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Nick Turse at AlterNet has a must-read piece exploring the "civilian" contractors – otherwise known as some of America's most notable companies – which have most profited since 9/11 due to government contracts.

Here's how Turse begins:

Chances are, if you’ve ever sent a package overnight, bought a PC or a can of soda, you’ve paid your hard-earned money to a major Pentagon contractor. While large defense corporations that make fighter jets and armored vehicles garner the most attention, tens of thousands of “civilian” companies, from multi-national corporations hawking toothpaste and shampoo to big oil behemoths and even local restaurants scattered across the United States, all supply the Pentagon with the necessities used to carry on day-to-day operations and wage America’s wars. And they’ve made a killing doing it since 9/11.

While defense contractors which supply the U.S. military with its equipment and weapons – such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman – predictably have some of the largest contracts and profit margins since 9/11, a bevy of domestic, commercial companies have made a killing supplying everything from carbonated soda to steak sauce to the U.S. military.

Below are the five largest civilian companies that have raked it in from defense contracts since 9/11. But before pointing these companies out, it's first important to ask: why is the exercise even important? Why even bother pointing these companies out?

Simple: it's critical to remember that, with so many multi-national corporations in America profiting off our wars, there are powerful, wealthy voices outside the traditional military and defense establishments that have a vested interest in continued military growth.

Without further adieu, here are the top five:

1. BP - Despite dumping over 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf last year, BP scored a staggering $1 Billion in defense contracts. Per Turse:

As defense-tech writer Noah Shachtman noted at Foreign Policy last year, the U.S. military burns “22 gallons of diesel [fuel] per soldier per day in Afghanistan, at a cost of more than $100,000 a person annually.”

2. FedEx - The numbers are staggering for FedEx. According to Turse:

The overnight shipping giant is a long-time defense-contracting powerhouse that has also seen an exponential increase in contract dollars since September 10, 2001, when its stock was trading at just under $40 per share. By the end of that year, FedEx had been awarded about $211 million in contracts from the Pentagon. In 2010, the company received $1.4 billion from the Department of Defense and this year, with its stock closing in on $80 per share, has already passed the $1 billion mark, again. This includes a $182 million deal, inked in August, to pack and ship fresh fruit and vegetables to U.S. military bases overseas

3. Dell - Dell has racked up over $4 billion in defense contracts, providing laptops and desktops to soldiers both at home and abroad. But that number has skyrocketed since 2001, when it only had $65 million in contracts. By 2009, that number had reached $731 million. The computer giant has reaped huge financial benefits from America's wars.

4. Kraft - From A-1 Steak Sauce to Oreos, Kraft has made incredible sums since 9/11 that have jumped exponentially in recent years. In 2001, it had $148 million in contracts from the Defense Department. In 2010, that number had skyrocketed to $373 million.

5. Pepsi - In 2001, Pepsi made $61 million in defense contracts. Now, that number is at $217 million. The wars have been nice to the carbonated-syrup-making giant.

Of course, there are many more companies who are making similar profits from our wars. But instead of list them, I'd like to leave you with this sobering paragraph from Turse's piece:

A decade of waging wars abroad, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan and Libya to Yemen and Somalia hasn’t been kind to average Americans. As the United States poured nearly $8 trillion into national security spending, and the national debt ballooned from $6 trillion to $14.3 trillion, the official unemployment rate has more than doubled -- from 4.5% to 9.1%. Meanwhile the number of children living in poverty in the U.S. has jumped nearly 20% since 2000, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. And for older Americans, the risk of hunger has spiked almost 80% since 2001, according to a recent report by AARP. But from car companies to candy makers and even the biggest brands in organic food, so many of the world’s favorite companies have, over these years, cashed in on America’s wars.  

Of course, while our wars are not to blame entirely for the sobering numbers quoted by Turse, there is no question that, in an organic economic system in which so many of our resources have been poured into defense spending, such poverty and hunger statistics cannot be disconnected entirely from our overall downturn. Wall Street - yes. Corporate greed - yes. Conservative economic policies - yes.

Our devastatingly expensive wars - yes.

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