Merchant of Death

“The rise and fall of Viktor Bout, arms-dealer extraordinaire, shows a darker side of globalisation”

In clearing out a year’s worth of Economists, I came across this article that had previously gone unnoticed. It details the story of real-life Lord of War Viktor Bout. A ‘Christmas Special’, it’s a bit more sensational than your average Economist report, but it nonetheless has some interesting tidbits among the dramatic re-telling of his exploits:

“In its turn Hollywood produced “Lord of War”, a fictional tale based on stories of his gun-running. (The producers reportedly used one of Mr Bout’s planes when filming.) Mr Bout thought the film was rubbish and said that he felt sorry for Nicolas Cage, who played him as an arch-villain. Another film is in the works, said to star Angelina Jolie. Other books and dramas will follow.”

“As with so much of Mr Bout’s life, the sting could have been lifted from a Hollywood screenplay.”

“A big question remains. Why did he leave Moscow when he had proven so skilled at sniffing out risks? […] He was tempted by money and, perhaps more important, by the chance of a last adventure while showing off to his younger wife. Mr Bout, too, had a myth to feed, money to make, a wife to impress and middle age creeping up. He may have disparaged his portrayal by Hollywood but he knew, too, that quiet retirement in Moscow was no way to keep a name in lights.”

What I find fascinating about this article is that the author seems to wholeheartedly embrace the entertainment value of the story. The drama, the ‘fame’ – it all seems to feed the aura of mystery that he willingly buys into. The suggestion that his celebrity encouraged him further is disturbing on many levels, mostly because it implies that the public and the media are to some extent responsible. It is one thing to embrace the ‘anti-hero’ –  characters such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Archer and Nicholas Cage’s Orlov – but it is worrisome that this carries over to real criminals . Interestingly, in the comments section, most people are quick to play up the U.S’s role in supplying weapons around the world, and few condemn his actions outright.


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