Due to its scarcity, safety may be the most precious commodity of all in a warzone. And since scarcity raises prices, it's the rich and well connected who can afford the most security -- or at least the perception of it. No one knows this as well as Fidelis Cloer, a salesman who has spent nearly twenty years selling high-priced, German-made luxury armored cars to kings, presidents, dictators and officials in some of the world's most unstable and dangerous regions. Cloer is the subject of the documentary Bulletproof Salesman, co-directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, the duo behind the documentaries Gunner Palace and The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair. The film follows Cloer as he enters Iraq shortly after the fall of Baghdad, confident that he'll find plenty of eager customers for his cars amidst the chaos. But as the war grinds on and the insurgent weapon of choice switches from guns to increasingly powerful IEDs, Cloer realizes that he can't do business in an environment where he's being both outmatched by insurgents and undercut by low-cost competitors.
The idea of corporations that can cause wars to increase their profits is something that we really should be thinking about more. Not in a cartoonish world where a bunch of old white men sit in dark, smoky rooms twisting their moustaches and fantasizing about the death and destruction they want to cause, but in the reality of the political system we've been living under for decades. Where corporations donate money to the campaigns of candidates with stances that will benefit them, fund/create organizations that will further their goals, and hire well-connected lobbyists who worked in government to advocate for them. Virtually every industry does this, and with global military spending nearing $1.5 trillion a year (and the US accounting for 41.5% of that), there's no reason to think that the defense industry would be any different.
But should war, where the lives of millions are at stake, be subjected to the same political and economic machinations as other industries? Of course not, but that hasn't stopped the tobacco industry, which sells a product that has killed more people than all the wars in history put together, or the fossil fuel industry, whose products are putting the health of the planet at risk. It didn't stop Toyota from celebrating their successful negotiations with regulators to limit the scope of a recall due to faulty accelerators in their cars, which initially saved them $100 million even though it could cost some drivers their lives. In some industries, more death means more profit.
We have to realize that there are people in the world who really do want war to happen purely for economic reasons, and most bear no resemblance to the villains we see in the movies. Many are probably a lot like Fidelis Cloer -- knowledgeable, professional businessmen who come across as perfectly nice people you'd be happy to have a beer with. But in the beginning of Bulletproof Salesman, Cloer admits (with a smile) that he wants war, not peace, and later refers to Iraq as "the perfect war." Of course, it's far from perfect for the war's victims, their families and those of us stuck paying for one of the biggest debacles in the history of foreign policy -- just those who can profit from it.
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