COMMENT by Isha Tripathi

Two Gifts

A hundred years ago, a young boy called Bhagat Singh, growing up in the northwestern province of Punjab, India, was given a gift by someone he had never seen before. He kept it with him always.

* * *
Growing up in British India, he saw a lot of bloodshed and people being sent to jail for demonstrating against the injustices of the British Raj. One of his earliest memories was of being taken to a big park called Jallianwallah Bagh by his father. He saw thousands of people with banners, shouting ‘Inquilab Zindabad!’ (‘Long Live Freedom!’)

One day, he saw soldiers firing at the people in the park who had no guns themselves, or weapons of any kind, and people falling to the ground all around him. Someone carried him away from the firing guns. It was a man who had been shot and badly wounded, but had still managed to rescue a little child.

“Take this,” he whispered to Bhagat, and handed him a small botttle.

“What’s in this?” asked Bhagat.

“Earth, from which everything grows and to which everything returns,” said the man, closing his eyes. Bhagat turned to see his father running towards him.

When he got home, Bhagat showed his father the bottle. “Keep it, and always remember to fight for freedom,” his father replied.

When he grew up, Bhagat decided to join the campaign to fight for Indian independence from British rule. One day, listening to the radio, he heard about the British government putting a huge tax on salt and shooting those who were not able to pay this tax. This made Bhagat very angry and he decided to join an organisation that said that killing others was better than getting killed — that sometimes it was the only way to win freedom. The only way to make the deaf hear was to make a very loud noise, he felt.

Bhagat and his friends threw an explosive inside Parliament House in India’s capital, New Delhi. When they were doing this, Bhagat shouted ‘Inquilab Zindabad!’. When he threw the explosive, he saw a man getting killed and his family crying, and thought “If I keep doing this, there will be no difference between me and General Dyer who ordered the killing of hundreds of innocent people in Jallianwallah Bagh, among whom was the man who gave me my gift”. That evening, in prison, he read the newspaper and saw how Gandhi had found a way to challenge the British Salt Tax and made salt from sea-water without any violence and was still able to open deaf ears. Bhagat Singh often took out his bottle and looked at it.

A hundred years later, a young girl living in London — born of Indian parents — saw their horrified expressions while watching the news. They were shocked and found it hard to believe how one set of human beings could be so keen to kill another, sometimes in the name of religion and other times in the name of being black or white, blue or red. It seemed to be all about some people feeling that they were somehow better than others and that it gave them the right to kill and rob one another.

She and her parents went to Hyde Park to a demonstration against all wars and saw, just as Bhagat Singh saw, banners and thousands of people shouting ‘Long Live Peace!’ in a thousand different languages! She stood with all these thousands of people, who all had nice, kind gentle faces and she felt that they were right, peace was better than war. One of them, whom she had never seen before, gave her a badge. And when she grows up she would like to work to make a more peaceful world. Just as Bhagat Singh often looked at his bottle, she often looks at her badge which doesn’t say anything, just has a white dove that has its wings spread out against the background of a bright blue sky.

[This is a slightly abridged version of the story read aloud by Isha at our public meeting on February 13th]

Joyce Croad

We were sorry to learn from our UNA friends of the death of Joyce Croad on January 27th. Joyce (Merton UNA Branch Treasurer for over thirty years) was tireless in her fundraising efforts for UNA and UNICEF, and was a regular with her UNA stall at WDC/CND’s Fête of the Earth.

Contributions to UNICEF are suggested as an appropriate tribute to Joyce’s memory:

Walter Wolfgang

Veteran campaigner Walter Wolfgang spoke to a well-attended meeting at the Community Centre on Feruary 13th. His speech was very measured: a rational and surprisingly unemotional denunciation of the government’s case for replacing Trident.

He reminded us of the essential facts and figures. Trident carries 200 warheads, each warhead having eight times the power of the Hiroshima bomb. Token reductions in the numbers of warheads in the context of destructive power on this scale can hardly be presented as disarmament.

Our so-called ‘independent deterrent’ had never been independent of the USA which both supplies the missiles and controls the essential guidance systems. Is it possible, said Walter, that Blair supported Bush over Iraq because he was afraid of loosening his nuclear alliance? In any case, it is inconceivable that UK nuclear weapons would ever be used even as threats without US political support. The government White Paper on the replacement of Trident does not analyse the international situation at all.

The aggressive foreign policy pursued by the present US administration (‘full spectrum dominance’, weaponry in outer space etc.) is now being questioned in the USA itself, which — we must remember — has a strong tradition of dissidence. Perhaps this is our best hope!

We must stop ‘fellow-travelling’ with the present US régime. We do not want a weapons system that locks us into US strategy even more closely. There is no credible scenario where a nuclear attack on the UK would come blindly from the outside, but a very real danger of a nuclear camapign escalating ‘ping-pong fashion’ from provocative US foreign policy.

The US has consistently tried to weaken the Non-Proliferation Treaty, supplying nuclear know-how to Israel and India (in contravention of Article I) and attempting to confine NPT treaty obligations to the non-nuclear weapons states. US bases and US nuclear weapons are present in numerous European countries, including the UK. The US is talking about increasing their presence and European sovereign states are apparently powerless in the matter. The Belgian parliament recently carried a resolution demanding the closure of US bases, and the upper house confirmed it, but the Belgian government has remained inactive. We can conclude that the main nuclear threat today comes from the nuclear weapons states (led by the US) and in this context the so-called ‘proliferators’ (North Korea, Iran etc.) are little more than a distraction and a nuisance.

A new generation of nuclear weapons for the UK is not an insurance policy for the future. It is more likely to help promote a nuclear escalation that could be more dangerous that the Cold War. The only defence against nuclear weapons is nuclear disarmament. The government must come to terms with the realities of the 21st century, instead of continuing to play nineteenth-century politics with disastrous results.

A UK renouncing nuclear weapons would be in a position to lead a drive for global nuclear disarmament. None of the current UK political leaders has any vision of a nuclear-free future. It is up to us to supply it!

Report by Joanna Bazley

A collection after the meeting raised £106 towards the costs of the February 24th demonstration. This was made up to £200 from WDC/CND funds and sent to national CND.

Faslane 365

Most readers will already be aware of the year-long peaceful blockade of the Trident nuclear base at Faslane in Scotland. As well as disrupting the comings and goings of the nuclear base, the aim is to demonstrate the range of serious concerns, from human rights to climate change, that people in the real world consider to be the vital challenges of the 21st century.

Our neighbours in Kingston Peace Council/CND have undertaken to support the blockade during Sunday 29th and Monday 30th April and would welcome any recruits from WDC/CND. Kingston is researching travel and accommodation, and will give all necessary guidance and training. The only requirement (“apart from thinking Trident and any replacement must be stopped”) is a commitment to non-violence, says group organiser Rosemary Addington, “so come and meet other peace lovers who want to make known their views”.

Some members of the Kingston group are anticipating being arrested (for refusing police requests to move when obstructing access to the base) but people who are not comfortable with the idea of arrest will be equally welcome in supporting rôles. For further information contact Rosemary Addington ( 020 8399 2547)

The Secretary of State for Defence at Kings College London

On 25th January Des Browne M.P. addressed an audience of academics at this august institution and, interested in what he had to say, I obtained a copy of his speech in full. Excerpts follow:

“We have had a nuclear deterrent for 50 years; in taking the decision we face now, whether to maintain it through the 2020s and beyond, we have to look ahead another fifty. There is merit in consistency.... and I hope I will persuade you of that today.”

“Why do we need a nuclear deterrent? The answer is because it works. Our deterrent has been a central plank of our national security strategy for 50 years. And the fact is that over this 50 years, neither our own nor any other country’s nuclear weapons have even been used, nor has there ever been a single significant conflict between the world’s nuclear powers.”

“I know that there are some who accept that our deterrent has played this positive rôle in the past but argue that it is no longer needed.... The problem with this argument is that we cannot be sure that such a threat will not re-emerge at some point over the next 50 years. The number of countries with nuclear weapons is growing. This does not mean that the international effort against proliferation has failed; it just reminds us how difficult it is. We believe that without this effort many more states would now have nuclear weapons. This is why we remain as committed as ever.

“Several of the countries who either have nuclear weapons or are trying to acquire them are in regions which suffer from serious instability... so yes, the nature of our security situation has changed but a proper understanding of it suggests that while there is right now no nuclear threat we cannot rule out the possibility that one will re-emerge.

“Maintaining our nuclear deterrent is fully compatible with our international legal obligations. This is reflected in the international response to our announcement, which has been quietly supportive. Many of our allies... have good reason to support our decision, and have privately indicated as much.

“Against these facts I suggest that critics of our decision need to offer more than ill-informed accusations of hypocrisy or vague warnings of destabilising international repercussions.

“Some, including prominent church leaders, argue that regardless of our international obligations, regardless of the threats facing us, and regardless of the benefits and costs, possessing nuclear weapons is inherently morally corrupting and cannot be justified under any circumstances. They are of course entitled to their opinions. But that is what they are: opinions, rather than authoritative, unambiguous ethical or religious pronouncements.”

He finishes with the cheap ‘Hitler’ argument:

“To be consistent, any proponent of the absolutist moral argument must argue that even were a Hitler to possess nuclear weapons it would be morally wrong for us to possess a counterbalancing nuclear force.”

I have written to Mr Browne pointing out that it is both foolish and insulting to dismiss the arguments against Trident replacement as “ill-informed” or “vague”. (I suggested that he look at the credentials of some of the expert witnesses to the Defence Select Committee enquiry.) The dismissal of the views of church leaders as “opinions” rather than authoritative religious pronouncements I find breathtaking. (Does he include in this the statements of the Pope?)

The Secretary of State entirely fails to explain why his arguments about an uncertain future should not apply to any aspiring military power and he perpetuates the fallacy that the NPT somehow confers nuclear status upon the UK in perpetuity. It cannot be too often emphasised that the whole thrust of the NPT is towards disarmament (an obligation confirmed by the International Court of Justice in 1996) and that reference to nuclear-weapon states is a matter of definition only: “for the purposes of this Treaty a nuclear-weapon state is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to January 1, 1967” (Article IX para. 3).

If there is an academic case to be made for the replacement of Trident, this isn’t it.

The speech can be read in full on the Web or I can supply a printed version.

Joanna Bazley

Fête of the Earth May 19th

Only two months to go before the Fête.... Please make sure you reserve the date in your diaries and start thinking about ways in which you could help. We shall need goods for sale, people on stalls and in the kitchen, and lots of offers of help with transport.

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