STEPHANIE DOWRICK. Weapons of Moral Destruction

A few days ago I drove with a friend from Sydney to Leura in NSW’s Blue Mountains. We were heading towards a meditation centre and on the way shared views about social justice and most especially peace activism. As long-time meditators, we were tossing ideas back and forth about how we can most effectively align political activity – sometimes driven by outrage – with personal peace of mind.

That conversation had begun around questioning the value of opinions: offering them and also learning from them. Then a day later on social media I came across a quote from Bill Bullard: “Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world.”

Holding that vision of empathy in mind as a possible truth (and not itself another opinion), I woke to the news that our Government has decided to unveil a new “defence export strategy” to propel Australia into the big league of global weapons exporters. And to do so without reference to any election policy or public debate or, indeed, any acknowledgement of the millions of refugees already displaced by wars.

Oddly enough, on the Blue Mountains drive my friend and I had discussed the weapons industries and the influence they have on the global economy. Their power to affect, even to drive governments’ policies, is immense. It is also profoundly undemocratic. Governments keep a tight grip on media revelations. The weapons world is “secret men’s business” from which the public is definitely shut out. My best sleuthing efforts came nowhere near discovering what this industry is really worth or who profits most from it in the private sectors. No wonder they call it the “defence industry”.

What we can know is that these are industries that depend on actual and perceived enemies, a fairly hysterical narrative around “terror”, and a disturbing acceptance among the public – and much of the media – of the inevitability of conflict and war. We can also know that the Number 1 exporter of major arms is the USA, followed by Russia. It was easy, too, to discover that between 2001 and 2014, reported global military expenditure rose from US$1.14 trillion to US$1.711 trillion. This is a rise, according to Amnesty International, of 50 per cent in 13 years. In a world ruled by greed and highly vulnerable to corruption, where wars and war readiness is so sickeningly “profitable”, what chance does peace have?

“This strategy is about job creation,” Prime Minister Turnbull assures us. His colleague, Christopher Pyne, Minister for Defence Industry (in a cabinet without a Minister for Science), already presiding over a submarine project set to cost us $50 billion, suggests that “tens of thousands” of jobs could be involved. These are opinions only. When tested, those politicians may be long gone. In the halls of accountability, there is a permanent vacancy. But the issue here is anyway far less about job creation than it is about the ideological drivers that determine which sectors will be supported to create or sustain employment, and which will not. This is where a government has huge power. It’s also where it most accurately reveals itself.

Frankly, I do not want to live in an Australia where investment in mining is supported over investment in renewables. And I most certainly do not want to live in an Australia where the weapons industries – lacking accountability, transparency, moral or social value – are supported over …well, almost anything we can imagine. The scientists, doctors and teachers receiving our highest honours barely a week ago offered a vision of innovation, progress and community, pointing to many sectors in our country that produce jobs and with investment could produce and sustain more. In land and agricultural regeneration alone, as well as high-tech research and manufacturing, in the arts, in community development, health and education, investment would pay employment dividends while simultaneously vastly accelerating our precious, irreplaceable social capital.

We are global citizens – or should be. We live in a century when more people are displaced by war and violence than ever before in human history. Those people include the asylum seekers abandoned by our Government in overseas detention centres, or living without certainty in our communities. It’s not hard to conclude that the greater the investment wealthy nations have in their “gains” from defence exports, the greater the losses will be of homes, countries, safety, future, peace and life itself for the world’s most vulnerable.

It is indefensible for a country like ours to “export death and profit from bloodshed”, as World Vision CEO Tim Costello has expressed it. Empathy – not mere opinion or craven ideology – requires us not only to suspend our egos but also to liberate our creativity. Our decisions affect other people. More, they create our moral future. They affect us inwardly as well as outwardly. They give hope or snatch it away. Empathy tells us that this is inescapable.

If “job creation” truly is our Government’s investment motive, then let them choose honestly. In one direction lie jobs that serve unceasing war readiness, certain misery, displacement and death. In the other direction are industries that can, right now, innovate, sustain – and create a future in which we could all be proud. That’s not just a government’s choice. It is also ours.

Reverend Dr Stephanie Dowrick is a writer and social commentator. Her books include Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love and Seeking the Sacred. http://stephaniedowrick.com/

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Thank you Stephanie for writing this. Well said, and how sad that it needs to be said, apparently again and again.

Wayne McMillan

Thanks Stephanie insightful and frightening. Yes Australia is moving further towards environmental destruction and war. Ordinary people are wanting their government to look after the environment, provide more well paid jobs, stop seting up detention camps and promote international peace. Obviously we need a socio-spiritual revolution, that activates us all to consider the needs of others as well as ourselves. Blessings Wayne from Whalan

Maggie Attard

Thank you Stephanie for this well considered article on the lack of ethics & morality in the debate on creating weapons of mass destruction by Oz for other Nation States. In a climate of job uncertainty these so called representatives in Government have used a populist argument which lacks both authority & authenticity. They cannot presume that a majority would all agree to the utilitarian approach,of employment at all costs. There are many ethical objections to becoming involved in supplying the weapons of war for others. History tells us that in conflicts negotiation & compromise are ultimately more efficacious than… Read more »

Jim KABLE

Brava, Stephanie! Absolutely correct on the moral repugnance one feels for this LNP government and for the scarcely audible Opposition leader and the directions they are taking us – and yes – without any reference to their always debatable concept of a mandate to do so! Somebody has already pointed out that most of our current WMD industries have overseas owners – and in event I suspect it will be merely leftovers from the US industry – making us (if this actually goes ahead) locked into becoming component suppliers to them – never ever able to extricate ourselves from their… Read more »

Andrew O'Connell

Stephanie, the absence of any discussion on the moral implications of decisions like these in our MSM tell us how far we’ve fallen as a nation.

Thank you for this insightful article Stephanie. After concurring with your perspective … such as … “Frankly, I do not want to live in an Australia where investment in mining is supported over investment in renewables. And I most certainly do not want to live in an Australia where the weapons industries – lacking accountability, transparency, moral or social value – are supported over …well, almost anything we can imagine” … I’m still fundamentally left with the question “if not here, where?” We are in a civilisation shift and, like in chess, the pawns keep getting pushed around or eliminated… Read more »

Les Tscherne

Thank you Stephanie for your thoughtful words, and for raising the issue. There seems to have been little objection or discussion of the Government’s plans to make us a top 10 weapons manufacturer and exporter. I am horrified. And, as Mary says above “Not only do I want renewable energies and no weapons industry, I don’t want my children and grand-children to go to war”. Australia has amazing opportunities to lead the world in developing and manufacturing beneficial technologies and thought, that will enable us to prosper as well as help bring peace and harmony to the world. Instead, we… Read more »

Anne Price

Thank you, Stephanie. I could not agree more. I believe that Australians are capable of making better decisions, enlightened by empathy. The same sex marriage survey showed that. To plunge us deeper into the arms trade is deeply undemocratic, but it will take a great deal of campaigning yet again to break through the dominant narrative and public complacency that allows our governments to get away with such decisions. Bless.

paul frijters

“Frankly, I do not want to live in an Australia where investment in mining is supported over investment in renewables. And I most certainly do not want to live in an Australia where the weapons industries – lacking accountability, transparency, moral or social value – are supported over …well, almost anything we can imagine. ”

eh well, then I suggest you start packing. New Zealand is nice. Almost no arms industry, little mining, and lots of renewables.