Munitions Morality

A. FENNER BROCKWAY August 15 1933

Munitions Morality

A. FENNER BROCKWAY August 15 1933

Munitions Morality


RECENTLY THREE WARS were proceeding which the League of Nations had condemned as unjustifiable resorts to arms—one in the Far East and two in South America. Their condemnation by the League had counted for nothing. It is not admonitions which count in war, but munitions. The countries which have denounced Japan and the South American States are busy providing them with armaments to carry on their conflicts.

The British Government made a short-lived attempt to place an embargo on munitions for the Far East. There were some who from the first suspected this gesture. Japan, they argued, has well-equipped armament works. China has none. I o prohibit the export of munitions to the F'ar East would therefore be advantageous to Japan and prejudicial to China. Jo which the retort was immediately made that if munitions were dispatched to China they would almost certainly be intercepted as contraband by Japan, and then Japan would have the advantage of getting them for nothing !

But before this debate was concluded, the embargo had been withdrawn. No other nation would agree to participate in it. I he large armament works of Schneider-Creusot in France and Skoda in Czechoslovakia were employing extended staffs overtime in manufacturing munitions for both Japan and China and incidentally for the South American States as well. Why should British firms lose orders and British workmen employment, merely to benefit their Continental competitors? The embargo was lifted, and British firms as well began to work overtime.

Sometimes one firm would be making munitions for both sides. J. Morgan Jones, M.P., told a story in the House of Commons which was received as fictitious but which he assures me is true. At a certain armament firm, the agents of the Japanese and Chinese Governments arrived simultaneously and were shown into one waiting room. They began comparing prices. I hey found that each was being charged more than the other for certain articles, and they decided to present a joint ultimatum that the prices must be reduced in all instances to the lower rate or they would transfer their orders to another firm. One has often heard of armament firms on two sides of a frontier co-operating to maintain their prices to opposing Governments. This is the first instance which has been reported of two opposing Governments co-operating to compel a reduction of prices from an armament firm.

Since the fiasco of the British embargo, a Committee of the United States House of Representatives has been considering a resolution which would give power to the President to declare an embargo on munitions. This consideration is not likely to produce anything of more practicable

value than Britain’s temporary gesture. . . On second thought, perhaps that judgment should be revised. The evidence which the representatives of t he armament linns gave to the Committee should certainly be of value to the friends of Peace in the United States if they make full use of it.

War Means Profits

THIS EVIDENCE was interesting for a number of reasons. In the first place, it showed how large is the export trade in war materials from the United States, and how high is the pro|x>rtion of war materials in the exjx>rts of firms producing articles for both civil and military purjxtses. For example,Thomas A. Morgan,President of the American Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce, which he claimed represents ninety-five per cent of the American aviation firms, estimated that from seventy to seventy-five per cent of the exports of airplanes and airplane engines could be classified as war equipment. The total exix>rt business of American aircraft firms was placed at nearly eight million dollars a year. This trade is conducted with forty-six countries, including Central and South America, Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium, Japan, China, and Turkey.

F. J. Monahan, of the Remington Arms Company, gave similar evidence. He told how its exports of ammunition average one million dollars a year in value. No less than forty per cent of the firm’s business is for the export trade.

A second point of interest was the central justification advanced by the armament witnesses for the maintenance of the export trade. In a sentence, it was that the extended trade secured by this means keeps the armament factories in trim for any national emergency which may arise in the United States itself. Thomas A. Morgan was explicit on this matter. He emphasized that the aircraft industry is a vital factor in national defense, and then continued:

“The industry therefore must be maintained on a scale which renders it possible of effective emergency use. F'actories must be kept in operating condition, and engineering and technical personnel maintained. To do this requires every item of production in peace time which can possibly be found.”

He proudly announced that, with the aid of the United States Government, the industry has “fought its way to a place at the top group of the aircraft and equipment exporting nations of the world.”

Mr. Monahan, of the Remington Arms Company, boasted that his men are kept ready for an emergency through employment on the export trade. Then this illuminating conversation took place:

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Mr. Hull: You say they are kept in training on this foreign business?

Mr. Monahan: Yes, sir.

Mr. Hull: That is. arms and ammunition for war purposes?

Mr. Monahan: We never know what part of the exports, of what we call metallic cartridges, are going to be used for war purposes, and what part for protection, policing and sport purposes.

Mr. Hull: In order to keep in tune, in practice, you have got to have trouble going on in some part of the world?

Mr. Monahan: Yes, sir.

Mr. Monahan afterward attempted to qualify this expression of opinion, but the tmth had slipped out. To be prepared for war in your own country you must hope for continuous war in other countries !

The American armament industries certainly profit by trouble in other countries. The official returns of the U.S.A. State Departments show that civil or international war in Central and South America, or even threats thereof, immediately result in increased orders for the armament firms of the United States. JF°r example, the following table compares the export, of aircraft in 1931. a comparatively peaceful year, with that of 1929. which was a year of threatened or actual conflict in the countries named:

Number of Aircraft Exported from U.S.A. Country 1931 1929

Mexico ............... 27 85

Argentina ............ 6 25

Brazil ................ 1 13

Chile ................. 1 40

The same is true of all forms of armament.

Take firearms. Below I give the value of last year’s exports of firearms to Argentina. Brazil, Chile and Mexico, compared with the value in years when they were in a state of turmoil:

Country Period or War

Argentina 40,078 (1932) 299.565 (1929)

Brazil ......... 59,490 (1932) 618,135 (1929)

Chile........ 1,103(1932) 11.308 (1931)

Mexico..... 15,954 (1932) 370,324 (1929)

The United States evidently keeps itself in training for war by feeding the wars of Central and Southern America. (I am indebted to the National Council for the Prevention of War for these figures.)

A third point of interest in the evidence was the justification of the export trade in armaments on the ground that it enables revolutions to be suppressed.

In his verbal evidence. Thomas A. Morgan instanced the insurrection in Cuba, which he said was suppressed with twelve American planes. In his written statement he emphasized that air forces are an inexpensive means of defense against revolutionary movements.

‘’These air forces are an effective means of keeping the peace. As illustrations. we have only to recall the revolution of the Chilean Navy involving warships costing millions to build. The uprising was suppressed by the Chilean Government flying airplanes over the ships and threatening to bombard them. A more recent instance has just occurred when the crew of a Dutch warship in the Dutch East Indies revolted and surrendered after one bomb was dropped from a Dutch Government airplane.”

It is a good thing air fleets had not been invented when the American Revolution took place. If the British Government had been able to bomb the troops of Washington, the United States might never have been born as an independent nation. But to suppress revolutions now is an admirable justification for the export of American armaments !

The representatives of the United States armament firms complained, however, that European armament firms are not so conscientious in distinguishing between recognized Governments and the armies of revolt.

Mr. Morgan described how a European ; armament firm liad shipped high-class fighting airplanes to the ‘’rebel” Government of Canton, by omitting the machine guns and calling them commercial planes. No doubt Mr. Morgan was justified in making this allegation; but unfortunately subsequent evidence showed that American firms have been guilty of attempting similar prae-1 tices. Joseph C. Green, a State Department | official, reported that in 1931 an American company planned “to export commercial airplanes to certain Chinese rebels, at the same time providing them with blue prints indicating the manner in which these planes could be converted into military planes.”

Crimes of Armament Firms

BUT LET no reader misunderstand me. I am not concerned in proving that American armament firms are particularly malicious in their readiness to profit by war, or particularly immoral in the methods by which they do it. The armament firms of all countries are alike.

The indictment of armament firms has never been stated more succinctly than in the report of a Sub-Commission of the League of Nations appointed to enquire into the private manufacture of arms. Before reproducing the conclusions of this Commission, allow me to meet a common misunderstanding about the League. It is often assumed to be a peace organization. As such, it might be expected to condemn armament firms. But the League is no such tiling. It represents the Governments of Europe - and they are not peaceful. True, the League is intended to represent them for the purpose of peace: but a Government which is nationalist and militarist in London, Paris, Rome or Berlin does not suddenly become internationalist and pacifist when it goes to Geneva. Therefore, a League pronouncement on armament firms must not be treated as weighted on the side of peace.

The First Sub-Committee of the Temporary Mixed Commission of the League of Nations reported as follows in 1921:

(1) That armament firms have been active in fomenting war scares and in ]XTSuading their countries to adopt warlike policies and to increase their armaments.

(2) That armament firms have attempted to bribe Government officials both at home and abroad.

(3) That armament firms have disseminated false reports concerning the military and naval programmes of various countries in order to stimulate armament expenditure.

(4) That armament firms have sought to influence public opinion through the control of newspapers in their own and foreign countries.

(5) That armament firms have organized international armament rings, through which the armaments race has been accentuated by playing off one country against another.

(6) That armament firms have organized international armament trusts which have increased the price of armaments to Governments.

Unfortunately, the Commission which published these conclusions did not publish the evidence upon which it reached them. But both before and since the World War, sufficient information has been revealed to enable the student of the technique of armament salesmanship to justify even' one of these six charges. Indeed, the evidence at hand is so plentiful that the difficulty is to select. I will assume that I am sitting for an examination and that the question put to me is this: Give briefly one instance in proof of each of these conclusions.

(1) That armament firms have been active in fomenting war scares, and in persuading their own countries to adopt warlike policies and to increase their armaments.

In 1909 the British armament firms were suffering from depression. Dividends were

falling. H. H. Mulliner, the managing director of the Coventry Ordnance Co., reixtrted first to the Admiralty, and then to the Cabinet, that Germany was secretly accelerating her naval programme. Mr. Asquith, the Prime Minister, hurried to the : House of Commons and announced that j Germany would have seventeen Dreadnoughts by March, 1912, instead of the nine publicly foreshadowed. Parliament voted an increase of £4,603,002 in naval expenditure. Before the end of the year the Government responded to the popular clamor and ordered j four more Dreadnoughts.

When March. 1912, came, Mr. Mulliner’s I story proved to be without justification. But the scare had served its purpose. The British armament firms had obtained their contracts. Naval rivalries had been revived. Dividends had shot up again. ‘‘I find in the year before the scare, Messrs. Vickers’ profits amounted to £424,000,’’said Philip Snowden (now Viscount Snowden) in I the House of Commons on March 17, 1914. ’Two years after that they were nearly double that amount. Every year since the success of this intrigue their profits have ¡gone up £474,000, £544,000, £745,000, £872, (XX).”

(2) That armament firms have attempted to bribe Government officials both at home and abroad.

At Home: In November, 1931, a Swedish Government Commission found that Commander Lubeck, Chief of Staff, had accepted bribes to the extent of 16,000 kroner in the form of “long loans.” Some of these moneys had been paid by a representative of a Swedish aircraft firm.

Abroad: In March. 1910, Rear-Admiral Fujii, of Japan, visited England to order a battleship cruiser. In November a contract was signed with Vickers. The admiral was later tried in the Japanese courts. It was shown that over a period of years the director of Vickers’ yard at Barrow had remitted large sums of money to Admiral Fujii, and that he had also received moneys from the Yarrow Shipbuilding Yard Co., Arrol & Co., and Weir & Co. Orders had Ix'en given to all these firms.

(3) That armament firms have disseminated false reports concerning the military and naval programmes of various countries in order to stimulate armament expenditure.

During the present year, M. Seletzsky, the Rumanian representative of the Skoda armament works (Czechoslovakia), spread rumors that the Russian Government was extending its military strength and concentrating its troops upon the Rumanian frontier. Skoda secured large orders. The rumors were proved to be baseless. At the time of writing the investigation of this scandal is still proceeding. Three members of the Government have been charged with receiving bribes of £120.000, while a group of interested persons are alleged to have received £90,000 in connection with an order for guns to the value of £18,000,000. M. Seletzsky has been arrested.

(4) That armament firms have sought to influence public opinion through the control of newspapers in their own and foreign countries.

At Home: M. François Wendel, the President of the French Comité des Forges (in which the armament firm, Schneider-Creusot, is dominant) has controlling interests in the Journal des Débats and Le Temps. These newspa{x*rs can always be counted upon to urge nationalist and militarist policies.

Abroad: The most striking case of newspaper manipulation is that of the German arms and munitions factories, cited by Karl Liebknecht in the German Reichstag in April, 1913. Liebknecht was able to read the instructions sent by this firm to its agent in Paris to get news in the French press which would stimulate German fear of French arms and consequently bring orders for German arms. The French press duly had articles about the supremacy of French machine guns, and, with these newspapers in his hand, the Prussian deputy. Schmidt, associated with the chief metal industries of Germany, scared the German Parliament into voting for an increase of machine guns.

(5) That armament firms have organized international armament rings, through which the armaments race has been accentuated by playing off one country against another.

14efore the war there was a world armament ring which operated through several parallel organizations, covering different aspects of the industry. The leading armorplate firms—including the Carnegie Steel Co. of the U.S.A.; Vickers-Maxim and Armstrong Whitworth, of Britain; Krupp, of Germany; Schneider, of France; and the Temi Steel Works, of Italy were associated in the Harvey United Steel Company. The manufacturers of explosives and gunpowder were linked together in the General Cartel of Powder Manufacturers. It combined British, German, French, Austrian, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Canadian, South African and Japanese firms. The nickel interests were associated in the Steel Manufacturers’ Nickel Syndicate, Ltd., whose shareholders were a combination of the leading British, French, Austrian and Italian firms.

These international links were destroyed by the war, but the most important firms of the world have renewed their associations since. Vickers-Armstrong (a combination of the two largest British firms) has subsidiarycompanies or works in Japan, Italy, Spain, Rumania, Holland, Poland, Ireland. Canada and India. It is associated with the leading French firm of Schneider-Creusot through a joint subsidiary known as Vickers-Schneider. The Schneider-Creusot Company has large interests in the Skoda Works in Czechoslovakia, which in turn controls armament works in Poland and Rumania. There is no trace of any association between the American firms which produce guns or battleships and this European ring; but the American aviation firm, Curtiss-Wright, which produces military airplanes, operates its patents through the Skoda Company in Poland and also through the powerful Japanese combine, Mitsui. Vickers-Armstrong also owns one of the works in the Mitsui combine. Thus we see the armament ring encircles the world.

It is part of the technique of armament firms to play off one country against another. A classic instance is the case of Sir Basil Zaharoff, the mystery man of European armaments, who sold the first submarine to the Greek Government; then convinced the Turkish Government that she must have two to meet the new menace from Greece; and then convinced the Russian Government that she also must buy submarines to meet the menace of Turkey!

(6) That armament firms have organized international armament trusts which have increased the price of armaments to Governments.

The German Arms and Munitions Works of Berlin and Karlsruhe, the Arms Works in Oberndorf on the Neckar, the Belgian National Factory of War Material at Herstel, and the Austrian Arms Company were combined before the war in a trust to increase i prices. The principal clause in the agreement between these five firms read:

“The traffic of arms, respecting the deliveries of remodelled machine guns or carbine rifles for Russia, Japan, China and Abyssinia, will be carried on for mutual benefit, and the estimated earnings will lxdistributed to the various groups according to a predetermined scale . The price of the arms to be delivered is to be at all times determined mutually by the groups.”

But even this formidable catalogue of charges against the industry does not conclude the indictment. The severest condemnation of armament makers I have ever read was in a rejxirt of the Naval Affairs Committee of the American House of Representatives. following an investigation made before the war into charges against the Carnegie Steel Company. The Committee reported :

“The servants of the Carnegie Steel Co. (whether with or without the know-

ledge of the company) to increase thengains. deliberately continued for many months to commit acts whose natural and probable consequence would be the sacrifice of our seamen in time of war, and with them, perhaps, the dearest interests of the nation . . . No fine or mere money compensation is adequate for such wrongs. The commission of such frauds is a moral crime of the greatest character.”

The fraud committed was the supplying of faulty armor-plate.


I SHOULD LIKE to write at some length I on the outrageous manner in which the armament firms profiteer out of war. In the earlier months of the World War the British Government placed no restrictions upon the profits of the munition firms. Dr. Christopher Addison, who was Minister of Munitions, has given many instances of the profiteering which resulted. The price charged for cordite represented a profit of 105.7 per cent. In nine months the profit on T.N.T. completely wiped out the cost of the factories erected for its manufacture and left a balance of eighty-three per cent. Mr. Lloyd George stated in the House of Commons that the restrictions on profiteering which were subsequently imposed saved the nation £440,000,000.

There was similar profiteering in America. The Government Committee on “Expenditure in the War Department” reported profits in the supplies of copper of 200 and 300 per cent. The United States Steel Corporation was reported in a legal case in April, 1931, to have made a war-time profit of fifty per cent.

One could give many more instances, but I wish before concluding to give some instances of the most curious feature of the morality of armament makers—their willingness to arm enemy nations. During the World War, German soldiers were killed by the thousand with grenades to which were attached Krupp patent fuses. German troops were blown to bits by French, Italian and Russian guns and cannon made with German iron and steel. The infantry of the Allies went into battle wearing German-made shirts. The Russian navy was built with German capital.

This is one side of the picture, the other is equally remarkable.

British regiments were shattered by shells composed of gunpowder provided by a trust in which British firms were partners. British crews were sent to the bottom of the sea by torpedoes, submarines and mines made in the dockyard of a British firm. British and Australian troops in the Dardanelles were massacred by guns and forts built by a

British firm. The regiments of France’s j Allies in the Balkans were destroyed by guns and cannon supplied to Bulgaria by a French firm.

I prove these statements in detail in my book "The Bloody Traffic.” In many cases, of course, the armaments were made before the actual declaration of war; but during the war itself the traffic in war material continued through neutral countries. In his work, “The Triumph of Unarmed Forces,” Admiral Conselt, who was the British naval attaché in Scandinavia during the World War, has shown how Germany was supplied from Britain and America with many necessary articles of war through Norway and Sweden. For example, nickel, which is essential for armament making:

“In 1914 the United Kingdom sent to Sweden more than twice her pre-war imports (of nickel): of Sweden’s total imports of 504 tons in 1915, seventy tons were sent to Germany. The greater part of this quantity was virtually sent by us (Britain), the remaining 434 tons being used in the country for Germany’s benefit in the manufacture of war materials. We sent Sweden twelve times the amount of nickel in 1915 that we did in 1913.”

A heavy trade in iron and steel continued between Germany, on the one side, and France and Italy, on the other, during the war. It went through Switzerland. During the first eight months of 1916 an average of 150,000 tons of iron and steel were ! exported monthly by Germany to neutral j countries. In Switzerland special workshops were adapted to the process of removing the trade-marks from the German steam rollers destined for France.

But perhaps the most remarkable instance of enemy trading by armament firms during the World War is a case cited by Dr. Lehmann-Russbüldt in his book, “War for Profits.” It is the statement of a German officer, which was subsequently authenticated in the Reichstag:

“At the battle of Skagerrak the British fleet used gun sights that six months earlier the Zeiss Company, Zona, and the Georz Anchutz Company had delivered to a Dutch concern. Moreover. German soldiers at Douauaront found themselves entangled in barbed wire which the Magedeburg Wire and Cable Works had exported to Switzerland two j months before.”

So one could go on. It is time that the peoples of all nations realized that the armament firms constitute an international | conspiracy regardless of motives either of' patriotism or humanity.