“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 liberal or anything. But it’s really not glamorous. This **** fucking 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 Force Exhibition (SOFEX) in Jordan. His booming 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 expo’s biggest sponsor was the USA.
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 around 30-odd tents staked across the desert, hosting approximately 300 vendors. 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 anyone who could afford them.