The BBC Reith Lectures were delivered this year by Jeffrey Sacks and his theme, a call for real security, is the theme of the peace movement. He posed this question: how can we think we’ll be safe when we allow one billion people in the world to struggle literally for their daily existence, while at the same time our military expenditure is at least 100 times greater than expenditure on eliminating this kind of suffering? This is what some of us have been saying for years, and it is very encouraging to have our message spelled out so eloquently by such a high-profile speaker.
Like all readers of this Newsletter, I was disappointed that our M.P. voted to retain Trident. Stephen Hammond assured me that he would be voting “to ensure that we as a nation have an appropriate defence policy.” But what about the real health and safety of our nation? What about the children and pensioners living in poverty while billions are squandered on nuclear weapons and foreign wars: £76 billion on Trident and £6 billion (at least) for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? It would take only a fraction of these amounts to give every child a decent start in life, to end the disaster of our NHS and to give pensioners the standard of living and dignity they have worked for all their lives. This is the kind of defence our M.P. and all M.P.s should be striving for.
Anyone with an ounce of compassion in their bones must surely agree that spending on weapons of mass destruction is not just immoral, it is wasteful in the extreme. If the British Government were to reduce spending on nuclear weapons (already agreed under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) it would be a principled example to the whole world and a deterrent to the development of nuclear weapons by other countries, and huge funds could be released to end poverty and disease worldwide.
A two-day conference, organised by the International Peace Bureau and Movement for the Abolition of War, gathered academics and peace activists at the Imperial War Museum on April 13th and 14th to learn about our 19th and 20th century forebears and the foundations they laid. CND’s own Kate Hudson spelt out the message of the title most clearly: for encouragement, the fact that most people are humane, and that we are capable of looking with open minds at alternative ways of doing things. And her warning: that we need to face up to realities; we cannot assume that a Western model will be acceptable to everyone.
Kate, wearing her Historian’s hat, spoke about the World Government Movement on the second day of the conference. Other presentations that day covered the history of Conscientious Objection, the history of Art Working for Peace, and the League of Nations etc. Presentations on the first day mainly concerned individuals — people we had never or hardly ever heard of, each with their own remarkable story.
Above all, I was encouraged by evidence of the tireless struggle to achieve peace, generation after generation: sometimes mass movements, sometimes a faithful few — and now globally organised and communicating as never before. I’m also encouraged by the diversity of contributions: writers, artists, musicians, social reformers, war resisters, strikers and demonstrators, all can play their part. A few become famous and an arbitrary few win the Nobel Peace Prize — the tip of an enormous iceberg of human endeavour.
Among the little-known names that got a mention was Ludovic Zamenhof who created the international language, Esperanto. Its “internal idea” is that if all human beings could communicate with a common second language that all have learned equally, we could learn to live with one another in peace. The ups and downs of Esperanto have broadly followed those of the Peace Movement at large, and like the wider movement it’s well organised and waiting for a radical change of mindsets from the old to a new order. At least one young man at the conference took the address of the London Club and said he’d learn the language.
Learning Esperanto would be one active response to the biggest obstacle to peace, as I see it: our Us/Them mentality. One learns that language in order — ideally — to communicate with all people everywhere on an equal basis, acknowledging and respecting all the diversity.
The foundations have been laid, good seeds have been sown — but without a radical change in the way we and our political leaders see the world I don’t think we’ve got much of a future. That’s my warning — but nevertheless I’m optimistic.
Janet’s sudden death on April 2nd aged only 53 came as a great shock to all in the peace movement. Her Oxford Research Group colleague Scilla Elworthy contributed a heartfelt obituary in the national Guardian (30/4/2007).
“Warm, energetic and generous, Janet Bloomfield... was involved in a host of peace and nuclear campaigns. The chair of CND 1993–6, a member of the global council of Abolition 2000 since 1997, the international campaign co-ordinator of Abolition Now!, she was also a key figure in the Weapons of Mass Destruction Awareness Programme set up by Sir Joseph Rotblat.
“From 1995 she was the British director of the Atomic Mirror, which uses the arts to transform understanding of security from a reliance on nuclear weapons [the theme of Janet’s visit to Wimbledon in 1997].
“In 2005 representing Abolition Now! Janet, an inspiring public speaker, addressed delegates at the UN General Assembly in New York. ‘A small minority of states and non-state groups put their faith in weapons of mass destruction to promote peace and security,’ she said. ‘The majority put their faith in negotiation and diplomacy — and in this house...’
“From 1997 Janet worked with the Oxford Research Group developing its discussions on nuclear issues. She brought her gift for dialogue — often between people with profound disagreements — to the ORG and last month was the facilitator when diplomats, academics and British politicians shared views on the causes and cures for nuclear proliferation.
“Janet felt for others, loved them, did something about it and was as comfortable in the UN as she was in her back garden, which she cultivated with care.” We also learn that Janet was a geography graduate from Sussex University and after graduating became a Marks & Spencer’s trainee: unsurprisingly, corporate life was not her forte!
Janet’s death is of course desperately sad on a personal level, but also a great tragedy for the peace movement.
A Quaker Memorial Meeting will be held on the afternoon of Saturday 12th May in Saffron Walden, “to give thanks for her loving and generous life”. Practical details will be posted on the website http://www.janetbloomfield.com which it is planned will eventually become a tribute to her life and work. Arrangements will also be made for a fund to support some special aspects of Janet’s work. (RVSP about May 12th to Helen Gibbs at Saffron Walden Friends Meeting House 01799 521832).
As a tribute to Janet Bloomfield we reprint part of an article from the WDC/CND archives:
The Atomic Mirror Pilgrimage of April 5th–28th 1996 was timed to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of Chernobyl. It was inspired by a pilgrimage which had carried the eternal flame from the Peace Park in Hiroshima to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico the previous year, the fiftieth anniversary of the first atomic bomb.
The route of Janet’s pilgrimage was planned to include the major nuclear sites in Britain, and also some of the most powerful and beautiful sacred sites, such as Iona, St David’s Cathedral, Wells Cathedral and Avebury. This was the “mirror”: the contrasting message of modern nuclear folly and these monuments to ancient wisdom.
“What have we learned? Where are we now? What is our vision for the next ten years?” she writes. “By journeying through the nuclear landscapes of our country in our minds and hearts, and connecting with some of its most sacred places, we planned to reflect upon and incorporate the contrasting lessons of both histories.
“I think of the nuclear sites we visited, and how they infest and infect the beauty of these islands with malevolent power. We saw in three weeks the full manifestation of the British nuclear state in all its fear, secrecy and greed. From the political centre of Whitehall, to the black gates of Aldermaston, to the sinister golfballs of Menwith Hill spybase, to Torness nuclear power station, to seeing Trident sail up the loch at Faslane, and finally to Sellafield on Chernobyl Day, we tried to speak truth to power...”
Janet showed the documentary film “Sacred Fire” in St Mark’s Church on September 9th 1997.
Alison Williams had an excellent letter published in the Wimbledon Guardian (“An immoral waste of money”, 12/4/2007) following the House of Commons Trident debate: “It was disappointing that Stephen Hammond our Wimbledon MP helped the Prime Minister get his Trident replacement process under way.... As one who thinks respect for the United Nations’ charter offers our best hope of security, I oppose the replacement of Trident on moral and legal grounds.... Stephen Hammond told a lobby of anti-Trident constituents recently that he agreed with us on two points — there should have been more time for debate, and the right ultimate objective is multilateral disarmament. Why not get rid of Britain’s redundant, immoral and costly nuclear weapons as one step on the way to that safer world?”
And this letter was followed up by both Joanna Bazley and Maisie Carter (Wimbledon Guardian 26/4/2007), giving us the headlines “Let’s take a chance on banning the nukes” and “Nuclear ban will show example to the world”.
Stephen Hammond has made it very clear that he follows his party line in nuclear matters, but it is encouraging to note that a Conservative M.P. for a neighbouring constituency (Ian Taylor, Esher & Walton) abstained during the Trident debate, and there are high-profile Conservatives such as Michael Ancram and Michael Portillo who have argued against Trident very vigorously
The outcome of the next general election at present appears wide open with a very real prospect of a Conservative administration within the next few years. Conservative Party policy is in the process of development, and the least we can do is to try to make the Conservatives think before they sleep-walk down the well-worn Cold War path followed by their predecessors. There is no reason why issues relating to nuclear disarmament should be seen in terms of left- or right-wing politics. The Conservatives are reinventing themselves as a political party with an environmental conscience, so let’s take them at their word and challenge their decision-makers.
I have written to Stephen Hammond on behalf of WDC/CND as follows:
“The government is apparently incapable of fresh thinking in this complex and challenging area and we suggest that it is essential that the Conservative Party develop its own ideas in preparation for future office.
“The Interim Position Paper on security issues by Dame Pauline Neville-Jones (Conservative Party website) mentions the ‘striking lethargy’ of governments in regard to nuclear proliferation, and this is a welcome indication that Conservatives do recognise the need for creative policy making. It is however worrying that Conservative spokesmen continue to echo the facile language used by the current government to justify its inherently weak arguments in favour of Trident renewal.
“Calling Trident a ‘deterrent’ is a deliberate euphemism adopted as a matter of political expediency, and its ‘independence’ is at best highly questionable.
“Trident is leased from and serviced by the USA and reliance on American software gives the US massive power over all aspects of targeting.”
I enclosed excerpts from a detailed essay by John Ainslie (The Future of the British Bomb, WMD Awareness Programme Oct 2005) highlighting technical aspects of the rôle of the US, and asked for a response from Conservative Defence spokesman Dr Liam Fox.
A new film club has been set up in Balham by local film-makers Tenner Films to show the best social, environmental and political documentaries and features. The launch night will feature Tenner Films’ own short documentary “Uranium: the Yellow Monster”, which deals with uranium mining in the Navajo Reservation in the south-western United States; this forms part of a full-length documentary project looking at the controversial subject of nuclear power, and all proceeds from the night will go towards raising funds for this project.
In addition, the second half of the double-bill will be the Oscar-nominated 1979 film starring Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, “The China Syndrome”, about a near-meltdown in a nuclear power station — a story that seemed all too prophetic when the Three Mile Island incident took place a few weeks after its release!
The joint screening will take place on Saturday 19th May at 7·30pm, at Balham Baptist Church, 21 Ramsden Rd. Tickets cost £5 each.