March 24

The Best Place for Weapons is in a Museum

By Anna Macdonald, Control Arms Director

Anna Macdonald standing by her showcase, and with HRH the Duke of Kent, who formally opened the re-designed museum.


As a kid, I was fascinated with the stories of World War Two planes and the pilots who flew them. I bought Airfix kits from WH Smith, gluing together little plastic fuselages and elliptical wings, and painting the tiny figures that would sit inside. At night I lay under the gently twisting Spitfires, Hurricanes and Messerschmitts that hung from the ceiling above my bed, admiring their gracefulness, and imagining the real aerial battle scenes where pilots flew exhausted for hours, spinning and turning in the sky to get the advantage over their adversaries. At weekends, I watched old movies with Kenneth More and Richard Todd dramatizing the Battle of Britain and the Dam Busters. I read Reach for the Sky, The Wooden Horse, and many more, learning the stories of young pilots who flew daring raids and would often be captured when shot down, only to try and escape and rejoin the battles. Probably fairly unusual for a young girl in early 80s London to know the names of Battle of Britain pilots, and the exciting stories of their sorties over Germany.


For a while I thought I might try to become a pilot myself. Then as an adult I quickly developed a much less rosy view of conflict, with a life in the humanitarian aid sector, working with many war torn communities around the world. I spend a lot of time now sitting on passenger planes, rather than flying the fighter jets I once romanticised. My journeys take me around the world to advocate for international arms control, and to promote ways to reduce armed conflict and the terrible human suffering that results from war. Lebanon, Guatemala, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Mali, Cambodia: people may look and sound different, but their stories to me have always seemed the same – the savagery of war, and people’s’ ability to destroy each other, but also the hope of ordinary people, and an enduring desire for peace.


But my fascination with the stories of flying remains. The Imperial War Museum is my favourite museum, and I have spent many hours wandering among beautifully displayed killing machines, reading the stories of military and civilian heroes, and marveling at the ability of the human spirit to keep going under the worst circumstances. It is a wonderful museum, and it’s certainly more about peace than war, since it is impossible to stand among the powerful exhibits and not yearn for an end to conflicts.


So I am proud to now become part of the museum myself. I’ve joked with colleagues that I’ve worked on arms control for so long that I have literally become a museum exhibit. But really I’m thrilled to be part of a museum that I have got so much pleasure from. It is an honour to play a role in telling the story of the thousands of ordinary people around the world who came together to say enough; its time to bring the arms trade under control. And I sincerely hope that one day we will have a world where peace is more dominant than war, and weapons really are seen more in museums than on our daily news shows.