A war profiteer is any person or organization that improperly 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.
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
on the black market
. Dishonest military personnel given oversight over valuable property sometimes divert it 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.
International arms dealers
Others make their money by cooperating with the authorities. Basil Zaharoff
Company sold weapons to all the parties involved in the Chaco War
. Companies like Opel
have been labeled war profiteers for their involvement with the Third Reich
War usually leads to a shortage in the supply of commodities
, which results in higher prices and higher revenues. For example, increased oil prices have enabled the oil companies to increase their profit in recent years, so oil companies are profiteering from war.
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.
More recently, companies involved with supplying the coalition forces in the Iraq War
, such as Bechtel
, have come under fire for allegedly overcharging for their services.
The modern private military company
is also offered as an example of sanctioned war profiteering.
On the opposing side, companies like Huawei Technologies
, which upgraded Saddam's air-defense system between the two Gulf Wars, face accusations for dealing with Saddam Hussein
or nuclear aspirant Iran
A group that always profits from war are the military contractors
like Lockheed Martin
, Northrop Grumman
and General Dynamics
(just to name the most important). Old military material has to be discarded due to age or is lost due to fighting, new and different military material is demanded by the military. This enables military contractors to increase their business and profit from war.
Making unreasonable profits from war is widely considered unethical and is deeply unpopular, so 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
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, Perini Feinstein voted for the resolution giving President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq.
Indicted defense contractor Brent Wilkes was 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.”
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. 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.
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 (fused with anti-Semitism) by the Right.
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 Tintin adventure 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 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.
Brecht wrote the play Mother Courage and Her Children as a didactic indictment of war profiteering.
The Suicide Machines released their 2005 album, entitled War Profiteering Is Killing Us All.