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Arms Trade : Prejudices are Planted

Archbp Thomas Menamparampil Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
28 Dec 2020

From Prejudices to Violence

Arms sell best where fear is fostered, anger is cultivated, and prejudices thrive. The sales slogan of the National Rifles Association, US, was,  “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,”  (Cook 55). Such negative references were generally to African Americans and American Indians who were considered dangerous; today they include also immigrants from Latin America, Africa and Asia. So, during the Trump era, the message that went out may be roughly phrased in this way: ‘Immigrants and minorities are a threat to you and your future. Beware!’ Arms salesmen pictured the world as a “dark and menacing place”, and guns sold. Media took a supportive position, Leaders took aggressive positions (Feinstein 303), and arms sold out in large quantities.
The Gandhian tradition did not allow the same situation to arise in India. But where arms distributors failed, “prejudice distributors” succeeded; they had the protection of the VHP. Communal prejudices have been carefully cultivated and hatred built up in India, and instances of violence have risen, whether in the form of cow-related lynching, moral policing, exploitation of critics or social activists, or silencing of anti-CAA protesters. Delhi riots drew international attention to the bias of the Ruling Regime. Biden or Kamala may take up some of these issues in due time. US Religious Freedom report for 2020 found “religious minorities under increasing assault” in India. India’s image as a ‘liberal democracy’ has suffered a great deal under BJP leadership.  

From Lynching Violence to Gun Violence and World Violence

During the American struggle for independence, it was a certain Charles Lynch from Virginia who encouraged beating up people who held a different political view. Thus, social violence in different forms came to be called “lynching”. During the American Civil War 5,000 African Americans were lynched. Even after they gained  citizenship rights, their security remained uncertain. It was in self-defence that “Negro militias” armed themselves (Winkler 143). Arms sales, that had fallen after the Civil War, went up again among the blacks and whites to defend themselves against each other. Samuel Colt, the marketing genius, was immensely creative in providing diverse types of handguns, pistols, and revolvers (Winkler 160). Mounting tension meant better sales for weapons producers in the US… and better votes for Hindutva forces in India. 

Cynics link the very rise of America and their national identity to a gun culture: using the gun against the native Americans first, then against the blacks; next, manufacturing armaments for the Allies in the two World Wars; again, spearheading the Cold War and intensifying War against Terror; and today fuming against China. The growth was gradual, but steady. Every solution created the next problem. In World War I, the humiliation of Germany led to World War II, the victory over Germany led to the strengthening of Russia and the Cold War, confronting Russia in Afghanistan by training Muslim militants created the Taliban and Al Qaeda. No one is the gainer by any of these much-lauded achievements, except weapons manufacturers into whose hands global wealth is gradually moving. Arms dependence is the new form of colonialism. 

The World Reaches a Point of Helplessness against Arms Producers

Initiators themselves ultimately fall victims. Andrew Feinstein is merciless in exposing the high and the mighty in his book “The Shadow World”. George W. Bush brought in 30 arms industry executives to be his consultants; the CIA got interlocked with arms producers like Lockheed Martin. With that, the fate of the nation was sealed. This ‘war’ team shaped America’s foreign policy: created enemies, fanned fears, aggravated tensions… and arms were sold both sides of the battlefield. The lobbyists and academicians in their pay bullied or seduced law makers, judiciary, and the media. Government secrecy deepened (Feinstein xxvi), and accountability fell. 
Feinstein says, “Arms trade accounts for over 40% of corruption” in the world (Feinstein xxv). This is what may be called structural corruption, not transactional; kleptocracy is built into the system. A whole range of people are involved: national leaders, intelligence operatives, shady middle men, money launderers, common criminals (Feinstein xxiv). Over 820,000 offshore companies handle their shady money deals in Virgin Islands, which represent about 41% of world’s total, where the most criminal money transfers can be legalised (Feinstein 85).

Planned Creation of Enemies

Colin Powell cynically commented after the Cold War, America was “running out of enemies”. Arms production was cut and research reduced (Feinstein 287). Enemies had to be created somehow to keep the industries going. Then came the Bush Doctrine which demanded less and less evidence of threat before America moved into war, thus placing US on “perpetual war footing” (Feinstein 294). Dick Cheney’s 1% Doctrine complemented Bush Doctrine: if there is 1% chance of a threat to American interests, it should be considered 100% (Feinstein 288). War was privatized: production and distribution of arms, direct participation and other supportive services (Feinstein 295-6). Weapons found it easier to move from Iraq and Afghanistan to other parts of the Middle East, the Balkans, Africa, Latin America, and India-Pakistan. 
Arms producers boast about their economic contribution to the US and job creation. But there is too little evidence of any tangible benefit (Feinstein xxviii). On the contrary, there is abundance of evidence of “grand corruption”, inefficiency, wastage, and exploitation of tax payers and the poor. 

Equipping Both Sides in Contentions

Basil Zaharoff, the godfather of the modern BAE, says, he made his first fortune providing guns to fighting groups in Africa.  “I made wars so that I could sell arms to both sides”. He claims to have incited wars even between Bolivia and Paraguay, Spain and America. He sold weapons to both sides in the Boer War and to the combatants in the Russo-Japanese conflict. During World War I, he produced arms for the British on a mighty scale and was knighted by the king, though he had strengthened the enemy earlier. Allies at the Paris convention agreed that peace could never come with great profit going to arms producers, who stoke fears, spread rumours, employ lobbyists. The Nye committee reported that the arms industry was “playing off one country against another to sell arms”, and wondered whether the army belonged to the government or to the arms industry (Feinstein 5-9). 

Pamela Haag in her “The Gunning of America” refers to an American in Vienna in the 19th century telling a gun dealer, “If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each other’s throats…” (Haag 36). That has remained the programme of action for all arms-producing companies/nations all these years. When it comes to money-making, there is no limit to double-dealing or deception, there is no principle or ideology (Feinstein 32). Leaders create anxiety, and arms producers get big orders. More than half the money goes to the leaders placing the order, dealers and middle men.

What Dupleix and Wellesley did in their own days, Bush and Trump sought to do in our times. The Market is the new Empire they are steadily building. When America sold tanks to Israel, Nixon unguardedly exclaimed, “For every tank we give to Israel, its neighbours buy four from us” (Feinstein 376). The Arab nations will need to defend themselves against Israel. As they will buy from the US, they will also buy from France, Germany and UK (Feinstein 377). So you see that oil wealth does not accumulate in the Middle East, it accumulates in the hands of arms-producers and tension-creators in the West. Pope Francis asks, “How many resources are spent on weaponry…that could be used for…ensuring safety of individuals…the fight against poverty…health care…COVID-19…?”

Issues for Contention Are Created

Watch the Iraq-Iran war. America passed on their weapons to Iran through Israel, while fully supporting Iraq (Feinstein 378). American weapons were used on both sides.  Keeping in tune, Germany, Britain, and France helped both sides, covertly and overtly (Feinstein 397). In addition, the US helped Iraq with virology material with which Saddam Hussain could produce biological weapons (Feinstein 398), which was made one of the reasons for the US invasion of Iraq! 

America may have poured into the Iraq-Afghanistan military venture nearly $4 trillions, Trump boasts of $6 trillions. Feinstein summarises the consequent tragedy in this manner: Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan war killed 225,000, displaced 7.8 million; the invaded countries overflowed with weaponry and ammunition, which found their way as far as Africa and Latin America; Pakistan was ruined (Feinstein 430). Stiglitz and Bilmes argue that the severity of the 2008 economic crisis was greatly due to the Iraq-Afghanistan conflict (Feinstein 428). 

Arms to the Weakest Countries, for the Strongest Dictators

Israel, that has over three hundred arms producing companies (Feinstein 375), exported arms  to South Africa during the apartheid, to Pinochet’s Chile, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and all three contending groups in the Angolan civil war (Feinstein 387) that killed 100,000 (Feinstein 456).  The US armed and equipped Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt (Feinstein 486), Gaddafi’s Libya (Feinstein 448), the Argentinian junta (Feinstein 262), and Somalia in the midst of its internal conflicts (Feinstein 474). As conflict zones increased, mass deaths mounted in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Congo, Angola, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Ivory Coast (Feinstein 435). 

Shortly before the Hutu-Tutsi genocide, Rwanda had spent more on arms than all Africa (Feinstein 439). To them the French sold weapons worth 136 million francs despite fear of misuse (Feinstein 440). Shadow dealers continued their deals during the genocide. Of 7 million Rwandans, over 1,174,000 were killed (Feinstein 442). US weapons found their way to Mauritania, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Mobutu’s Zaire  (Feinstein 399), Armenia, Georgia, and Congo in the midst of internal conflicts. And of late, Qatar and Saudi arm rebels in the Middle East according to their loyalties (Feinstein 543).  

Drawing People to Violence

When we hear of mass shootings in US schools and hotels, we wish there were some laws to control gun sales in that country. But the National Rifles Association has strongly resisted any such move. Consequently, US has 300 million guns today (Haag xiii) and 3.4 million gun owners (Cook 193). Over 4 million guns are sold every year (Winkler 19). This volume of distribution did not happen by mere chance. Gun-producers like Winchester and Remington sent out “gun “missionaries” and sales agents to “entice new converts”. They roped in story-writers to write thrilling stories of the Wild West, with one killing on every paragraph! It was through them that legends grew of Buffalo Bill and other heroes (Haag 189). Young people wanted to be heroes like them.
In addition, gun salesmen were trained to be “expert entertainers” (Haag 255). They organized “Boys’ Rifle Clubs” (Haag 325) who were invited to express their masculine pride in the 4,000 or so gun shows every year (Cook 81). These were combined with luxury dinner parties and river cruises (Haag 256).

Planting Fear, Prejudice, Hatred in Human Hearts, Conflicts, Poverty

India has been spared of such negative experiences. However, if in gun production and distribution we fall far behind the Americans, in prejudice creation and distribution we may be far ahead. During the last few years, the cultivation of prejudices against minority communities and neighbouring nations has gained strength from official patronage. “Go to Pakistan” is the retort a Muslim neighbour receives for any expression of anxiety. 
Indresh Kumar, an RSS bigwig, calls China a “Demon Nation”. Such puerile vocabulary speaks for the stature of his organization and quality of his brand of nationalism. That is the type of nationalism that Hindutva advocates have promoted. Consequently, our neighbours have gone on the defensive; they have begun to copy the Indian brand of fanatic nationalism. K. P. Oli of Nepal (the only other Hindu-majority country in the world) won elections in 2017 on an anti-Indian platform. Tensions have mounted ever since. Hindutva nationalism has roused stiff resistance on every side.

Even within the country, in states like Gujarat or UP, minorities and Dalits have closed themselves in their own enclaves and ghettos. M.K. Narayan laments, “India has begun to resemble a war zone”: fading consensus, diminishing democracy, exploitation of critics, alienation of neighbours, loss of international image, polarisation between communities.  “Conflict zones” have widened in central India. Chhattisgarh has over 45 central Reserve Police battalions and 22 state battalions against the Maoists. The Centre intends to send 5 more. Meanwhile, malnutrition is killing Indian children. Anaemia in “Modi Model” Gujarat is as high as 80%.

Hopes Remain

Amit Shah who was quoting Mir Jafar during the Jharkhand elections (where he lost), came to West Bengal paying respects to Tagore and Vivekananda, great Indians with a universal outlook. Gradually, a “conversion” (Poriborton) may be taking place to a broader understanding of India and a truly “Indian” understanding of humanity. We rejoice. But if this is an election stunt, there will be a Ghar Vapsi (re-conversion) after the election to closed minded Hindutva! We fear.

Cook, Philip & Goss, Kristin, The Gun Debate,  Oxford University Press, 2014
Feinstein, Andrew, The Shadow World, Penguin, London, 2012
Haag, Pamela, The Gunning of America, Basic Books (Perseus Book Group), New York, 2016
Winkler, Adam, Gun Fight, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2013

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