Sunday, September 09, 2007

"the unmentionable odor of death"

posted by k

I watched the towers flame and tumble on live television. I had to work out how to tell the children. They were going to hear about this horror from their friends. In the end, I thought they had better see for themselves. Children's imaginations can conjure up something even worse than tiny human figures leaping from windows and tumbling through the air.

Even that afternoon I was hoping that when people saw the horror and the pain and the grief they would decide that this was something they could not inflict on anyone else. This smashing of ordinary lives is what vengeance looks like. But soon we were told we had to support more vengeance and applaud as more lives were smashed, usually out of sight because surgical strikes look more tasteful if shown as blobs of light on computer screens.

A week after 9/11, I stood in silence thinking of the dead. It was a time for sorrowful reflection and should have led to intelligent questioning and deeper thought. But anniversaries of 9/11 were used to confuse loving memories with new hatred. Silence was enforced as "respect for the dead". Memories and grief were dragooned into support for blanket-bombing. Fear was promoted. We were told we were conducting a "war on terror" but our leaders wanted us to be terrified. Our leaders got away with kidnapping and torture as well as killing. I stopped observing the anniversaries.

But on Tuesday there will be a new way of commemorating the anniversary of 9/11. It's the first day of DSEi 2007. DSEi stands for Defence Systems & Equipment International and on 11th September 2007 they will be opening one of the biggest arms fairs in the world, in London's docklands.

If you look at the DSEi website, you can see that it will be quite a jamboree. There will be opportunities for networking as suppliers and buyers meet one another.

United States companies are advised about the need to market in Europe:

"The European Union boasts a defense budget of US$190bn (source: Office of Defense Cooperation) and is focusing on promoting a highly open and competitive environment. The UK market in particular is one of the most open in the world. US companies often lead, or are members of, winning bid teams for UK defense programs.

European nations are also responding to new roles such as homeland security and peacekeeping, creating fresh areas of opportunity for US companies.

As well as conducting international business in English, the European militaries are renowned as prompt and reliable payers reducing the financial risks of dealing in international markets."

It's a cosy club. While United States companies are urged to find "a ready-made point of access to lucrative overseas defense markets", this marketing strategy sits snugly within policies outlined by Britain's Ministry of Defence and endorsed by cabinet ministers. And the DSEi exhibition is marketed as an enjoyable break for exhibitors and delegates. It's international (according to DSEi's website, there were 86 overseas delegations in 2005). There are networking opportunities over lunch, wine and gourmet coffee. There's an Electronic Warfare Pavilion and a Night Vision Technology Forum. There are conferences and workshops. There's a company recommending delegates to arrive in chauffeur-driven Mercedes and an opportunity to soak up London culture in the evening.

Of course, you have to be a genuine arms trader to get in. The admissions policy states firmly:

"Anyone attending DSEi must not take part in any canvassing, leafleting, demonstrations, objectionable behaviour or any activity which may disrupt DSEi."

Demonstrators have got into past exhibitions. The comedian Mark Thomas observed the sale of banned electro-shock equipment in 2005. There was even an electro-shock spray. These have been illegal since 1997 but Mark Thomas found they were still on sale in Birmingham this June. I expect they'll look out for him in London on 9/11.

Perhaps all of the items on sale this year will be legal. It still disgusts me that the British government subsidises an organisation that markets killing. 9/11 seems a particularly inappropriate day on which to open a major arms fair, but I suppose it will give the government a further excuse for a high level of surveillance and heavy-handed policing. Away from the comfortable networking, soldiers will use the weapons and equipment sold at the fair. Planes continue to attack buildings. Buildings still go up in flames. More tiny human figures tumble through the air. Grief and horror continue. This time there's no doubt that we're responsible.

There's just a chance things could change.

DSEi is up for sale. The British government has announced the closure of the Defence Export Services Organisation. This doesn't mean arms fairs will stop. It doesn't even mean that the British tax-payers' subsidy of the arms merchants will end. But the government seems to have realised that promoting war and torture doesn't win votes or improve its image.

On Tuesday 11th September, Campaign Against Arms Trade is organising a peaceful protest against DSEi. Joining the protest, or supporting CAAT's campaigns, might be a good way of commemorating the dead of 9/11. Some may even wish to remember that earlier 9/11 - the day in 1973 when the legal government of Chile was overthrown by a military coup. It was replaced by a fascist dictatorship employing torture and murder as weapons of control. The 1973 coup was made easier because the army had Hawker Hunter jets which bombed the presidential palace. The planes were made in Britain.

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