Demeaning our veterans: 'Merchants of death' fund Australian War Memorial

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The BAE Systems Theatre at the Australian War Memorial (image via awm.gov.au).

The War Memorial is about honouring the sacrifice of Australians who died at war, not advertising for arms suppliers who profit from it, writes John Menadue

I ASKED THE DIRECTOR of the Australian War Memorial (AWM), Brendan Nelson, why the Memorial is accepting funding from weapons manufacturers like BAE Systems, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman

In response, Brendan Nelson wrote back:

'We regard it as entirely appropriate that defence contractors support the Memorial in its mission.'

It is difficult to see how Brendan Nelson can maintain that position when the AWM says in its founding documents:

'The Memorial’s purpose is to commemorate the sacrifice of those Australians who have died in war.'

Its mission is to assist Australians:

' … to remember, interpret and understand the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact on Australian society.'

Accepting funding from arms manufacturers who profit from war and allowing them to have theatres named after them, is vastly different to commemorating 'the sacrifice of those Australians who have died in war'. It is accepting funds from those who profit from war.

Pope Francis put the issue very clearly on 24 May 2017 after his meeting with President Trump.

He said:

“It’s hypocritical to speak of peace while funding the arms trade, which only serves the merchants of death, exacerbating wars, not fought to solve a problem, but to benefit the weapons industry.”

Pope Francis called for:

“The elimination of the arms trade.”

But the AWM is helping to promote the arms trade.It is benefitting from the weapons industry.

In 'The AWM and weapons manufacturers' on 25 April 2017, Sue Wareham described the ways that the AWM had accepted money and in-kind support from weapons manufacturers as outlined below.

BAE Systems is a key weapons supplier to the Saudi Arabian Government. That government is being investigated by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence for 282 alleged breaches of international law against Yemen. BAE Systems has a theatre named after it at the AWM. The theatre can be combined with a 'VIP tour of the Memorial's Galleries'.

Another funder is Boeing, a major supplier of military aircraft around the world. It has had a defence partnership with Saudi Arabia for over 70 years.

Funds come from Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defence contractor. About 80 per cent of its revenue comes from military sales. It is supplying F-16 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia.

Raytheon is the world’s largest producer of guided missiles and an AWM funder.

Thales is a French multinational company that designs and builds electrical systems for defence and other industries. It supports the AWM.

Northrop Grumman was the fifth largest defence contractor in the world in 2015. It supplies military aircraft, military vessels, missile defence systems and related products. Its name appears in the large advertisement of the AWM at the Canberra Airport with the caption ‘For we are young and free’. In December 2014, the AWM was the venue for the launch of Northrop Grumman Australia’s new corporate image.

The military/political intelligence complex based in the United States that President Eisenhower warned us about is spreading dangerously around the world. It has become a “secret state”, with countless examples of how it overthrows governments and influences others. The arms manufacturers are key players in that complex. The AWM is just another naïve organisation that can be influenced and used for advantage and profit.

These “merchants of death”, as Pope Francis calls them, profit from continuing war. They demean the sacrifice of Australians who died in wars.

The AWM has lost its way on many fronts. It refuses to acknowledge in any meaningful way the 30,000 Indigenous people who were killed in defending their land against white settlers and their police allies. In relation to our population at the time, this was the greatest loss of life in war in our history. But the AWM says the Frontier Wars are a matter for the Australian Museum. What a disgrace that our Indigenous people are shunned like this.

The AWM cannot give us enough of the Anzac myth and Gallipoli. But Australians and New Zealanders fought first together in the Maori Wars of the 1850s and 1860s. But that does not fit with the 1915 myth, so best we forget it.

And so the AWM’s failure continues by seeking and obtaining support from "the merchants of death". With their global power and influence, the arms manufacturers are winning in their struggle to keep the U.S. and its allies like Australia continually at war. That is not what the founders of the AWM intended.

At the opening of the AWM in 1941, the Governor General Lord Gowrie said the Memorial would:

’ ... not only be a record of the splendid achievements of the men who fought and fell … but also a reminder to future generations of the barbarity and futility of modern war.’

Brendan Nelson should take stock. The AWM has lost its way.

This article was originally published on John Menadue's blog 'Pearls and Irritations'. John is a businessman and public commentator, and former diplomat; you can follow him on Twitter @johnmenadue.

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