The telephone rang on the desk of Sam Cummings in Alexandria, Va. "Yes, this is Colonel Saito," Cummings said into the mouthpiece, his eyebrows rising and plunging with satisfaction. "I have a bit of advice for you, dear chap. Stop sending coded messages to the director after you've been drinking at lunch. The one that said 'They're closing in on me, I can't hold out much longer' all but finished your career." Cummings chuckled, then chatted a moment more and hung up the phone, still smiling.
"That was a friend in the State Department," he said. "He's among the few over there who know Saito was the Japanese colonel in The Bridge On the River Kwai. Too bad all governments don't have more people who appreciate a joke. There's so much to laugh at."
Cummings, who gives the appearance of being amused an uncommon amount of the time, may greet visitors to his office by crying, "Welcome to the devil's smithy!" or may glance at an enormous oil painting of the Battle of Austerlitz behind his desk and say gleefully, "Don't think this reflects my Freudian dreams of conquest. It merely covers a hole in the wall." Once in Monaco he sent a postcard to an associate in the United States, urging the defeat of proposed gun legislation SO I CAN CONTINUE MY LUXURIOUS LIFE ON THE RIVIERA WITHOUT WORRY. He is liable to sign such communiqués with names like Strangelove, Rasputin or The Virginia Knave. In Cummings' trade, this kind of behavior is not thought of as unusual.
The trade that permits Sam Cummings these macabre flights of imagination is armaments. In an old, quiet neighborhood in Alexandria, where the cobblestone streets go down to the Potomac River, Cummings runs the largest private independent weapons dealership in the world, a firm called Interarms. As president and proprietor, he controls 10 Interarms warehouses in Alexandria that feature triple-locked doors and alarms wired directly to police headquarters. At one time these warehouses contained enough rifles, pistols and machine guns to outfit 40 infantry divisions, or more combat soldiers than the United States had in the field in Korea or Vietnam at any one time.
May 10, 1970
Although Cummings' operation has a distinctly military feel about it, Interarms enjoys a brisk civilian trade. Until passage of the 1968 gun-control law—which controls guns chiefly by making them more expensive—Cummings had sold more rifles to American sportsmen and collectors than most of the large domestic manufacturers. Practically every one of these rifles was a military weapon that Interarms bought as surplus from one country or another and sold in the United States by mail order or through chain stores and small dealers. (One of these was not the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, serial no. C2766, purchased by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963.)
Since it is now forbidden to import military surplus, and now that peddling guns by mail order is restricted, Cummings' livelihood, or at least its civilian side, might seem in jeopardy. But Cummings has enough surplus arms stored in Alexandria to supply his customers until he can add to his cache with the purchase of the new, commercial foreign sporting guns that have started reaching the market.
Cummings is amused by what he sees as the irony of gun legislation. "It does nothing to prevent crime," he says. "It is purely commercial in intent, aimed at putting me out of business. When the law was passed, there was a wild dance of corporate joy in New England, where most American guns are made. Olin Mathieson, which owns Winchester, and Du Pont, which owns Remington, have been leaning on me for 15 years, trying to remove me from the action, because my guns are cheaper than theirs.
"But they passed the law too late!" Cummings says, laughing again, as if the joke were getting richer. "Senator Dodd missed the boat! My import business would have ended by 1975 anyway, because the grand old bolt-action military rifles have been phased out in favor of automatic weapons that were already illegal and are not practical for sportsmen. I'm still one of the country's leading sellers of big-bore rifle ammunition. But when anybody calls and asks for military weapons after my warehouse stocks run out, I'll play them a recording of a Texas jackass braying, and then I'll ring off." He laughs again.
Many of Sam Cummings' weapons-dealing colleagues are characterized by such peculiar notions of humor, as was the one who sent out Christmas cards bearing a photograph of himself beating plowshares into swords. Levity, in the arms trade, is the soul of commerce.
"There is an Arab proverb that the three eternals are God, human folly and laughter," said Cummings. "The first two are incomprehensible. One must make what he can out of the third. In my profession I see boundless human folly. This 50-year arms race, this constant undeclared war, is the greatest folly in the history of man. Every nation demands the newest arms for its survival, and every beloved leader of the people needs them for his own protection. Civilization has been and always will be: 'Open fire! Let 'em have it before they get us!' The arms business is idiocy, it's lunacy without bottom, but it will last as long as man, however long that may be. The world will never disarm. So what should I do but laugh?"
Although the 400,000 or so weapons in the Alexandria warehouses (another 200,000 repose in a warehouse near London) represent an impressive piece of firepower, and though Cummings himself is the largest independent arms dealer in the world, he gets only a tiny piece of the international weapons trade by volume. Ninety-nine percent of this trade is done by the world's major powers—with our own Pentagon at the top of the list. Still, he has been involved in nearly every major private arms transaction outside the Soviet bloc in the last 17 years and has made himself a personal fortune of millions of dollars.
"This is marvelous Russian stuff," he says, reaching into an open crate in one of his warehouses and plucking out a box of 7.62-mm. rifle ammunition labeled with Cyrillic writing, purchased from leftover stores of the Spanish Civil War and the Russo-Finnish war of 1939. "We repack this sinister Slav ammunition into friendly-looking American boxes so some Southern Senator won't complain that the Russians have penetrated his state, and we then sell tons of it to Americans for plinking things. There are more than three billion rounds of ammunition sold in the United States every year, mostly .22 long rifle and shotgun shells. That's 15 rounds apiece for every man, woman and child. Hard to believe, isn't it?"
In his book, The War Business, George Thayer has estimated that there are now enough rifles and pistols in the world for each adult male to own at least one in excellent operating order, and millions more are yearly being manufactured. Building firearms became big business, says Thayer, when the Napoleonic era turned wars into democratic catastrophes fought with armies of vast numbers of citizens, rather than comparatively small numbers of professional soldiers. The Industrial Revolution used its mass-production techniques to furnish guns for these huge armies. Today there are more than 130 nations, all armed, all seeking newer and better weapons, no longer content to rely on a faithful old standard rifle like the 1903 Springfield, which had a military life in the U.S. of 33 years and could have served another century if the killing and maiming market were not so competitive. The Garand M-1 of World War II and the Korean War endured 21 years before the Army switched to the M-14 and six years later to the M-16, which will soon depart for a new, costlier model.
In the past 25 years—within the lifetimes of more than half the American people—there have been about 60 conflicts of sufficient scope to receive international attention. According to official estimates, non-Communist countries have sold or given away $65 billion worth of military arms and equipment in that period. The U.S. has contributed about $50 billion. The U.S.S.R. and Red China have spent about $10 billion to provide high-velocity muscle for non-Communist nations. Once these weapons have been used for a while, they are discarded like last season's gowns and are replaced by more fashionable models hustled by salesmen from dominant governments. The old guns, perfectly sound and deadly, are bought at low prices by international brokers like Sam Cummings and are sold in turn to poorer countries eager to improve their firepower but unable to afford these weapons at original prices.
The stupendous profits involved in this business have attracted some remarkable characters—notably Sir Basil Zaharoff, who for years represented the Vickers-Maxim machine gun monopoly that started wars to create new markets, and Francis Bannerman of New York City, a "Christian soldier" who purchased surplus guns from the American Civil War and Spanish-American War and sold them in Latin America. Zaharoff and Bannerman became wealthy, but not all independent arms brokers have fared so well. During the Algerian War of Independence against France a decade ago, the Arab countries pooled millions of dollars to buy arms for the rebels from independent brokers. Unfortunately, a French terrorist group with the fanciful name of The Red Hand tried to discourage the brokers from dealing with the enemies of France by allegedly planting bombs in their cars. Several brokers during that period heard quite a noise when they stepped on the gas pedals of their Mercedes-Benzes.
The image of this type of broker—a slick fellow with greased hair, diamond rings, padded suits and a bodyguard in mirrored dark glasses—does not come close to fitting Sam Cummings. "Those chaps are small potatoes," he says. "There are still some of them around, but they don't do a lot of business." Cummings, a pleasant man of 43 who dresses in dark, modest suits, keeps his hair neatly trimmed, travels tourist class and rides the bus to the airport, might easily pass for a malevolently cheerful fraternity rush captain who still, 25 years later, must be watched on Halloween.
He drives an Opel and leaves the limousines to his employees and agents, whose ranks include former diplomats, relatives of presidents and princes, ex-generals and ministers, a staff which provides him with a large and effective intelligence network. Cummings does not drink or curse, and he abhors smoking because "it leads to sudden death." He has no bodyguard and does not carry a gun, although he used to roam the earth with an Armalite AR-10 assault rifle dismantled and packed in a Fiberglas attaché case. He would assemble the rifle to demonstrate it for clients. His favorite method was to fill tin cans with gasoline and shoot them with tracers. "Did you ever see a tracer bullet hit a bean car. full of petrol?" he once asked. "It's better than a John Wayne movie. The clients always gasp, and I ride into the sunset, leaving the firing range a smoldering ruin."
He is a good enough shot to do his own demonstrating, but he does not consider himself a sportsman or a fan of sport. "I no more care who wins the World Series than who wins between Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola," he says. "I'm bored by target shooting, and I'm not fond of hunting. I dislike killing. It's no great thrill to bat over a charging jackrabbit. My idea of fun is to shoot at wood chips in a fast-moving stream with an automatic rifle. There's plenty of flash and blast, splinters fly and nobody gets hurt."
Cummings was born into a Philadelphia Main Line family that made its fortune selling bottled mineral water. His father went broke on Wall Street, and then died when Cummings was 8. His mother worked for a real-estate firm to send little Sam to Episcopal Academy, an exclusive school whose Latin motto—Esse Quam Videri ("To be, rather than to seem to be")—is the slogan of Interarms. As a boy, Cummings discovered an old, rusted Maxim machine gun in the trash behind an American Legion post near his home. He dragged the gun away, and his future was fashioned. "Some people have tried to read Freudian symbolism into that—fatherless child, playing with machine gun—and maybe they're right," he says. "But Freud himself said sometimes a cigar is only a cigar. I think I was fascinated by the intricate machinery of the gun. It took me two years to figure out how to work it, but by age 10 I was the only Maxim machine gun expert in my entire neighborhood."
Drafted into the Army shortly after the end of World War II, Cummings became, appropriately, a weapons instructor at Camp (now Fort) Lee, Va. He was discharged as a sergeant and enrolled at George Washington University, where he supplemented his GI Bill income by buying antique guns and selling them to other students. One day he found thousands of German helmets in a junkyard in Richmond, bought them for 50¢ each and sold them for $4 to a museum curator who later resold them at a profit to Hollywood producers caught up in the World War II movie mania. In 1948 Cummings spent a term at Oxford. On a trip to France he was astounded by the thousands of tanks and weapons rusting in fields and along roadsides. "There was so much stuff lying around—cartridge belts still in the machine guns, the tanks ready to drive off with a battery recharge—and the French were afraid to touch them because of booby traps. With what was abandoned there, you could have reorganized an army and captured France again," he says.
Cummings returned to the U.S., graduated from college in 1949, and, during the Korean War, went to work as a weapons expert for the Central Intelligence Agency—an affiliation that many people, including the late columnist Drew Pearson, have insisted Cummings has not discontinued. After a year and a half Cummings supposedly resigned from the CIA to become a weapons agent for a company called Western Arms Corporation. Then in 1953 he started his own business by registering with the State Department and Treasury Department as an arms dealer (there are now some 140,000 such registered dealers) and writing letters to officials of dozens of governments to inquire about surplus weapons. With his savings of $25,000 he bought 7,000 small arms from Panama, sold them at a profit and became the real item, an authentic, independent merchant of death.
By now, though, there was a market that had not existed for Cummings' predecessors, and he was the first to realize it. All fine bolt-action sporting rifles are based on the Mauser and its imitators, and there were hundreds of thousands of these guns available that were, as Cummings has been quoted as saying, "so fresh that Hitler's fingerprints were still on them." He began to purchase high-quality foreign infantry rifles, remodel them as sporting rifles and sell them in the U.S. as hunting or target arms or as souvenirs. "People would buy a cheap gun from me and then eventually buy an expensive model from Remington or Winchester, the way a camera buff works up from a Brownie to a Leica," he said, adding that the big corporations were "too arrogant" to get into the surplus trade.
In 1954, at the age of 27, Cummings obtained a permit from Washington to sell guns to the Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmàn, a foe of U.S. corporations in his own country. Guzmàn bought some 10,000 Sten guns from Interarms. Following that, Interarms sold guns to Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, Guzmàn's neighbors. An army of Guatemalan exiles living in Nicaragua overthrew Guzmàn with what is generally conceded to be massive help from the CIA and partial help from Interarms. Cummings was nowhere near through doing business in Guatemala. He bought about 80,000 surplus Guatemalan weapons—including an old Hotchkiss mountain cannon that sits in his office in Virginia—to sell through his mail-order house. Finally, to reequip the Guatemalan army on the U.S. 30-caliber system, Cummings purchased Garand M-1s that had been lend-leased to England by the U.S. and resold some to Guatemala and Haiti, with the majority going to Indonesia.
Cummings had frequent deals with Cuban Dictator Fulgencio Batista and with Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. Trujillo outfitted his bodyguards with silver-plated rifles. "Trujillo was a saint, a true saint," says Cummings, laughing. "Batista? A saint of a man with the face of an angel. Dictators—usually we prefer to call them Presidents—are very security-conscious. They're lovely to do business with. They'll buy all the new weapons they can get their hands on, and they pay in cash. They love to have parades down the main boulevard to show off their strength, and they always keep bodyguards standing around with automatic weapons. But in the end they inevitably get it."
After Batista was ousted in 1959, Cummings continued to sell Armalite rifles to Castro until the State Department at last refused a license. There is a story—Cummings says it has "more than a few grains of truth"—that he was demonstrating the Armalite to Trujillo when a band of Cuban raiders landed in the Dominican Republic and were shot up on the beaches by the 26 Swedish Vampire jets Trujillo had already bought from Interarms. Hungarian-born General Kovacs, of Trujillo's staff, entered the dictator's office with an Armalite captured from the Cubans. "Did you sell these guns to Castro?" Trujillo asked. Cummings admitted he had, but explained hastily that "I wouldn't tell him to use them against you."
Not all of Cummings' deals are successful. In 1959 he bought 999 Lahti 20-mm. antitank guns from Finland. The exceptionally accurate weapons had been used by the Finns in 1939-40 to shoot at the firing slits of Russian pillboxes. Whimsical magazine ads for the antitank guns said "Why be undergunned?" Cummings sold some of the guns to a whaling cooperative in Alaska for whale potting. An Arizona dentist bought one to defend himself against varmints. "Another chap out West bought one for gopher hunting," says Cummings. "The little gopher would pop out of his hole, and from 500 yards away—whammo! You can't outrun a 20-mm. shell or catch it in your teeth." Unfortunately for Interarms, one of the guns was used to shoot a hole in the door of a Brinks safe. "This created an aura of misunderstanding, and I finally had to take the guns off the market," Cummings says. "Most of these were donated to museums, but I'm still stuck with 400 of them. They do make a princely gift for visiting generals. It's a gift that can't be refused, like a monkey belly clock or a photo of a rich relative. But I'm afraid these guns are mackerels in the moonlight; they shine but they stink. They have no conceivable military use."
Cummings also bought 50,000 German hand grenades from Denmark with, he says, the idea of repackaging the high explosive in them into quarter-pound blocks for commercial sale in the U. S. But Alexandria city officials became alarmed at the thought of having so many high explosives around a residential area, and so the grenades were loaded into two railroad cars that Cummings kept moving around while he sought to convince the officials that he knew what he was doing. One of his educational tools was a box of red and yellow practice grenades, which he planned to lob on the docks for the edification of the officials. "I knew some grenades had firecrackers in them, and some were total duds, and naturally I figured the red ones would have the firecrackers," Cummings says. "So I yanked the pin on a yellow one, and it began to spew and sputter. The officials started yelling and fell facedown in the muddy, gritty street. Then the grenade made a little pop! And there I was standing up, wondering what those Germans had pulled on me. Several Alexandria city officials were lying in the mud in their good suits. It was awfully funny, but I had to dump those 50,000 grenades in the ocean, and that tempered the humor of it somewhat."
Cummings is fascinated by the bizarre. One rainy noon recently he was having lunch at a restaurant near the offices of EXCOA (Explosives Corporation of America) in the hamlet of Issaquah, a few miles from Seattle. Cummings had ordered a hearts-of-lettuce salad with roquefort and a chopped steak well done—two dishes he says he cannot get in satisfactory quality in Europe, where he lives. He mentioned that he also misses American hot dogs. Hearing this, an EXCOA executive spoke up: "Sam, you wouldn't like our hot dogs anymore. They're mostly chicken fat now. They grind up the chicken claws and anything else that's handy and dump it all in there."
"Chicken claws in the hot dogs!" Cummings asked, looking immensely pleased at the idea. "Marvelous! What else has happened?"
"The canned hams are nothing but fat and water."
Cummings shook his head in sympathy, but this did not interest him half so much as chicken claws in the hot dogs. Thinking about it, he was reminded of a restaurant in Macao where the spécialité de la maison is warm monkey brains fresh from the skull. He described how the live monkey is strapped to a pole under the table, with its head sticking through a hole in the center, and the waiter opens the skull with a cleaver. From there the conversation progressed to dining on squids, eels and beef hearts, and then to the old Comanche banquet of hot horse brains and buffalo intestines. Michel Maes, the young president of EXCOA, who looks like a graduate chemistry student but instead is peddling a product that could change the appearance of this country, had been listening with a sort of subdued horror. He put down his fork and said, "One thing I could never bring myself to eat is squab."
"Squab?" said Cummings. "You don't mean squab, man! Of course you would eat a squab!"
"I would?" Maes said.
"What you're thinking of is moles." said Cummings. "You'd be surprised how many people have a distaste toward eating moles. But a fat, tasty mole is a wonderful treat. Hard to dig out of the ground, these little fellows, but certainly worth the effort."
Cummings rocked with laughter. The EXCOA executives also laughed, but in a rather baffled way. When lunch was finished they escorted Cummings back to their office to show him a film of their new product. Until recently, EXCOA shared a two-story concrete block building in Issaquah with a real-estate agency and the office of the Pine Lake United Presbyterian Church. Perhaps understandably, the agency and church office moved out last month. Once the new product catches on, as it no doubt will, EXCOA can afford vaster quarters. The present location is handy because around the building are green fields, farmlands, mountains and forests, and EXCOA needs a lot of room.
EXCOA is a subsidiary of the Rocket Research Corporation in Redmond, Wash. For years Rocket Research Corporation scientists tried to develop a superior rocket fuel, but their rockets kept blowing up. It finally occurred to one of their heavy thinkers that what they had invented was not a superior rocket fuel but a new explosive. They called it Astrolite, a name thought up by their advertising man. It is a nearly odorless and colorless liquid that comes in a bottle about the size of a quart of beer and is more powerful than TNT. You can pour it over what you want to blow up. You will soon be able to buy a six-pack of Astrolite for less than $30 and astound your enemies.
Astrolite is being used in Vietnam on an experimental basis. Excitedly, Macs explained a few of its military functions. To blow up a railroad you simply pour Astrolite along the track and set it off with a 20-mm. high-explosive round. Astrolite can be pumped by hoses into Viet Cong tunnels. It has what is called, in the jargon of military technology, "ground soak capability," which means that when dumped on the ground it becomes an undetectable minefield that will maintain its potency for about a week and may be detonated by a blasting cap, an electrical field or any conventional method. It can be added to napalm bombs to expand the scattering range of the flaming jelly. "Napalm is a dirty word to some people, but to us it's just a product," said Maes.
"What nonsense!" laughed Cummings. "I can picture it now. Astrolite in every home! Everybody in the Middle East will have a dozen bottles of it. Crazed potentates will line up behind our order pads begging, 'Give us more of that wonderful stuff, effendi.' It will be mixed into cocktails to serve diplomats at peace conferences. It will be made into chocolate Popsicles that are detonated by the friction of the tongue. Oh, the world will have a thousand uses for it."
EXCOA is now negotiating with Interarms and Cummings over rights to sell Astrolite everywhere except Australia and New Zealand and the continental U.S., which is EXCOA's own territory. Sam Cummings doesn't behave like an ordinary salesman, but Maes doggedly continued with his pitch. He showed a color film of Astrolite explosions. In one sequence an armored personnel carrier was smashed into shards of tin. Maes admitted they had used an extraordinary amount of explosive, 70 pounds, for that sequence. "But we don't often get a 40,000-pound vehicle to play with," he said.
Then they were ready for the live demonstration. They drove through the fog and mist into the forest on top of Cougar Mountain. Up there were several silver trailers parked in the mud. The trailers are portable laboratories where Astrolite is manufactured. The process must be fairly simple, and EXCOA tries to keep it secret.
As the autos pulled into a dripping clearing and stopped, out stepped three men wearing green fatigue clothes, combat boots, field jackets and green berets. "Aha! Three Green Berets! They lend this project an air of fake authenticity," said Cummings. He got out of the car and was introduced to them. "Why, they really are Green Berets," Cummings said, delighted. "I've been dealing in panache for so long I don't recognize the real thing when I see it." Cummings used to dress his warehouse employees in assorted uniforms—Afrika Korps, British Royal Navy, etc., depending on what weapon was being pushed at the time—but he has quit, because, he says, "Uniforms are deplorable now. Don't have the style they used to have."
Except for the Green Berets, who were contemptuous of the mud and sloshed along in their shiny boots, the members of the party wrapped their feet in plastic bags and tromped off to a log bunker for the demonstration. One observer in civilian clothes, aroused by the jungly look of the place, lifted an imaginary M-16 to his shoulder and aimed at the wet ferns. "Looks just like this over there in Nam! Charlie jumps out of the bush! Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam!", The three Green Berets grinned. "And we flee in terror," said Cummings, "without waiting to learn that all they want to do is sell us their weapons."
The point of this demonstration was to prove that a soldier will be able to dig himself a foxhole very quickly with one bottle of Astrolite. Cummings was requested to set off the first explosion. He pushed a button on a small red box the bunker shuddered and clods clattered down on the roof. "I miss those good old detonators with the big handles," Cummings said. For an hour or so, Astrolite blasted holes in the soggy earth. Each hole had to be inspected, its rim poked with a toe. A smell like ammonia drifted up from the crater. One of the Green Berets had an inspiration. "This would be terrific for interrogation," he said. "You get two VCs together and give one of them a swig of Astrolite. When the other sees what happens, he'll tell you everything he ever knew in his life."
"I wonder if that would be an improvement over throwing them out of helicopters," mused Cummings.
On the way out of the clearing, Cummings stopped at the twisted frame of an auto that had been demolished by Astrolite. "One of the truly wonderful things about America is there are always plenty of good-looking cars to blow to bits," he said. He posed with the wreckage, saying, "I'll write my own caption: 'The life of Sam Cummings is not without its hazards. Here, looking dazed, which is not difficult for him, he examines the remains of his new car after friendly rivals have finished with it.' Call it ANOTHER ATTEMPT ON HIS LIFE."
Later, after two private conferences with EXCOA executives, Cummings had not made up his mind what to do about the offer to sell Astrolite. "I'm not really sure our Government wants every peasant in the world to be trotting around with bottles of this," he said, grinning at the potential for chaos and carnage. Cummings swears that he always cooperates with the State Department and the British Foreign Office, and that he is an agent of policy rather than a maker of it, although there are often frustrating delays while he strives to learn which clients are currently good guys and which are bad.
This does not mean that he agrees with Government policy. "In 1965 the State Department asked what I thought about the Vietnam War, and I told them it was an enterprise for lunatics. I've dealt with the Vietnamese and other Asian countries for years, and I said we would lose tens of thousands of lives at tremendous financial price, and for what? They said I wasn't a good American for believing that way. But one reason I keep my U.S. citizenship despite the cost in taxes is so I can tell anybody off as a real American boy," he said.
At one Senate hearing Cummings startled the otherwise well-insulated committee by testifying that American military weapons are inferior and that, as an example, the M-1 carbine used in World War II was "a dog." A clerk leaped up from the table and yelled, "He's right! He's right! I was at the Battle of the Bulge, and I shot a German six times with a carbine and he was still able to shoot me." In his Virginia office not long ago, Cummings showed visitors the difference in quality between the M-16 rifle used by U.S. forces in Vietnam and the Kalashnikov assault rifle used by the North Vietnamese. The latter is a substantial weapon with a chrome-plated barrel that doesn't need cleaning and will not wear out. The M-16 looks and feels like something purchased in a drugstore toy department but costs twice as much as the Russian model. "Our Government has had to put out a directive to prevent our troops from throwing away their rifles and using captured weapons, but if I were a soldier over there I would do it anyway," said Cummings. "This is in the tradition of the American military. Why did Custer go to the Little Big Horn with single-shot breech-loading rifles when the Indians had repeating Winchesters? Our enemies always have better weapons. NATO has at least eight different infantry rifles with ammunition that is not interchangeable. But the Russians have turned out 15 million of these Kalashnikovs for the Warsaw Pact countries. What we should do is make our own version of the Kalashnikov to accommodate ammunition one millimeter longer. Then we can use their cartridges but they can't use ours. But this makes too much sense. Since 1936 the best military handgun has been the Walther P-38, and the American Army just now is starting to test it."
Cummings gazed affectionately at his personal Kalashnikov, manufactured in Finland and stamped No. 1. "When the final truce is signed in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese will keep these beautiful guns for themselves," he said. "And they'll sell their captured American guns. Well, that's business."
Cummings was winding up his first trip to the United States in three years and was eager to get back to his family. When in this country he stays in a spare room in his mother's apartment in Washington. He owns a flat in London, a lodge above Lake Geneva in the Swiss Alps and a 14-room apartment in Monte Carlo with a view of the harbor and the palace swimming pool. He moved to Monaco for business, climatic and tax advantages, the last of which have largely disappeared. He is married to his second wife, and they have 8-year-old twin daughters. More frequent visits to the U.S. will be required now that Cummings is in the process of changing his commercial posture in this market. Through a factory he owns in England, he manufactures a line of fine, expensive sporting weapons, and he represents Walther and Mauser in the United States.
"My gigantic competitors think they have shrunk my tiger's roar into a tomcat's howl," he said, laughing again. "But there is a small cloud on their horizon." He lifted a gleaming new Mauser Mark XX bolt-action rifle manufactured in Yugoslavia by the huge armaments firm of Zastava, which also makes a Yugoslavian version of the Kalashnikov. Cummings is beginning to import these Mausers into the U.S. in quantity. "Give me two years, just two more years with these, and the big boys will know I'm back in business."
He is still very much in the military-weapons business, however. This year Cummings intends to buy 2,000 M-47 tanks that are to become NATO surplus, and he will stock up on obsolescent Nike-Ajax missiles for licensed sale to Interarms customers around the world.
"Once I had a wonderful idea," he said wistfully. "I was going to buy a huge ocean liner and load it up with all kinds of guns, bombs, tanks, ammunition, airplanes, explosives, everything the leader of a country dreams of. I was going to cruise my liner up and down the coasts of Central and South America, and maybe Africa, doing business. A floating arsenal that stops by on regular calls, like your neighborhood icecream wagon. I was really excited about this idea until it occurred to me what was wrong with it. Somebody had already invented the torpedo."
A CUMMINGS SAMPLER
During hearings before Senator Thomas Dodd's Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1965, Arms Merchant Sam Cummings offered lengthy testimony on the activities of his company and his views on gun legislation then being considered by the Dodd group. The record of his appearance, which runs to more than 12,000 words, is interesting for the light it sheds on Cummings the man and social observer. Some samples:
ON THE AMERICAN LOVE AFFAIR WITH GUNS:
"Americans may like guns because they were reminiscent of the smell of outdoors, military heroism, the intensity of the hunt or merely because they are fascinated by the finely machined metal parts. Maybe the origin of a gun speaks of history; maybe the gun makes a man's home seem to him less vulnerable; maybe these feelings are more justified in the country than in the city; but, above all, many of us believe that these feelings are a man's own business...."
ON HIS SOCIAL MISSION:
"For 12 years we have run a tight and honest business which has brought many hundreds of thousands of new adherents to outdoor sports. Partly because of business competition and partly because of the bad name developed by the fringe trade in surplus weapons, we have found ourselves under constant direct and indirect attack in the press, in Congress and, sometimes, in the attitudes of Federal officials who closely regulate our business and are naturally sensitive to Congress and the press."
ON GUN STATISTICS:
"...There are interesting statistics in Europe regarding crime versus weapon requirements of governments. In England, for instance, where you have very stringent weapon laws, you have at the present time an ever-increasing rate of crime with weapons. In Switzerland, where you have, for all intents and purposes, no firearm laws, and where in fact every male citizen must by law have a military rifle and/or machine pistol and/ or machine gun in his house, there is practically no crime with weapons. Statistics are an interesting subject, because one can read them up or one can read them down."
Cummings' testimony closed with the following colloquy between Cummings and Dodd.
DODD: You got rid of yours [bazookas] after the incident in the United Nations, did you not?
CUMMINGS: I think that we have bazookas in stock at the present moment. That is an export item with us.
DODD: And mortars?
CUMMINGS: Mortars we always have in stock.
DODD: It must be quite a place over there.