It was the rarest of graphics in the American news media: a CNN map in which recent Saudi air strikes in Yemen were represented by little yellow explosions. Below them were the number of civilians killed (“97,” “155,” “unknown casualties”) and, below those, the names of the makers of the weapons that had done the killing (Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics). In fact, in the nearly three decades since the Soviet Union imploded, U.S. weapons makers have had a remarkable grip on the global arms trade (latest figure: 34% of all arms sales) and regularly sold their weaponry into places that were hell storms of conflict, particularly the Middle East. Nonetheless, remarkably little thought is given here to how snugly death and destruction in distant lands fit with these glory days of U.S. weapons makers, their soaring profits and rising stock prices.
Fortunately, we now have a report from Code Pink, “War Profiteers: The U.S. War Machine and the Arming of Repressive Regimes,” that focuses on the five largest U.S. arms makers — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics — and their dealings with just three countries: Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt. It couldn’t be a grimmer tale — or, more accurately, the beginning of one, for as that report points out, while the U.S. spent $1.3 trillion on its wars between 1999 and 2011, it also spent a staggering $1.8 trillion in those years to buy, as Code Pink puts it, “new warplanes, warships, weapons, and equipment, most of which were unrelated to the wars it was actually fighting.” (And those figures seem, if anything, to be on the rise in the Trump era.) Keep in mind as well that the Pentagon is slated to receive more than six trillion taxpayer dollars in the next decade alone. The Code Pink researchers grimly point out (as few others do) that
“Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson was paid $20.2 million in 2017, even as the company’s weapons killed tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy made $24.8 million, as millions of people became refugees, fleeing the carnage caused by its weapons. Boeing CEO Dennis A. Muilenberg made $18.5 million, as even the World Bank noted that 90% of the people killed in today’s wars are civilians, mostly women and children.”
As that CNN map suggests, of all the wars underway from which the U.S. weapons companies are profiting, none may be bleaker right now than the Saudi war in Yemen. Five years old and a human tragedy of the first order, it has become a catastrophe of still unknown but staggering dimensions for Yemen’s civilian population. Today, TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon considers that local Armageddon and the grim role the U.S. military (and those arms makers) continue to play in it. Talk about — to resurrect a phrase from a long-gone era — “merchants of death“! Those five giant arms makers give the phrase new meaning in our time.