A rant about America's weapons fired economy


Lake City Ammunition Plant Here’s a story. A man who was a soldier in the American army in Iraq tells it to me.

A friend of his, one of his best and closest friends, was nearly pierced through by a bullet fired by a sniper. The bullet entered the friend’s upper right chest, just below the collarbone, and plowed almost through to the back, just below the shoulder blade.

American surgeons removed the bullet and discovered it was a 5.56mm cartridge manufactured in Lake City, Missouri.

The Lake City Ammunition Plant was founded by the Remington Arms Company in 1941. Today it is operated by Orbital Alliant Techsystems, which averages $5 billion in sales annually and earns an average of about half a billion dollars annually.

Half of the 100 biggest weapons and ammunition manufacturers in the world are American companies. Orbital is one of these.

Orbital sells 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition a year to the American army and to the armies of other nations around the world. Some of that ammunition is lost or stolen or shuffled clandestinely to all sorts of revolutionaries, criminals, gangs, and thugs, including some which call themselves freedom fighters or insurgents against economic and cultural imperialism, though in many cases they are actually fighting to impose their own chosen form of oppression and tinny empire on the people they live among, people whom they are not averse to slaughtering for advertising reasons.

So let us review: an American soldier, age 22, is nearly pierced by a bullet made in America, sold for a profit in America, by an American company which makes half a billion dollars a year selling bullets and other weaponry to armies all over the world.

The vast majority of the companies that make a tremendous profit every year selling bullets and other weaponry all over the world are American. Most of those companies are publicly traded companies in which many other Americans are heavily invested.

So the bullet that nearly pierced an American boy, a bullet that caused him enormous pain, a bullet that permanently affected the use of his arm and shoulder, the bullet that cut a scar on his chest he will wear until the day he dies, was made in America, by American workers, and paid for by American investors, who profited handsomely by the sale of the bullet that eventually executed its purpose by punching a hole the size of a quarter almost all the way through a boy from America.

A 5.56mm bullet can penetrate 15 to 20 inches through 'soft tissue' – soft tissue meaning, for example, a boy. The bullet is 'prone to yaw,' which means that it skews easily from a direct path, and it is also liable to fragment at what is called the cannelure, a groove around the cylinder.

When a bullet fragments on delivery, the fragments slice and tear and rip and shred everything in their path, including bone. A 5.56mm bullet can punch nearly half an inch into steel, and punch right through a bulletproof vest, and punch right through a human being of any size and shape and age and nationality and gender and religion and sexual orientation and combatant status, or not.

Rarely does a writer speak bluntly, ahead of time, to people who will type furious outraged insults in the comment section, after his article is posted, but I will here and now.

Dear outraged shrieking lunatic, you who are about to lecture me on how this was just an accident, and how it’s a necessary part of the capitalist system, and how I am clearly a yellow liberal pansy: Are you only stupid, or are you insane? What part of all this makes sense? What part of all this is not about profit? Why should America be the biggest weapons dealer on earth?

Why do we lie about how this stinks, and is directly linked to murders all over the world, and how our own kids suffer and die from American weapons and ammunition? Is profit share more important than the lives of uncountable thousands of people all over the world who die from our weapons and ammunition?

There are no other products that all those American employees could possibly design and manufacture? Really? Have you ever been nearly pierced through by a 5.56mm bullet? No? Then how do you have the unmitigated gall to say anything to me, you pompous ass?

Brian Doyle headshotBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of the essay collection Grace Notes.

Topic tags: Brian Doyle, war, economics, manufacturing



submit a comment

Existing comments

I can understand why you are so upset about your friend Brian. No furious outraged insults in this comment - just a hope that peace, and common sense, will prevail. Some time in the future.
Pam | 16 June 2015

What an extraordinary essay this is! Right up to the paragraph explaining the physics of a 5.56mm bullet and its capacity to blast its way through just about anything, it’s all about some dastardly US arms manufacturer, its employees and investors crippling a good ol’ American boy. Not a word about the good ol’ Iraqi/Afghani/Vietnamese boys ripped to pieces by munitions manufactured in the west. Not a word about western imperialism running amok ruining other people’s countries and creating enemies for generations to come. Nothing but a story from a soldier who served in Iraq about his mate who was shot with a bullet marked ‘Made in the USA’. Not until the barely intelligible paragraphs in italics do we get some sense that someone other than good ol’ American boys is involved, that these munitions are used to commit ‘murders all over the world’ i.e. somewhere other than the United States, and even then the feeling is one of your common, everyday type of murder. How does this essay help readers to grasp the brutal reality of modern day western imperialism?
Paul | 17 June 2015

America manufacturing its own destruction! It has already managed to destroy Western civilisation and all that was good about it. But then, what do you expect from a mob that kills 1.5 million of its own very healthy unborn every year?
john frawley | 17 June 2015

Well said Brian!!
Pat | 17 June 2015

Paul, I was quite deliberately trying to strip down everything to one bullet and one boy, to make real what happens everywhere all the time. I am consciously telling one lean story, not all stories. I think often that we pay attention to one, while all is too much; cf Anne Frank and the Holocaust. You cannot understand the Holocaust; but you cannot forget the story of one girl hammered by it.
Brian Doyle | 17 June 2015

I agree with you Paul but I think that it is wonderful to focus on the 'friendly fire' when a bullet actually hits 'home', namely, one of 'ours'. If it helps to build empathy - perhaps even leading to compassion, it might have been worth it? The whole world needs some form of gun control.
Eveline Goy | 17 June 2015

Bullets, like any other munition, are in themselves neutral. How they are used depends on the user. SO; Instead of ranting about munitions and their manufacturers, it would be more productive to rant about the religions of the world, at least those that profess to acknowledge God as the Father of All, but who discriminate against and even oppose those whom God is calling by a different path. If those religions would really accept the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of all God's Family, and work to establish respect, peace and cooperation, there would soon be no call for all those bullets.
Robert Liddy | 17 June 2015

I am reminded of the Farewell Speech of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961 and his warning about the US military industrial complex. [See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y06NSBBRtY].
Bob | 17 June 2015

In response to Robert Liddy, it is of course true that bullets and bombs are neutral. Which is the argument the manufacturers would make: no one has to fire the bullet that will kill another person. But as long as munitions are made, they will be used, as long as they are used, people will be killed by them. America (and Australia) assume they are civilised countries. The continued manufacture and trade in barbarous bits of equipment give lie to this. The only comfort I can find is the ban on trade in land-mines, and continued repugnance for chemical weapons. But a young soldier hit by a 7.6mm bullet is just as dead as one poisoned by sarin gas!
Vin Victory | 17 June 2015

This is a very important principle and one we should consistently follow up on. I often ask myself who's making money out of the wars in Iraq and Syria, and I ask myself if some of the firms making this money are among those allowed to use the war memorial for corporate functions.
Jim Jones | 17 June 2015

Vin Victory: "as long as munitions are made, they will be used," Unfortunately, there are many cases when bullets and some other munitions are necessary. At least mankind has grown sufficiently mature that atom bombs nave not been used for many years. Efforts are needed to enable to allow this maturity to grow by eliminating poverty, discrimination, and the increasing divide between the 'haves and the 'nots'.
Robert Liddy | 17 June 2015

Brian, your anger really is righteous. I thank you for it. Trying to divert attention to religions for not succeeding in being perfect, or at abortionists for killing more than arms manufacturers, is simply beside the point. The point is that American arms manufacturers profit by the anguish, deformity and death of other human beings, and see no problem with it. Your article makes demands on all of us to understand the systems of our own countries to the extent that we can understand our own positions within these systems. For or against? Victim or abuser? Head in the air or head in the sand?Children of God or children of Mammon?
Joan Seymour | 17 June 2015

Thanks Brian for your pungent words about the horror of arms production for the greed and profit of their makers. May we come to our senses soon.
Jean Sietzema-Dickson | 17 June 2015

Dear Brian Thank you. Just...thank you. So often in reading so much of what is being said to 'justify ' what happens in the world I ask the same question:are you only stupid , or are you insane? So many days I have to remind myself: they know not what they do.And choke back the response that they bloody well should know. Thank you for telling them so powerfully what they are doing. Peace Margaret
margaret | 17 June 2015

If you want to change the military you first have to start with your elected leaders that choose to deploy the military. The equipment they have is, hopefully, the equipment they need to complete their politically driven task.
Wrong Focus | 18 June 2015

I still don’t follow you Brian. If you believe that an understanding of a horrendous event is only achieved through personal experience of the event then, sure, that is obvious. But the appropriate place to tell the story is something like Anne Frank’s diary, not the pages of Eureka Street. We come here in an attempt to grasp the causes of such events, to understand what has happened to our world, perhaps even to get some idea of how we ought to respond to such events. Central to our concerns today, I really believe, is the nexus between the military/industrial complex alluded to by Bob and western imperialism running rampant. Your essay does not address that but I appreciate your concern for individual soldiers caught up in the madness and God bless you for that.
Paul | 18 June 2015

This is a US Government Ammuntion plant which Orbital ATK competed for an won to make ammunition for the Department of Defense. What is suggested is that the Department of Defense not make bullets for our Armed Forces. I'm sure the author is sorry that bullets were invented and are used around the world, but that is the world we live in. To unilaterally disarm would not make for safer world. Quite the contrary I would think.
David | 18 June 2015

I disagree with you, Brian, not about what you said, but about your thinking that focussing mainly on the damage to one person by a product of the Global Arms Industry, which is massive, might make more impact than the big picture. So many people's lives have been ruined by modern weaponry in wars which really should never have been fought. Like your US soldier they will carry the physical and psychological scars to the grave. Whole countries are in the process of being destroyed by modern weaponry used by people who really don't realise the consequences. One of the problems with the solution offered by Robert Liddy, sound enough though it is, is that it will never reach the ears of the arms manufacturers nor those who foment wars for dubious reasons. There is something in human nature, both individually and collectively, which needs to be faced up to before anything can begin to change. The trouble is people often can't "see" because of their own psychological blockage. I would hope the relevant people would read your article, but, in the rare instance they did, you have correctly gauged their reaction.
Edward Fido | 18 June 2015

This is a typical sycophantic American view of the world. I agree with Paul's comments. The guns and munitions industries are vital for the American capitalist economy. I am reminded of the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980's when the same American companies provided the arms and munitions to both sides through intermediaries which were the Pentagon and the East German government; this is the ultimate cynical motive to make money. I believe that life is cheap in America where there is a mass shooting every five minutes and the culture of every person carrying a gun prolongs the wild west lifestyle.
Mark Doyle | 18 June 2015

Mark Doyle, if you think that North Americans are the only people ever to have profited from war and the arms industry, then you should read a little history. While their own sons were fighting, and dying, in the Crimea, English businessmen traded Russian government bonds on the London market. And at the conclusion of World War I, inspectors visiting the Dardanelles – that sacred site guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of every dinkum Aussie – discovered Turkish artillery pieces manufactured by Vickers of England. Western imperialism did not emanate from North America, and in fact much of the insanity unleashed on the Middle East today has its origins in English and French colonialism of more than a century ago.
Paul | 20 June 2015

Thank you Brian - someone needs to say it.
hilary | 20 June 2015


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up