An update is long overdue. I penned my first essay on this subject 82 years ago as a high school student in a small town. I was growing up amid hundreds of veterans of the South African Boer War and the Great War and their children. Most of these veterans had carved out successful post-war careers but too many were burdens on their families and the town. They were crippled by mental and physical wounds from totally unnecessary wars. It was easy to see that those who fought the wars suffered; those who supplied the weapons prospered.
Our species has many remarkable attributes. Learning from History and current facts is not one of them. When biology, culture, education, geography, or what-have-you gives one boy an advantage over others he can revel in his invincibility and is easily persuaded into offensive actions. What a shock when he discovers the enemy can also inflict pain but by that time he is locked into a war of attrition until one side emerges the victor amid the slaughter and destruction. So, who prosper and who do not? It seems obvious that those who prosper are found only among the victors. And, as with all human wars, who speaks for the many thousands of animals, such as horses, who are denied their freedoms and forced to serve, and die for, humans?
One human taking unfair advantage over another is an original sin, that is still with us. Organized warfare commenced after the introduction, 14,000 years ago, of the bow and arrow, but advances such as iron over bronze, hoplites and phalanxes, cavalry and chariots, gunpowder, machine guns, aircraft, tanks, submarines, blitzkrieg tactics, biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, and drones all encouraged first-use advantages.
Instruments of Death include automobiles, cigarettes, ladders, and swimming pools. Builders of some of these have been punished for their faults, but their products were designed for other roles unlike guns whose sole purpose is to kill custodians of the most marvellous, complex, and promising structure yet to evolve on this globe. Why do we not punish munitions manufacturers? Who are they? And why do we give them annually $1.5 trillion so sorely needed elsewhere to provide the environment needed to allow all of us to understand how to use this gift which is so much like computers and smart phones that are capable of doing so much more than most of us can master?
On this tiny globe of almost 8 billion humans 72 countries produce major arms in 633 locations, cleverly dispersed to gain wide support for the jobs they bring. The biggest bully on the block is the United States with 114. Lesser bullies include Russia with 29, Turkey 27, the UK 26, Italy 25, France 21, Germany 19, South Korea 19, Japan 18, Canada 18, India 17, Spain 14, China 13, Indonesia 12, Chech Republic 11, Brazil 10, Australia 9, Colombia 9, Argentina 8. That country we have selected this time to fear, Iran, actually has 3 sites compared to 9 for Israel which also has a nuclear arsenal and enormous help from its prime ally which is now having much-belated second thoughts. Ignoring other lethal threats like over-population and climate change the nuclear bomb club of the US, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea, rather than eliminating these arsenals are insanely modernizing and increasing their ability to create devastation to all living things.
Then, there are about 900 far-right armed militia groups in the USA and, since 2009, there have been some 19 incidents of gunfire with law enforcement units. Gun ownership in the US is the world’s highest at 90%. Serbia is next with 70%. Canada, France, and Germany have 30%, Australia 15%.
Main arms exporters are Russia, the US, China, France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Israel, Spain, and Ukraine.
Main importers are: Saudi Arabia, India, China, UAE, Taiwan, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, the USA, and Pakistan.
Instead of exporting arms, would it not be wiser to export contraceptives? The huge savings would permit us to build schools and infrastructure, reduce poverty, and have a go at reducing the root causes of conflict.
Peace movements have been numerous but, so far, ineffective. Why, if this is the will of the majority? We have had Geneva Conventions, biological, chemical, and nuclear restrictions, mines outlawed, START treaties and the like. In fact there are 15 countries who have stopped or discarded nuclear bomb programs they once had.
We now have 115 peace groups in Europe and North America alone. We have people who profited from the arms industry, like Alfred Nobel and concerned scientists, turn against what they conceived to work vigorously for peace. We have philanthropists like Warren Buffet, Bill Clinton, Bill and Melinda Gates, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, and organizations like Amnesty International, Concerned Scientists, Doctors Without Borders, and Greenpeace. All are worthy of our support. Alas, almost as bad as arms merchants, there are multi-nationals that put profits ahead of people. We do need a strong UN to regulate both, but it needs all of us to join the task of denying Greed and Ignorance the ability to team up to thwart our best efforts. All this at a time when Planet Earth is in mortal danger of losing its prime species, Homo sapiens - or is it Homo the Sap? How can we be so heartless as to eliminate the homes of so many trillions of our body bacteria? Who else would miss us if we stay on the path to extinction?
Ye Olde Scribe and his trillions of contributing bacterial lodgers.