By Andrew Feinstein. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.
This is a detailed, well referenced account of corruption of real people in the world arms trade. Feinstein begins with a fictional character—George Bernard Shaw’s Andrew Undershaft in his play Major Barbara—who is the “profiteer in mutilation and murder.” He then goes on to highlight all those who manufacture and trade in arms and how they are shaping world history.
As he left office, President Eisenhower famously warned about the military industrial complex—a concept which the author has expanded to include governments, giving us the Military Industrial Congressional Complex (MICC).
Feinstein starts with Basil Zaharoff (1849-1936), a legendary arms dealer who sold for Maxim, the British gun manufacturer, and later Vickers, the shipbuilding giant (now part of British Aerospace).
The arms dealers of today are much like their predecessors: charismatic salesmen, flamboyant and living larger than life on their ill-gotten earnings. They are corrupt, engage in bribery, and know how to manipulate governments with intelligence, working as diplomats and spies. They sell arms to anyone. During World War II, American auto companies sold to the Nazis as well as to the Allies and the US, at great profit. American Major General Smedley Butler, the most decorated marine in US history, wrote “War is a Racket.” “A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
This is what Feinstein explores in The Shadow World, chronicling one twentieth-century scandal after the next: the Nazis, the Saudis, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Nicaraguan Contras. He enlightens his readers on what is happening behind the scenes, all well referenced. Having been an ANC member of South Africa’s parliament, he focuses on Africa as well as Europe and the US and the major multinationals: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, British Aerospace, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t mention Canadian companies like SCN Lavalin, whose Libyan deals were the subject of a recent RCMP investigation. He also doesn’t mention how Canada is selling armoured vehicles to the Saudis, with new evidence emerging in recent weeks that they are being used to suppress peaceful protest. We await his next edition.
Feinstein has also produced a documentary film—Shadow World—which has been doing the rounds of film festivals this spring. While he doesn’t go into great detail about the threat of nuclear weapons, he focuses on small arms—AK 47s and so forth—which can be considered weapons of mass destruction just due to their numbers.
The UN Arms Trade Treaty, which came into force in December 2014, has unfortunately not curtailed the small arms trade, but by making it more difficult may have inadvertently led to greater profits for arms traders. The final chapter brings us up to date on how many of these dealers of death are enjoying the good life and are not in jail as they should be. It is a fascinating book that I would heartily recommend.
Reviewed by Richard Denton, M.D.