Sunday, 22 April 2007

Weapons of mass confusion

What is it about America and weapons? Why does this country stockpile more weapons of mass destruction than anyone else and yet is permanently poised to strike at any country thinking of acquiring a few of their own? The biggest threat to its own citizens in terms of being injured or killed by gunfire comes not from abroad but their fellow Americans. And what is the American response when the umpteenth tragedy strikes with more of their own slain by some gun-obsessed shooter? That it is a fundamental right of the American people to bear arms.

But why should this peculiar right be so important in America, when it is utterly alien in every other civilized country in the world? It may have something to do with the culture of distrust that goes right back to the origins of the USA. People who did not want to live under various European regimes migrated to America, and when the British government tried to retain control over their affairs, they took up arms and declared themselves independent. But once their own system of government was put in place, the American people were not prepared to surrender their weapons. Even with one of the most elaborate checks and balance form of governance, individuals wanted to have ready access to their own guns should they fell out with those they put in temporary charge of their collective affairs.

To this day, the deal remains that whoever runs the American government has to acknowledge that its own citizens rightly cannot trust it with sole possession of weapons. It is odd then that it should expect the rest of the world to trust it with having the most powerful weapons imaginable. Is it because feeling impotent in relation to its own arms-loving citizens, it wants to exert control over people outside its borders? Or is it trying to translate the historical belief of American people that only they can be trusted with weapons into a global policy of preventing non-Americans from having powerful weapons of their own?

Yet, just when one thinks any of this might make sense after all, we are reminded of the fact that the world’s leading exporter of arms is none other than the United States. Not only do American weapon makers dominate the international market for destructive instruments, their government faithfully supports them by cultivating new buyers in its tireless sales pitch to foreign states. So whatever their rhetoric may be about weapon proliferation posing too great a risk to peace and security to be tolerated, they in practice do more than everyone else combined in arming the world.

Logic of course cannot by itself make sense of the actions of people who are seriously disorientated. A symptom of persistent distrust is the spread of paranoia eroding the capacity to work with others collectively to find sensible solutions. Why sit down with others to seek to reach an agreement on a way forward when one can shoot down any opposition (real or perceived). The infantile American colonies of the 1770s, feeling in turn neglected and repressed by the father figure of a deranged monarch, grew up into a 21st century superpower who celebrates the freedom to wield weapons everywhere so long as the deadliest weapons of all stay in their own hands.

To be fair, a significant number of people in America – derided as liberal or progressive – have over recent decades developed a much more mature outlook which recognises that juvenile macho obsession with weapons has to be displaced by proper controls nationally and internationally, and pressed for reining in arms sales at every level. But until they become the majority, America and the rest of the world can expect many more innocent people to pay the price of this armed mayhem.

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