The End of Imagination

An article appeared in the Guardian newspaper (1·8·1998) when many of us were on holiday. It is a remarkable, impassioned essay by Arundhati Roy, the young author of ‘The God of Small Things’ which won last year’s Booker Prize. Here, in her first published piece of writing since then, she expresses her horror at the nuclear arms race in her native India. It is an important corrective to the nationalistic responses to the Indian nuclear tests which have been widely reported.

“May 1998. It’ll go down in history books, provided of course we have history books to go down in. Provided, of course, we have a future....

“Once again we are pitifully behind the times — not just scientifically and technologically ...but, more pertinently, in our ability to grasp the true nature of nuclear weapons. If only nuclear war was the kind of war in which countries battle countries, and men battle men. But it isn’t. If there is a nuclear war, our foes will not be China or America or even each other. Our foe will be the Earth herself....

“The Head of the Health, Environment and Safety Group of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Bombay has a plan.... Take iodine pills, he suggests. And other steps such as remaining indoors, consuming only stored water and food and avoiding milk.... People in the danger zone should immediately go to the ground floor and if possible to the basement.

“What do you do with these levels of lunacy? What do you do if you’re trapped in an asylum and the doctors are all dangerously deranged?....

“The Theory of Deterrence has some fundamental flaws. Flaw Number One is that it presumes a complete sophisticated understanding of the psychology of your enemy.... Flaw Number Two is that deterrence is based on fear. But fear is premised on knowledge.... Deterrence will not and cannot work given the levels of ignorance and illiteracy that hang over our two countries like dense, impenetrable veils.... And when all our larders are bursting with shiny bombs and our bellies are empty (deterrence is an exorbitant beast), we can trade bombs for food....

“All I can say to every man, woman and sentient child in India, and over there, just a little way away in Pakistan, is: take it personally.... stand up and say something. Never mind if it’s been said before. Speak up on your own behalf. Take it very personally....

“If protesting against having a nuclear bomb implanted in my brain is anti-Hindu and anti-national, then I secede. I hereby declare myself an independent, mobile republic. I am a citizen of the earth. I own no territory. I have no flag. I’m female, but I have nothing against eunuchs. My policies are simple. I’m willing to sign any nuclear non-proliferation treaty or nuclear test-ban treaty that’s going. Immigrants are welcome. You can help me design our flag....

“India’s nuclear tests, the manner in which they were conducted, the euphoria with which they have been greeted (by us) is indefensible. To me it signifies dreadful things. The end of imagination.

“As for [exposing Western hypocrisy] — how much more exposed can they be? Which decent human being on earth harbours any illusions about it?... Colonialism, apartheid, slavery, ethnic cleansing, germ warfare, chemical weapons, they virtually invented it all. They have plundered nations, snuffed out civilisations, exterminated entire populations. They stand on the world’s stage naked but entirely unembarrassed, because they know that they have more money, more food and bigger bombs than anyone else. They know they can wipe us out in the course of an ordinary working day. Personally, I’d say it is arrogance more than hypocrisy.

“India’s nuclear bomb is the final act of betrayal by a ruling class that has failed its people.... Is it possible for a man who cannot write his own name to understand even the basic, elementary facts about the nature of nuclear weapons?... Nuclear war has nothing at all to do with... received notions of war... nothing to do with honour, nothing to do with pride.... Are there even words in his language to describe the concepts of enriched uranium, fissile material and critical mass?... Does he not matter at all, this man?

“The nuclear bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing that man has ever made. If you are religious, then remember that this bomb is Man’s challenge to God. It’s worded quite simply: We have the power to destroy everything that You have created.

“If you’re not (religious), then look at it this way. This world of ours is four thousand, six hundred million years old.

“It could end in an afternoon.”

The Nuclear Legacy — the Environmental Impact

We have arranged a public meeting on November 10th to address the environmental issues surrounding the appalling nuclear mess with which the present generation has to live and which future generations will inherit. Much of the mess is the result of short-sighted and ignorant pioneering activities in the nuclear industry, both civil and military, but the problems of nuclear waste disposal and decommissioning nuclear power stations and rusting nuclear-powered naval vessels have still to be solved. Meanwhile money is still being invested in projects such as the THORP reprocessing plant and Mox (mixed oxide) fuel whose effect on the environment remains to be fully appreciated.

We are lucky to have as speaker Eddy Taylor, who is by training a physicist, but who is currently employed in the field of environmental education, and who is therefore excellently qualified to answer all your questions. This should be a stimulating and informative evening and we hope that you will help us to publicise the event as widely as possible.

Mandela at the UN

South African President Nelson Mandela urged the international community to move towards full nuclear disarmament in his address to the 53rd UN General Assembly [as reported in the Guardian 22·9·1998].

“We must face the fact that after countless initiatives and resolutions we still do not have concrete and generally-accepted proposals supported by a clear commitment by the nuclear weapons states to the speedy, final and total elimination of nuclear weapons.

“We must ask the question which might sound naïve to those who have elaborated sophisticated arguments to justify their refusal to eliminate these terrible and terrifying weapons of mass destruction — why do they need them anyway?”

How encouraging it is that a figure of such international stature and moral authority should choose to confront the ‘nuclear club’ in so direct and courageous a fashion. We suggest you send your appreciation to the South African Embassy. (Trafalgar Square, WC2)

Hague Appeal for Peace

As described in the September Newsletter, the Hague Appeal is an international initiative marking the centenary next May of the 1899 Hague Convention and coordinating the efforts of a long list of non-governmental contributors ranging from Amnesty International, the Hague International Model United Nations and the Red Cross (participating observers) to Afronet (the Inter-African Network for Human Rights), the European Action Council for Peace in the Balkans, the Federation of American Scientists, Friends of the Earth, Pax Christi and CND.

Dorothy went to a meeting in London of the British steering group chaired by Bruce Kent, on September 22nd and ideas for our Wimbledon contribution are beginning to take shape. We hope to involve as wide a range of local peace, humanitarian and environmental groups as possible, and under this joint umbrella to launch a competition or competitions in Merton schools, perhaps culminating in a central prize-giving and exhibition. Ideas so far include essay-writing on peace themes from the Hague conference agenda, an art display and public speaking for 6th formers. Please let us know if you have any contacts with potentially sympathetic organisations and, particularly, if you have any contacts with local schools. Ideas such as this tend to flourish or founder in schools depending on the enthusiasm of one committed member of staff.

We shall also be seeking local sponsorship for prize money and you may be in a position to help us here, through unions, businesses, church groups or personal generosity.

Mitcham Green Fair, 13th September

Despite doubtful weather this was a very successful event and our plant stall made £57 for WDC/CND funds — thanks to Jim, Elaine and Joanna. With our Mitcham colleagues mounting a ‘peace table’ next door with leaflets, information and petitions, we could feel that CND had a significant presence. It was good to receive friendly greetings from the Mayor and other councillors who were touring the stalls.

Lobby of Parliament 29th October 2-5pm

This Lobby has been planned jointly by the Forum for UN Renewal and UNA, to demand Government support for a reformed effective United Nations central to UK foreign policy. Lobbyists will ask for immediate Government action in three areas

Speakers will include

Abolition 2000

To achieve by the year 2000 a signed agreement committing the world to the permanent elimination of nuclear weapons according to a fixed timetable.

All Wimbledon Councillors have received the following letter:

Dear Councillor,

During the last year I sent letters to all Councillors asking them to sign the declaration outlined above, which has to date been endorsed by many organisations throughout the world.

Since that time the aims contained in the Abolition 2000 statement have won wider support. The United Nations General Assembly has passed resolutions calling for negotiated nuclear disarmament; a joint statement issued by forty retired generals and admirals, including Britain’s Field Marshal Lord Carver, called for the complete and irrevocable elimination of the world’s nuclear arsenals; and the many signatories to the declaration include Archbishop Desmond Tutu and seventy Anglican bishops.

May I ask you to give your personal support to the declaration, by signing and returning the slip below, as soon as possible.

A similar letter was sent to Mitcham and Morden councillors by our friends in Mitcham CND.

British Pugwash Group

Public meeting on the occasion of the 90th birthday of Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat KCMG CBE FRS
1995 Nobel Peace Laureate


2.15pm, Saturday 7 November 1998

at The Royal Society, 6 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1



Chair: Sir Michael Atiyah O.M.

This is an open meeting and all are welcome to attend. The organisers only ask for an approximate indication of numbers to help with catering for the reception at the end of the meeting. A group from WDC/CND plans to go up to London together so please ‘phone Joanna [543-0362] if you would like to join us. It promises to be a memorable event!

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