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Aldous Huxley: Manufacturing of arms, an intrinsically abominable practice

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Aldous Huxley: Selections on war

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Aldous Huxley
From Ends and Means (1937)

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Of the economic causes of war the first in historical importance is the desire of one nation to possess itself of fertile territory belonging to another nation…

In modern times wars have been fought not so much for fertile lands as for the possession or control of raw materials indispensable to industry. The iron ore of Lorraine has been a bone of contention between France and Germany. Japan’s activities in Manchuria and Northern China can be explained, at least in part, by need for minerals.

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The imperialistic activities of the great powers during the nineteenth century were directed in large measure towards securing markets for their productions.

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This brings us to an extremely important cause of war – the pursuit by politically powerful minorities within each nation of their own private interests. The worst, or at any rate the most conspicuous, offenders in this respect are the manufacturers of armaments. It is unnecessary for me to cite facts and figures; they are available in a number of well-documented, easily accessible books and pamphlets. It is enough to state the following simple generalizations. War and preparation for war are profitable to the arms manufacturer. The more heavily the nation arms, the greater his profits. That being so, he is tempted to foment war scares, to pit government against government, to use every means in his power, from bribery to ‘patriotic’ propaganda, in order to stultify all efforts at disarmament.

The historical records show that the manufacturers of armaments have only too frequently succumbed to these temptations.

…To a certain extent all states are already in the armaments business. In England, for example, the government arsenals provide about five-twelfths of the nation’s arms, private firms about seven-twelfths. Complete nationalization would thus be merely the wider application of a well-established principle.

Now the complete nationalization of the arms industry would certainly achieve one good result: it would liberate governments from the influence of socially irresponsible capitalists, interested solely in making large profits. So far, so good. But the trouble is that this particular reform does not go far enough – goes, in fact, hardly anywhere at all. Armaments are armaments, whoever manufactures them. A plane from a government factory can kill as many women and children as a plane from a factory owned by a private capitalist. Furthermore, the fact that armaments were being manufactured by the state would serve in some measure to legalize and justify an intrinsically abominable practice. The mass of unthinking public opinion would come to feel that an officially sanctioned arms industry was somehow respectable. Consequently the total abolition of the whole evil business would become even more difficult than it is at present. This difficulty would be enhanced by the fact that a central executive having complete control of the arms industry would be very reluctant to part with such an effective instrument of tyranny. For an instrument of tyranny is precisely what a nationalized armaments industry potentially is. The state is more powerful than any private employer, and the personnel of a completely nationalized arms industry could easily be dragooned and bribed into becoming a type of technical army under the control of the executive.

Finally, we must consider the effect of nationalization upon international affairs. Under the present dispensation adventurers like Sir Basil Zaharoff are free (within the limits imposed by the licensing system) to travel about, fanning the flames of international discord and peddling big guns and submarines. This is a state of things that should certainly be changed. But a state of things under a regime of nationalization is only a little better. Once in business, even governments like to make a profit; and the arms business will not cease to be profitable because it has been nationalized. Then, as now, industrially backward state will have to buy arms from the highly industrialized countries. All highly industrialized states will desire to sell armaments, not only for the sake of profits, but also in order to exercise control over the policy of their customers. Inevitably, this will result in the growth of intense rivalry between the industrialized powers – yet another rivalry, yet another potential cause of international discord and war. It would seem, then, that the nationalization of the arms industry is merely the substitution of one evil for another. The new evil will be less manifest, less morally shocking than the old; but it is by no means certain that, so far as war is concerned, the results of nationalization will be perceptibly better than the results of private manufacture. What is needed is not the nationalization of the arms industry, but its complete abolition. Abolition will come when the majority wish it to come.

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