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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 has strong negative connotations. General profiteering may also occur in peace time. One example of war profiteers were the "shoddy" millionaires who allegedly sold recycled wool and cardboard shoes to soldiers during the American Civil War.


International arms dealers

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

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.

Commodity dealers

War usually leads to a shortage in the supply of commodities, which results in higher prices and higher revenues.


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

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

Civilian contractors

More recently, companies involved with supplying the coalition forces in the Iraq War, such as Bechtel, KBR, Blackwater and Halliburton, have come under fire for allegedly overcharging for their services.[1] The modern private military company is also offered as an example of sanctioned war profiteering.[2] [3] On the opposing side, companies like Huawei Technologies, which upgraded Saddam's air-defense system between the two Gulf Wars, face such accusations.[4] [5]

Military contractors

Groups that potentially profit from war, or the threat of war, are military contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics, to name a few. Old military material has to be discarded due to age or is lost due to fighting and new and different military material is needed by the military to maintain strategic advantages over the military technologies of foreign nations which are hostile or may become hostile.

Black marketeers

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.

Anti-profiteering measures

Attempts to prohibit excessive war profiteering, such as the imposition of an excess profits tax, receive much political support in wartime. Defining 'excessive' accurately is difficult, however, and such legislation frequently allows some instances of profiteering to go unchecked while reducing the income of others' war-related business to loss-making levels.

In the United States

Criticism of companies such as Halliburton in the context of the Iraq War draw heavily on the stereotype of the businessman profiteer. Slogans relating to 'blood for oil' have a similar implication.

Steve 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.[6]

The Center for Public Integrity has reported that US Senator Dianne Feinstein and her husband, Richard Blum, are making millions of dollars from Iraq and Afghanistan contracts through his company, Tutor Perini Corporation.[7] [8] Feinstein voted for the resolution giving President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq.

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.”[9]

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.[10] 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.[11]

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, criticized war profiteering of U.S 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 1700% and how many companies willingly sold equipment and supplies to the U.S 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."[12]

In popular culture

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.[13]

The surname of the character 'Daddy Warbucks' in Little Orphan Annie carries an obvious implication. This character is interesting for being an example of the stereotype of a war profiteer applied to a 'good guy'.

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.

The character of Joe Walker in the sitcom Dad's Army is an example of the second stereotype of a war profiteer while the character Rick Pym in the novel A Perfect Spy is a more psychologically complex example.

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.

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

See also


  1. "IRAQ FOR SALE: The War profiteers". Retrieved 12-07-2008. 
  2. Scahill, Jeremy (25 January 2007). "Bush's Rent an Army". Los Angeles Times.,0,4485578.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions. Retrieved 12-07-2008. [dead link]
  3. "Bush's Shadow Army". Retrieved 12-07-2008. 
  4. "Revealed: 17 British Firms Armed Saddam with his Weapons". Retrieved 12-07-2008. 
  5. Lynch, Colum (17 March 2001). "Chinese Firm Probed On Links With Iraq". Retrieved 12-07-2008. 
  6. "WOOLSEY WATCH: Woolsey Needs to Make a Choice Between Being a War Profiteer or War Pundit". Retrieved 12-07-2008. 
  7. "Windfalls of War". Retrieved 12-07-2008. 
  8. "Winning Contractors". 2003. Retrieved 1-1-2013. 
  9. "Politics Case shines light on how war contracts are awarded". Retrieved 12-07-2008. 
  10. "Senate Judiciary Holds Hearing on Combating War Profiteering". Archived from the original on 26-06-2008. Retrieved 12-07-2008. 
  11. Grayson, Alan (2007). "House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security". Retrieved 12-07-2008. 
  12. Butler, Smedley (1935). War Is a Racket. Los Angeles: Feral House. ISBN 0-922915-86-5. 
  13. Stuart Dean Brandes: Warhogs: a history of war profits in America. University Press of Kentucky, 1997, ISBN 0-8131-2020-9, pg. 273

External links

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