Peace and nonviolence, fundamental to any society where human rights flourish, are impossible without a political will to address the arms trade and close down the industry.
More than 122 years after it was first premiered on 21 April 1894, ‘Arms and the Man’, written by the celebrated Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, is a comedy which needs re-visiting, in the context of the violence and wars that have engulfed our world today. ‘Arms and the Man’ though a humorous play, highlights the futility of war and simultaneously exposes the hypocrisies of human nature.
Folly of War
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) who control and profit from an industry that has never had it as good as it is today.
Facts and Figures
Established in 1966, The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (www.sipri.org) 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 regarding the why of today’s wars and how certain segments of society literally thrive from the wages of war.
The ‘Times of India’ (30 March, 2016) in a telling article from SIPRI’s fact-sheet 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! It is indeed a tragic story. Top on the list is Lockheed Martin (USA); in 2014 its arms sales amounted to US$ 37.5 billion which is higher than the total defence budget of all but nine countries of the world.
The latest SIPRI Report also highlights World Military Spending; having spent US$ 51.3 billion in 2015, India is now in the sixth position in military spending behind the US, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UK. This is a crying shame and a scandal of the highest proportion for a country which today has 330 million people reeling under a terrible drought, where millions go to bed without a square meal and 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, which is a major threat to world peace and human life!
From the earliest days of his pontificate Pope Francis has taken on the arms trade referring to it as the ‘industry of death’. On 23 September, 2015, he did not mince words while addressing the US Congress: “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.”
On 16 April from the Greek island of Lesbos Pope Francis challenged those who control the lives and destinies of others saying, “It is necessary, above all, to build peace where war has brought destruction and death, and to stop this scourge from spreading. To do this, resolute efforts must be made to counter the arms trade and arms trafficking, and the often hidden machinations associated with them; those who carry out acts of hatred and violence must be denied all means of support.”
The fact is when ‘war’ is good business, no one would like to take on the arms industry. It is common knowledge that whether in the yesteryears of the previous Governments or the ones of today, those in power, in fact, look forward to ‘kickbacks. Corruption is mainstreamed in this industry. It is not a State ‘secret’ that the arms trade has been bank- rolling powerful politicians from across the political divide.
Mercenaries play an important role in the trade. These are men anointed and protected by their Governments who have no qualms in selling the most sophisticated weaponry to the devil. No one dares to raise the sensitive issue of how much of the deadly weapons used by the ISIS have been manufactured by western nations.
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. Naturally everybody is ‘shocked’ when a teenager takes a real gun and mows down his fellow-students and teachers.
Peace and nonviolence are fundamental to a society in which human rights flourish. In many parts of the world, this will never take place unless there is a political will to address the arms trade and close down the industry. Until such time ‘Arms and the Man’ in its new avatar will continue, with the audience yelling, “this war is terrible!” without courageously tackling head-on, those who control the puppets!