Please make a point of attending the next WDC/CND meeting on April 8th at 7·30pm, which will take place at the Community Centre, St George’s Road SW19. Doug Weir from the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU) will be our visiting speaker.
Depleted Uranium (DU) is an aspect of modern warfare that has concerned many of us for some time, ever since the first reports of mysterious illness, genetic damage and increased incidence of cancer started to emerge from Iraq in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. DU is essentially a waste product: large quantities accumulate as a by-product of enrichment of uranium for use in nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations (fissionable U235 only makes up a small proportion of naturally occurring uranium). DU is both chemically toxic and radioactive, albeit at a lower level than enriched uranium, and like all heavy metals is extremely dense (1·7 times denser than lead). This makes DU a very effective component of armour-piercing munitions, ballast in Tomahawk missiles and armour in battle tanks. DU is not especially dangerous in bulk form, but when DU munitions burn they produce a DU oxide dust which is breathed in and ingested by military and civilians alike and which gets blown about over large areas.
It is this dust which is thought to be responsible for increasing health problems amongst populations adjacent to modern battle zones and amongst returning military personnel. Governments have been reluctant to condemn the military use of DU because of its operational effectiveness, but there is growing evidence that continuing to sanction DU pollution is irresponsible in the extreme. Concern about DU is part of a wider debate about the health effects of low-level radiation. There is evidence that the models historically used by governments (based on data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki) underestimate the damage caused by radioactive particles actually lodged within the body.
CADU, which is based in Manchester, was set up in 1999 and has links with both European and global networks. Doug Weir will bring us the latest information on both the national and international campaigns, and answer all our questions on this very complex subject. He deserves a large audience, so please pass on the enclosed flyer to a friend.
The results of CAAT’s challenge to the government’s decision to stop the Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE Systems’ Al Yamamah arms deal are not yet known, but a great deal has already emerged about the client-state nature of the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Again and again a desire to clinch arms deals and to safeguard oil supply has placed the UK in a suppliant position.
The Al Yamamah Judicial Review was held in the Royal Courts of Justice on 14th and 15th February and then from 3rd to 10th March CAAT was in court again, appealing under the Freedom of Information Act: firstly against the refusal by the Ministry of Defence to hand over the two 1980s Memoranda of Understanding on which the Al Yamamah deal was founded, and secondly against the decision to withhold Foreign Office documents from the 1960s and 70s, which the government are refusing to release on the grounds that this would offend the Saudis. CAAT’s argument, supported by witness and deputy Lib Dem leader Vince Cable MP, was that it is in the public interest to have informed debate on the matter.
“A theme that ran through all the court proceedings was the power that the UK government has allowed the Saudi Royal Family to exert over it. UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia William Patey said ‘They expect us to understand them. They expect us to have sensitivity to the different cultural norms there.’ This does not appear to be reciprocated.” (Ann Feltham, writing in CAAT News issue 207, April–May 2008).
For more details, including released government documents, transcripts and witness statements, see the CAAT website at http://www.caat.org.uk
You are invited to come along as a ‘token share holder’ on Wednesday 7th May 2008, 10am to BAE’s AGM at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, Broad Sanctuary SW1 (St James Park tube), or to join CAAT supporters outside the meeting for a peaceful protest. After the AGM there will be refreshments and a debrief of the day’s events 2·00–3·30pm at St Vincent’s Convent, Carlisle Place SW1. E-mail email@example.com or phone 020 7281 0297 for more information.
This recently published book examines what the author calls the “increasing attenuation” of the British press, by which he means less news, more opinion, less thought and less time spent finding things out. “A story appears to be true. It is widely accepted to be true. It becomes heresy to suggest that it is not true — even if it is riddled with falsehood, distortion and propaganda.”
Davies recruited researchers at Cardiff University’s school of journalism to quantify what was happening and the results were illuminating: the quantity of stories derived directly from press releases or from the Press Association (the main UK news agency) outweighed material generated by reporters themselves by a factor of 8 to 1, and only 12% of key facts were independently checked before publication. Davies has coined a new word for this phenomenon: ‘churnalism’.
Because the Press Association (PA) is such a key source of much that is rewritten and printed, it matters deeply how it operates, and it has a very thinly stretched network of reporters indeed, typically concentrating on quotes (“attributable journalism”) i.e. “If the government says Saddam has WMD then that’s what the PA will report”. And because PA stories tend not to get checked, it is a highly effective way for stories to be planted across all the national media. These days, a press release only has to announce the result of a ‘survey’, or ‘release’ a statement from a phoney pressure group, to create an instant ‘news’ story — all of which opens the way for the systematic lies of unscrupulous commercial interests or governments. It makes for a bleak picture with no very evident solution.
Our thanks to Anna who drew attention to the review of “Flat Earth” in London Review of Books 6/3/2008. [“Flat Earth News” by Nick Davies, Chatto £17·99, ISBN 9780 701 181451]
Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) have carried out some new research and conclude that the firepower of just one UK Trident submarine could have devastating environmental consequences for the whole planet. To read the article in the latest issue of the SGR newsletter see http://www.sgr.org.uk/climate/NuclearWinterTrident_NL35.pdf
Continuing our occasional Sunday afternoon series, we shall be showing two short films at Maisie’s house on April 6th, starting 4pm: a 30-minute documentary of the 1958 Aldermaston March and a DVD from New Zealand, “Nuclear reaction — how New Zealand became nuclear-free”. (“A gripping chronicle of the remarkable way New Zealand moved from blind support of the bombing of Hiroshima to become the first nation in the world to declare itself nuclear free. Dramatic archive of the gathering protests as former allies America, Britain and France bring the bomb to the Pacific, interwoven with those who risked their lives as New Zealand harbours became the battlegrounds.”)
This DVD was brought to the CND Global Conference at City Hall in February by Rob Green and Katy Dewes, whose peace foundation has donated copies to all New Zealand secondary schools. It is a reminder of all that is positive in a sometimes gloomy world.
Ka and Marcus of “Footprints for Peace” are two young Australians who have organised a series of impressive international peace walks over the past few years and who will be setting out on April 26th to walk from London to Geneva, arriving there on July 18th. They are inviting fellow-walkers to join them on any section of the route and will be crossing from Portsmouth to Cherbourg on 1st May. Overnight accommodation has been arranged in advance with sympathetic local organisations and at each of these stopping points the opportunity will be taken to work with the local host groups to spread the message of peace.
The French anti-nuclear group “Sortir du Nucleaire”, which will provide support across France, will join a gathering of health professionals at the World Health Organisation in Geneva on 26th April to demand a politically independent WHO and the release of all data about the health effects of the Chernobyl disaster — see http://www.sortirdunucleaire.org/
On April 24th the documentary “Nuclear Connections”, a record of last year’s Footprints walk linking the major nuclear sites of the UK, will be shown at Walthamstow Friends Meeting House. Anybody who wants to know more should phone 07881 425531 or log onto http://www.footprintsforpeace.net/
Easter Monday, March 24th, was bitterly cold but at least there were some glimpses of the sun between the snow showers; on the whole, we felt that it could have been worse. WDC/CND was well represented on this 50th Anniversary celebration of the first Aldermaston march, with more than thirty of us joining the seven London coaches at Embankment. Estimates were that about 5000 people had gathered from all over the country, and with a bit of help from long scarves (to extend the reach of willing arms) we did succeed in encircling the entire perimeter of the site. Musicians and speakers toured the various AWE gates so that all had a fair share of the action.
Home Office Gate was the London Area responsibility, shared with the Quakers. We took the yellow WDC banner and one of the ‘No Trident’ banners from the vigil to join all the other messages decorating the chain link fence and perched like seagulls on a row of bollards to have our lunch. New friendships were made, and old ones renewed. Everyone returned to London with a great sense of achievement and a renewed dedication to our campaign.
AWE Aldermaston is a monstrosity and the scale of the place needs to be experienced at first hand to properly appreciate it. Our government claims to be dedicated to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and yet it is investing billions of pounds at Aldermaston, openly devoted to the maintenance and development of a new generation of British nuclear weapons. The site is now dominated by the huge new Orion laser designed to simulate the nuclear tests banned under the Test Ban Treaty. Hypocrisy is too mild a term for what is happening in our name.
[See WDC/CND website for a personal account of the day by Tony Papard and photos from national CND of our members on the day.]
On March 4th, the US firm Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. announced they had joined the ‘Integrated Management Team’ running Aldermaston AWE. This team had previously been composed of British firms SERCO and BNFL and US firm Lockheed Martin. Jacobs Engineering have taken over from BNFL who sold their stake in Aldermaston, meaning that now two-thirds of the firms running it are US-owned.
From “Peaceline” March/April 2008
May 17th is the date to put in your diaries: 11am–3pm at the Community Centre, St George’s Road, Wimbledon. We need helpers please, as many as possible (especially the able-bodied...) because although the fête is great fun, it also involves a lot of hard work and it is not fair if this falls on the shoulders of the stalwart few. Car drivers are always in short supply, both to deliver goods to the hall in advance (Friday evening as well as Saturday morning) and to clear up afterwards (Saturday afternoon). We need donations of goods for sale please (plants, cakes, home produce, books, good quality bric-à-brac), stall holders to help sell, kitchen staff to serve the refreshments which are always so popular and leafleters to provide the all-important publicity. If we have enough volunteers, we can draw up a rota and nobody will have to work the whole day.
This year we are having preliminary sorting parties on the previous weekend (May 10th and 11th) at 43 Wilton Grove. Food will be provided, and people are welcome to drop in for whatever length of time they can manage. We hope this will make life easier on May 17th!
Tuesday 25th March to Saturday 12th April: for further information please contact the Gandhi Foundation’s festival office, Kingsley Hall, Powis Road, Bromley-by-Bow, E3 3HJ, ring 020 8981 5017 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a new exhibition “The Life of Gandhi” currently running at the British Library.