I am sure many of you, like me, watched live the address of Pope Francis to the House of Congress during his historic visit to the United States.
Many television channels beamed live coverage of the speech, and some, like CNN, also analysed the content of his speech in great detail soon after he had finished.
Much was made of his reference, for example, to “four [American] individuals and four dreams”: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
However, I noticed a glaring, deafening silence, over what he had said just before that:
“Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: 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.”
The learned pundits and talking heads on CNN and BBC World skimmed over this as if he had just not said any of this. Perhaps I am reading too much into this omission, but it is well known just how powerful the National Rifle Association of America in particular and the weapons industry in general are in the US, and indeed the rest of the world. The words of Pope Francis must have made them squirm uncomfortably in their seats. Best to ignore his scathing indictment and pretend it had just not happened. The good old ostrich-in-the-sand ploy works every time in diverting the attention of the public.
But people continue to die at the receiving end of ever frighteningly more ‘efficient’ weapons of mass destruction, all over the world. ‘Weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD) is a sanitised euphemism for hell on earth.
Amnesty International has 10 sobering ‘killer’ facts on the global weapons trade:
1.1500 people are killed every day by conflict and armed violence.
2. There are more international laws regulating the trade of bananas than of weapons. Regulation is virtually absent, and corruption widespread. Anyone remember Bofors?
3. 12 billion bullets are produced every year.
4. Over 26 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to armed conflict.
5. Child soldiers are being used in armed conflict in 19 countries.
6. For every death, there are up to 28 serious injuries.
7. Damage caused by weapons destroys infrastructure and perpetuates poverty.
8. 74% of the world’s weapons are supplied by just six countries: USA (34.84%), Russia (14.86%), Germany (7.43%), United Kingdom (6.57%), China (6.29%) and France (4%).
9. Systematic rape of girls and women occur through the use of weapons. In conflict regions such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone, the scale of rape and sexual violence is staggeringly high. Many women and girls have been forced into sexual slavery by fighters, and many are raped at gunpoint. Women and girls are often the forgotten victims of armed conflict.
10. Stronger regulations in the sale and trade of arms could save hundreds of thousands of lives annually.
Food for thought for those who visited the DefExpo for ‘educational purposes’, as a scientist recommended in a section of the press. You may try to look at the science, the physics of it all, but basically what the industry strives towards is an ever more “efficient” killing machine.
Weapons are all about the money, big money, with no thought to the human suffering and environmental damage they leave in their wake. “Blood money”, as the Pope would have called it.
Over 1.5 trillion United States dollars are spent on military expenditures worldwide.
Pope Francis pulled no punches when he spoke on the subject last year, saying people who manufacture weapons or invest in weapons industries are hypocrites if they call themselves Christian:
“We are living through the third world war, but by pieces. In Europe there’s war, in Africa there’s war, in the Middle East there’s war, in other countries there’s war. Can I trust world leaders? When I go to vote for a candidate, can I trust that he won’t take my country to war?”
“This makes me think of something: people, leaders, businessmen who say they are Christians, and they manufacture weapons! This brings up some distrust: they say they are Christians! “No, no, Father, I don’t manufacture, no, no… I only have my savings, my investments in the weapons factories.” Ah! And why? “Because the interest rates are a little higher…”… Hypocrisy!”
And then the Pope delivers the punch line: “And those who die, they’re second-class persons, human beings”.
Casualties of war are dismissed by dehumanising or depersonalising them. They are swept under the rug by the terrible term “collateral damage”. They cease to be people, just “the enemy” or “the bad guys”. Killing becomes a “necessary evil”.
The British publishing company focussed on military, aerospace and transportation is called Jane’s Information Group. What a deceptive name; you’d think this was targeted at bored housewives. They excel at the art of such euphemism. And negotiating their website is like shopping on eBay, with helpful links like “Search for products”, “Add to shopping cart” and “Proceed to checkout”. Presumably all one needs is a credit card. And a lack of conscience. They probably have bargains as well: buy ten cluster bombs, get one free. Or two howitzers for the price of one. Buy one, get one free.
We saw depersonalisation at its lowest ebb when Israeli ‘settlers’ gathered on hillsides in 2014 to whoop, whistle and cheer as bombs rained down on innocent unarmed civilians in Gaza. “What a beauty”, said one, as if watching a firework display. Deck chairs, bags of crisps and bottles of beer were brought along, as if at a picnic.
I grew up watching movies (“Where Eagles Dare” and “The Dirty Dozen” come to mind) that glamourised and glorified warfare. One felt like cheering when the “enemy” “got what was coming to them”.
A few decades later, I feel very differently. I’ve never lived in a war zone, thank God. But I’ve met refugees and survivors of war and conflict as my patients in my years in England, and the physical scars on their bodies and psychological ones on their minds are horrifically real. It is not something one wishes on anyone, not even “the enemy”.
(An edited version of this article was published on 3 April 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)