This week Brisbane is hosting the Land Forces Expo.
Largely unadvertised to the public, the Expo is a three-day market selling weapons and military support services.
It is happening despite there having been no public conversation about our involvement in the international arms trade.
At the end of his two-term presidency of the USA in 1961, Dwight D Eisenhower, a former General, tried to warn his nation about the potential effects of what he labelled the Military-Industrial Complex.
The Military-Industrial Complex is made up of companies that specialise in making and selling weapons. Like all businesses they want to grow. To grow they need people to use their weapons. Eisenhower could see how this market driven approach to weaponry could lead to an increased likelihood of armed conflict.
Eisenhower noted that before World War II most armaments had been produced on an as-needed basis by companies that manufactured sewing machines and other products for civilian use. These would turn their hand to making weapons when a conflict broke out in much the same way that several engineering companies have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by retooling to make ventilators.
Eisenhower’s words were not heeded and so the Industrial-Military Complex has grown. Large portions of the world have been destabilised.
Our Federal Government has the aim of making Australia one of the top ten producers of armaments in the world. The Land Forces Expo is part of promoting this expansion.
The Land Forces Expo is being held against the backdrop of our withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Afghan conflict is numbered by Australian academic, Henry Reynolds, amongst the list of Australia’s ‘unnecessary wars’. Reynolds contends that our leaders are far too willing to send our service personnel into conflicts. He says they use war, which has long term consequences, for short-term political gain.
The allegations that war crimes were committed by service personnel in Afghanistan remind us that war is a shadowy place. A place we should be reticent to send people. Too easily the rest of us allow our Defence Force personnel to go into places we would not go ourselves.
Siegfried Sassoon was a soldier and one of the World War I poets. The war poets were highly critical of the way leaders and people alike tend to treat war in a trivialised way:
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
To the politicians, Sassoon said:
Go round the soldiers’ cemeteries; and then
Talk of our noble sacrifice and losses
To the wooden crosses…
Sassoon also wrote of the “impotent old friends” sitting “snug at the club” talking about how lucky their sons were to be at war.
June is PTSD Awareness Month. We still have amongst us veterans of World War II and Vietnam who are living with PTSD, and increasing numbers produced through our involvement in Afghanistan. The human cost is high and long-felt.
And yet, here we are aiming to become one of the top 10 producers of armaments in the world and hosting a weapons Expo.
On the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that the peacemakers are blessed, and the writer of Isaiah had a vision of swords being beaten into ploughshares. The presence of this Expo in our midst and our Government’s ambitions for our armaments industry suggest that we are a long way from achieving that vision.