On 14 March, hundreds of thousands of students across the United States walked out of school to protest gun violence. The nationwide demonstration was part of a student movement against gun violence created after last month is mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. On 14 February, seventeen students and teachers were killed in an attack there. The protesting students were emphatic and unequivocal in stating, “Save Lives; say no to Guns”. On 24 March a massive rally ‘March For Our Lives’ to Washington , in other major cities of the US and in several countries across the world, will once again call upon decision and policy makers to not only curb the use of guns but to ensure a total halt to their production.
This is all easier said than done.’ Guns’ today is a euphemism for the deadly ‘military-industrial complex (MIC)’, which today has a stranglehold on most of the countries of the world, beginning with the United States. Very ironically the term ‘military-industrial complex’ was first coined by President Dwight Eisenhower (a five –star General during World War II) in his farewell address to the nation on 17 January 1961. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has a seemingly innocuous title. With a wide membership all across the US, the NRA advocates for gun rights. It is a powerful lobbying organization with influential politicians from across the divide in their pockets. They have been flaunting slogans like “Guns don’t kill, but people do!” and “It is better for a good man to have a gun than a bad man to have one!” So obviously, US politicians are not going to easily legislate on banning guns
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ( www.sipri.org ), established in 1966, is a global and highly respected independent think tank ‘dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament.’ SIPRI’s annual ‘Yearbook’ and the slew of well-researched documents produced by it, provide one with the naked truth of the why of today’s wars and how certain nations and companies profit immensely from war. The lead country in this, is the United States (strangely enough all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council profit immensely from the manufacture and sale of arms) One of SIPRI’s latest fact-sheets entitled ‘How US arms manufacturers reap the profit of war’ highlights how the earnings of the world’s top arms sellers are higher than the GDP of 140 countries!. Top on the list is Lockheed Martin (USA); in 2016 its arms sales amounted to US$ 40.8 billion, which is higher than the total defense budget of all, but nine countries of the world.
SIPRI released its latest Report on World Military Spending on 12 March. The Report highlights that India continued to be the largest weapons importer in the world over the last five years and arms exports from the United States to the country jumped 557% in 2013-17 as compared to 2008-12.India’s overall imports climbed 24% in the five-year period, accounting for nearly 12% of all global imports making the country the largest weapons importer for over a decade despite the thrust since 2014 under the fictitious ‘Make in India’ mission to build indigenously. India spent more than $100 billion on buying new weapons and systems during 2008-17, with imports accounting for around 60-65% of the country’s military requirements. India has inked a raft of contracts during the last decade for fighter jets, special operations aircraft, submarine hunter planes, lightweight howitzers, artillery guns and other weapons and systems. When President Macron of France came calling a few days ago he easily managed to sell to the corrupt Indian Government more arms, after the sale of the controversial Rafale jets.
That India is spending so much of money on ‘defense’ is unfortunate and a scandal of the highest proportion for a country, where millions go to bed without a square meal, have no access to primary health care or elementary education. Today billions are allocated in the production of weapons – particularly weapons of mass destruction and their application. Spending patterns in India and in most countries need to change in order to eradicate poverty and address other pressing issues, which are major threats to world peace and human life!
‘ Arms and the Man’, a comedy, was first premiered on 21 April 1894 It was written by the celebrated Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. In the context of the violence, and wars that have engulfed our world today this play needs to be re-visited. ‘Arms and the Man’ though a humorous play, highlights the futility of war and simultaneously exposes the hypocrisies of human nature. Shaw situated the play in the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885, with a Swiss mercenary soldier Captain Bluntschli as the hero. The play dances around two romantic encounters, but it is ultimately Bluntschli’s hitting remarks about war and soldiers “ nine soldiers out of ten are born fools” and “ I use my ammunition pouches to carry chocolates and not cartridges for my pistol”- that hold sway. Writing fifty years later, well-known British novelist George Orwell wrote that, “the moral of the play -that war should be abhorred, for it is not a wonderful, romantic adventure- needs to be told!”
Prophetic indeed! The only difference today is that both “arms” and “men” are no longer subjects of a comedy on stage- but a terrible tragedy that unfolds daily in the lives of millions of ordinary people. Playing stellar roles in this tragedy are the ‘arms and ammunition’ industry and the ‘men’ (the mercenaries and politicians) who control and profit from an industry that has never had it as good as it is today. The fact is when ‘war’ is a highly profitable business, no one would like to take on the military-industrial complex. It is common knowledge that the in power look forward to the ‘kickbacks’ from the arms deals. Corruption is mainstreamed in this industry. It is not a state ‘secret’ that the arms trade has been bank- rolling powerful politicians everywhere.
Mercenaries play an important role in the trade. These men who are anointed and protected by their Governments, have no qualms in selling the most sophisticated weaponry to the devil. No one raises the sensitive issue of how many of the deadly weapons used by the ISIS and other ‘terrorists’ have actually been manufactured by western nations. Saudi Arabia is on a massive spending spree buying the most sophisticated weapons from the US, from UK and elsewhere- does anyone care to ask who are the ones who would finally use these weapons and against whom?
The toy industry is another booming one, with guns, violent video games and other imitations of war weaponry topping the list. Parents do not think twice about gifting such ‘toys’ to their little son – for his birthday or first communion! The long-term impact is never considered. So naturally, everybody is ‘shocked’ when a teenager takes a real gun and mows down his fellow-students and teachers.
On 19 March, Pope Francis completes five years of his Pontificate. Right through these years, he has courageously taken on the arms trade referring to it as the ‘industry of death’. On 23 September 2015, addressing the US Congress, he did not mince words saying, “ Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade. ” Very obviously most US lawmakers were not listening to him. Whether they will heed the cry of thousands of American children on 24 March is a big question mark indeed.
The ‘Knotted Gun’ is a masterpiece sculpture by the famed Swedish sculptor Carl Frederik Reutersward (who died in May 2016). It is a large replica in bronze of a .45 calibre revolver with a twisted barrel. In 1988, it was gifted by the Government of Luxembourg to the United Nations and it stands today at the UN Headquarters in New York. The idea behind the knotted gun was also to honour the Beatle John Lennon, (who was gunned down in 1980) for his vision of a world at peace. The message is still loud and clear “Guns Kill!” – but are we listening and doing the right thing?
( Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ, works with the Jesuit Refugee Service on Advocacy and Communications, in the Middle East. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org )(Published on 19th March 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 12)