Every year around ANZAC Day and more often over the last few years of remembering WW1 I have heard the pious injunction “so it may never happen again.” Every year I rail against the glorification of war, the hypocrisy and the irony of this statement.
I heard it again on Checkpoint in relation to the Passchendaele exhibition in Wellington. While thousands of people have visited the Gallipoli exhibition and have experienced a frisson of shock at the depiction of bloody and brutal warfare, few people seem to see the dreadful irony of holding what some have called a “weapons expo”- more euphemistically a “defence industry conference” – this week in Wellington. To the credit of the City Council, it has refused to allow the expo to be held in council venues. It was held in a sports venue. Is this less political? We certainly have a history of sports and politics in uncomfortable relationships.
My family have never been great warriors. I had one great-uncle on each side of the family who fought in WW1. One came home, one didn’t. Uncle Albert never mentioned the war in my hearing, but my mother said that when he was dying he was back in the trenches at Ypres, perhaps one of the most profound experiences of his life. Many of those “returned men” had lives more blighted than his.
The First World War marked a turning point in warfare. Before then battles had resulted in most casualties being among the fighting men, but in the twentieth century it has reversed, eighty percent of casualties in the twentieth century were civilians, only twenty percent combat troops. Modern communications technology means that we can see the images of all this in our social media and our living rooms every night. We are becoming immune to suffering generally, and in particular the suffering of the human tide of refugees fleeing from these conflicts.
Modern warfare kills and disables military and civilians alike. It disables humanity, dehumanises all of us and the structures that underpin national and world order. War diverts precious resources. It destroys history and culture and causes rifts that take generations to heal.
If New Zealand is truly committed to being a nation for peace we should not be contributing to the arms trade. There could be no wars if there was no arms trade. This trade is every bit as vicious and immoral as the drugs trade. It destroys more lives on a global scale. We should not be associated with it in any way.