This week’s German news scandal was this: the government bought two full-body scanners from an American company that belongs to another American company that makes cluster bombs.
The hardware in this story is horrible. Cluster bombs kill or maim people over a wide area long after a war has finished. They can be used to dispense chemical weapons or scatter landmines. A lot of countries, including Germany, have agreed not to use them. But those countries that didn’t sign the Convention are the ones that actually make and use cluster bombs: like the US, China and Russia. So that’s that problem solved then.
Body scanners, on the other hand, don’t kill you. They are devices that make you look like a monstrous luminous sponge that may or may not be a terrorist. This has advantages and disadvantages, obviously, but it’s not deadly.
Unfortunately for the German government, the only company that makes really good body scanners happens to belong to a cluster bomb company. You can see the dilemma. Should we do business – even if it is just for luminous sponges – with people that make weapons we promised we wouldn’t use?
Obviously if it was a personal matter, we wouldn’t give a shit. The Nestle boycott is just a nagging inconvenience at the cornershop, and anyway the international web of mergers and acquisitions is so thick that we can’t really tell if when we buy hairbrushes we’re not actually funding Robert Mugabe’s granny-mugging workshops for Nazi paedophiles. But, like spoilt lefty teenagers with rich parents, we expect ethical shopping choices from our government.
Here’s more or less how the German government solved the cluster bomb dilemma: They pretended they hadn’t noticed, and then when newspapers called, they wandered to the front door, popped their head out and said, “You might be right. Let me just go and check.” And then they ran off out the back door, grabbing clothes off a line in the garden and leaping over the wall. Oh well, it’ll all blow over soon enough.