We often get told that we are "preaching to the converted" but we have recently had the opportunity to spread the CND message somewhat more widely than usual.
On November 8th Barbara, Anne and Julie took part in a 6th Form discussion day organised by the RE department at Elliott School, Putney ("Nuclear Weapons -- do they keep us safe?" and "Is attack the best form of defence?"), sharing expert witness status with Wandsworth Stop the War Coalition, Christian Friends of Israel and a Muslim women's group. Barbara felt that the young people were worryingly passive. A few questions followed her own presentation (the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Pacific nuclear tests and the attempts by the non-nuclear weapons states to create Nuclear Free Zones) but nothing "hitting deep" enough to disturb the general "we have got to look after ourselves" attitude. Perhaps the modern education system with its emphasis on exams and the prescriptive curriculum has something to do with this lack of world-awareness amongst the young, and we must give credit to Elliott School for setting up this particular extra-curricular event.
On November 20th I found myself entertaining a local luncheon club for the elderly. Again, all credit to the organisers who told me they were aiming to provide food for the mind as well as the body. I found it a very interesting experience addressing an audience with vivid memories of 1945 and the news of the first atomic bomb. Naturally they had all absorbed the comfortable fiction that the Hiroshima bomb had saved Allied lives by bringing about the surrender of Japan, but they listened courteously while I suggested there might be alternative interpretations of the evidence. Again, this was a very apolitical audience with only the vaguest grasp of the background facts to the nuclear debate. Their assumption was that 'most' countries in the world already possessed nuclear weapons, for example.
This underlines our core campaigning task, to raise the level of awareness of these basic facts amongst the general population. General ignorance suits the government very well when it comes to manipulating public opinion with scare stories about nuclear threats from Iran.
More and more evidence is emerging that depleted uranium (DU), used by the military because it is dense enough to penetrate armoured tanks, is leaving an appalling legacy of post-war genetic damage wherever it has been used. DU is only minimally radioactive, being a waste product of uranium enrichment for nuclear power stations or nuclear weapons, but its deadly property is to burn upon impact so that tiny radioactive particles become randomly distributed throughout the neighbourhood of the explosion. Upon inhalation or ingestion these particles lodge within the human body where they emit localised radiation indefinitely.
It is not yet possible to prove that Gulf War Syndrome is caused by DU but there is much circumstantial evidence pointing in that direction. Iraqi doctors report that birth defects have increased by up to 6 times since 1991 and the incidence of cancer and leukæmia amongst children has increased by up to 12 times. The effects of all the DU ammunition fired since 2003 will of course only just be beginning to be felt, and contamination of drinking water and food crops will happen gradually and inevitably in the future.
On 2nd November 2007 the UK voted against a Draft Resolution at the UN First Committee calling for a ban on DU. A second vote will take place at the December Plenary Session, and the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons emphasises the importance of domestic pressure on abstaining and dissenting governments. Please write to David Miliband, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles St, SW1A 2AH, urging that the UK vote 'Yes' in December.
Key themes to emphasise are that new information suggests that the 2001 Royal Society report into the health hazards of DU is out of date; there is already a DU ban in Belgium; the European parliament has repeatedly called for a moratorium leading to a ban; the Precautionary Principle that where a threat to health may exist steps should be taken to stop the threat even if complete information is unavailable. DU poses a threat to civilians and service personnel alike and its use represents a clear breach of the norms of international humanitarian law.
For more information see http://www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/a/144.html
The Women's International League for Peace & Freedom is a small but inspiring group of dedicated women worldwide. Their seminar on 'the environmental consequences of war and corporate power' on 3rd November at Essex Hall struck at the very heart of the problems which at this moment are degrading if not destroying our planet.
This day saw the launch of WILPF's latest publication "Making war on the Earth: a gender perspective". The meeting was deliberately planned to coincide with the United Nations International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict (i.e. 6th November -- not an anniversary which receives much publicity outside the UN).
Speakers included Kate Hudson on the nuclear chain which links nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and Ruth Tanner from War on Want, who analysed war and corporate power, highlighting the way in which corporations thrive off wars. In a series of workshops Katherine Ronderos described how the private sector seeks ever cheaper resources and new markets, involving itself in remote and unstable areas of the world. Companies operating in regions of armed conflict respond in different ways, strongly influencing the chances of peace there.
Simon Matthews of CAAT spoke about the environmental implications of the arms trade, urging persistence in lobbying and citing the closure of Britain's DESO as a success. Other workshops centred on campaigning against depleted uranium munitions, on climate change, the military/industrial complex, and on nuclear power and the UK's energy needs. There was a frugal vegetarian lunch in a hall hung with colourful women's peace banners, many hand-stitched. And plenty of women with whom to discuss the enormous challenges raised by the speakers.
WILPF is the oldest women's peace organisation in the world, founded in April 1915 at the Congress of Women in the Hague: some 1300 women from Europe and North America had gathered in protest against the war. WILPF now has National Sections in 37 countries covering all continents with a mission to "bring together women of different political beliefs and philosophies who are united in their determination to study and make known and help abolish the causes and legitimisation of war". (For further details on WILPF, see http://www.ukwilpf.org.uk or ring 020 7250 1968.)
In all the debate about the place of nuclear power in combatting climate change, one fact is always forgotten: the nuclear fuel cycle generates the material for nuclear weapons. Plutonium is virtually nonexistent outside the laboratory, but is the end-product of the generation of all 'civil' nuclear power. In a recent report the Royal Society estimates that Britain's plutonium stockpile has almost doubled in the last 10 years, to more than 100 tons.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the Oxford Research Group and its work in illuminating how decisions are made on nuclear weapons and war, there will be a screening at the Royal Society of the BBC film of Michael Frayn's play "Copenhagen", followed by a panel discussion with Michael Frayn and four other eminent panellists on the moral conundrums explored in the play. The screening will take place at the Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace on Wednesday 5th December at 6·45pm. Tickets (£25/£10) must be booked in advance on 020 7549 0298.
Many thanks to members who paid up promptly last month. It would be a great help if those who have yet to get round to it would act immediately on receipt of this newsletter -- before the Christmas post takes over from normal life. (Those whose subscriptions are still owing will find a duplicate form enclosed with this Newsletter.)
This was the headline in the Guardian (26 November 2007) and there was even an item on BBC News when the all-party Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee criticised the "manner and timing" of the announcement that the American request to use Menwith Hill for the US ballistic missile defence system had been approved. (The information had been given in a written statement the day before the start of the parliamentary summer break despite Tony Blair's promise earlier this year of a full debate.) In its report on Russia and global security, the committee demanded a full Commons debate and called for ministers to make clear the precise date on which they had received the formal request from the US.
This was welcome publicity for the realities of US 'Missile Defence' which enables the US to attack other countries without fear of retaliation while claiming it to be a purely protective shield. 'RAF' Menwith Hill and Fylingdales in Yorkshire make Britain a front-line target in future US wars but operate outside British law and Parliamentary scrutiny.
This is an ingenious new publication that deserves to be widely purchased and read. In the form of strip cartoons we painlessly receive a lot of very valuable background information about the history and present political status of the oil industry in Iraq. Oil was discovered there in 1908 and it was Britain's invasion during World War I that paved the way for western oil companies to seize control -- control that was not fully relinquished until the early 1970s. Then, as now, the British proclaimed lofty motives for their actions.
This is information which all activists should have, and at only £3·00 I can't think of a better way of getting it. Contact Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road N1, ring 020 7837 4473 or e-mail email@example.com to obtain your copy.
Our speaker on December 11th will be Maggie Foyer who has extensive personal knowledge of Palestine based on numerous visits. She writes: "over the last 40 years the aggressive settlement policy of successive Israeli governments has made a contiguous Palestine a pipedream. On successive visits it has become more and more clear that the well established settlements and the 'illegal outposts' together form the greatest obstacle to peace. It was made very clear on my last visit at the end of October that the army and police have very little control over the settlers. This is most obvious in Hebron but two incidents during the olive harvest made clear that this is also the case in the West Bank."
She will talk about her own experiences in Palestine and lead discussion on the political way forward from the present impasse. How can peaceful co-existence be achieved?
We have booked the larger downstairs room at the Community Centre. Please pass on the enclosed flyer to interested friends.
Nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu is waiting the results of his appeal against a 6-month prison sentence imposed in July for "talking to foreigners" (and thus breaking the conditions of his release from his 18-year prison sentence for revealing to the world the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons). That court decision is expected on January 8th. Meanwhile please send Christmas cards to him at: PO Box 20102, Salah Adin Street Post Office, East Jerusalem, 91384, Israel.
Ms Jill Beauchamp, CND supporter and seamstress on a low budget, is urgently seeking accommodation for December/January. She would be happy to lodge with a family or house-sit, and would do dress-making or chores in exchange for house-room. If anyone can help please contact Joanna on 020 8543 0362.