A salesman at Eurasatory, the large, annual exposition for the European arms trade, bemoaned what he called "a bad year". "The only ones who are buying, " he told Catrin Davies of the Quaker Council on European Affairs, "are the Yugoslavs and the USSR." None of us could guess why the former USSR was interested (unless he meant the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis), but every one of us who stood in that vigil line knew why the sales to former Yugoslavia were so good.
"This is good news" came the word down the line. True, if you are not about to go off to the very war zone where many of the devices sold at Eurosatory will be used. True, if you are not a Bosnian, a Croat, or a Serb. The view from the Parc de Exposition at Le Bourget, France, failed to recall, for a moment, that ANY sale of arms would perpetuate the cycle of murder that troubles the Balkans these days. The arms dealer's bad news was still the peace movement's bad news.
The Gulf War shattered or should have shattered the Peace Movement's world views about arms. Most of us devoted our energies to the exotics such as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. In the light of the recent advances in nuclear disarmament, the old argument in defense of the stockpiles -- "They'll never be used" -- seems proven by history (at least so far!) While we devoted our energies to nuclear disarmament, the nations of the world expended vast amounts of money creating more and more devasting conventional weapons. We forgot in our quest to abolish nuclear warheads that many of delivery systems could also carry high-explosive weapons whose power approached that of the smaller atomic weapons.
We forgot, at least, to mention this fact as we greeted the news of the Nuclear Winter, displayed our dot charts, and quoted The Fate of the Earth to one another. We knew every stockpile of atomic, chemical, and biological weapons, but only rarely did we appear where conventional weapons were stored such as at the Concord Naval Weapons Station in the late eighties. And all along, it was the conventional weapons that did the killing. During the entire period of our protest against the Bomb and other exotics, only a few uses of gas vindicated our attention on this segment of the industry. And all the while, companies making the explosives, bombs, bullets, mortars, and other conventional devices contributed to the killing of hundreds of thousands world wide.
A drop of water seems small, but you can fill a bathtub with a leaky tap overnight. Numerous men, women, and children have died from the effects of these little weapons, far more than were ever killed at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. While the warheads stand dormant in their silos, mere bullets and mortars claim the lives of many Bosnians and Serbs less than two hundred kilometers from where I sit now. In an unending deluge, the Allies reduced an industrial power to rubble in the winter of 1991.
The Gulf War was the wake-up call to activists to pay more attention to conventional arms. Despite cuts in European military spending, the 40,000 business people who attended Eurasatory came with hopes to create new markets for their systems and to develop new partnerships for profit in this deadly industry. Eurasatory's promoters sought to create opportunities for "developments on an international scale". The arms industry suffers from a recession. It is not in the early stages of death. Bosnia demonstrates every day that there remains a call for the goods of destruction. Most companies will not go out of business.
As we watched, men and women wearing the finest clothes, military officials and politicians in chaffeured cars, passed the site of our vigil. Some averted their eyes, some glanced in curiosity, and two or three stopped to speak to us. Agents of Eurosatory's public relations department and the French Defense Ministry came by to photograph us. The man from the Defense Ministry took particular pains to record the radical manifesto which we displayed at our protest:
"We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world. The Spirit of Christ by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ nor for the Kingdoms of this world. Therefore, we cannot learn war any more."
One man, a Southeast Asian businessman, stood at some distance and read our sign. He smiled, nodded, and raised his thumb. That was the best news of the day.