By Stewart Halforty
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Landscape with Weapon

This article is over 14 years, 8 months old
National Theatre, London, until 7 June
Issue 314

As Dwight D Eisenhower prepared to leave office in 1961, he warned the country about the power of the military-industrial complex. “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience,” he said. “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

Playwright Joe Penhall has taken a wry, humorous look at the military-industrial complex in Britain and its reliance on the US. Penhall’s previous production, Blue Orange, explored the relationship between power, race and mental illness. Landscape with Weapon draws out the connections between profit and war, capitalism and the military.

Ned, an engineer working for an arms contractor, confides in his brother about the years he has spent developing a powerful new weapon. “Are you serious? Are you mad?” his brother responds. “You could kill thousands of people!” This launches Ned into a struggle with his conscience, amid his deteriorating relationship with friends and family as they discover what he has designed.

The play explores the desire of imperialism to fight war without enduring casualties. Since Picasso painted Guernica – the Basque city bombed by German warplanes in the Spanish Civil War – socialists have understood what this actually means.

In the opening scene Ned delivers a standard defence of science in the pay of the military: “It’s presidents and prime ministers and military who decide these things. At the end of the day, how they use it is not my responsibility.”

The contradiction in his argument is exposed as he defends his new weapon to his brother: “It’ll kill less people, because it’s so accurate. It’ll eliminate collateral damage; it’ll eliminate civilian deaths.” The development of the weapon cannot be separated from its use.

Events catch up with Ned. The use of deadly drones in Iraq and Lebanon shows how these weapons can be used. Bravely, if rather late, Ned attempts to block the construction of his design.

There are echoes of the slander of Craig Murray and David Kelly by the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence when the ministry attempts to discredit Ned.

Landscape with Weapon is a thought provoking political play, sometimes hilarious, sometimes chilling, exploring the ties that bind university research departments, venture capitalists and government departments to the wheels of war. Weapon development takes the finest minds and resources away from dealing with the problems of hunger, poverty and disease. It is a self replicating process. As long as there are arms companies there will be war.

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