Arms and the Men

We hardly see how blessed we are compared with those nations blighted by perpetual war and that we have a natural culture of peace, that we should preserve at all costs

 Virgil’s first sentence of the Aeneid, written about 2050 years ago, was “Arma virumque cano” (I sing of the Arms and the Men). War was a glorified undertaking during the times of the Roman conquests. And it was here thousands of years before the Romans as well. People used wars to plunder each other, killing and despoiling many innocents in the process. Nothing so glorious about them.

Many have fondly believed that they will bring “peace” through war. The Romans used to say: si vis pacem, para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war). We have had so many wars over the ages. We are still having others. Others are under preparation: ask North Korea. Peace has remained as elusive as ever in all those places which believed that they will get to it by waging war.

Quite the contrary, just take a look at the Middle East. It’s an unending scene of chaos and carnage. As if fostering the pandemonium at home wasn’t enough, this chaos and carnage gets exported from time to time to other places. This week’s killing of scores of innocent young people in a concert hall in Manchester, UK, is the latest manifestation of this uncontrollable folly of waging wars of the sort. There is no rhyme or reason to such wanton stupidity.

If at all it was necessary, the two World Wars of the 20th century have amply demonstrated that wars leave scars behind, which even time doesn’t heal. But man, in his stupidity and quest for power, ever more power, goes on fighting, hoping to get to peace by subjugating his “enemy”. Each tribe wants to have its own way for asserting beliefs of a bygone era it clings to, for securing territory or just for showing off.

Countries waging wars toil under the conviction that the more sophisticated weapons they acquire, the more easily they will overcome those they confront. So, they buy up weapons of the latest generation, more mortal than those they already have. At ever increasing prices. For countries like Saudi Arabia, how much the weapons cost is a secondary consideration. That’s how Saudi Arabia  signed a weapons deal for $110 bn last weekend during American President Donald Trump’s visit to that place.

What counts is the greater firepower they will so acquire to pound against Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East facing the “world’s single largest humanitarian crisis” in the words of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Some 19 million Yemenis are today reliant on aid. Saudi coalition (backed by America) strikes have already killed over 10,000 civilians in Yemen, destroyed key bridges, airfields and ports, driving millions to the edge of starvation. Yemen became a Saudi target after Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, seized the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in 2015 forcing Saudi-backed President Mansour Hadi to take refuge in the port city of Aden.

For Donald Trump, it was the commercial deal that mattered. He qualified it as: “a tremendous day. Hundreds of billions of investments in the US and jobs, jobs, jobs. So I would like to thank all of the people of Saudi Arabia”. All his pre-election rhetoric suggesting that Saudi Arabia would have been behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the twin towers of New York, that the Saudi government are “people who push gays off buildings” , that they “kill women and treat women horribly”, were taken back with the arms deal between the US and Saudi Arabia. Hypocrites, all! He took care to ignite the fire against Iran before leaving Saudi Arabia and Israel, holding prospects perhaps of further arms sales. Not that stupid, eh?

As a consequence, stocks of US arms suppliers hit record highs on markets – General Dynamics, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing were having a field day on stock markets. They soared to record highs on stock exchanges. Companies which get politicians voted to power thrive in exchange for the vicarious support they give to get them elected. But the US are not alone in this game of hypocrisy.

Other countries, which keep complaining about the unjust world order towards them, are and have been avid sellers of arms to nations which have not yet learnt to keep the peace.  Russia, China, the UK, Germany, France, Hungary, amongst others, along with the US, are the largest arms suppliers to warring countries. The arms industry is a key factor in the functioning of their economies.

Most of the time, those who buy the arms are not endowed with vast oil riches like the Saudis or Iran. They are third world countries like our own beleaguered South Sudan which – due to a struggle for power between two persons —  has driven its population to feed itself on wild grass and brought it on the edge of starvation in the millions.

There is Nigeria which has been facing armed rebellion for decades now and fallen into deep economic recession these days. There is Syria which, along with its Russian ally, has been dropping bombs, including chemical bombs, on the population with atrocious deaths visiting upon people in the prime of age.

The atrocities the warring factions have been inflicting on populations are enough to show that war is not the road to peace. A handful only of arms producers profit from the spoils. Those who keep falling under the bullet they keep making are their unintended targets.

The real intent of the arms producers and sellers is to keep their own pot boiling, not foster peace in the world. Peace is anathema to such unscrupulous “producers” of weapons of all sorts. Contrary to received wisdom, they make stupid power seekers the world over assume that hatred will be vanquished by hatred, not by love and compassion.

How happy we should feel that, over here in Mauritius, despite the outpouring of daily negativity, we can still breathe fresh air untainted by mortal sarin gas bombs dropped on our heads from the air by our own government? How happy we should feel that some dark passing clouds, thankfully pouring down their waters into our lakes from time to time, pass on but don’t make holes in our permanent deep blue skies or take away the colour from our bright blue seas?

We hardly see, it seems, how blessed we are compared with those nations blighted by perpetual war and that we have a natural culture of peace, that we should preserve at all costs.

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