– Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ*
On 14 February, seventeen students and teachers were gunned down in their school in Parkland, Florida; however according to the non-profit organization, ‘Everytown for Gun Safety’, “as of 2 March almost two dozen school shootings have already occurred on school campuses across the United States.” This does not take into account the scores of others that are gunned down regularly in a country regarded as the world’s oldest democracy.
The Florida school shooting was certainly the trigger; because on 14 March, exactly a month after that terrible tragedy, hundreds of thousands of students across America walked out of more than three thousand schools, to protest gun violence. In memory of the seventeen killed in Florida they stayed out for seventeen minutes with a strong message to all to ‘say “NO” to guns’. A week from now, on 24 March a massive rally ‘March For Our Lives’ (#MarchForOurLives) is being organized to Washington DC, in other major cities of the US and in several countries across the world. This ‘March’ is intended to tell decision and policy makers to not only curb the use of guns but to ensure a total halt to their production. America and the world perhaps needs the school students to show the way!
Whether the decision/policy makers will actually pay attention to and act on this universal outrage is a matter of conjecture. ‘Guns’ today is in fact a euphemism for the deadly ‘military-industrial complex (MIC)’, which has a stranglehold not only on the US but on several countries of the world. The term ‘military-industrial complex’ was first coined by President Dwight Eisenhower (a five –star General during World War II) in his farewell address to the nation on 17 January 1961. That powerful speech apparently still reverberates among those who are concerned about what is happening in the world today. Eisenhower has also famously said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
In the US, pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) however, are not taking matters lightly. They have gone on a propaganda blitz justifying the keeping and use of guns and consistently referring to the ‘Second Amendment’ to the US Constitution, which ‘protects the right of people to keep and bear arms’. With a claimed membership of over five million, the NRA is a powerful lobbying organization with influential politicians in their pockets. It is no secret about the money they pump into political campaigns. They have been flaunting slogans like “Guns don’t kill, but people do!” and “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!” The response to the NRA sloganeering from the students was an emphatic “we call B.S.”
Besides the US gun violence, the first three months of the year 2018 have been bad on several fronts. Violence seemed to be in charge across the globe. As the war in Syria entered its eight year on 15 March, the people there, particularly those in and around Damascus, were subject to the worst phase of violence since 2011, with several fatalities and many more causalities. Violence continued in several other trouble spots including, Yemen and Afghanistan, Sudan and DR of Congo, Myanmar and Israel, Venezuela and El Salvador, the Philippines and India. At the core of the escalation of this violence is the negative and insidious role, which guns and militarization play in the lives of nations and people today.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (www.sipri.org), established in 1966, 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 of the why of today’s wars and how certain nations and companies profit immensely from war. The lead country in this profiteering is obviously the United States (strangely enough, all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council profit immensely from the manufacture and sale of arms). One of SIPRI’s latest fact-sheets 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! Lockheed Martin (USA) tops the list; in 2016, its arms sales amounted to US$ 40.8 billion, which is higher than the total defense budget of all, but nine countries of the world.
On 12 March, SIPRI released its latest report, ‘The SIPRI Arms Transfers Database’. The Report highlights that India continued to be the largest weapons importer in the world over the last five years and arms exports from the United States to the country jumped 557% in 2013-17, as compared to 2008-12.India’s overall imports climbed 24% in the five-year period, accounting for nearly 12% of all global imports making the country the largest weapons importer for over a decade despite the thrust since 2014 under the fictitious ‘Make in India’ mission to build indigenously. India spent more than $100 billion on buying new weapons and systems during 2008-17, with imports accounting for around 60-65% of the country’s military requirements. India has inked a raft of contracts during the last decade for fighter jets, special operations aircraft, submarine hunter planes, lightweight howitzers, artillery guns and other weapons and systems. Significantly during this period the arms imports by Pakistan dropped by a phenomenal 36%. (India could certainly learn from this)When French President Emmanuel Macron of France visited India a few days ago, he signed defense and nuclear deals with India. Meanwhile the corrupt Indian Government has maintained total silence on the earlier sale of the controversial Rafale jets.
That India is spending so much of money on ‘defense’ is disgraceful and a scandal of the highest proportion for a country, where millions go to bed without a square meal, 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 and address other pressing issues, which are major threats to world peace and human life!
The fact is when ‘war’ is a highly profitable business; no one would like to take on leave alone close down the military-industrial complex. It is common knowledge that those in power look forward to the ‘kickbacks’ from the arms deals. Corruption is mainstreamed in this industry. It is not a state ‘secret’ that the arms trade has been bank- rolling powerful politicians, businesspersons and other vested interests everywhere.
Mercenaries play an important role in the trade. These men who are anointed and protected by their Governments, have no qualms in selling the most sophisticated weaponry to the devil. No one raises the sensitive issue that the deadly weapons used by the ISIS and other ‘terrorists’ have actually been manufactured by western nations. Saudi Arabia is on a massive spending spree buying the most sophisticated weapons from the US, UK, Canada, France and elsewhere- does anyone care to ask who are the ones who would finally use these weapons and against whom? It is common knowledge that the military- industrial complex wants wars to continue and it is they who are largely responsible for the refugee crisis which exists in several parts of the world today.
The lucrative global toy industry also reaps a windfall in the production of guns, violent video games and other imitations of war weaponry. Parents and elders do not bat an eyelid and happily gift such toys to their child for an occasion be it birthday, First Communion or Christmas. The long-term impact that such toys can have on a child is never considered. So naturally, everybody is ‘shocked’ when a teenager takes a real gun and mows down his fellow-students and teachers.
On 19 March, Pope Francis completes five years of his Pontificate. He has been the one world leader who has courageously and consistently taken on the arms trade (and challenged the others to do so) referring to it as the ‘industry of death’. In June 2017 his intention, for Church’s worldwide prayer was ‘the elimination of the arms trade’. Earlier on 23 September 2015, addressing the US Congress, he spoke plainly saying, “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.”
It is highly unlikely that there will be any dramatic change, especially after the ‘March for our Lives’ on 24 March. Several so-called ‘world leaders’ are peddlers of arms or are just warmongers spoiling to find an “enemy” elsewhere – because of their own incompetency. Even their close friends do not trust some who are ‘itching’ to press the nuclear button. However, the plain truth is that children are showing the way, demanding that we all say “no” to guns. In this one prophetic act, lies a hope for the future of humankind.
*(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ, works with the Jesuit Refugee Service on Advocacy and Communications, in the Middle East. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)