MERCHANTS OF DEATH

CHAPTER I

CONSIDER THE ARMAMENT MAKER


To give arms to all men who offer an honest price for them without respect of persons or principles :  to aristocrats and republicans, to nihilist and Czar, to Capitalist and Socialist, to Protestant and Catholic, to burglar and policeman, to black man, white man and yellow man, to all sorts and conditions, all nationalities, all faiths, all follies, all causes, and all crimes. — Creed of Undershaft, the arms maker, in Shaw’s Major Barbara.

I appreciate the fact that the manufacturers of arms and ammunition are not standing very high in the estimation of the public generally. — Samuel S. Stone, President of Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Co.


IN 1930, as a result of the endeavors of disarmament advocates, a treaty was signed between the United States, Great Britain and Japan .  While it fell far short of disarming these powers, it did agree on a joint policy of naval limitation and so prevented for a time a costly naval building competition between these countries.  President Hoover submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification.  At this point an organization called the Navy League entered the picture .  It raised strenuous objections to the treaty on the ground that it “jeopardized American security .”  The League failed to convince the Senate, however, and the treaty was ratified .

Presumably the Navy League was a collection of individuals who distrusted international efforts to disarm and who believed that a large navy would insure the safety of the United States and of its citizens .  Some might assail these conservatives for clinging to reactionary ideas, but their point of view was a recognized patriotic policy upheld in many who had no connection with the League . But what was the Navy League and who were its backers ?

Representative Claude H. Tavvener made a speech in Congress in 1916 which revealed the results of his investigations into the nature and character of the League .  He cited the League’s official journal to show that eighteen men and one corporation were listed as “founders .”  The corporation was the Midvale Steel Company from which the government had bought more than $20,000,000 worth of armor plate, to say nothing of other materials .  Among the individual founders were Charles M. Schwab, president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, which makes armor plate and other war material ;  J.P. Morgan, of the United States Steel Corporation, which would profit heavily from large naval orders;  Colonel R.M. Thompson, of the International Nickel Company, which dealt in nickel, that metal so necessary in making shells ;  and B.F. Tracy, former Secretary of the Navy, who became attorney for the Carnegie Steel Company .  More than half of the founders of this energetic League were gentlemen whose business would benefit by large naval appropriations.  It is evident from this that American arms makers have employed the Navy League to prevent naval disarmament .1

In Europe their colleagues are even more active .  Hitler has now become the symbol of the return of German militarism .  Even before he managed to obtain supreme power there was speculation as to his financial backers .  Obviously they included German industrialists fearful of socialism, communism, and the labor unions, nationalists smarting under the “insults” of the Versailles treaty, and a host of other discontented folk .  But on the list of these contributors supplying funds to the Hitler movement were the names of two capitalists—Von Arthaber and Von Duschnitz—directors of Skoda, the great armament firm of Germany’s neighbor and enemy, Czechoslovakia .

Interlocking directorates are a familiar phenomenon in the United States .  The real controller of industries is frequently found in the most unexpected places .  In Europe the same system prevails .  And so it appears that Messrs. Von Arthaber and Von Duschnitz represent a firm which is controlled by still another firm .  The head of this holding company is neither German nor Czech .  He is a French citizen, M. Eugene Schneider, president of the Schneider-Creusot Company which for a century has dominated the French arms industry and which through its subsidiaries now controls most of the important arms factories in Central Europe .  Some of Hitler’s financial support, then, was derived from a company owned by a leading French industrialist and arms maker .2

Arms merchants also own newspapers and mold public opinion .  M. Schneider is more than just president of Creusot .  He is the moving spirit of another great combine, the Comité des Forges .  This French steel trust through one of its officers has controlling shares in the Paris newspaper Le Temps, the counterpart of The New York Times, and the Journal des Débats, which corresponds to the New York Herald Tribune .  These two powerful papers constantly warn their readers of the “danger of disarmament” and of the menace of Germany .  Thus M. Schneider is in a position to pull two strings, one linked to Hitler and German militarism, the other tied to the French press and French militarism .3

Arms merchants have long carried on a profitable business arming the potential enemies of their own country.  In England today in Bedford Paale there is a cannon captured by the British from the Germans during the World War .  It bears a British trademark, for it was sold to Germany by a British firm before the war.  English companies also sold mines to the Turks by which British men-of-war were sunk in the Dardanelles during the war .  The examples of this international trade in arms before the war are legion, as will be shown .4

Nor are they lacking today . Recently the trial of the British engineers in Soviet Russia brought up the name of Vickers, the engineering firm which employed the accused . But Vickers has other lines than building dams for Bolsheviks .  It is the largest armament trust in Great Britain .  For years relations between the Soviets and Great Britain were such that the Soviets were convinced that Britain would lead the attack of the “capitalist powers” on Russia.  Yet in 1930 Vickers sold 60 of its latest and most powerful tanks to the Soviets .5

Today Russia is less of a problem to England than is Germany .  The rise of Hitler has reawakened much of the pre-war British suspicion of Germany .  Germany was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles to have a military air force .  Yet in1933, at a time when relations between the two countries were strained, the Germans placed an order with an English aircraft manufacturer for 60of the most efficient fighting planes on the market, and the order would have been filled had not the British Air Ministry intervened and refused to permit the British manufacturer to supply the planes .6

Arms makers engineer “war scares.”  They excite governments and peoples to fear their neighbors and rivals, so that they may sell more armaments .  This is an old practice worked often in Europe before the World War and still in use .  Bribery is frequently closely associated with war scares .  Both are well-illustrated in the Seletzki scandal in Rumania .  Bruno Seletzki (or Zelevski) was the Skoda agent in Rumania .  In March, 1933, the Rumanian authorities discovered that this Czech firm had evaded taxes to the extent of 65 million lei .  In searching Seletzki’s files, secret military documents were found which pointed to espionage .  The files were sealed and Seletzki’s affairs were to undergo a thorough “airing .”

A few days later the seals were found broken and many documents were missing .  Seletzki was now held for trial and his files were carefully examined .  The findings at that time pointed to widespread corruption of important government and army officials .  Sums amounting to more than a billion lei had been distributed among the “right” officials, hundreds of thousands had been given to “charity” or spent on “entertainment,” because the persons receiving these sums “will be used by us some day .”  The war scare of 1930was revealed as a device to secure Rumanian armament orders, for Russia at that time was represented as ready to invade Bessarabia, and Rumania was pictured as helpless against this threat ;  all the hysteria vanished over night when Skoda was given large armament orders by the Rumanian government.  General Popescu who was involved shot himself in his study and other officials were exceedingly nervous about the revelations which might yet come .  It was never revealed who Seletzki’s friends in the Rumanian government had been .7

All these incidents took place in times of peace .  Presumably arms merchants become strictly patriotic once their countries start warlike operations .  Not at all ! During the World War at one time there were two trials going on in France.  In one, Bolo Pasha was facing charges of trying to corrupt French newspapers in the interest of the Central Powers .  He was convicted and executed .  In the other, a group of French industrialists were tried for selling war material to Germany through Switzerland .  Although the facts were proved, these industrialists were released because they had also supplied the French armies .  This is but one of a number of sensational instances of trading with the enemy during the war .8

Dealers in arms are scrupulously careful in keeping their accounts collected .  Previous to the World War, Krupp had invented a special fuse for hand grenades .  The English company, Vickers, appropriated this invention during the war and many Germans were killed by British grenades equipped with this fuse .  When the war was over, Krupp sued Vickers for violation of patent rights, demanding the payment of one shilling per fuse .  The total claimed by Krupp was 123,000,000 shillings .  The case was settled out of court and Krupp received payment in stock of one of Vickers’s subsidiaries in Spain.9

Reading such accounts many people are shocked .  They picture a group of unscrupulous villains who are using every device to profit from human suffering and death .  They conjure up a picture of a well-organized, ruthless conspiracy to block world peace and to promote war .  Theirs is an ethical reaction easily understood .  For the business of placing all our vaunted science and engineering in the service of Mars and marketing armaments by the most unrestricted methods of modern salesmanship is indeed a thoroughly anti-social occupation .

But the arms merchant does not see himself as a villain, according to his lights he is simply a businessman who sells is wares under prevailing business practices .  The uses to which his products are put and the results of his traffic are apparently no concern of his, no more than they are, for instance, of an automobile salesman .  Thus there are many naive statements of arms makers which show their complete indifference about anything related to their industry save financial success .  One British arms manufacturer, for instance, compared his enterprise to that of a house-furnishing company which went so far as to encourage matrimony to stimulate more purchases of house furnishings.  The arms maker felt that he, too, was justified in promoting his own particular brand of business .

Neither of these two points of view the average man’s accusation and the arms maker’s defense- is an adequate statement of the issues involved .  One may be horrified by the activities of an industry which thrives on the greatest of human curses ;  still it is well to acknowledge that the arms industry did not create the war system .  On the contrary, the war system created the arms industry.  And our civilization which, however reluctantly, recognizes war as the final arbiter in international disputes, is also responsible for the existence of the arms maker .

Who, to be specific, has the power to declare war ?  All constitutions in the world (except the Spanish) vest the war-making power in the government or in the representatives of the people .  They further grant the power to conscript man-power to carry on such conflicts .  Why is there no ethical revolt against these constitutions ?  Governments also harbor and foster forces like nationalism and chauvinism, economic rivalry and exploiting capitalism, territorial imperialism and militarism .  Which is the most potent for war, these elements or the arms industry ?  The arms industry is undeniably a menace to peace, but it is an industry to which our present civilization clings and for which it is responsible .

It is an evidence of the superficiality of many peace advocates that they should denounce the arms industry and accept the present state of civilization which fosters it Governments today spend approximately four and a half billion dollars every year to maintain their war machines .  This colossal sum is voted every year by representatives of the people .  There are, of course, some protests against these enormous military outlays and a handful of individuals carry their protest so far as to refuse to render military service and to pay taxes . But by and large it is believed that “national security” demands these huge appropriations .  The root of the trouble, therefore, goes far deeper than the arms industry .  It lies in the prevailing temper of peoples toward nationalism, militarism, and war, in the civilization which forms this temper and prevents any drastic and radical change . Only when this underlying basis of the war system is altered, will war and its concomitant, the arms industry, pass out of existence .

While critics of the arms makers are thus frequently lacking in a thorough understanding of the problems involved, the apologists of the arms makers, who defend the purely commercial and nonpolitical nature of the traffic in arms, are far from profound . The fact is that the armament maker is the right-hand man of all war and navy departments, and, as such, he is a supremely important political figure.  His sales to his home government are political acts, as much as, perhaps even more so, than the transactions of a tax collector . His international traffic is an act of international politics and is so recognized in solemn international treaties .  The reason this aspect has never been emphasized is that most nations are extremely anxious to continue the free and uninterrupted commerce in armaments, because they do not and cannot manufacture the arms they deem necessary for their national safety .  From this the curious paradox arises that an embargo on arms is everywhere considered an act of international politics, while the international sale of arms, even in war time, is merely business .

This is the complex situation which breeds such a singular intellectual confusion .  The world at present apparently wants both the war system and peace ;  it believes that “national safety” lies in preparedness, and it denounces the arms industry.  This is not merely confused thinking, but a striking reflection of the contradictory forces at work in our social and political life . Thus it happens that so-called friends of peace frequently uphold the institution of armies and navies to preserve “national security,” support “defensive wars,” and advocate military training in colleges .  On the other hand, arms makers sometimes make dramatic gestures for peace .  Nobel, the Dynamite King, established the world’s most famous peace prize ; Andrew Carnegie endowed a peace foundation and wrote pamphlets on the danger of armaments ;  Charles Schwab declared that he would gladly scrap all his armor plants if it would bring peace to the world ;  and Du Pont recently informed its stockholders that it was gratified that the world was rebelling against war .

Out of this background of conflicting forces the arms-maker has risen and grown powerful, until today he is one of the most dangerous factors in world affairs — a hindrance to peace, a promoter of war .  He has reached this position not through any deliberate plotting or planning of his own, but simply as a result of the historic forces of the nineteenth century .  Granting the nineteenth century with its amazing development of science and invention, its industrial and commercial evolution, its concentration of economic wealth, its close international ties, its spread and intensification of nationalism, its international political conflicts, the modern armament maker with all his evils was inevitable .  If the arms industry is a cancer on the body of modern civilization, it is not an extraneous growth ;  it is the result of the unhealthy condition of the body itself .

This book presents the outline of the development of this powerful industry-not its history, for that may never be fully written .  Hidden in government archives are doubtless many documents which would modify or alter some of the statements herein made .  Others, safely protected in the files of the various arms companies—or perhaps destroyed because they were incriminating—may never reach the public .  Powerful and mysterious arms salesmen like Sir Basil Zaharoff may die without ever telling the true tale of their achievements.  But there are enough unguarded announcements, legislative investigations, court trials, company histories, and boasts of successful arms dealers in their own official publicity to trace the growth of this industry .

It is a long story, with its curious birth, uncertain adolescence, confident maturity, and promise of greater vitality ;  on the other hand there are elements of decay and serious threats to its continued existence .  It has had its great figures, its demigods, staunch adherents of its old code, pioneers of the new .  It came into existence back in the Middle Ages when the arquebuse was anew and fearful weapon ;  it crossed the path of the great Napoleon ;  Thomas Jefferson had close personal relations with one of its intrepid pioneers ;  it was so intimately bound up with the Crimean War that a certain poem should read :

International cannon to right of them,
International cannon to left of them,
International cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d.

The Kaiser was defied by one of its heroes, “King” Krupp ;  the proud British empire was scared to death in 1909 by a smart little arms promoter from Leeds ;  and only yesterday one of its champions put over a most “patriotic” deal at Geneva . It is a past replete with extraordinary episodes, projecting an ominous shadow into the future .




1 Charles A. Beard, The Navy, Defence or Portent ? pp. 156-184.

2 Paul Faure, Les Marchands de Canons contre la Paix.

3 The Secret International, p. 22.

4 Parliamentary Debates, August 2, 1926.

5 Lehmann-Russbueldt, Die Revolution des Friedens, p. 26.

6 New York Times, July 5, 1933.

7 Union of Democratic Control, Patriotism, Ltd., pp. 24-30 ; Reber, “ Puissance de la Skoda et son Trust,” Le Monde, No. 255, April 22, 1933.

8 Francis Delaisi, “ Corruption in Armaments,” Living Age, September, 1931, p. 56.

9 Lehmann-Russbueldt, War for Profits, p. 131.