THE VISITOR from outer space was allowed time to become acclimatised to the Earth's atmosphere, and was then shown some aspects of our civilisation. On the third day of the tour, the visitor was invited to the Ministry of Defence. The top brass at the Ministry were naturally keen to hear how the visitor's planet equipped its armed forces. The visitor told them: 'I think we can pride ourselves that on our planet, no expense is spared to provide our services with the most up-to-date equipment.'

'What sort of guns do you use?' asked one of the generals.

'Guns? Why should we need guns?' The visitor looked puzzled.
Why, to deal with your enemies.'

Oh yes, our enemies: earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and so on. Of course this is where our army is most useful - a trained group of people ready to rush to any area where there is a disaster, provide medical treatment and food, and help to rebuild shattered homes and communications. But I'm still not sure what you mean about guns'.

Another general said: 'What we really wanted to know was, how are your services armed?'

The visitor replied: 'Our services are armed with all the necessary equipment that any army needs - ambulances, field hospitals, mobile kitchens, and all kinds of agricultural machinery to help restore the lands after floods and typhoons. Our Cavalry, of course, is specially trained in the use of horses for ploughing; our Pioneer Corps is expert at digging ditches and sewers; while our Parachute Regiment can be flown to a disaster area anywhere on the planet within a few hours.'

'We are very interested in hearing about your disaster work,' said another general. 'Our own forces occasionally do the same thing. But this must be only a small part of your army's work. Can't you tell us more about how they are usually employed?'

'Certainly', replied the visitor. 'It is true, thank goodness, that there are not so many disasters as to keep our army permanently occupied, and they have plenty of other duties to keep then busy. For example, the Cavalry normally does ploughing and other agricultural jobs at home, and they are often engaged abroad in helping less fortunate countries with their agriculture. Similarly, our Catering Corps, besides providing the best food for hungry people anywhere on our planet, is kept pretty busy at home with its 'Meals on Wheels' scheme that delivers regular meals to old people and invalids who can't cook for themselves but want to remain fairly independent. The Signals Corps likewise help old people by fixing up free telephones and radios for them.

By this time some of the military men were becoming restless. One of them, with ill-concealed impatience snapped: 'This is all very fine, but you still haven't said anything of preparations for conflict.'

'I beg your pardon,' said the visitor. 'You must forgive me for overlooking that very important part of the army's work - preparations for conflict.' The generals looked happier.

'We recognise,' the visitor continued, 'that there is bound to be conflict between people so long as they are different from one another, and that such conflict - while sometimes healthy - can be extremely dangerous. So our Intelligence Corps is given the important task of foreseeing and investigating conflicts. They watch out for areas where injustice or discontent may arise, and try to forestall such dangerous things as inequality of opportunities or the denial of full expression to a minority group. In this way, we can foresee potential conflicts and try to put right any injustice or disagreement before it leads to hostility. Reconciliation is usually possible, as long as potential conflict is dealt with before bitterness arises.'

The generals were impatient again. One of them said curtly, 'You still haven't said anything about war!'

'What is war?' asked the visitor.




 Fri, Jul 13, 2001


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