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Home » Conflict and Weapons of Violence
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Conflict and Weapons of Violence

Published in the issue.

Cain and Abel woodcut by Lovis Corinth
Brudermord (Cain and Abel), 1919. Woodcut by Lovis Corinth. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Physically violent conflict usually entails the use of weapons. One ancient story of such conflict is that of Cain and Abel, (Genesis 4:1-18) which concludes with Cain committing what we might describe today as the first-ever first-degree murder.

In the early to mid-first millennium C.E. pseudepigraphic Jewish work The Life of Adam and Eve, Eve, in a dream, has a premonition of Cain’s murder of Abel. Adam, responding to her dream, decides to try to separate his sons, but receives a message from God through the angel Gabriel that there is no stopping what will happen and that he shouldn’t try. So, he gives in and gives up.

Cain then coerces Abel to head over to a field, where two demons suddenly appear, one resembling Cain, and the other resembling his brother. One demon reproaches the other, becoming so angry that he takes a stone sword, cuts the other’s throat, and kills him. When Cain sees the blood, he quickly takes the weapon in his own hands and approaches Abel, who begs his brother: “Do not make me die, O my brother Cain!” Cain, however, ignores his desperate plea and spills Abel’s blood, killing him.

Now, while this ancient text depicts Cain as hard-hearted against his brother, it also implies that Cain would not have killed him without being shown by the demons how to do so—and more importantly, had he not been given the weapon.

When conflicts—individual or collective, real or imagined, actual or manufactured—are not settled through negotiations based in reason and compassion (or in the case of collectives, by other constitutional means), they give rise to violence as a shortcut to their resolution. That violence is facilitated and made possible through the possession and use of the tools of violence: that is, weapons—the sine qua non of violent conflict.

According to the story, our brother Cain was taught the use of a weapon, taught how to kill. Are we not as an entire culture taught how to kill in the same way? Are we not also trained in violence? In the mass media, we are daily subjected to myriad ways of killing (think of how many murders we experience in our favorite TV shows). Our youth have their hearts and minds molded and distorted by the virtual violence of video games. Much less “virtual,” meanwhile, is the rampant gun violence that is endemic in many of our communities; while in the wider world, we are faced with the spectacle of “permanent wars”: ongoing wars, which now threaten to explode into more extreme—even nuclear—scenarios.

“Since violence—as distinct from power, force, or strength—always needs implements (as Engels pointed out long ago),” wrote Hannah Arendt in her 1970 classic On Violence, “the revolution of technology, a revolution in tool­ making, was especially marked in warfare. The very sub­stance of violent action is ruled by the means-end category, whose chief characteristic, if applied to human affairs, has always been that the end is in danger of being over­whelmed by the means which it justifies and which are needed to reach it.”

President Dwight Eisenhower spoke movingly of “being overwhelmed” by such means when he said in 1961 that, “in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex”—a complex in which vast weapons production and vast profit-making exist in a deadly symbiosis that drives never-ending wars abroad, along with the booming gun industry at home.

The nearly one trillion dollars dedicated each year to the euphemistically termed “Defense Department,” along with the billions allocated to giant weapons manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies, and others, mean that wars will and must occur regularly in order to ensure the smooth and profitable running of the corporate militarist machine.

A similar dynamic operates on the home front. Americans possess just under 400 million guns, while in the United States in 2020, more than 11 million additional guns were produced by the small number of companies that dominate the market: the top five pistol manufacturers—Smith & Wesson; Sig Sauer; Sturm, Ruger & Co.; Glock, and Kimber Manufacturing—controlled over 70% of all production that year.

From the days of Cain and Abel, violence has required tools: weapons with which to harm, injure and worse. The seeming necessity for these weapons has recently become painfully evident in the war in Ukraine, where the violence, which has caused unimaginable suffering, has led Ukrainian government officials and others to call for more and more arms—in effect, to plead to the very sectors that arguably provoked and caused the carnage in the first place.

And now they profit from it! Witness the soaring stock value of global arms makers since the conflict started. The Wall Street Journal summed up the industry’s bright new prospects in a March 1 headline: “Ukraine Crisis Stokes Defense Industry Shares,” reporting that the shares of Lockheed Martin and others had hit an all-time high. Meanwhile, there are now billions more to be made on a military buildup in Europe as nations gear up for a new era of wars: conflicts manufactured by weapons profiteers positioned to provide the necessary tools of violence.

How should we people of the way of Jesus, peacemakers dedicated to the message of our Prince of Peace, respond to this?  Well, we must not do what Adam did in the story. We must not accept the violence. We must not give in and give up in the face of those who profit from it, those who manufacture in order to reap its blood-soaked benefits.

Our God is a powerful and loving God who hears the cry of his children. And he is with us as we rededicate ourselves to banning the bombs, banning the bullets, banning the guns, and for God’s sake, repealing the 2nd Amendment! No one has a “right” to shoot and kill another human being!

In peace, and with the might of non-violent love, let us together pray for and envision the day when we shall succeed in shutting down the arms makers and building a world of security fit for all of God’s people.


See: Why Did Cain Kill Abel? By Dr. Rabbi David J Zucker