NICK DEANE Invictus and the arms manufacturers connection.

The Invictus Games will be familiar to all who watch the ABC, their  promoter and sponsor. The Games will be taking place in Sydney in October, the participants being injured service personnel from 18 countries.But why are major arms manufactures ‘official supporters’?

It is highly inspiring to see the human spirit triumph over mutilations of the human body. Who can fail but be impressed by the fortitude of the participating athletes? As the Story of the Games tells us, they have faced life-changing injuries but have somehow found the motivation not to let those injuries define them. From what we can see, they appear to be in comparatively good health both mentally and physically, despite the terrible wounds they have suffered. This is wonderful. And it is entirely fitting that sport plays a positive role in their rehabilitation.

Admirable also is the skill and dedication of those who brought them back to comparative health and the ability to rejoin society – the surgeons and nurses, the technicians who create the equipment and prostheses – and the carers and family members who keep them in their current state of well-being. There is clearly a whole team of people behind each, individual participant.

This part of the story is displayed for the general public in a brilliant light. Under it, we see the heroism of the individuals who have had to face extraordinary misfortune and feel pride in their accomplishments. We are, however, discouraged from exploring what lies in the shadows, where lie aspects that would otherwise complete the picture.

Of the wounded, we only see those who have, to some extent, prevailed over their disabling wounds. Others, out of the bright light, couldn’t find the necessary motivation, or are so damaged that seeing them would horrify us. Are they out of sight, so as to be out of our minds? Besides, there are probably some who are literally out of their own minds, suffering Post Traumatic Stress. We dwell, almost exclusively, on the heroes. An obsession with success takes our eyes away from those who can’t or won’t ‘recover’.

There is a whiff of triumphalism in this (it is in the name of the games). Their spirit may be unconquered, but they have, without exception, been severely beaten. Giving them a special name does not alter that. All the participants have endured life-changing trauma that they must endure as long as they live. Telling them they are admirable because they have suffered ‘in the service of their country’ is inadequate compensation – even with the promise of life-long medical and financial support.

Those words ‘in the service of their country’ have a hollow resonance. All the Invictus participants are from recent wars. In Australia’s case, we have joined these wars out of choice, not necessity. In an objective assessment of them, no service personnel can legitimately claim to have been wounded in the defence of Australia. The only time the ADF has defended Australia was during the New Guinea campaign of WW2.

Also in the shadows, but most noteworthy, is the fact that among the ‘official supporters’ of the Games are major armaments manufacturers – Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Leidos and Saab. There is something deeply unsettling about this. On the one hand these companies and their shareholders grow rich through creating, selling, researching and constantly ‘improving’ weaponry and weapons systems. But it is weaponry that has produced the horrific injuries sutained by the Games’ participants. It cuts no ice to say “Our injuries were caused by their weapons.” The explosives in IEDs quite possibly have their origin in these multi-national companies. Those who engage in warfare are not choosy about where their weapons originate. Likewise, those who sell them are happy just so long as their clients pay up. Weapons and explosives made by our side can easily end up injuring our personnel, and probably have. We are disturbed by the marketers of damaging products like tobacco sponsoring sporting events. What could be more damaging than weapons – that are sold on the promise of their ‘lethality’?

How armaments manufacturers can reconcile their core business with sponsoring the Invictus Games is, at best, problematical.  At worst, it is utterly cynical. It may even be a touch ghoulish. It is beyond possible that their motivation is to absolve themselves of guilt. The organisers might ask themselves why they allowed such sponsorship.

Consideration of the trade in weapons raises another, dark aspect. What of the injured on their side? What of the terrible injuries inflicted on our ‘enemies’ (enemies, who, it must be said, were never even capable to threatening Australia). Injuries like those that our people bear are, no doubt, being born by others elsewhere – in countries less affluent than Australia, with fewer resources and less sophisticated medical treatments. They may be living lives of torment and utter desolation. Will they be holding Invictus Games? ‘Affluence triumphs’ might be the hidden message.

By its emphasis on triumph over adversity through ‘the fighting spirit of our wounded servicemen and women’, Invictus provides one more example of the culture of war and the warrior that runs so deep within Australian society. Like ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, the Games fit neatly into the myth of the glory and value of military service. However, the time when wars were fought by heroic warriors are long past – overtaken by the march of military technology. By far the majority of the victims of today’s wars are innocent, non-combatant civilians. It is high time they were recognised, alongside the military ones. Focussing exclusively on military personnel ignores the single, greatest impact of modern warfare.

Rather than let the games re-assure us, the battered people taking part should remind us that joining unecessary wars comes at a terrible cost. No matter how ‘complete’ their ‘recovery’, these athletes’ lives have been changed forever – and for questionable reasons.

It is paradoxical that one can support the games, admire the inner strength of those taking part and regret the fact that they are necessary. One can be glad that the Games are taking place, appreciate the positive role they play and enjoy the spectacle, whilst at the same time experiencing anger at some of the sponsors and at the very fact that the games are needed. They are only needed because of the ‘culture of war’ we continue to nurture.

Nick Deane  is a sociologist and was in the Australian Public Service for 17 years. He is convenor of the Marrickville Peace Group and one of two members of the national committee of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network.

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3 Responses to NICK DEANE Invictus and the arms manufacturers connection.

  1. Hello Nick,
    You have written an invaluable article. As much as I deeply support and enthusiastically write for “Pearls and Irritations”, I am hoping that you will also bring your insights to more audiences – beyond those of us here who will agree with you. The points you make are needed, and so frequently overlooked.
    The problems that Australia has – and the problems that Australia causes – with its fixation on wars and warriors as integral in the “making of the nation”, are tragic. Then there’s repeated governments’ eagerness to support the US in their never-ending military expansionism, the more recent, chilling militarization of so-called Border Protection – presenting refugees from war as people to be feared. And now the LNP’s outrageous but unchallenged desire to be a “top ten” weapons manufacturer. (Of all the ambitions a nation could have, could anything be more morally destitute?)
    I wrote about some of this myself in an article here: http://johnmenadue.com/stephanie-dowrick-weapons-of-moral-destruction/ This is not to deny the immense courage of so many soldiers, on all sides, everywhere…and so on. (My own father (WWII), my half brother (NZ Peacekeepers…etc etc). But how different would our world be if we chose to expend and applaud the courage needed to meet conflict with intelligence not violence, and to create and sustain peace?
    Giving tokens to victims, giving tokens to Invictus, is – as you point out – cynical. Or beyond cynical. It is futile and insulting appeasement. Millions are losing their lives; millions are losing their homes: more displaced now than at any time in history. Meanwhile governments, companies, many “respectable” superannuation, index and investment funds “invest” at least some of their millions and billions in war or, as they prefer it, “defence”.
    You (Nick) write, ‘It is weaponry that has produced the horrific injuries sustained by the Games’ participants. It cuts no ice to say “Our injuries were caused by their weapons.”’
    Just as their injuries, losses of life, were caused by “ours”. And there’s no equality in this, either…nothing. Nothing but misery piled upon misery. With those least able to defend themselves at most risk.
    You (Nick) also write: “By far the majority of the victims of today’s wars are innocent, non-combatant civilians. It is high time they were recognised, alongside the military ones. Focusing exclusively on military personnel ignores the single, greatest impact of modern warfare.”
    But we are not helpless. Wars will cease to be glorified or even waged ONLY when they are no longer sickeningly profitable. With enough pressure from a public bold enough to question what “defence” and “protection of citizens” should and could mean, governments could cease pandering to (or themselves profiting from) this most unpalatable of all industries; governments could ensure that the manufacture and dissemination of weapons becomes totally UNPROFITABLE.
    Governments – if they chose – could tax weapons manufacturers out of existence. Yes. Tax them out of existence. Make it not just morally repugnant (which doesn’t seem to matter) but financially disadvantageous to invest in death, injury, maiming, the slaughtering of life and the ending of hope.
    Governments – if led by a sufficiently caring public – could ensure that those manufacturers generate their profits through socially-responsible products – or go under.
    Why not? It’s the least we owe one another as a human family. It’s the least we owe the “innocent, non-combatant civilians”. It’s the least we owe born and yet-to-be-born children: ALL of them.
    Thank you for your thoughtfulness. And for your speaking up.

  2. Douglas Newton says:

    Great article! If good causes such as the Invictus Games are indeed worthy, then funding them in our name is what we have governments and taxes for. It is a scandal that the Invictus Games shall become an event at which certain arms firms will indulge in feel-good philanthropy, while parading their brand-names and promoting their products.

  3. David Macilwain says:

    At the same time as we are constantly fed this narrative about the “heroism” of those unfortunate enough to get injured or die while involved in wars of aggression or occupation far from Australia, we are also told tragic stories about the “humanitarian crises” in those countries, and encouraged to dig in our own pockets for charitable donations.
    When the arms manufacturers and purveyors start giving part of their huge profits to those charities we will have turned the narrative around a little.
    last night SBS ran a story of an Afghani family who had been victim of an unexploded bomb; their mother and a sister were killed, leaving five young children ALL with missing limbs, and their father. They had crutches and one wheel chair, so far. No prostheses, leave alone counselling for the after effects of seeing your mother blown apart, or to cope with the army of occupation.

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