When American firms dominate a global market worth more than $70 billion a year, you’d expect to hear about it. Not so with the global arms trade. It’s good for one or two stories a year in the mainstream media, usually when the annual statistics on the state of the business come out.
It’s not that no one writes about aspects of the arms trade. There are occasional pieces that, for example, take note of the impact of US weapons transfers, including cluster bombs, to Saudi Arabia, or of the disastrous dispensation of weaponry to US allies in Syria, or of foreign sales of the costly, controversial F-35 combat aircraft. And once in a while, if a foreign leader meets with the president, US arms sales to his or her country might generate an article or two. But the sheer size of the American arms trade, the politics that drive it, the companies that profit from it, and its devastating global impacts are rarely discussed, much less analyzed in any depth.
So here’s a question that’s puzzled me for years (and I’m something of an arms wonk): Why do other major US exports—from Hollywood movies to Midwestern grain shipments to Boeing airliners—garner regular coverage while trends in weapons exports remain in relative obscurity? Are we ashamed of standing essentially alone as the world’s number one arms dealer, or is our Weapons “R” Us role such a commonplace that we take it for granted, like death or taxes?