The Weapons Trade as Entertainment

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Over at Tomdispatch, Frida Berrigan has a good essay on the U.S. arms trade.

Like American entertainment, American arms are a multibillion-dollar industry that leans heavily on foreign sales. In fact, the United States exported $18.55 billion in fighter planes, attack helicopters, tanks, battleships, and other weaponry in 2005. All signs point to 2006 being another banner export year. Just as in the movie, TV, and music businesses, we dwarf the competition. Russia is the next largest arms exporter with a measly $4 billion in yearly sales. In fact, U.S. arms exports accounted for more than half of total global arms deliveries — $34.8 billion — in 2004, and we export more of them ourselves than the next six largest exporters combined.

Given the huge payoffs and even larger payloads delivered, isn’t it strange how little attention the American arms industry gets? Maybe, in some small part, that’s because the industry’s magazines all have the word “Defense,” or some equivalent, prominently displayed on the cover — Defense Week, Defense News — instead of Glamour or Allure. Maybe it’s because of the Pentagon’s predilection for less than magnetic PowerPoint presentations, unbearably unexpressive acronyms, and slightly paunchy, very pasty, older white men in business suits. Maybe the arms trade just doesn’t seek the plush of the red carpet or the jittery pulse of flashing paparazzi cameras. Or maybe, it’s a business that just loves to revel in profitable anonymity.

But don’t be fooled. Like Hollywood, the arms industry has sex to spare. After all, the weapons themselves are all gleaming golden curves and massive thrusting spikes; they move at breath-robbing speed, make ear-splitting noise, and are capable of performing with awesome lethality. Just ask the Bush administration if you can’t fall in love with weapons this sexy and the military that wields them. And then there are the glittery galas and trade shows like the Paris Air Show — at Le Bourget airport north of the French capital — where generals and corporate bigwigs with power, prestige, and incomparable sums of money rub against each other amid the scandalous whispers of corporate breakups and new mergers.

Read the rest here.

(For another gauge of the arms industry’s formidable power, see this classic piece, “The Military-Industrial Man,” in which Chalmers Johnson shows how, in one congressional district after another, the weapons industry has bought the incumbent, leaving voters powerless to dislodge him or her.)

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