America: Arms Dealer to the Stars!
Who's the number one weapons broker in the world, again? Take a guess
And then along comes one of those stories that makes you cringe down to your very core, that makes you see our semi-fine nation and the world around it through a bleak and unforgiving lens indeed. No matter how hard you try and how you spin the story and flip it around and try to forcibly shape it into something less slightly nauseating, all you can do is realize that sometimes ugliness and violence win the day, the year, the planet.
So it is that a new report has just emerged, announcing with a sort of drab and bitter capitalistic glee that America is once again the number one weapons dealer in the world. It's true: We sell more guns, more major weaponry, tanks and rocket launchers, fighters and Gatling guns and all sorts of brutal devices specifically designed to destroy human life and induce fear and dread and all manner of sadistic horror, than any other developed nation on the planet. By a long shot.
But that's not all. Despite the bleak economy, despite what you might expect to be a major downturn in such transactions, sales of American-made guns and weapons of mass annihilation worldwide are actually way up. As far as U.S.-made weapons are concerned, it appears to be a boom time for war and death and conflict. Isn't that fun to swallow with your hopes and dreams for a peaceful and calmly evolving future?
So far ahead in weapons sales to the world are we, it's not even a contest. We own the game. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, while overall weapons sales were indeed down due to global economic blight, sales of U.S. weaponry rose more than 50 percent in a single year, totaling about $37 billion, up from $25 billion the year before.
Translation: the U.S. now owns a whopping 68 percent of the arms games worldwide. We're just like Wal-Mart, if Wal-Mart sold Browning M2s and Stingers and flamethrowers. Isn't that reassuring?
Sure, you can water it down a bit, maybe propose to your exhausted soul that we only sell said weapons to our friendly, peace-seeking allies so they may protect themselves from various evildoers and swarthy terrorists whom we also detest and wish death and hate upon, or you could tell yourself that most of said weaponry is really for defense and for shielding babies and puppies and virgins from the darker nature of man.
You can even go so far as to suggest that our arms deals are not promoting war, per se, but actually promoting peace, in that inverse, bad-is-good, multiple-wrongs-make-a-right sort of way. It's the classic, ridiculous NRA argument: if everyone owns a few thousand warheads, no one will shoot anyone simply because they don't want to get shot themselves. It's pathetic nonsense, but hey, whatever gets you through, right?
Sad fact is, capitalism trumps all rational arguments, all notions that we are out only to promote good in the world, and we will sell weapons to just about anyone anywhere short of Al Qaeda itself. Guerrillas? Dictators? Drug lords? If they somehow serve our global agenda, hell yes. We sell billions in arms to our pals in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, for example, regimes second only in oppression and totalitarianism to the Taliban. We buy their oil, we turn around and sell them fighter jets and grenades and sniper rifles. It's a win-win, where everybody loses.
Of course, it's all nothing new. America has always been the world's foremost arms dealer. Who can forget one of the classic hypocrisies of all time, Bush's pathetic wail that we must stop the development of weapons of mass destruction in countries we do not like, when of course the United States owns more WMD than any developed nation on the planet? We argue it's all about intent, all about protecting our vital interests. Which may be partly true. The other truth is, it's also all about profit, ethics and morals bedamned.
I can't help but recall that cute little scene in Iron Man, when Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark character, a cocky, heartless arms dealer, finally realizes the horrible human consequences of his trade, what sort of mayhem and death he has helped promote, and decides to turn his life around and fight for justice and help save the world.
Isn't that a charming little cartoon fable? Isn't that just ridiculous, ultraviolent fantasy? Don't we nevertheless love to rub such childish ideological balm all over ourselves and think that's really what America is all about, that selling death to oppressive regimes is merely a necessary evil and, gosh golly, if we could, we'd put a stop to all such sales tomorrow in favor of ensuring a peaceful and utopian future? Sure we do. In many ways, such a mass delusion is the only way we can really get out of bed in the morning.
I'm not exactly certain how you counterbalance such bleak data. I'm not sure where to look for an equally powerful story to battle the dour fact that we are, at heart, a rather ruthless capitalist military juggernaut that will gladly sell a sharpening stone to an axe murderer if it serves our purposes and makes Lockheed Martin a tidy profit.
Where do you look for proof that $37 billion in weapons sales does not, in fact, exert a simply massive downward thrust on the desire to imagine humanity is moving in an ultimately positive, hopeful, nonviolent direction? The green movement? Solar power? Hybrid cars? As if.
Maybe you don't look at all. Maybe there is no such story, no way to offset the fact that war and violence are a major engine of capitalism, and always will be. Maybe you only swallow it whole, hope it doesn't tear a permanent gash in your spirit, and eagerly await Iron Man 2.
© 2009 The San Francisco Chronicle