In this excerpt from Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace, author Brian Doyle explores the provenance of a single bullet used to injure an American soldier.
Here’s a story. A man who was a soldier in the American Army in Iraq tells it to me. A friend of his, one of his best and closest friends, was nearly pierced through by a bullet fired by a sniper. The bullet entered the friend’s upper right chest, just below the collarbone, and plowed almost through to the back, just below the shoulder blade. American surgeons removed the bullet and discovered it was a 5.56-millimeter cartridge manufactured in Lake City, Missouri.
The Lake City Ammunition Plant was founded by the Remington Arms Company in 1941. Today it is operated by Orbital Alliant Techsystems, which averages 5 billion dollars in sales annually and earns an average of about half a billion dollars annually. Half of the one hundred biggest weapons and ammunition manufacturers in the world are American companies. Orbital is one of these. Orbital sells 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition a year to the American Army and to the armies of other nations around the world.
Some of that ammunition is lost or stolen or shuffled clandestinely to all sorts of revolutionaries, criminals, gangs, and thugs, including some which call themselves freedom fighters or insurgents against economic and cultural imperialism, though in many cases they are actually fighting to impose their own chosen form of oppression and tinny empire on the people they live among, people whom they are not averse to slaughtering for advertising reasons.
So let us review: an American soldier, age 22, is nearly pierced by a bullet made in America, sold for a profit in America, by an American company which makes half a billion dollars a year selling bullets and other weaponry to armies all over the world. The vast majority of the companies that make a tremendous profit every year selling bullets and other weaponry all over the world are American. Most of those companies are publicly traded companies in which many other Americans are heavily invested.
So the bullet that nearly pierced an American boy, a bullet that caused him enormous pain, a bullet that permanently affected the use of his arm and shoulder, the bullet that cut a scar on his chest he will wear until the day he dies, was made in America, by American workers, and paid for by American investors, who profited handsomely by the sale of the bullet that eventually executed its purpose by punching a hole the size of a quarter almost all the way through a boy from America.
A 5.56 millimeter bullet can penetrate 15- to 30-inches through “soft tissue”—soft tissue meaning, for example, a boy. The bullet is “prone to yaw,” which means that it skews easily from a direct path, and it is also liable to fragment at what is called the cannelure, a groove around the cylinder. When a bullet fragments on delivery, the fragments slice and tear and rip and shred everything in their path, including bone. A 5.56 millimeter bullet can punch nearly half an inch into steel, and punch right through a bulletproof vest, and punch right through a human being of any size and shape and age and nationality and gender and religion and sexual orientation and combatant status, or not.
Rarely does a writer speak bluntly, ahead of time, to people who will type furious outraged insults in the comment section, after his article is posted, but I will here and now.
Dear outraged shrieking lunatic, you who are about to lecture me on how this was just an accident, and how it’s a necessary part of the capitalist system, and how I am clearly a yellow liberal pansy: Are you only stupid, or are you insane? What part of all this makes sense? What part of all this is not about profit? Why should America be the biggest weapons dealer on earth? Why do we lie about how this stinks, and is directly linked to murders all over the world, and how our own kids suffer and die from American weapons and ammunition? Is profit share more important than the lives of uncountable thousands of people all over the world who die from our weapons and ammunition? There are no other products that all those American employees could possibly design and manufacture? Really? Have you ever been nearly pierced through by a 5.56 millimeter bullet? No? Then how do you have the unmitigated gall to say anything to me, you pompous ass?