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Useful Notes / The Pentagon

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Your tax dollars at work!

"Headquarters? What is it?"
"It's a big building where generals meet, but that's not important right now."

The seat of the U.S. Department of Defense, located in Arlington, Virginia just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. This is where the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and all the service secretaries and service chiefs have their offices. Nobody ever mentions its street address, but it actually has one: 47 N Rotary Road, Arlington, Virginia, 22211.note 

Architecturally, it's a distinctive, pentagonal building, with 5s as a recurring theme: 5 sides, 5 floors, 5 concentric rings; also, whether by intent or by chance, the courtyard in the middle is just over 5 acres in area. It has 17.5 miles (28.2 km) of corridors, and those five 108° angle corners result in a very confusing layout. The interior is notoriously homogeneous; if you don't read the signs, it's easy to get lost there, since every area looks like every other area. Not to mention that it's easy to forget which floor you're on, as some of those corridors are actually ramps. Agent Maxwell Smart got lost inside it for several days. That said, once you get familiar with the building, it takes seven minutes or less to get from any place inside the building to any other.

Since the military's top brass does most of its planning there, and since the building is so easy to spot from the air, it was one of the targets of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. The structure survived in part because it had recently been retrofitted with kevlar.note  Well before that, however, the exact center of the building was a potential target of Soviet missiles; in fact, pre-9/11, the cafe kiosk at the center of the structure was informally referred to as the "Ground Zero Cafe". Even before the Cold War, when the Pentagon was built in the early 1940s,note  it was designed to be able to withstand a naval bombardment by battleships, being fairly close to the sea. Also, in terms of floor space, it is the largest office building in the world, and with good reason when you consider how massive the United States military is.

Since it was constructed in Virginia in the 40s, the Pentagon was built with "separate but equal" dining facilities and restrooms for white and black workers. This didn't sit well with Franklin D. Roosevelt, who ordered the building desegregated when he attended its dedication. The Pentagon remained the only non-segregated workplace in Virginia for the next twenty years, and it still has twice as many toilets as it actually needs.

The building is such a strong symbol of the American military that it's practically synonymous with it, or with the military-industrial complex. When the Defense Department makes an announcement, newscasters will say "The Pentagon announced today...". When the government pays a military contractor (what to the public seems like) an unreasonably large sum for a mundane item, such as a toilet seat or screwdriver, that's Pentagon Spending. When the U.S. military offers cheap assistance to movie producers in order to make a blockbuster movie showing tanks or fighter planes, that's Backed by the Pentagon. Et cetera. In the UK, "Horse Guards" (a building, not a group of people) formerly had the same connotations of being synonymous with the military, but this faded when the leadership moved out at the start of the twentieth century.

The distinctive shape and design of the Pentagon and its relationship to other stock mystical symbols as pentagrams lead some to imagine that the building is holding something inside besides a garden. For instance, early Internet culture half-jokingly spoke of the Shub-Internet, cause of all network slowdown, lurking beneath the Pentagon. In fact, the reason the Pentagon is a pentagon is rather more mundane: the original site of the Pentagon (Arlington Farm) was defined by local roads as an irregular pentagon, and the building was designed for maximum use of space; however, it was soon realized that it would block the view of DC from Arlington Cemetery, so they chose another site further downriver instead. The new site didn't have the same constraints, but there wasn't enough time or resources to conduct a major redesign, so they elected to just change it to a regular pentagon. It helped that FDR liked the design.

The Pentagon is served by the Washington Metro; the Yellow and Blue lines diverge here.

The building itself has appeared as a setting for a few works, but is not as popular a setting as the U.S. Capitol or The White House farther north.

The Pentagon in fiction:

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  • Just before the first IKEA stores opened in the U.S., IKEA staged a teaser advertising blitz on roadside billboards. One such ad featured the tagline "More talked about than this" above a picture of the birthmark on Gorbachev's forehead. Another billboard sported the tagline "More economical than this" above a picture of a wrench on which were stamped the words, "PROPERTY OF THE PENTAGON".

     Comic Books 
  • The X-Men and Ms. Marvel once fought Rogue in the corridors of the Pentagon. In the comic, Ms. Marvel falsely claims (maybe it was a misconception at the time?) that The Pentagon had been originally designed as a hospital to treat the projected massive number of war casualties from World War II. (Actually, The Pentagon was always intended to house the War Department and later the Department of Defense).
  • In the 1980 X-Men comic miniseries Days of Future Past, Mystique sneaks into the Pentagon disguised as a military researcher. The comic incorrectly states that the Pentagon is in Washington, D.C..
  • The Pentagon is the subject of a lengthy conspiracy-themed arc in Doom Patrol, with the Arc Words "Why is the Pentagon the shape that it is?". Although it's kept mysterious the whole way through, we do learn something - it's a summoning lens that harnesses what lurks underneath it: a being that haunts the telephone lines. Further issues show that it has many more horrifying things under it as well, some of which not even its agents know anything about.

     Films — Live-Action 
  • In Independence Day, U.S. Space Command is in the Pentagon.note  It even has a picture of the building stencilled on a glass divider.
  • No Way Out (1987): Most of the film takes place in the Pentagon building.
    • Parts with Kevin Costner at the concourse and in the NATO corridor were actually filmed at the real thing, despite the fact that the film did not receive official DoD support. This was made possible because at the time of filming, the Pentagon building itself was not owned by DoD, but by the General Services Administration (GSA). The producers could therefore film in public corridors and hallways. This loophole was finally closed in 1992 when ownership was transferred to DoD.
    • The Secretary of Defense's office in the movie was actually filmed in the Department of the Interior building in Washington, DC.
  • Thirteen Days: Two scenes; first, when the navy commander who made the low altitude reconnaissance flight over Cuba is questioned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and second, when the CNO, Admiral Anderson, clashes with Secretary of Defense McNamara in the NMCC.
  • In Dr. Strangelove, the fictional War Room is located inside the Pentagon.note 
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past: Magneto is held prisoner in a super-secret concrete prison at the center of the Pentagon.

  • Being five-sided, it was inevitable that Pentagon cropped up in The Illuminatus! Trilogy: in the books, Yog-Sothoth has been trapped within the pentagon formed by its walls (he was also trapped in a similar construct back on Atlantis), but the walls are blown up later in the trilogy and he escapes.
  • Every so often, Tom Clancy sends Ryanverse characters to or from this. When important minor characters have job titles like 'Admiral', it's not unusual.
  • While the Pentagon is not featured in the Honor Harrington series, the Havenite military's headquarters is in an eight-sided skyscraper known as The Octagon, in an obvious nod. At least, until it is blown up by the Committee of Public Safety to put down Citizen Admiral McQueen's attempted coup.

     Live-Action TV 
  • E-Ring: The title comes after the name of the outermost concentric ring of the Pentagon building, where The Powers That Be, i.e. the top civil & military leadership, has their spacious offices.
  • JAG: In some episodes, usually the in Secretary of the Navy's office, and at least once in the NMCC. The real office of the Navy's Judge Advocate General is located in the Pentagon building, but in this series it's located at a separate location in Falls Church, Virginia.
  • NCIS had one murder there and a cyber attack at another time.
  • Stargate SG-1: Some episodes. The season 6 episode "Disclosure" takes place in the Pentagon.
  • Stargate Universe: Homeworld Command is located in the Pentagon.

  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Happy Birthday" contains these cheery lines:
    "The monkeys in the Pentagon are gonna cook our goose,
    They're gonna push the button, all they need is an excuse!"

     Video Games 
  • Pentagon is a World Wonder in Civilization III that gives massive bonuses to your military units.
  • The Pentagon is also a World Wonder (for Western Civilizations) in Empire Earth II. It allows houses (normally built to raise your population cap) to shoot at enemies.
  • A (not the) Pentagon is also a national wonder in Cyber Nations, again giving bonuses to military attacks and defences.
  • Command & Conquer:
  • In Fallout 3 the headquarters of the East Coast Brotherhood of Steel is in the ruins of the Pentagon, which they have rechristened "The Citadel". It's also incredibly small...above ground, that is.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops has a short level set in the pentagon where the player receives orders from the President and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
    • There's also a bonus Zombies level there unlocked after finishing the Campaign, in which you play as JFK, Richard Nixon, Fidel Castro, and McNamara.
  • In Magical Cannon Wars they're the enemy and control Zero, one of their weapons.
  • It's one of the possible settings in Crush, Crumble, and Chomp!.
  • For some reason, in the world of killer7 the US has a Pentagram instead.

     Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Daria, Daria's parents, back in the sixties or seventies, as hippies, tried to use harmony and telekenisis to send the Pentagon away. When that failed, Jake kicked a wall and hurt his foot.

Your identity has been noted. Greetings from Fort Meade.