Men with guns and bombs

A stallholder at Night Vision 2006 demonstrating the use of the sights his company was selling.At the night vision conference I attended recently, I found myself in a new culture. I’ve written about technology that could be used for military applications for years, but almost always through academic and industrial institutions: so I’ve never been forced to really face up to what the technology was for. It’s one thing to know intellectually that the system you’re writing about is for night vision for soldiers. It’s another thing to see people testing them out by looking down the barrel of a gun.

I’m not a pacifist: I believe there have been and can be just wars (like the war against the Nazis, for instance). Wars mean soldiers, and if you’re going to have soldiers it seems morally right to give them the best tools to keep themselves alive that you can.

I’ve been to military bases and research establishments over the years and never reacted quite the way I did at the Night Vision 2006 exhibit hall. It’s not just that the application—warfare—is announced and celebrated at every stand. It’s that everyone walking around seems to think it’s so ordinary, so normal. And that you can taste the money that will be changing hands with the goods.

Maybe the most telling moment was when I arrived on the second morning, late because of the tube, and ran towards the meeting hall to avoid missing the beginning of an important talk. Squadron Leader Douglas Vine, my host at RAF Henlow the week before, saw me and warned me not to run. “You’ll scare the security,” he said. I suddenly realized what I had been risking. I wasn’t in academia any more.

Photo: A stallholder at Night Vision 2006 demonstrating the use of the sights his company was selling.

Originally posted on Sunny Bains unedited.