Windows on the world


Thou Shalt Not Kill

The majority of nations in the West were founded on the Old Testament.  One of the most powerful stories of the OT is that of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments of God, and one might be forgiven for thinking that ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ would be enshrined in every Christian, Islamic and Judaic constitution. 

Sadly, we do kill.  The USA kills murderers, in cold blood, regardless of age or mental ability.  Somewhat inconsistently, Mr Bush presents his religious sensitivities as reasons for signing the partial birth abortion ban. The USA and Britain kill terrorists and, in the process, innocent civilians and friendly troops.  Israel and Palestine are locked in a futile tit-for-tat embrace of self-destructive killings.  And Islamic terrorists kill their perceived enemies and anyone who gets in the way, defying their Prophet who clearly instructs his followers to leave such matters to God.

There might sometimes be justification for killing in self-defence.  There might even, sometimes, be justification for pre-emptive strikes.   These debates are pursued elsewhere.  In this article I want to address a different issue, for surely there can be no justification for supporting an arms industry that makes a profit by selling weapons to third parties. 

Buddhists are not governed by commandments.  Instead, they undertake to behave in a certain way, in a ‘right’ way.  The basic precepts for a layperson include right speech, right thought, etc, and one for which there is no western equivalent: right livelihood.  This would make it extremely difficult for a Buddhist to take a job in a weapons factory.  Unfortunately, the rest of us are not so squeamish.

Where the Guns are
If the justification for manufacturing arms is self-protection these weapons must be kept in the right hands.  According to recent research by Amnesty International, less than three percent of the world’s small arms are held by police forces; just under thirty-eight percent are held by government forces; and almost sixty percent are privately owned.  It used to be a mind-blowing statistic that somewhere in the world, a baby is born every minute. Now, every minute, somewhere in the world, someone is killed by conventional weapons.  It used to be said that if a bullet had your name on it, it was your fate to be killed.  Now, every year, two bullets are produced for every man, woman and child in the world.  That sounds like a lot of bullets with my name on them.  What kind of lunacy produces sufficient bullets to kill every one in the world?

Ok, it’s a tough world and we need to protect ourselves, so let’s make sure our police and armed forces can defend us.  And let’s ensure that UN forces can maintain peace in foreign parts.  But when one looks at the import and export business there is an excuse for feeling cynical.  The world’s biggest exporters of arms are (approximate figures):

45% The United States
15% The United Kingdom
11% France
11% Russia
  2% China

These nations, as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, are responsible for world peace.  Not surprisingly, the regions which import arms are:

            39% North Africa & The Middle East
            26% Asia
              3% Rest of Africa
              2% Latin America

Problems or symptoms?
The Governments of the world spend enormous sums looking for imaginary weapons of mass destruction and pursuing, unsuccessfully, Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.  In an amazing display of double standards they allow other oppressive leaders to have their wicked way. The West spends additional enormous sums trying to stabilise regions laid waste by imported weapons.   The problems will never be solved by dealing with symptoms and outcomes. When will our politicians recognise these simple global truths?

Politicians cannot produce a totally safe environment for their citizens.  Human nature, being what it is, will always find a way to inflict suffering on those less powerful.  There is no single solution to this enormous problem but we can make it more difficult for humans with a baser nature to obtain guns.

Forward Direction
We need to recognise the problem, and if we cannot solve it immediately we need to move forward in a direction that will reduce the problem.  The direction is not difficult to ascertain.  Next year, the world must produce fewer arms and the permanent members of the UN Security Council must export fewer arms.  The following year, those numbers must reduce again.  And the year after.  And the year after that.

The Cold War neared its end when the chief protagonists agreed to start reducing the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.  The USA and the Soviets stepped back from the brink of confrontation.  The War against Terror (international and domestic) will not be won until large bodies of people have the courage to step back from the brink.   In the absence of a ‘non-proliferation of conventional weapons’ treaty the USA and Britain must have the courage, unconditionally, to reduce production and exports of conventional arms.  Like Moses, we may not live to enter the Promised Land, but we can lead our people towards it.

© Harvey Tordoff
Novemberr 2003

with thanks to Amnesty International for their statistics ~ and apologies for any unintentional misuse