The featured photo is a still from ‘All quiet on the western front’, a film which portrays the brutality of World War I and has won numerous awards for its cinematography, storytelling, and realism.
There is this one argument that is often used by the gun lobby in the United States that is as dangerous as it is prone to fallacy: in an article penned for Psychology Today, American philosopher Michael W. Austin attributes the original quote that inspires the argument to a science-fiction book named “Beyond This Horizon”, written by Robert Heinlein.
“Well, in the first place an armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life. For me, politeness is a sine qua non of civilization. That’s a personal evaluation only. But gunfighting has a strong biological use. We do not have enough things to kill off the weak and the stupid these days. But to stay alive as an armed citizen a man has to be either quick with his wits or with his hands, preferably both. It’s a good thing.”
The character in question lives in a dystopian world in which humanity has been permanently divided through genetic alterations and therefore, speaks from a place of privileged superiority. Gun violence, he argues, is an efficient method to exterminate those who are perceived as weaker.
Like so many other things in this post-truth world, the quote has been butchered and taken out of context to now formulate an argument that essentially implies ‘if everyone is armed, everyone will think twice about engaging in conflict, because they may quickly find out they are about to meet their demise at the end of someone else’s gun barrel’.
As I write these words, a massive armament effort is going on across the European Union due to soaring demand for weapons, vehicles, and ammunition. This is, of course, directly linked with the fact that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remains ongoing while the Israeli state’s occupation of Palestine becomes more and more devastating every day. Stockpiles are running low across the board following decades of slow and gradual disarmament across the continent.
In essence, there is so much violence going on right now in Ukraine and in Palestine alone that European and American arms companies are now in a position to strong arm their governments into providing long-term contracts to ramp up production efforts so key allies can be kept swimming in ammunition for as long as possible.
It is pertinent to note that the European Union began as a peace project. It was founded as the European Coal and Steel Community, becoming the first authority invested with supranational powers to integrate Europe’s coal and steel industries into a single common market. The primary goal was to establish shared control of the supply of two key resources that would need to be used for war, thus making war between European countries impossible.
As war ravages Ukrainian and Palestinian land, the European Union and its member states have had to shift away from peacekeeping tradition on the continent and instead dedicate enormous budgetary allocations to increase military production lines. In a heavily armed world that is dominated by global militarised superpowers like the US, Russia, and China, the European Union has been left with little choice but to play catch-up and hope it doesn’t get caught with its pants down again.
One can fairly argue that war is the end result of diplomatic failure. I would argue that it runs deeper than that.
A look at the historical conditions which are prevalent prior the outbreak of a major conflict or a full-scale war usually outlines how warring countries were faced with perceived or real existential threats, deep-rooted inequalities and divisions between different demographics making up the population of each country, and authorities which hold enough sway over their constituents to successfully rally at least the majority of the country behind their flag.
War is not just a failure of last-minute diplomatic efforts that attempt to stave off mutual annihilation. War is a failure of policy, governance, fairness, and justice. The conditions which lead to a war cannot be separated from the official justification for a war, but are nonetheless overlooked when the official justification is questioned by the taxpayers who are ultimately funding the war effort.
More guns, more bombs, and more troops are inevitably going to lead to more deaths, more suffering, and more instability. In the context of a world which needs to be more united than ever to face undeniably real existential threats like climate change, this modal shift towards a more deadly society was initiated by aggressor countries like the US, the UK (both of whom intervened in the Middle East and caused far more harm than good), Russia, and Israel. This will continue to be propagated by countries who must now be always prepared to respond in kind or face grave threats unarmed.
For decades before today’s wars erupted, oppressive regimes were able to successfully influence the West to turn a blind eye towards their transgressions against the most fundamental of human rights while Western governments engaged in their own brand of atrocities through interventions in regions like the Middle East.
It is clear that we are at a global impasse fraught with tension and plenty of uneasy fingers caressing triggers. Unless serious efforts are made to counter the propagation of devastating levels of inequality across the world, history has shown that conflict will likely continue to spread.
In these conditions, coordinating the kind of unified effort which is required to address pressing issues like climate change, the rise of artificial intelligence in the age of misinformation, and the overall instability of the global economic system which we depend on to exist, will become downright impossible.