COMMENT: War without End

The war against terrorism is a brilliant construct.

It has provided oomph to the sagging U.S. economy and a new raison d’être for the alliance of politicos, defence contractors and security specialists who make up what former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower christened the military-industrial complex.

What makes this war so superior is its vagueness. Since the terrorist, by definition, can be anyone, we can never be sure who the enemy is. More important, we can never know when we’ve won. As a result, this war has the capacity to go on forever. It will be called off only when those in charge choose to do so. And why would they?

Thanks to the war, Bush has been transformed from a figure of fun, a slightly moronic frat boy, into a national icon. Now the frat boy is a war president, every patriotic American’s commander-in-chief. Those who mock Bush now — those who even dare criticise him — do so at their peril.

For Bush, an end to the war against terrorism could spell political disaster. Look what happened to his father. George Bush Sr. was an immensely popular president when he was waging war against Iraq. But as soon as the fighting stopped, his ratings tumbled. Without war to focus their attention, Americans remembered why they disliked the elder Bush and threw him out of the White House.

By contrast, Bush Jr. has discovered the perfect way to avoid his father’s fate: war without end. The war against terror can go on indefinitely because, unlike the Gulf War, or World War II or even the Cold War, it involves no measurable criteria of success.

Is Afghanistan defeated and its former Taliban government in chains? No matter, says U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Afghanistan is small potatoes, the Taliban mere tools. The terrorists, we are told, live on. They are everywhere, part of the international conspiracy known as Al Qaeda.

Yet even Al Qaeda escapes definition. Each time its alleged leaders are identified, we are warned that more are hiding in the shadows.

Luckily for us, these fanatic anti-modernists make plenty of videos. They video each other plotting, video attack plans, video their dinner parties, then leave the videos lying about.

Luckily also, they write down many of their schemes in English. In November, for instance, journalists searching through a Kabul home said to be an Al Qaeda training centre found hand-printed plans, in English, on how to manufacture a multi-million-dollar, home-made stealth bomber.

Not since novelist Ian Fleming invented SPECTRE, the shadowy force of evil dedicated to eliminating 007 agent James Bond, has the world’s imagination been seized in quite the same way. Like Fleming’s SPECTRE, Al Qaeda has access to unlimited funds. Its leaders, like Bond’s villains, live in vast underground complexes staffed by fanatical minions.

In George Orwell’s 1984, the enemy of the state is personifed in Emmanuel Goldstein. Goldstein is the Osama bin Laden figure of the novel, an elusive figure who is never seen, never captured but believed by all patriotic citizens of Oceania (Orwell’s fictitious state, an amalgamation of North America and Europe) to be an evil genius bent on their destruction.

Since Goldstein is never captured, Oceania’s battle against him must never cease. Sometimes it wages war on one country said to be aiding the nefarious Goldstein, sometimes on another. The battle ground may change but the war never ends. It cannot. The government’s very existence depends upon it.

Paul Walkom, Toronto Star, 5/2/2002

(as edited by ‘Peaceline’, the journal of London Region CND)

Swords into Ploughshares

The ‘swords into ploughshares’ maxim has taken on a literal meaning in the villages of Mozambique, according to a programme broadcast on Monday 4th March on the World Service. The civil war in Mozambique lasted for thirty years, but now there is a movement to persuade these people who fought one another for so long to hand in their weapons in exchange for farming equipment. So far nearly ¼ million guns have been exchanged. People are tired of the war and destruction that has so impoverished them. New villages have been built, plus schools and other community facilities. Apparently some creative villagers are even turning the weapons into an art form, with an export demand for their efforts!

George Marsh

Radioactive blunders double in a decade

The number of “accidents and incidents” occurring while radioactive materials were being shipped around Britain doubled in the 11 years up to and including 2000. Almost 300 shipments of nuclear materials were contaminated, damaged or lost between l990 and 2000, according to the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB). There were 38 incidents recorded by nuclear regulators in 2000 — the last year for which figures are available — against 19 in 1990.

An NRPB report, which was quietly posted on the website of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions last month (, describes the incidents that occurred in 2000. They included a derailment, a road crash and numerous packages of radioactive isotopes being run over by vehicles, mislabelled or stolen.

Some incidents related to illegal dumping of radioactive materials. In one of them, 30 industrial smoke detectors containing the alpha emitter americium-241 were discarded in a country Park.

There were an “unusually high” number of incidents while spent fuel from nuclear power stations was being taken by train to the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria, the report says. Six fuel flasks and four rail wagons were contaminated with radioactivity at levels that breached safety limits.

The NRPB attributes the overall increase in incidents to “a greater volume of traffic, higher reporting efficiency and an increase in materials being detected and reported in scrap metal”. Some of the events in 2000 had the potential to expose workers to radioactivity, it says, but “it is very unlikely that any significant doses were received”.

But local authorities that oppose the transport of nuclear materials through their areas say the rising number of incidents is a “serious concern for public safety”, and they question the need for so many shipments. Pressure group Greenpeace dubbed trains carrying nuclear waste “a mobile terrorist target”.

Rob Edwards, writing in New Scientist 9/2/2002

‘Raised Voices’ seeks new members

This left-wing choir is run as a co-operative with no audition and it is open to singers of all abilities. Repertoire includes anti-war, environmental, feminist, anti-racist and other political songs in many languages. Weekly rehearsals are held in Holborn 7·30–9·30pm. Contact Mick (7249 5139) or Marion (7561 1990)


You have a troublesome neighbour. The ongoing argument finally gets nasty when he sets fire to your garden shed. This is the last straw. What do you do?

  1. Poison his dog and hope that it settles the score?
  2. Decide to keep your tools in his shed because it’s safer?
  3. Tell the whole street that we are now all at war with him, therefore you need money and all the weapons they have on standby and when you say “GO!” they all have to join in and destroy this evil that is otherwise going to undermine the whole way of western freedom and democracy. Apparently.
  4. Invade his garden with your mates and kill him and his family in a brutal manner (perhaps involving a burnt-out lawnmower?) because it’s the traditional way, popularised by rampaging barbarians in the dark ages and proven to be effective at guaranteeing peace ever thereafter?
  5. Take him to court to settle the dispute in a civilised manner, appropriate to grown-ups in the 21st century?

Sometimes it‘s easier to understand international politics if you transpose the situation to a smaller scale.

Please help to distribute the new edition of “Going to Court not War” by ordering copies for sale at £1 each. Cheques made out to Institute for Law and Peace sent to The Treasurer, 67 Summerheath Rd, Hailsham, Sussex BN27 SDR

An Ethical Career in Science and Technology?

A 32-page careers booklet from Scientists for Global Responsibility, ‘An Ethical Career in Science and Technology? — A Summary’, was published at the start of September. The publication was timed to coincide with the beginning of UK Science Year, with a call fom SGR to incorporate an explicit consideration of ethics in the Science Year Programme.

The booklet covers many important issues such as: genetics, climate change, the arms industry, the militarization of space, clean technology, animal experiments, information technology, politics & ethics in science, science funding and assessing the sustainability of your career. Contributors include Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Professor Joseph Rotblat; designer of the World Wide Web, Dr Tim Bemers-Lee; and the well-known commentator on biotechnology issues, Dr Mae Wan Ho.

Copies of the booklet are free to students and SGR members, and £5 plus £1 package and postage to others. Altematively, electronic copies can be downloaded from SGR’s web-site:

Copies have been sent to all university and college careers offices, with promotional material going to student unions, professional scientific organisations and environmental/peace groups. We have received many requests for copies and invitations to promote it at ethical careers fairs. The booklet will also be promoted through the new ‘Ethical Careers Service’ which has just been launched by the student pressure group, People and Planet. If you can help with promotion of the booklet (e.g. by distributing leaflets or helping run a stall at a careers fair), please contact the SGR office.

Stuart Parkinson, writing in the SGR Newsletter

The booklet can be ordered from: Scientists for Global Responsibility, P.O.Box 473, Folkestone, Kent CT20 1GS

Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs

British Pugwash Group




Friday 19th April at 3.30pm

In the Sir Alexander Fleming Building (Lecture Theatre 2), lmperial College, London

The findings of a British Pugwash Group research project will be presented bv:

Professor John Finney

Professor of Physics, University College London

Tea will be served at 3·30pm and the meeting will start at approximately 3·45pm

Background Note: A previous Pugwash Report concluded that, following the end of the Cold War, the balance of argument favours the UK divesting itself of nuclear weapons. Moreover, the UK govemment is committed to progress nuclear disarmament “to ensure that our security can be served without nuclear weapons”. However, this commitment lacks the time scale needed to give it real meaning and impetus. A decision must be made in the next few years on whether to develop a successor to Trident - the “minimum deterrent” system retained by the UK. What could a positive decision made now not to replace Trident accomplish in furthering multilateral nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation? And how might the political, technical, and scientific resources so released be redeployed in similar - or other additional - positive directions?

1t would help the organizers if those planning to attend would inform the Pugwash Office, 63A Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3BJ.

Phone: 020 7405 6661 Fax: 020 7831 5651 E-mail:

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