- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 1, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 047026196X
- ISBN-13: 978-0470261965
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 38 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #602,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
While there's no shortage of books on international terrorism, drug cartels and genocide, the international weapons trade has received less attention. Journalists Farah and Braun center their absorbing exposé of this source of global misery on its most successful practitioner, the Russian dealer Victor Bout. Throughout the Cold War, they show, the Kremlin supplied arms to oppressive regimes and insurgent groups, keeping close tabs on customers; after the U.S.S.R. collapsed, the floodgates opened in the 1990s. With weapons factories starved for customers, Soviet-era air transports lying idle and rusting, and dictators, warlords and insurgents throughout the world clamoring for arms, entrepreneurs and organized criminals saw fortunes to be made. The authors paint a depressing picture of an avalanche of war-making material pouring into poor, violence-wracked nations despite well-publicized U.N. embargoes. America denounces this trade, but turns a blind eye if recipients proclaim they are fighting terrorism, they say. Ruthless people who shun publicity make poor biographical subjects, and Bout is no exception. The authors' energetic research reveals that rivals dislike him, colleagues admire him, enemies condemn him, and Bout describes himself as a much-maligned but honest businessman. Although an unsatisfactory portrait, the book surrounds it with an engrossing, detailed description of this wildly destructive traffic. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Bout essentially stole abandoned Soviet cargo planes right off their runways, then stole or bought on the cheap old military equipment, then flew his planes to warzones to sell to the highest bidder. Bout would sell materiel to both sides of a conflict and to terrorist groups. He spent time with the Taliban, and was involved in many still cloudy operations with moneymen in the Persian Gulf states.
Many in European and American government and law enforcement agencies began to Bout as a threat to stability in the 1990s. American intelligence and state department officials tried to interdict him, but were roundly refused by the Russian government, who became a protector of Bout. At the time of the publication of the book Bout was still free, though in 2010 he was finally detained in Thailand and deported to the United States for trial on charges of funding terrorism.
Probably the biggest headline to come out of this book is that even though many recognized Bout as an outlaw and supporter of terrorism, it did not stop the US military in contracting logistical work through him during the early days of the Iraq war in 2003.
This book by acclaimed investigative journalist Douglas Farah has many such anecdotes about the doings of Victor
Bout. This is a great read, and I highly recommend the book.
Bout's business had a number of natural advantages. Large numbers of aircraft were available for very low prices. Numerous ex-military pilots were looking for employment and willing to take risks. This meant that Bout could provide transportation services to dangerous places at prices that undercut those offered by competitors. Consequently his services were frequently engaged to make deliveries to African war zones, and his apolitical "ask no questions" approach to business meant that he frequently ended up delivering arms to both sides in a conflict.
According to the authors, Bout has supplied arms to both sides in the Angolan civil war, as well as to Charles Taylor in Liberia, the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, and various warring parties including the Rwandans in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He supplied arms to the Taliban and al Quaeda in Afghanistan, although he denies it, and in the wake of the US-led invasion of Iraq he supplied transportation services between Sharjah and Iraq for the US military and any other interested customers. If the job is difficult and dangerous and you want a good price, Viktor Bout is your man.
Bout is currently in prison in Thailand fighting extradition to the US on charges that he offered to supply weapons to FARC rebels in Columbia. The Russian government is fighting against the extradition, arguing that the charges are politically motivated. Bout's story raises an interesting moral dilemma applicable to many people who run businesses: he seems to have conducted himself with "integrity" in his work for his clients, delivering on his promises in dangerous and difficult situations, but by turning a blind eye to what his clients were doing, he had a primary role in the slaughter of millions of people and condemning hundreds of millions to lives of poverty.
I found the book interesting and engaging throughout, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how wars in Africa are facilitated.
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