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Arms and the man

September 13, 2013

As I type this men in suits, men in uniforms, men in various states of anticipation and expectation are shaking hands, networking, watching presentations and sealing deals. These men )and I dare say some women too) are engaged in an industry that employs 140,000 people in the UK, and is worth around £24bn to the UK economy. As I write this, men are selling arms and armaments to states as varied as Argentina, China and Austria. Yes folks, it’s the 2013 arms fair in the Excel Centre in London.

Allow me to pose the following semi-rhetorical questions:

1. Is it ethically right to profit from the sale of arms – arms that inevitably could be used against a civilian population?
2. Is it ethical not to trade in arms, thus potentially putting thousands of people out of employment?

Whilst we ponder the above questions let us consider the desperately comic irony of British firms supplying arms to Argentina, a state who has been at war with us, and a state who continues to sabre rattle over the ongoing issue of the Falklands. Secondly, let’s take China for ease of convenience. Their human right record is less than rosy and we wilfully sell them weapons, allowing them to equip their growing army. These two countries are just the tip of the iceberg, in affect we are growing the potential for rogue states and groups to get their hands-on an ever-growing, ever evolving arsenal of weapons. And I’m not just talking about the odd machine gun, we are looking at a vast array of explosive devices, personal defence weapons, ships, tanks – the full gammit.

Ever since mankind could wield flint, stone, rock or sharpened twig he has been fascinated by the urge to improve his capability to do harm to others – neighbouring tribes, renegades etc. From the spear to the sling, to the bow, to the dagger, knife and sword, the evolution of weaponry has echoed man’s desire to produce more and more effective ways to manage his territory. It is in man’s nature to build, to improve, to battle and war. We like to delude ourselves that we are sophisticated, but the man who gaze at the footage of a Tommerhawk missile screeching into the sky, flying on course and slamming into a bunker, mirrors the same expression on the face of early man as a spear was hurled far into the sky in a perfect arc.

The fact is, the arms fair is simply an expression of evolution, a thinly veiled attempt to express our deep urge to dominate. What started with flint, continued into copper, bronze, iron, steel, is now expressed in silicon chips, computers and explosives.

The sad thing is, the world hasn’t really changed since the Palaeolithic. The same men have the same urges, but nowadays these urges can be expressed in a far more devastating way.

So what can be done? What happens if society attempts to quash this ancient urge? Well, it is simply driven underground because we can’t change human nature.

One final thought – two exhibitors were ejected from the fair because their brochures were purported to contained prohibited products, namely a hand-held device that emits electricity, weighted handcuffs and a baton. At first glance this seems odd. Why were these product deemed more lethal than a nuclear submarine? The answer is simple. These products were made to be used at close quarters, made to invade people’s personal space. These products were akin to the tools of torture and we don’t like that – we don’t like that because it resonates too loudly in our souls. It reminds us of a time when we were basic and primitive. We’ll do anything to kid ourselves we’ve evolved, but really we haven’t.

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