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Those gun wielding thugs can do untold harm to all of us

Tindi ApaCHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - As the world continues to regress towards an approximation of the state of affairs that existed at the end of the 19th century, Phil Fitzpatrick has rightly drawn attention to one of the dubious blessings that modernity has given to developing countries such as PNG.

It is a sad fact of human existence that our aggressive nature, inherent fear of the other and instinct towards tribalism frequently combines to create a state of animosity and sometimes war.

Worse still, we have proved marvellously adept at creating new technologies with to wage war more efficiently and effectively.

The developed world has now achieved mastery over methods of killing that are capable of threatening the very survival of our species.

Fortunately, thus far at least, we have felt constrained from using those technologies, mostly owing to the fear of mutually assured destruction, which has generated the exceedingly apt acronym MAD.

Less fortunately, we have enthusiastically provided vast numbers of lesser weapons to societies such as that of Papua New Guinea.

This means that people whose culture and world view is, quite frankly, hardly different from that of their ancestors, possess not bows and arrows but Armalite rifles and similar weapons.

Such armaments are exponentially more capable of doing harm than any traditional weapon. Their mere possession is deemed to confer power and authority upon the bearer in a way that no traditional weapon ever could.

The problem with seeking to use a weapon to make others submit to your will is that, in the event of non-compliance, you have to make a decision about whether to actually use it.

My cousin, a very senior police officer, has said that amongst Australia's criminal classes, any threats are regarded as meaningless unless those threatened believe they will be acted upon.

Thus a threat to kill has to be, in fact, a promise.

This is the logic that led to the lethal gang warfare that overtook Melbourne's criminal world for much of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Illegal-firearmsNow PNG's criminal classes have both the weapons and the will to use them. Traditional PNG cultures valued fight leaders who were willing and able to use lethal force, although usually only in certain defined circumstances.

These men were, in practice, ruthless killers. Pre-colonial PNG was no more some sort of Arcadian idyll where people always lived in harmony than was medieval Europe. Power was exerted by force to achieve both personal and tribal ends. 

It is a very small step from that culture into the sort of the tribalism that is an intrinsic feature of criminal gangs.

So, I would contend the only really new thing about what is happening in PNG today is that men who imagine themselves to be the true heirs of a warrior culture now have access to modern weapons.

These men are, in fact, the same old breed of killers; the newness exists in the sense that the motivations may be different but not their willingness to assert power over others by exercising an assumed prerogative to kill them.

I cannot see us humans mastering our nastier impulses any time soon, whether in PNG or Syria or Eastern Ukraine or Iraq or Afghanistan or the Yemen or the good old US of A or anywhere else.

The new breed is new in the sense that the motivations are different but not so new in their willingness to assert power over others by exercising an assumed prerogative to kill them.

They blight all societies and, if their malignant energy can be harnessed by political means, they can turn into ravening killers and destroyers of any viable rules-based society.

There is much to fear in these gun wielding thugs and a failure to deal ruthlessly with them will do untold harm to PNG.

None of us want that for Papua New Guinea any more than we would wish it upon ourselves.

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