At the time of writing the world is looking an increasingly dangerous place, with a stand-off between Russia and NATO over Georgia. A new Cold War threatens and any hopes of bilateral arms agreements between East and West are fading rapidly. Polish public opinion now sees Russia as a present threat and has fallen behind their government’s decision to allow US ‘missile defence’ installations on Polish soil (presumably not believing any more than do the Russians the diplomatic fiction that the target of all this defence is Iran).
The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty was one of the successes of the Cold War era and it was unilaterally torn up by the US who wanted to embark on a new generation of radar and interceptor rockets. Naturally Russia feels threatened and quite predictably is responding with extra military hardware of its own. Will governments never learn that the route to real security can only lie in negotiation and cooperation?
NATO is itself a relic of the Cold War and many of us campaigned for its abolition at the time of the demise of the Warsaw Pact. What a pity that Western governments allowed themselves to be led by America along the misconceived path of NATO expansion. Can politicians never put themselves into one another’s shoes?
All one can say is that the political folly of the present generation of world leaders makes it more imperative than ever to work towards dismantling the monstrous arsenals of mass destruction built up in Europe and the US over the decades since World War II. Any politician who continues to claim that nuclear weapons have “kept the peace” in Europe should pause to reflect on the example which this message sends to the rest of the world.
We had our usual stall at the Lions Club Fair in Morden Park on Bank Holiday Monday selling books, plants and bric-à-brac to happy customers, many of whom were regulars from previous years. The sky was grey but it didn’t rain and we took £150 thanks to the team: Julie, Brian W, Bob, Aden, Maisie, Joanna, Kathleen and Helen.
We are invited to submit evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee Inquiry ‘Global Security: Non-Proliferation”. This will be considered by an all-party committee of MPs chaired by Mike Gapes. Their task is to explore the extent and causes of weapons proliferation, including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the approach being taken by the British Government. Anyone can submit evidence to the Inquiry and it will be read and taken seriously, potentially appearing in the final report. This gives us all an opportunity to be listened to and possibly to influence Government policy.
The areas the Inquiry is allowed to consider include:
Submissions should be sent to Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA before September 29th.
Readers of this Newsletter will remember media coverage of the Kingsnorth Climate Camp at the beginning of August, but few will be aware that WDC/CND was closely involved with an allied initiative — largely ignored by the media — to highlight the connection between climate change, oil/carbon levels and war.
Peter le Mare, a stalwart peace campaigner from the South West, undertook to sail his own 22ft yacht “Be Disarming”, which carries a giant CND symbol on her mainsail, from the furthest tip of Cornwall to the Thames estuary and up to London, making contact with local activists at every port of call. He sent out an e-mail last May appealing for assistance, and in response the WDC/CND AGM voted to send me down to join the crew at Weymouth, with £100 towards costs.
“Be Disarming” arrived somewhat battered after setting out around the Lizard in very stormy weather. Thanks to our liaison with Exeter CND she had already received an enthusiastic reception at Exmouth — Peter would continue to talk about it for the rest of the voyage! Banners rigged along either side of the boat when moored read “£76 Billion for New Nukes or Zero CO2 Footprint” — our message was that the sums being wasted on nuclear weapons could instead reduce Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions to virtually nothing.
We spent a few days in Weymouth waiting for repairs, then Peter and I pushed on past the Isle of Wight to Southampton. An MOD patrol boarded us briefly outside Portsmouth, but we parted on friendly terms with the present of a “Give Peace a Chance” sticker for their boat — by request!
We left Southampton before dawn, but made slow progress, not arriving at Brighton marina until well after dark. Drama ensued as the navigation lights failed at sunset and, worse, in the attempt to fix them while still sailing Peter managed to fuse all the rest of the boat’s electrical equipment as well....
The next day we had to tack all the way past Beachy Head in rough water, but once safely moored in the Eastbourne marina, Peter got the electrics sorted out and sent photos to the local press. At our next port, Hastings, we dropped anchor off the beach and were ferried ashore to stay with Milan Rai (whom members may remember from the talk he gave in Wimbledon).
After another long day beating against the wind we got caught up at dusk in what must have been a miniature cyclone — the wind reversed direction in a matter of seconds, and it then proceeded to pour with rain to a degree that was literally blinding; everything vanished, save for the glow of the Dover lighthouse. Soaked to the skin, we finally arrived in Dover harbour around 1am.
For the run from Dover to Ramsgate we had the aid of an experienced local sailor, but unfortunately there was no wind and we ended up motoring almost all the way. At Ramsgate we had been expecting a reporter to come aboard for a day, but she decided against the trip; however one of her colleagues came down for a brief interview.
Our next leg was intended to take us through the Thames estuary and into the mouth of the Medway. Unfortunately the wind had increased a great deal and we had trouble getting out of the marina under motor — I hurt my left arm fending off from another boat. Once out at sea we discovered that the engine seemed to be malfunctioning. This meant there was no way we would be able to get up the narrow channel of the Medway; there was also no question of motoring back to Ramsgate against both wind and tide. Either we would have to call for help from the lifeboat, or we would have to rescue ourselves under sail alone.
We managed to struggle back into Ramsgate under sail without any aid, and were helped into a mooring by the dock-master. Our next stop was the hospital, where an X-ray revealed that my arm was in fact broken. Further sailing was out of the question, so I had to go home.
Repairs on “Be Disarming”, however, turned out not to be as severe as at first feared, and with an emergency crew the Little Peace Boat sailed up through Tower Bridge in time for Peter to attend the Hiroshima Day commemoration at Tavistock Square. Later, CND members assembled to hear him speak with Kate Hudson outside City Hall — sadly, Boris Johnson failed to make an appearance!
At the Climate Camp itself no local moorings would allow Peter in, being afraid of becoming implicated in any way. But he was eventually able to speak to a enthusiastic audience at the camp, where he received a warm welcome.
It is a pity that the national media largely ignored this colourful expedition, but WDC/CND can feel proud of our own contribution. For a full journal of the voyage, see http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/PeaceBoat.html
The Hiroshima Day commemoration in Sidmouth attracted a record number of over two hundred people, including Helen, Maisie, Julie, Eric and Helen from Wimbledon CND and Nancy and Norman from Sutton for Peace and Justice. The good response from the public owed much to preparation before the event, when local supporters distributed leaflets, contacted the local press and a well known vicar, past president of the Folk Week. Preparation for the day also entailed writing, phoning, e-mailing the organisers and visiting performers, appealing for their support.
The result was a prominent article in the local newspaper, announcements at many of the concerts, dances, etc., and for the first time in the thirty years that we have organised this commemoration, details were put into the working programme. Sandra Kerr, broadcaster, folk singer and university lecturer and organiser of the very popular Festival Choir, and Roy Bailey, described by Tony Benn as “the greatest socialist folk singer of his generation”, came along: the MC was Chris Turner, the well known, well loved, colourful, charismatic folk dance caller.
The whole event was memorable, We listened, we sang, heard poems, comments and prayers from people passionately interested in peace. We joined in a moment of quiet reflection remembering the victims of Hiroshima and rededicating ourselves to work for peace.
A really exciting outcome was the determination expressed that next year Hiroshima must feature even more prominently in the Festival and plans are afoot to organise a Peace Concert in the local theatre or one of the halls, on Hiroshima Day.
About twenty people attended our annual candle-floating ceremony on Rushmere, Wimbledon Common, on August 6th. The evening was warm and dry with a gentle wind which sent our lighted boats across the water in a stately procession of great beauty. We reflected that our small ceremony was one of many throughout the country and the whole world, and left the Common with a renewed sense of purpose in our campaign.
[NB: there has been some discussion about whether we should mount a more ‘public’ event next year with readings and visiting speakers — what do members think?]
Thank you to those who responded to the appeal in the last Newsletter: over the summer holiday we were able to continue our unbroken tradition in St Mark’s Place. Special badges of honour are due to Sharmila who on one occasion bravely maintained a solo presence, and to our most senior member Mabel Cluer aged 97, who arrived on the bus with one of son Edwin’s placards on her shopping trolley!
The ‘regulars’ are now back but it would be nice to have some more support. Any length of time is worthwhile: it doesn’t have to be for the whole hour. Our message of peace serves as a reminder that there are civilised alternatives to violence in a dangerously unstable world.
The Vigil for Peace takes place every Friday from 6–7pm in St Mark’s Place outside Wimbledon Library. The text of our vigil leaflet can be found at http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Vigil.html as can the original of the photo above: http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Photos/Mabel.html
The Movement for the Abolition of War is selling white mugs with the message ANYTHING WAR CAN DO PEACE CAN DO BETTER at a price of £6 + £1 p&p per mug from:
1 Court Farm Cottages
Dorset DT2 7BT
They make ideal presents for the peace activists in your life.