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The evils of the weapons industry



Defence Minister Christopher Pyne recently called for an expansion of the Australian weapons industry. It would enable Australia to join the United States and Britain as a major exporter of weapons and further Australia’s strategic goals. The move has a logic: if you want weapons it is cheaper to make them than buy them; if you make them it is more profitable to sell them to others than to keep them all for yourself; if you sell them it is best to sell them to your friends.

xxxxxWhen you see weapons at the point of production they look enticing in their new paint, hidden power and contribution to the bottom line. The trouble begins when they are used. They can then blow up people and strategic goals. Consider, for example, the anniversaries listed by Wikipedia for August 4, the day this piece is to be sent out. The list is heavy with events in which weapons were used. Three stand out. On this day in 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany, bound by the 1839 Treaty of London. This was one of several treaties, designed to ensure peace, which led Europe to war.

Also on 4 August 4, 1964, two United States destroyers reported that they had engaged with North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. It followed another reported attack two days earlier. Finally, on the same day in 2006 seventeen workers from a French NGO were murdered by Government police in Muttur, Sri Lanka, after a battle between Government and LTTE forces. Earlier, the LTTE had been classified as a terrorist organisation.

In all these conflicts Australia had a strategic interest. All of them generated a great demand for arms by both sides. In the Great War the whole economy of many nations was diverted to producing arms and using them. The Vietnam War brought in arms from both the Western and Eastern blocs. Overseas weapons multiplied in Sri Lanka, too, and were decisive in the eventual victory of the Government forces.

Weapons used to further strategic interests, however, often destroy these interests. The Great War caused a huge loss of life, hunger and social dislocation. It led to the Great Depression, social upheaval, the rise of totalitarian regimes and eventually to an even more disastrous war with more powerful weapons. For Great Britain it was the beginning of decline, which compromised all the interests that seemed vital in 1914. The war was profitable for the people who made and sold weapons; in human terms it was a catastrophe.

The reporting of the Gulf of Tonkin incidents as unprovoked attacks on US ships led Congress to authorise the President to take military action in South East Asia and escalate into a war fought to protect strategic interests.

Yet the incidents were not as reported. In the first incident, Vietnamese Patrol boats resisted United States naval incursions into its territory. On 2 August the US ships fired on ghosts, misreading their instruments.

The ensuing war was the catalyst for the rise of Pol Pot, the eventual withdrawal of the United States and its allies, great loss of life and damage to agriculture in Vietnam. The loss of trust in Government in the United States, and the West, anticipated what happened in the invasion of Iraq. These consequences were hardly among the strategic interests sought.


"To possess weapons to discourage invaders is one thing. To sell them is another."


The murder of aid workers in Sri Lanka was one more atrocity in a bitter civil war in which both sides bought arms from other nations and—if other civil wars are a guide—sold arms to one another. The strategic interests of weapon sellers is to make money. Eventually, the weight of arms prevailed, but the human cost, especially to Tamil people, has been enormous.

It has affected their security, the protection they have under law, their freedom of movement and their culture. It, too, contains the seeds of further conflict in a nation awash in arms. The government’s strategic interests have been secured temporarily, but at what cost?

Reflection on these three anniversaries suggest that the use of arms is more likely to hurt than to further national strategic goals, and, more importantly, that it causes incalculable suffering to human beings. Australians should spurn Mr Pyne’s proposal. To possess weapons to discourage invaders is one thing. To sell them is another.

As amateur economists Australians should count the cost of rebuilding nations after they have been pulverised by military action. As amateur political scientists they should ask how our record of using arms has helped or hindered our strategic goals.

As human beings they should imagine the grief and suffering of people affected by military action and ask themselves if they want to build a nation on increasing it.




Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, ethical questions, thick and thin experience, conversation



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Existing comments

Thanks Andrew. You have put it so well. The weaponry industry for selling is immoral . I often imagine if all the money spent on weapons was put into education and care for people in such ways as eradicating malaria and other conditions and sharing food opportunities we might have a chance to save this tiny planet spinning alone in space . . . This tiny space ship we all live on .

Colleen Keating | 04 August 2017  

Peace is an elusive goal for mankind. It's elusiveness is about the dark side of our nature and the incredible atrocities we are capable of. Military action has destroyed many lives and still we do not learn. It's not only large, and small, scale wars that destroy though. It is the statements like Christopher Pyne's that are not greeted with universal outrage, and the acceptance of war as inevitable.

Pam | 04 August 2017  

At this point in human history, it is crucial that we see the ecological damage that the arms industry does also. Earth, our common home is crying out as Pope Francis teaches in Laudato Si'. If we could come to an ecological awareness of what we humans have done and continue to do to Earth, our only home, we would really be able to see our way clear to work on the third way of dealing with conflict, Gospel nonviolence which Pope Francis wrote about in his 2017 Message of Peace. https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20161208_messaggio-l-giornata-mondiale-pace-2017.html We need to put our resources into learning and living this way instead of growing the violent arms industry.

Anne Lanyon | 04 August 2017  

Thank you for this excellent reflection, Andrew, and for so many others. When reading this I was reminded of René Girard's "escalation to extremes". Here's a review of his last book "Battling to the End". http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/Battling-to-the-End-by-Ren-Girard-3204821.php?cmpid=email-tablet The final sentence of the review reads: "Girard writes hauntingly, 'More than ever, I am convinced that history has meaning, and that its meaning is terrifying.'" But the reviewer omitted to include the quote from the poet Friedrich Holderlin which Girard used immediately after that last sentence: "But where danger threatens That which saves from it also grows." Girard came to see that imitating Christ is the only truly human option.

Susan Connelly | 04 August 2017  

We should also count the cost of undoing the damage to ourselves. From Maralinga to war games in Rockhampton, we have all been subject to radiation fall-out and depleted uranium floating on wind. I once had constant sore throats, went to the GP, and was told everyone else in the suburb had the same problem, due to toxins in the air and water. It was only later, when the clean up of Rhodes before the 2,000 Olympic games was under way, that I learned that we had all been living with a kilometre of an Agent Orange factory. They spent a lot of money cleaning up the site and now there are apartment buildings on the site, but I believe the floor of the bay is still contaminated. We cannot escape the consequences of what our government spends our money on, in the pure interests of The Economy.

Janet | 04 August 2017  

Everyone should watch Pope Francis radical video about the arms trade: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUtxTvdSF_4 Raytheon shares went up 40% overnight after 9/11. When the US attacked Iraq in 2003 the first thing they did was fire hundreds of Raytheon Cruise missiles, at $600,000 each. These mass murdering corporations are feted by our governments!

Jim Dowling | 04 August 2017  

Thanks Andy. It is a real danger for us all. Our economy is fast becoming dependent on the production and sale of weapons along with gambling.

Bill Armstrong | 04 August 2017  

I am not sure you can claim World War 1 was directly responsible for either the Great Depression or the rise of Nazism in Germany: things are not quite that simple. Perhaps if Clemenceau had not been as vindictive to a defeated Germany at the Paris Peace Conference that country would not have suffered as badly economically, which I think was a partial, but only partial cause of the rise of Nazism. Then again, how would you account for the rise of extreme nationalism in Japan, which had been among the victors in WW 1? Christopher Pyne is obviously partially touting for more industry in his own state of South Australia, where the death of the motor industry and the incompetence of the Weatherill government are likely to cause real economic hardship. The weapons industry, in nations such as the USA, UK and France creates a great deal of employment in many areas. I am not sure whether providing arms to the Sri Lankan government to defeat the LTTE was a bad thing. That country seems on a path of peaceful restoration under the current government. Sadly, weapons are necessary for self-defence in the modern world. It is the theatres they are used in, how they are used and to whom they are sold that is important. The buck stops with our politicians.

Edward Fido | 05 August 2017  

In the light of any Judeo/Chriistian teaching that "though shalt not kill", shouldn;t the role of any religious chaplain employed in parliament or the military be the same as that of a prison chaplain? To encourage repentance and conversion to Christianity rather than a mere support role/solidarity role?

AURELIUS | 05 August 2017  

Chilling. This is disturbing in two ways. Firstly the horror of making ans selling of death machines and considering that an acceptable activity. Secondly the feeling of impotence as an Australian to do anything significant about the matter. Let he who is without sin stop throwing the stones and if you would be better stop making them and selling them for how many pieces of silver?

Michael D. Breen | 05 August 2017  

Aurelius: “In the light of any Judeo/Christian teaching that "though shalt not kill", shouldn’t the role of any religious chaplain employed in parliament …. To encourage repentance and conversion to Christianity rather than a mere support role/solidarity role?” Religion can be no more than mere support to the secular state whose religion dictates that there is no religion. The US Supreme Court has ruled that it is not unconstitutional to pay chaplains out of public funds and each House of the US Congress has an official Chaplain. But abortion exists even though Congress might be able to define life to begin at conception without a constitutional amendment (or at least pass a law and see what happens). If a parliamentary chaplain must be reconciled under godless democracy to the actual killing of numerous civilians now, why can’t she be reconciled to the hypothetical possibility of killings that have yet to occur? I don’t think there’s anything to stop the Australian Parliament from legislating life to begin at conception and have federal law override the state medical laws concerning abortion. Until it does so, it is fortunate that churches don’t have to refuse to staff an official position of Chaplain to the House or Chaplain to the Senate (because they do not exist) because, while peremptory death without appeal of a species of civilians is legal, such an office would only be that of a joker or a chaplin.

Roy Chen Yee | 07 August 2017  

The argument about the legitimacy or otherwise of the use of force in self defence, or the defence of others, especially those for whom one has responsibility such as spouses and children, would have been resolved if the Good Samaritan had arrived on the scene a bit earlier when the traveller was actually being mugged. Would he have tried to defend him? If so,would he have used his bare hands,or would he have armed himself with a weapon such as a big stick? Perhaps he should have brought along some chairs, so that he could "sit with them".

Jenny O'Rourke | 09 August 2017  

The argument about the legitimacy or otherwise of the use of force in self defence or defence of others would have been resolved if the Good Samaritan had arrived when the traveller was actually being mugged. Would he have tried to defend him? If so would he have used bare hands, or would he have ARMED himself with a weapon such as a big stick?

Jenny O'Rourke | 09 August 2017  

To me, this is a no-brainer. A gun can do one of two things, it can kill or it can maim. So, the production of a gun which can only so that is, quite obviously immoral. We need a total ban on weapons production. Isaiah saw a future where we'd beat swords into plowshares. Isn't it better if those swords were not made in the first place?

Fred | 16 August 2017  

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