Making arms dealers tread over “dead” bodies at the Imperial War Museum

Arms dealers stepping over protesters at the Imperial War Museum
Arms dealers step over protesters in the entrance to the Imperial War Museum

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.

Protesters blocked every doorway to the Imperial War Museum as arms dealers arrived
Protesters blocked every doorway to the Imperial War Museum as arms dealers arrived

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.

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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!

13 Replies to “Making arms dealers tread over “dead” bodies at the Imperial War Museum”

  1. Great work!

    All those in the peace movement that work with the Imperial War Museum must engage them and ask for them to stop hosting these events. If they do not stop, then they must surely cease to collaborate with them.

  2. Great action. It would be good to know more about when these are taking place too boost numbers (although, understandably, I guess publicising them too far isn’t wise)

    I received a response from my letter to the Natural History Museum to say, basically, “sorry to hear that you don’t like some of the people we rent our museum to, but we’re going to do it any way, and you have the right to disagree”.

    1. I got a similar letter on behlf of Dr Dixon which mentions exclusively the financial side of things.
      There is a hiring team which makes these decisions. Dr Dixon and his staff are responsible to the Trustees and the latter are responsible to the Nation – especially during the Olympics.
      I do not understand why Dixon has teams to make decisions and answer letters.I pointed out that yes, we have the free will to disagree – they however do not, they speak within the policy of the Museum and its good name.

  3. Excellent work all! Epecially my mum who was the one who made it in. Stick it to em I say!!
    It’s shameful that our Museums have to resort to consorting with arms dealers.

  4. “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex”.
    “If the United Nations once admits that international disputes can be settled by using force, then we will have destroyed the foundation of the organization and our best hope of establishing a world order”
    “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed”.
    “The people of the world genuinely want peace. Some day the leaders of the world are going to have to give in and give, it to them”

    All the above are quotes from General and President Dwight D Eisenhower – who led the liberation of Europe and the saving of the world as we wanted it. I cannot believe that the staff of a British Cultural Icon, and protector of the pat and the future dare gainsay a man of such calibre and decency. Charleas Upham VC and bar, a New Zealand farmer and one of only three double VC, (the other two were Medical Officers)admonished: “Britain will gradually be pulled down and down,” Upham admonished, “and the whole English way of life will be in danger.” He reiterated the point in 1971: “Your politicians have made money their god, but what they are buying is disaster.” Rge NHM staff have made a decision they will regret unles they cange their minds. It takes willpower which I assume they can exert.

    Dwight D. Eisenhower

  5. Robert you will be pleased to hear that I referred to Eisenhower’s words in my brief speech to the “guests”

  6. Sorry about my spelling Wendy, it must be a function of my outrage!
    Well done one and all, what a venue, and well done the bodies.
    Rob M

  7. The Annual Defence Dinner has been held at IWM London every year since 2008. Chemring Group plc has been sponsoring the event for the last three or four years. Chemring produces, amongst other things, munitions and pyrotechnics and actively sells its products to authoritarian regimes, such as Saudi Arabia (with British government approval, of course).

    Moreover, Chemring’s Norwegian subsidiary, Chemring Nobel, sells explosive ingredients for US drones. Yes, Chemring is participating in the US international extra-judicial killing spree which is not only killing targets without due process but claiming the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians. Intelligence experts say that this killing spree is radicalising populations against the West.

    Never mind conflict of interests, this is clearly hideously wrong and IWM should be ashamed for partnering with the likes of Chemring.

    Unfortunately, these abetters of authoritarianism, aggression and murder are approved by the British government. The Secretary of Defence, be it Liam Fox or whoever the latest individual is, has VIP guest-speaker status at the Annual Defence Dinner, every year.

    Maybe we can’t pin them down as acting illegally when they walk with the government but we can at least shame IWM into ending its partnership.

  8. A hypothetical question is this:

    If arms traders donated money absolutely anonymously to the Imperial War Museum, would this be ok?

    That is, if arms traders got absolutely zero benefit or recognition from their donation, would this make it morally acceptable for IWM to take the unmarked money?

    This is a mere hypothetical because it is, in reality, extremely likely that the donee’s identity would be leaked to IWM somehow or other. Moreover, if arms traders got zero benefit (no recognition, no influence etc) then they would likely not donate.

    However, the question raises an interesting point for those who rightly worry worry about arms trader funding. What is more important, whether museum’s are editorially independent or that they do not accept money from immoral sources?

    You could say both are important. But if, hypothetically, IWM was to take arms trader money and to use it independently and critically, to rigorously examine British militarism, could this be a case of putting bad money to good use?

    Obviously, this isn’t happening and won’t happen. But it is a question that raises the question of what the main focus of our argument against arms funding should be. Is it that the sources are immoral (and, in many cases, illegal) or that it prevents editorial independence?

    After all, IWM takes money from many other immoral sources – corporations and, even, the government, which deploys the military.

  9. A Nato helicopter has reportedly killed two children in south-east Afghanistan after opening fire on Taliban fighters.
    A Reuters reporter saw the bodies of two children, whom local people said had been killed in the air strike.
    On 13 February, 10 Afghan civilians in Kunar province, including five children, were killed by a Nato airstrike.

  10. Our HEROES of World War One and World War Two did not fight nazi Germany so a Nazi British government could start World War Three. This insane regime in Westminster must be stopped. Remembering the past is the best way to a bright future.

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