How can we let this happen?
Let's pay tribute to one of the world's most successful brands—a best-seller since 1949. Over 100 million of its products have already been sold, to men, women and children all over the world, regardless of ethnicity, politics or religion. And they cost as little as $6!
It's not a burger, a toy or a cosmetic: it's the Kalashnikov AK-47, the most widespread weapon in the world. Lightweight, easy to use and reliable, they last for decades. You'll find them in the hands of over 50 armies, hundreds of rebel groups and up to 120,000 child soldiers at any one time.
Now, I'm not against war per se. A country has to defend itself, and good defence can mean never being attacked or needing to attack. But the global trade in weapons goes beyond the military—indeed, even the lines between the military and paramilitary are substantially blurred. And the unethical way in which arms are traded is appalling.
The vast majority of casualties in modern warfare are civilian; about 40% are children. One person dies every minute as a result of armed violence. This means everything from gang lifestyles to terrorism to high-school massacres to violent crime to the mowing-down of child soldiers. Profits from the sale of small arms also prop up the drugs trade and racketeering.
The global small-arms trade is worth about $4 billion a year, of which a fourth is considered illegal, and causes 60-90% of all deaths in conflicts.
One of the reasons small arms are so cheap is because when Western governments upgrade their military weapons, or leave a conflict theatre, it's cheaper to give them away or just dump them than to carry them away, destroy, dismantle or guard them. And when someone holding a gun dies where they stand, their gun doesn't die with them: someone else simply picks it up and moves on.
Governments are often complicit in shady arms deals. In 2005, one major European government issued a permit for a private arms dealer to import 100,000 AK-47s. Now, that country's military doesn't even use the AK-47. So they were obviously bound for export—and without proper controls, that meant unethical trading. Most dealers don't care which side of a conflict they arm (or whether they arm both sides!), or whether they arm terrorists, or even what the cause is. Just as long as they make the sale.
The child soldier issue is important. These are children as young as eight. They don't 'join up', of course: they are kidnapped from their families in the dead of night, probably never to be seen again (what if that was your child?). They are tortured, drugged and brainwashed (and worse) until they comply. They are forced to commit atrocities in the name of politics they may never understand, let alone support. These children are cheap and expendable cannon-fodder. And when no longer useful, they are shot or abandoned—often so damaged they are incapable of living anything approaching a normal life. They turn to crime or prostitution (even before they're in their teens), or starve to death.
It's a disgrace. And it's got to stop. Many people feel outraged when they learn about this: Christians are particularly called to defend the helpless and uphold justice. Please take the time to become better informed, and then consider what action you may be willing to take, even if it's simply signing a petition or writing to your representative. And if you feel called to do more, then good for you.
Pray: Father, your heart must be breaking over the suffering this causes. Please intervene. Please protect and rescue the children. Show the world that we should be loving each other, not killing one another. Amen.
Visit the website of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and consider joining its Christian network
Watch an advert for the AK-47
Watch a testimony of how guns can get in the way of life
Watch the movie Lord of War
Read the online article The Arms Trade is out of Control
Read the online article Sowing Weapons of War: A Pastoral Reflection on the Arms Trade and Landmines
Watch the movie Bowling for Columbine
Read the book As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade by Mark Thomas
Read the book Under the Counter and Over the Border: Aspects of the Contemporary Trade in Illicit Arms by Mark Phythian
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