Despite recent establishment efforts to sanitise it, World War One was not a glorious war. It was an immoral global conflict that led to an unparalleled level of death and destruction.
Very few benefited from the killing. It did, however, line the pockets of arms companies and their shareholders.
As the Arming All Sides project, supported by Campaign Against Arms Trade and On the Record, makes clear, they were certainly not dispassionate bystanders. In fact, the appalling conduct of these companies was instrumental in both fuelling the drive to war and shaping the conflict.
The scale of international tensions created new business opportunities for arms companies. Of course they were only happy to maximise these by purposely exaggerating, and in some cases fabricating, war scares with the aim of exacerbating and profiting from the arms race.
One example of this is Herbert Mulliner, the Director of Coventry Ordnance Works, who in 1908, with the support of journalists at the Daily Mail, worked to persuade the British government that Germany was secretly accelerating its naval programme. The scare worked; stimulating massive naval expenditure in the process and helping to create an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, making war more likely. Even Winston Churchill would later accept that the claims were entirely false.
The arms dealers interests were protected in no small part by the intimate relationship the companies enjoyed with politicians. In 1914 one Labour MP, Philip Snowden, told the House of Commons that with so many MPs being shareholders of arms companies, 'it is not possible to throw a stone at the benches opposite without hitting one.'