Spacewar!, was developed in 1962.[21] The U.S. Army's first video game created for training purposes, the board game Mech War, was implemented in the staff officer training curriculum in the 1970s at the Army War College.[21] During the 1980s, Academic and military researchers led the development of distributed interactive simulations (DIS) that enable the creation of real-time, virtual theaters of war. The release by Atari of the game Battlezone was a revolution for the graphics perspective, introducing first-person shooter games for the first time. Donn A. Starry, head of the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), said in a conference in 1981: "[Today's soldiers have] learned to learn in a different world, ... a world of television, electronic toys and games, computers, and a host of other electronic devices. They belong to a TV and technology generation... [so] how is it that our soldiers are still sitting in classrooms, still listening to lectures, still depending on books and other paper reading materials, when possibly new and better methods have been available for many years?"[21] The Air Force captain Jack A. Thorpe developed SIMNET with DARPA, a real-time distributed networking to modernize virtual simulation capacities and enable soldiers to experience war situation in times of peace. The magazine Wired argued this was the real embryo of the Internet.[21]

After the first-person-shooter hit Doom came out in 1993, the Marine Corps Modeling and Simulation Office (MCMSO) released the online Personal Computer Based Wargames Catalog where Army personnel published detailed reviews of the video games they investigated. Doom became the MCMSO's absolute preference, and in 1995, the game Marine Doom was released, and the alien-themed graphics of the game's first version was replaced by military-themed graphics.[21]

Dave Anthony, a writer for Call of Duty, left his job and became an "unknown conflict" adviser for the Department of Defense.[22]

The video game Homefront was created by John Milius, who also wrote/directed the 1984 war film Red Dawn that gave its name to the Operation Red Dawn which led to the capture of Saddam Hussein.[23]

Sometimes the military will create their own games, such as America's Army, a free first-person shooter that was intended to educate and recruit prospective soldiers.[24]

Professional sports[edit]

A sports car with an "Air Force" logo.
The U.S. Air Force's NASCAR No. 21 is parked May 8, 2007 on display at an unveiling ceremony at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., in recognition of "American Heroes Memorial Day Salute to the Armed Forces".

The U.S. military has provided $53 million in funding to professional sports organizations in exchange for pro-military messaging, such as a "salute" to active duty soldiers and war veterans. This practice is common in the NFL and NASCAR with the latter's "NASCAR Salutes" program running through the entirety of May.[25][26][27]

Film Liaison Unit heads[edit]

Philip Strub[edit]

Philip Meredith Strub was the head of the DoD's Film Liaison Unit from 1989 to 2018. Strub oversaw the creation of "Dara", a DoD database of all entertainment productions that had approached the department for assistance. Strub received his bachelor's degree in political science from Saint Louis University in Missouri in 1968; was commissioned as a U.S. Navy officer; and received a master's in cinema production in 1974 from the University of Southern California.[28][29]

David Evans[edit]

David Evans became head of the DoD's Film Liaison Unit after Strub's retirement in 2018. Evans spent 13 years as a public affairs specialist at the DoD and then spent four years working as Strub's deputy. Less is known about Evans than even Strub. Shortly after his appointment, his LinkedIn profile was deleted.[30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Military-Entertainment Complex: A New Facet of Information Warfare, The Fibreculture Journal, Issue 1 – 2003. Retrieved Apr 2013.
  2. ^ Theaters of War: The Military-Entertainment Complex, Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood, Stanford University, 2002. Retrieved Apr 2013.
  3. ^ Tales Of The Military-Entertainment Complex: Why The U.S. Navy Produced 'Battleship', Movieline, 6 Feb 2013. Retrieved Apr 2013.
  4. ^ Redmond, Pearse (March 2017). "The Historical Roots of CIA-Hollywood Propaganda". The American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 76 (2): 285.
  5. ^ Black, Gregory D.; Koppes, Clayton R. (1990). Hollywood Goes to War How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies. University of California Press. p. 64.
  6. ^ Osgood, Kenneth Allen (2006). Total Cold War Eisenhower's Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad. University of Kansas. p. 94.
  7. ^ The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower: The Presidency: The Middle Way. Johns Hopkins Press. 1996. p. 198.
  8. ^ Keegan, Rebecca (21 August 2011). "The U.S. military's Hollywood connection". Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ a b "How Hollywood became the unofficial propaganda arm of the U.S. military". CBC News. 11 May 2020. Retrieved 6 June 2022.
  10. ^ Novelly, Thomas (11 August 2022). "'Top Gun' Boosted Recruiting and Brought the Tailhook Scandal. So What Happens After the Blockbuster Sequel?". Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  11. ^ Summers, William (14 June 2022). "Maverick Top Gun stat turns out to be a real goose". Australian Associated Press. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  12. ^ David Sirota (26 August 2011). "25 years later, how 'Top Gun' made America love war".
  13. ^ Underhill, Stephen (January 2013). "Complete List of Commercial Films Produced with Assistance from the Pentagon". Foia.
  14. ^ "Updated 'Complete' List of DOD Films". 23 November 2016.
  15. ^ Leopold, Jason; Henderson, Ky (9 September 2015). "Tequila, Painted Pearls, and Prada — How the CIA Helped Produce 'Zero Dark Thirty'". Vice News. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  16. ^ Amos Barshad (19 March 2018). "Enlisting audience: How Hollywood peddles propaganda".
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h Matthew Gault (16 April 2018). "YouTube's Scariest Genre Is Military Music Videos".
  18. ^ Helle Malmvig 'Soundscapes of War' The audio-Visual Performance of War International Affairs, 2020
  19. ^ Matthew Cox (31 January 2019). "Army to Release Music Video Aimed at Recruiting Gen-Z".
  20. ^ Haley Britzky (1 February 2019). "The Army's Latest Recruiting Spot Is A Hip-Hop Ode To Service".
  21. ^ a b c d e f g Corey Mead (19 September 2013). "Shall we play a game?: The rise of the military-entertainment complex".
  22. ^ Simon Parkin (22 October 2014). "Call of Duty: gaming's role in the military-entertainment complex".
  23. ^ David Sirota (16 March 2011). "How Your Taxpayer Dollars Subsidize Pro-War Movies and Block Anti-War Movies".
  24. ^ "What is the Military-entertainment Complex? - Stuff They Don't Want You To Know". iHeartRadio. Retrieved 31 July 2021.
  25. ^ Mach, Andrew (10 May 2015). "Report: Defense Dept. paid NFL millions of taxpayer dollars to salute troops". NPR. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  26. ^ Boren, Cindy (4 November 2015). "Report: At least 50 teams were paid by Department of Defense for patriotic displays". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  27. ^ "DoD paid $53 million of taxpayers' money to pro sports for military tributes, report says". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 31 July 2021.
  28. ^ Weisman, Aly. "One Man In The Department Of Defense Controls All Of Hollywood's Access To The Military". Business Insider.
  29. ^ Chadbourne, Lawrence. "Philip M. Strub, Biography". IMDb.
  30. ^ "Phil Strub Retired 6 Months Ago and No One Reported It". 11 December 2018.
  31. ^ "To Tap Into the Military's Arsenal, Hollywood Needs the Pentagon's Blessing".


  • Lenoir, Tim; Caldwell, Luke (19 February 2018). The Military-Entertainment Complex. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674724983.
  • Halter, Ed (31 May 2006). From Sun Tzu to Xbox. PublicAffairs. ISBN 978-1560256816.
  • Alford, Matthew; Secker, Tom (27 June 2017). National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1548084981.
  • Sirota, David (15 March 2011). Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now--Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything. Ballantine Book. ISBN 978-0345518781.

External links[edit]