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Missiles, bombs hawked at massive arms trade show

By Shane Smith, VICE founder
updated 2:06 PM EDT, Thu April 5, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • VICE goes inside a huge biennial weapons convention in Amman, Jordan
  • Over a week, 12,000 attendees peruse tents housing hundreds of arms manufacturers
  • Missiles, machine guns, tanks, and bombs are among the wares for sale

Editor's note: The staff at CNN.com has been intrigued by the journalism of VICE, an independent media company and Web site based in Brooklyn, New York. The reports, which are produced solely by VICE, reflect a very transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique reporting approach is worthy of sharing with our CNN.com readers.

Brooklyn, New York (VICE) -- "You know, it's weird, man. It's like everybody's real cordial with each other. But, at the end of the day, we're, like, buying weapons to destroy each other. I don't want to, like, sound too liberal or anything. But it's really not glamorous. This s*** f***** kills people." Shockingly, the guy who said this wasn't some antiwar hippie who had just dropped acid. He was a 6'4" Marine Corps Force Recon sergeant who had recently returned from two tours in Afghanistan. We were both attendees at the 2010 Special Operations Forces Exhibition (SOFEX) in Jordan. His reaction was prompted by the trade-show floor -- a sea of displays and kiosks from weapons companies hawking missiles, machine guns, tanks, and bombs like they were next year's luxury sedans. Even more unsettling, the biggest dealers were from the U.S.

When I was a young punk kid, it was fashionable to say things like, "The military-industrial complex is taking over the world." At the time, I didn't know what "military-industrial complex" meant, but the conference rapidly provided me with a very literal definition of the term.

SOFEX takes place every two years in Amman, and is largely the brainchild of Jordan's King Abdullah II, who has a penchant for special operations and massive displays of artillery. Over the course of a week, more than 12,000 attendees tromped through massive tents housing hundreds of arms manufacturers. The atmosphere was insidious but open, an organized free-for-all in which American companies like Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and General Dynamics sold weapons to almost any nation that could afford them.

See the rest of SOFEX: The Business of War at VICE.COM

I've been to hundreds of depressing media trade shows, and SOFEX's salespeople are no different from the rest, except that their wares are designed to destroy things and kill people. I witnessed representatives from almost every nation spending millions of dollars on heavy munitions. I was wondering if the transactions were padded by foreign aid from the U.S. and other countries. I heard high-ranking soldiers say things like, "When I retire I'm going to be on the other side of the table -- ha ha ha ha." What this means is that it's not uncommon for generals with government-controlled salaries around $100,000 a year to spend the twilight of their careers purchasing billions worth of munitions from arms companies who, in turn, offer these same senior officers state-side "consulting" gigs with multimillion-dollar salaries. It's blatant payola, the whole thing so corrupt it borders on absurd.

Absurdity, as it turned out, was a running theme of the conference.

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