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Saturday, 12 September 2015

Cause, Effect, Regret

As a child I was raised to take responsibility for my actions, something that I take quite seriously today.

No doubt every last one of you reading this blog will be aware of the refugee crisis which has only just gripped the world's media, despite being in the offing for years.

War Of The Worlds - the original 1898 story by H.G. Wells (and thus the musical), not the movies or the radio play - does a wonderful job of detailing the fear, the panic, the hopelessness and the madness of those running for their very lives. Not just running out of the house, or down the street - running without knowing an end goal, running in absolute terror away from certain doom.

Nobody does this on a whim, or by choice. It's totally against human nature to abandon everything that one has built, everything one owns that can't be carried. Also, in this day and age, one can't escape knowing that wherever they end up, they will invariably be treated poorly by at least a proportion of the local population - but even this mistreatment and malignity can't be worse than what they would face if they stayed.

In War Of The Worlds, the cause is very much an external problem - in the biggest way. Martian war machines intent on extinction. A warning from the author about war - wars of extermination, total war, war on an industrial scale. Herbert George was so devastatingly prescient, that 16 years before the First World War and over 40 years before the second, he was already speaking of the terror that would come with such mechanised destruction.

Today, though - today we can't blame invaders from outer space.

The Defence Security and Equipment International exhibition (DSEI for short) is hosted every two years at the Excel Centre in London, in September. It originated from the British Army Exhibition and the British Navy Exhibition, which (after running separately since 1976) were combined in 1993; in 1999 it was privatised.

DSEI is, essentially, one of the world's biggest arms fairs. The scale of the technology and hardware on offer is immense, and includes such articles as "suicide" drones and self-guiding bullets. Armaments of all shapes and sizes line the metaphorical shelves of the exhibition, and a significant proportion of those shopping are from established Middle Eastern governments.

Here and there, one can find indications that those who organise DSEI hope that their goods won't be used for internal repression - though at least once, a couple of companies have been thrown out for setting up stands with electric batons and metal shackles, which have an uncertain usage in a military non-internal fashion. This also seems to imply that it's perfectly okay to deploy an Accuracy International AX50 long-range anti-materiel rifle against anyone outside of your own borders, but shooting your own people with it is a big no-no.

DSEI is only one of the many arms fairs that occur the world over. A quick search reveals over a dozen more. It is reckoned by the SIPRI military expenditure database that the value of the arms trade is over $1.5 trillion a year. To put that in perspective, $1.5 trillion is:

  • More than Australia's $1.44 trillion GDP, making the arms trade the twelfth biggest economy on earth (just behind Canada at $1.77 trillion).
  • Enough to build a thousand top-of-the-line 862 bed hospitals like the Parkland Memorial hospital in Dallas TX.
  • Greater than the estimated value of the entire Premiere League, given each club's individual purchase value as a whole.
  • Enough to buy the 4 biggest cruise liners on earth (Allure Of The Seas, Oasis Of The Seas, Anthem Of The Seas and Quantum Of The Seas) 300 times over.
  • Over two million average London houses - or over five million average UK houses outside of the capital.
  • Sufficient to give every single refugee in the world (60 million approximately) an average UK lifestyle for a year, with change.

That's quite a lot of money.

Am I drawing a connection between the highly valuable nature of arms sales and the current crisis? Well, yes, actually. I genuinely am. The arms industry makes itself fat off the willingness of nations to make war, and refugees flee crisis - crisis such as their nation being attacked by an unrelenting enemy.

Am I suggesting that IS buys all its weapons from DSEI? Not at all. Assad's regime, however - I'd be very surprised to find no guns in their hands that were tendered at a global arms fair. I might also imply that various groups the world over have armed organisations like IS with weapons that they would acquire from the companies selling at events like the DSEI. Remember in Rambo 3, wherein the CIA were selling/giving weapons to the ever-so-brave Afghan mujaheddin in order to combat the evil Russians?

Of course, those US-made Stinger missiles - so crucial for bringing down the Russian HIND helicopters that dominated the Afghan battlefield - got turned on the benefactors when the mujaheddin became the bad guys... short, rich governments with access to weapons have a habit of arming people, either by selling them or through some kind of political deal. Those people, well. They go on to do what they want. Sometimes what they want is evaporating Palmyra and  killing people indiscriminately.

So when good old Ronnie Reagan was talking about trickle-down economics - which has proven to be an excuse to make rich people richer and poor people poorer - perhaps he was talking about how the consequences of our actions will trickle back down to us.

We made money. We made money buying and selling weapons. Weapons are being used to fuel a massed panic flight from the levant; and now, those refugees have turned up in the kind of countries that sell those weapons.

This is the literal trickling down of the investments made in the eighties. Much like the financial crisis of the past decade - this is the seed we have sown, the bed we have made. Or at least, the bed that was made by those making the money selling the weapons and deregulating the financial sector.

As a child I was taught to take responsibility for my actions - to give credit where it is due, and criticism where it is needed. If we as a civilised nation were to profit from the wars and military brutality that has been so endemic across the world in the past three decades, then we as a civilised nation have to shoulder the burdens of those consequences. It's the only decent thing to do.

Of course, the true victory of the profiteers is now, they have a lot of other people singing their same song. Public opinion is on their side, at least in the UK, and that's a fact that actually makes me feel slightly ashamed.

The most successful squadron in the Battle of Britain was Polish. They defended OUR homeland, when we took them in from THEIR homeland after it was invaded. They fought to the death, literally, to defend us. At the end of the war, we hung our heads in shame, and let the Soviets take their homeland away.

I like to think we're better than that, now.

(Of course it bears mention that after WW2 ended we took in record numbers of refugees, and vastly increased public spending despite being in a time of austerity, and we did alright - but that's a factoid that most are happy to ignore.)

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