War profiteering

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A war profiteer is any person or organization that profits from warfare or by selling weapons and other goods to parties at war. The term can have strong, negative connotations. General profiteering may also occur in peace time. An example of war profiteers were the "shoddy" millionaires who allegedly sold recycled wool and cardboard shoes to soldiers during the American Civil War. The ten highest war profiteers are Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, EADS, Finmeccanica, L-3 Communications, and United Technologies.[1] These corporations have significant political influence given their lobbying efforts and campaign contributions to Members of the United States Congress. In 2010, the defense industry spent $144 million on lobbying and donated over $22.6 million to congressional candidates.[2]

Military-Industrial Complex[edit]

The phrase "military-industrial complex" was coined by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1961 Farewell Address. This term describes the alliance between military leaders and arms merchants. Military officials attempt to obtain higher budgets, while arms manufactures seek profit. President Eisenhower warned the American people that going to war might not serve the interest of the nation, rather the institution of the military and weapons-producing corporations. The Iron Triangle comes into play here due to war profiting industries who make financial contributions to elected officials, who then distribute taxpayer money towards the military budget, which is spent at the advantage of arms merchants. The military-industrial complex allows for arms-producing corporations to continue to accumulate significant profit.

A prominent example of the impact arms-producing industries have over American policy is evident in the case of Lockheed Martin donating $75,000 to House Armed Services Committee chair Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX). Rep. Thornberry later passed a bill through the House of Representatives that would benefit Lockheed Martin. This decision was made as a direct result of the influence of Lockheed Martin.[3] Politico has stated Rep. Thornberry is the "highest overall recipient of contractor contributions among all of the 89 members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees."[4]


Iraq War Profiteers[edit]

One of the top profiteers from the Iraq War was oils field services corporation, Halliburton. Halliburton gained $39.5 billion in "federal contracts related to the Iraq war".[5] Many individuals have asserted that there were profit motives for the Bush-Cheney administration to invade Iraq in 2003. Dick Cheney served as Halliburton's CEO from 1995 until 2000. 2016 Presidential Candidate, Rand Paul referenced Cheney's interview with the American Enterprise Institute in which Cheney said invading Iraq "would be a disaster, it would be vastly expensive, it would be civil war, we'd have no exit strategy...it would be a bad idea". Rand continues by concluding "that's why the first Bush didn't go into Baghdad. Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars- their CEO. Next thing you know, he's back in government, it's a good idea to go into Iraq."[6] Another prominent critic is Huffington Post co-founder, Arianna Huffington. Huffington said, "We have the poster child of Bush-Cheney crony capitalism, Halliburton, involved in this. They, after all, were responsible for cementing the well."[7]

International arms dealers[edit]

Others make their money by cooperating with the authorities. Basil Zaharoff's Vickers Company sold weapons to all the parties involved in the Chaco War. Companies like Opel and IBM have been labeled war profiteers for their involvement with the Third Reich.

Scientific research[edit]

War provides demand for military technology modernization. Technologies originally designed for the military frequently also have non-military use. Both the state and corporations have gains from scientific research. One famous example is Siri, the artificially intelligent "personal assistant" that comes standard on all Apple devices since 2011. Siri was a spin-off of CALO, a project funded by the government military development group, DARPA. CALO is an acronym that stands for "Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes".[8]

Commodity dealers[edit]

War usually leads to a shortage in the supply of commodities, which results in higher prices and higher revenues. Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, oil production was controlled by the Iraqi government, and was off limits to Western companies. As of 2014, foreign owned private firms dominate Iraqi oil production. [9]


Political figures taking bribes and favors from corporations involved with war production have been called war profiteers. Abraham Lincoln's first Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, was forced to resign in early 1862 after charges of corruption relating to war contracts. In 1947, Kentucky congressman Andrew J. May, Chairman of the powerful Committee on Military Affairs, was convicted for taking bribes in exchange for war contracts.

The state[edit]

Though war initially had the objective of territorial expansion and resource gathering, the country may also profit politically and strategically, replacing governments that do not fulfill its interests by key allied governments.

Civilian contractors[edit]

More recently, companies involved with supplying the coalition forces in the Iraq War, such as Bechtel, KBR, Academi (formerly known as Blackwater) and Halliburton, have come under fire for allegedly overcharging for their services.[10] The modern private military company is also offered as an example of sanctioned war profiteering.[11][12] On the opposing side, companies like Huawei Technologies, which upgraded Saddam's air-defense system between the two Gulf Wars, face such accusations.[13][14]

Black marketeers[edit]

A distinction can be made between war profiteers who gain by sapping military strength and those who gain by contributing to the war. For instance, during and after World War II, enormous profits were available by selling rationed goods like cigarettes, chocolate, coffee and butter on the black market. Dishonest military personnel given oversight over valuable property sometimes diverted rationed goods to the black market. The charge could also be laid against medical and legal professionals who accept money in exchange for helping young men evade a draft.

In the United States[edit]

Companies such as Halliburton have been criticized in the context of the Iraq War for their perceived war profiteering.[15]

Steven Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation think tank, has accused former CIA Director James Woolsey of both profiting from and promoting the Iraq War.[16]

The Center for Public Integrity has reported that US Senator Dianne Feinstein, who voted in favor of the Iraq Resolution, and her husband, Richard Blum, are making millions of dollars from Iraq and Afghanistan contracts through his company, Tutor Perini Corporation.[17][18]

Indicted defense contractor Brent R. Wilkes was reported to be ecstatic when hearing that the United States was going to go to war with Iraq. "He and some of his top executives were really gung-ho about the war," said a former employee. "Brent said this would create new opportunities for the company. He was really excited about doing business in the Middle East."[19]

The War Profiteering Prevention Act of 2007 intended to create criminal penalties for war profiteers and others who exploit taxpayer-funded efforts in Iraq and elsewhere around the world.[20] War profiteering cases are often brought under the Civil False Claims Act, which was enacted in 1863 to combat war profiteering during the Civil War.[21]

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, criticized war profiteering of US companies during World War I in War Is a Racket. He wrote about how some companies and corporations increase their earnings and profits by up to 1,700 percent and how many companies willingly sold equipment and supplies to the US that had no relevant use in the war effort. In the book, Butler stated that "It has been estimated by statisticians and economists and researchers that the war cost your Uncle Sam $52,000,000,000. Of this sum, $39,000,000,000 was expended in the actual war period. This expenditure yielded $16,000,000,000 in profits."[22]

In the American Civil War, concerns about war profiteering were not limited to the activities of a few "shoddy" millionaires in the North. In the Confederacy, where supplies were severely limited, and hardships common, the mere suggestion of profiteering was considered a scurrilous charge. Georgia Quartermaster General Ira Roe Foster attempted to increase the supply of material to the troops by urging the women of his state to knit 50,000 pairs of socks. Foster's sock campaign stimulated the supply of the much needed item, but it also met with a certain amount of suspicion and backlash. Either the result of a Union disinformation campaign, or the work of suspicious minds, rumors, which Foster denied as a "malicious falsehood!",[23] began to spread that Foster and others were profiteering from the socks.[23] It was alleged that contributed socks were being sold, rather than given freely to the troops. The charge was not without precedent. The historian Jeanie Attie notes that in 1861, an "especially damaging rumor" (later found to be true) had circulated in the North, alleging that the Union Army had purchased 5,000 pairs of socks which had been donated, and intended for the troops, from a private relief agency, the United States Sanitary Commission.[24] As the Sanitary Commission had done in the North, Foster undertook a propaganda campaign in Georgia newspapers to combat the damaging rumors and to encourage the continued contribution of socks.[25] He offered $1,000.00 to any "citizen or soldier who will come forward and prove that he ever bought a sock from this Department that was either knit by the ladies or purchased for issue to said troops."[23]

In popular culture[edit]

The term 'war profiteer' evokes two stereotypes in popular culture: the rich businessman who sells weapons to governments, and the semi-criminal black marketeer who sells goods to ordinary citizens. In English-speaking countries this is particularly associated with Britain during World War II. The image of the 'businessman profiteer' carries the implication of influence and power used to actively cause wars for personal gain, rather than merely passively profit from them. In the aftermath of World War I, such profiteers were widely asserted to have existed by both the Left, and the Right.

Fictional character Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder in the novel Catch-22 has been called "perhaps the best known of all fictional profiteers" in American literature.[26]

The Adventures of Tintin comic The Broken Ear features an arms dealer called Basil Bazarov who sells arms to both sides in a war. He is a recognisable example of this "type" and is specifically based on Basil Zaharoff.

Bertolt Brecht wrote the play Mother Courage and Her Children as a didactic indictment of war profiteering.

In the 1985 film Clue, Colonel Mustard was a war profiteer who sold stolen radio components on the black market.

The film The Third Man features a war profiteer named Harry Lime, who steals penicillin from military hospitals and sells it on the black market.

The film Lord of War is a fictional story based on the war profiteer named Viktor Bout, who illegally sold post-Soviet arms to Liberia and other nations in conflict.

The Suicide Machines released their 2005 album, entitled War Profiteering Is Killing Us All.

In the 2011 film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Professor Moriarty acquires shares in many military supply companies and plots to instigate a world war and make a fortune.

In the anime Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, Gozaburo Kaiba was not known to truly do this (while considered a villain, all his known actions as an arms supplier were legit) but the villain Dartz disguised himself as Gozaburo and sold weapons to the army opposing one that the real Gozaburo was financing, making several victims of the conflict believe he was engaged in war profiting.

The song "Masters of War" by Bob Dylan is about war profiteering and the military-industrial complex.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "10 companies profiting the most from war". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2017-02-16. 
  2. ^ Hartung, William (October 31, 2011). "Tools of Influence: The Arms Lobby and the Super Committee". 
  3. ^ Hartung, William; Miles, Stephen (2015-06-01). "Arms Industry Ramps Up Lobbying Efforts As Budget Battles Continue". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  4. ^ "Meet the Defense Industry's Favorite Committee". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  5. ^ "Subscribe to read". www.ft.com. Retrieved 2017-02-24. 
  6. ^ "Rand Paul in '09: Cheney pushed Iraq war to benefit Halliburton". Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-02-24. 
  7. ^ TV, Huff (2010-06-06). "Arianna Battles Liz Cheney Over Gulf Spill, Halliburton, Gaza Crisis On 'This Week' (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-02-24. 
  8. ^ Markoff, John. "A Software Secretary that Takes Charge". nytimes.com. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  9. ^ Juhasz, Antonia. "Why the war in Iraq was fought for Big Oil". cnn.com. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "IRAQ FOR SALE: The War profiteers". Retrieved 7 December 2008. 
  11. ^ Scahill, Jeremy (25 January 2007). "Bush's Rent an Army". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on June 30, 2007. Retrieved 7 December 2008. 
  12. ^ "Bush's Shadow Army". Retrieved 7 December 2008. 
  13. ^ "Revealed: 17 British Firms Armed Saddam with his Weapons". Retrieved 7 December 2008. 
  14. ^ Lynch, Colum (17 March 2001). "Chinese Firm Probed On Links With Iraq". Retrieved 7 December 2008. 
  15. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/28/politics/democrats-step-up-criticism-of-halliburton-billing-in-iraq.html?_r=0
  16. ^ "WOOLSEY WATCH: Woolsey Needs to Make a Choice Between Being a War Profiteer or War Pundit". Retrieved 22 October 2015. 
  17. ^ "Windfalls of War". Retrieved 7 December 2008. 
  18. ^ "Winning Contractors". 2003. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  19. ^ "Politics Case shines light on how war contracts are awarded". Retrieved 7 December 2008. 
  20. ^ "Senate Judiciary Holds Hearing on Combating War Profiteering". Archived from the original on 2008-06-26. Retrieved 7 December 2008. 
  21. ^ Grayson, Alan (2007). "House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security" (PDF). Retrieved 7 December 2008. 
  22. ^ Butler, Smedley (1935). War Is a Racket. Los Angeles: Feral House. ISBN 0-922915-86-5. 
  23. ^ a b c Frank Moore (1865). the rebellion record: a diary of american events. p. 48. 
  24. ^ Jeanie Attie (1998). Patriotic Toil: Northern Women and the American Civil War. Cornell University Press. p. 174. ISBN 0-8014-2224-8. 
  25. ^ Attie, p. 173
  26. ^ Stuart Dean Brandes: Warhogs: a history of war profits in America. University Press of Kentucky, 1997, ISBN 0-8131-2020-9, p. 273

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