Yesterday I got trodden on by an arms dealer. How did that happen?
A group of us found out that the Annual Defence Dinner was taking place at the Imperial War Museum. At £210-£300 a ticket and billed as “one of the most prominent events in the defence and security calendar”, this wasn’t an opportunity we could miss.
We met before the event dressed up to the nines (or as much as possible) for the arms trade’s black tie event of the year. Our mission was to try and stop the arms dealers from entering the building and if a few people got inside that would be a bonus.
After running through the plan a few times and reassuring ourselves (confronting 200 arms dealers is quite an intimidating thing to do!) we made our way up the grand steps of the museum’s entrance, into the lobby and ‘died’ in the entrance. This stopped the flow of people trying to get in the building for quite a while, until they decided it was ok to step on/over us.
It was a fitting depiction of the impact of these people’s business dealings on people around the world: treading on their human rights, welfare and social provision in order to make profit from selling weapons.
The Imperial War Museum was set up during World War One as a record of the war and to keep its memory alive. Now the museum features collections of war and conflict from the First World War to present times. Although some of the exhibits might imply otherwise, my understanding of the museum was that rather than glorifying war, its purpose was to be a constant reminder of conflict and of the past. This is emphasised by some of the partnerships and projects the museum takes part in including the annual Peace History Conference and ‘Build the Truce’– an educational project for young people about conflict resolution. So there’s a tragic irony when the museum decides to host a networking event for those who profit from the arms industry.
The event was billed as welcoming ‘heads of defence industry associations, representatives of the MoD, foreign government defence attachés and senior individuals from defence product manufacturers and service providers’ and as a great opportunity to ‘develop new business relationships within the sector’. It’s basically a chance for those at the top of the arms industry to impress clients and chat business with other senior figures amidst “a truly outstanding dining experience”. As always the industry was assured of the government’s support, with Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond MP as guest of honour.
We don’t know which foreign government defence attachés were there, but a few months ago, the organisers hosted an event pushing sales to repressive regimes Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Chemring, the sponsors of the dinner, have been linked to tear gas used against democracy protesters in the Arab Spring. We feel passionately that our public institutions shouldn’t be supporting the arms trade. The Imperial War Museum is not alone: the National Gallery and Natural History Museum are offering practical support and a veneer of legitimacy to the arms business as well. These were just a few of the reasons we wanted to put our bodies in the way of the arms dealers.
With only six people and a bit of tenacity we made sure that the evening’s business of weapons, fine wines and food did not go undisturbed by its consequences. Showing even more audacity, one of our group made it into the galleries and announced to those present that they needed to find a new job! Here’s her account…. enjoy!
I sat outside and watched the men in black being delayed and irritated by the die-in at the entrance to the museum. After ten minutes I joined the crowd and entered the building, leaning on my walking stick. A concerned attendant helped me step over the “bodies” No one asked for the ticket I didn’t have, they just gave me a smile and a guest list. We guests were ushered passed pictures of WW2 victims on the walls in the corridors, then up in the lift to the main balcony above the beautiful silver and blue dining tables, contrasting tastefully with the Khaki planes and tanks adorning the room!
There was a military quartet playing a dirge. I asked them to stop whilst I made “a few housekeeping notices.” Then I gave my short speech. A few novices in the crowd looked embarrassed, some people paused, and the hardened salesmen carried on talking. I asked if they wanted to hear it again. No replies. So I said it again anyway – then walked out without hindrance – in fact it was as if I was invisible – except that before I left they took back the guest lists!