Freedom of speech and steel rain
Last night, the Lord Mayor of Villingen-Schwenningen, Dr. Rupert Kubon, welcomed about 300 people to his city in southwest Germany at the opening of IPPNW’s international congress on the social and health effects of the global arms trade. A member of Mayors for Peace and a former Chair of the Pax Christi Commission for Non-violence, Dr. Kubon had taken on the city council, which initially wanted no part of this event, and somehow persuaded them to co-host the congress and to provide the venue.
What was the city council’s problem with a meeting of health professionals and peace activists meant to draw attention to the global carnage caused by firearms? As it happens, the largest German producer of handguns, assault rifles, submachine guns, and grenade launchers—Heckler & Koch—is in the Lord Mayor’s backyard and is a serious economic and political force in this country.
More than 500,000 people are killed by firearms every year, whether in armed conflicts or homicides. Andrew Feinstein, an investigator and author who has written extensively on the arms trade, and Jurgen Grässlin, an expert on German weapons exports, described how companies such as H&K exploit a shadowy and corrupt set of relationships with politicians, government allies, business institutions, and freelance intermediaries of various kinds to circumvent even the weak regulations that exist. Working in this “shadow world,” as Feinstein calls it, they move their “products” (as they call them) into conflict areas where they are often purchased by both sides, ensuring enormous profits and horrific death tolls. Whether the recently negotiated Arms Trade Treaty will have any effect on this sordid business in the future remains to be seen. For now, however, war profiteering remains the order of the day, no more than 30 kilometers from where we sit.
Heckler & Koch, needless to say, do not want us here. I don’t know what Dr. Kubon—who is a calm, soft-spoken, and generous man—said in that city council meeting, but he overcame the opposition of the councillors and has welcomed us with open arms.
H&K were invited to send a speaker to “Human Target.” They didn’t respond to repeated offers to participate from congress president Helmut Lohrer, an IPPNW board member who practices medicine in Villingen-Schwenningen. This morning, they issued a press release about the congress. Turns out they are a peace-loving, idealistic lot, committed to protecting our right to protest their noble enterprise.
Here’s what some H&K public relations hack had to say [IPPNW-Germany translation]:
We share the objective of [IPPNW] and many other peace initiatives for a peaceful world. We regret every single victim of war and conflict. Peace, and especially “peace in liberty” demand stable political structures…that have to be secured by police forces within countries and, in certain situations by the army….
“Protection and security of the soldiers that risk their lives for the defense of civil liberties like the freedom of speech, human rights and security have utmost priority for us and are seen as our responsibility…
“H&K views the IPPNW congress…as an expression of the freedom of speech. The work of IPPNW and many humanitarian organizations around the world is often only made possible by the military protection of NATO and UN troops….H&K and other companies of the arms industries support this through the development and exports of the best possible equipment to the soldiers.”
“LMAO” [Okay, I added that.]
If that isn’t enough to make you ill, take a look at their online store. You won’t be able to order a G3 battle rifle, exactly, but you can pick up this nifty “no compromise” weatherproof decal, or a “steel rain” t-shirt (above) depicting a range of the “excellent technical equipment” sold by H&K to “protect liberty and freedom of speech.”
We’ll decline an armed escort should H&K offer one when we visit Oberndorf tomorrow to engage in some unprotected free speech.
IPPNW-Germany’s press response to H&K: “Peace and freedom cannot be obtained at the point of a gun”