COMMENT by Punita Sabai

A well-hidden, dirty and genocidal war

Edmund Burke once said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” This attitude is exactly what currently nourishes and strengthens the existing Sri Lankan regime in its unrelenting persecution of the Sri Lankan Tamil minority. The apathy and indifference of other countries, the active support received from India and above all a complete media blackout has emboldened a nepotistic Buddhist dictatorship in pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing against Tamils under the guise of ‘counter-terrorism’.

Daily killings are running at around a hundred or more, with thousands wounded; so-called ‘safety zones’ surrounded by barbed wire entrap people fleeing bombed areas, and these camps have in their turn become bombing targets, making a mockery of official UN advice to the population to take refuge there.

The use of cluster bombs and white phosphorous amounts to a war crime under international law. Civilian infrastructure including hospitals has been systematically destroyed. It is reported that medicines and a mobile medical unit have been supplied by India to Sri Lankan soldiers in the war zone while the urgent medical needs of Tamils are ignored. The blockade of food and water and disruption of water supplies is resulting in deaths due to starvation and dehydration. In desperation people are risking their lives by walking through the cluster-bombed rice fields in search of scattered paddy seeds, eating poisonous leaves and drinking salty sea water without realising the dangers.

Brutalised Sri Lankan soldiers are openly committing atrocities including gang rape (and the burning of bodies to destroy evidence) and the nightly abduction of young men from the refugee ‘safe zones’, while the patrol of ‘normal areas’ by government ‘white vans’ is responsible for a lengthening list of the ‘disappeared’.

This is an absolutely horrendous chapter in a history of ethnic cleansing of Tamils by Sri Lankan politicians who believe that Sri Lanka belongs solely to the Sinhalese culture and a highly-politicised Buddhist clergy. The Sinhalese government’s version of events has been uncritically accepted by an outside world presented with only one side of the story and unwilling to investigate more closely.

WDC/CND member Punita is involved in the campaign to stop the war in Sri Lanka coordinated by the British Tamils Forum. At a recent meeting in the House of Commons (March 17th: “The Forgotten Conflict in Sri Lanka”) the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils was addressed by the US award-winning journalist Marie Colvin, herself wounded while reporting from the war zone.

The British Tamils Forum has produced a useful booklet ‘The Unspeakable Truth’ which documents key events post-Independence in 1948 from a Tamil perspective, and also adds the wider historical background of which many of us will be unaware. An 18th century British map shows “Three Sovereign Regions in the Island of Ceylon” while the British Colonial Secretary reported in 1799 that “Two different nations from a very ancient period have divided between them the possession of the Island... These two nations differ entirely in their religion, language and manners.” One of the first laws passed by the newly independent Sri Lankan government was the Citizenship Act of 1948 whose main provision was to make one million Tamils of Indian origin stateless. In the eyes of the Tamil community the Tamil Tiger military campaign was their response to an unavailing thirty years’ non-violent struggle for Tamil rights.

They see a once-thriving centuries-old Tamil nation fighting for its very identity. The International Community views the situation through the ‘prism of self-interest’ (magnified by governmental tendency to accept governmental versions of events). Since 9/11 the West has perversely linked the Tamil Tiger independence fighters with the ‘War on Terror’. It is widely accepted that the catalyst for the Sri Lankan government’s abrogation of the 2002 Oslo Ceasefire Agreement was the proscription of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam) as a terrorist organisation.

The draconian terrorism laws that accompany this proscription not only make a negotiated solution more difficult but also vilify the humanitarian efforts undertaken by Tamils in the West. At the very least we should find out more.

For further information contact — copies of ‘The Unspeakable Truth’ can be obtained from WDC/CND.

Joanna Bazley

“Doctor Atomic” at the London Coliseum

The ENO is to be congratulated for staging the UK premiere of this major new work by the American composer John Adams. I attended the performance on February 28th, inspired by a spirit of curiosity (and even duty) without any previous knowledge of John Adams’ music and not much enthusiasm for the experimental, and was rewarded by one of the most exciting theatrical experiences of recent years.

Firstly, the subject matter had attracted a different audience from usual, ENO very cleverly offering discounted tickets to CND members and advertising widely beyond their normal channels. The audience for new music is always different from the audience for the established classics and John Adams has his own following. Added to this eclectic mix were the people who like the excitement and sense of occasion generated by any ‘UK premiere’ and of course the loyal and regular ENO audience. The audience ‘buzz’ was palpable as a result and people were thinking and talking and responding rather than sitting back in their seats to be entertained.

The programme notes included details of the historical background of the Manhattan Project and the full text of Leo Szilard’s manifesto drafted to be sent to the US president and signed by 58 co-workers (but in the event substituted by a more anodyne version in order to attract even more signatories). I have never seen this text before. It very powerfully pleads that the bomb should not be dropped on Japanese cities without first giving the Japanese the chance to surrender:

“Atomic power will provide the nations with new means of destruction. The atomic bombs at our disposal represent only the first step in this direction and there is almost no limit to the destructive power which will become available in the course of this development. Thus a nation which sets the precedent of using these newly liberated forces of nature for purposes of destruction may have to bear the responsibility of opening the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale.” Powerful stuff, and made available to the entire opera audience.

As for the opera itself, I would say that it is great but flawed despite a performance of the highest order with a particularly impressive performance from Gerald Finley as Robert Oppenheimer in the title role, singing in meltingly fluent baritone. The libretto had been prepared entirely from original sources and as a result sometimes sounded cumbersome and over-wordy (a member of the audience was heard grumbling that she didn’t like “physics set to music”!). The musical highlight of the evening occurs at the end of the first act with the gloriously lyrical setting of the John Donne sonnet ‘Batter my Heart’, while the climax at the end of the second act (the test explosion itself) is musically less satisfying.

Some reviewers have claimed that the work is too long, but I didn’t find it so (perhaps because the subject matter was so gripping as far as I was concerned) and also complained that the inclusion of domestic scenes was a superfluous distraction. I actually thought that it was important dramatically and psychologically to show that the Manhattan scientists were human and sensitive outside their work, thus underlining the moral dilemma which confronted them as they created the destructive force which they proposed handing over to the politicians and military. Musically, also, Adams was given the opportunity through these interludes for emotional and stylistic contrast. Perhaps the most beautiful lyrical passage is the lullaby sung to Oppenheimer’s child by a Tewa Indian nanny (contralto Claire Powell).

Adams has said that he was inspired to write ‘Doctor Atomic’ by the power of nuclear weapons and the inadequacy of human morality and decision-making, seeing parallels with the elemental forces of “Götterdämmerung”. Music and opera can explore depths that other art forms cannot reach. I was made aware for the first time of the terror experienced by all involved in that first test as they realised that none of them could actually be certain what was going to happen and whether they could control the power that they were about to unleash; it was an aspect that had simply never occurred to me.

Review by Joanna Bazley

Public meeting June 4th

Bruce Kent and Kate Hudson, Chair of national CND, will be coming to Wimbledon for a public meeting on 4th June this year on the topic “Nuclear Weapons: Time to Get Rid of the Lot?” The meeting starts at 7pm at the Mansel Road Centre (off Wimbledon Hill Road, behind United Reformed Church); admission is free and we hope to see you there.

“The Nuclear Threat: Intolerable and Avoidable”

Jim McCluskey, from neighbouring Kingston Peace Council/CND, has researched and written an excellent new pamphlet “The Nuclear Threat: Intolerable and Avoidable”, with the aim of helping us all to ‘return to basics’ in our campaign. The case against nuclear weapons is argued clearly and succinctly, and the concept of real human security is explored, as is the rôle of nuclear weapons in encouraging a governmental culture of secrecy and lies.

Jim also introduces some interesting new lines of argument; for example, he makes a case for nuclear weapons being seen as ‘an unnatural misuse of natural forces’: “ There is a marvellous order and beauty throughout the universe ... confirmed daily by discoveries in science ... Nuclear weapons are a gross rending of that order and harmony; a sacrilegious perversion of the forces of nature.” He also makes the practical point that nuclear weapons put inordinate power in the hands of the few: “This is both unjust and extremely dangerous... There is no way of knowing which individuals will hold power in nuclear states in even the immediate future...”

Activists reading the pamphlet will come away more thoughtful for having been forced to reconsider their ideas and readers new to the subject may well be influenced by lines of argument that do not appear in the standard campaigning literature.

Basic data is given on destructive power, costs and international law, with plentiful useful quotes from documents and individuals, making the pamphlet a valuable campaigning resource for us all. And in the last part of the book, Jim assembles all the arguments that have been advanced in favour of nuclear weapons and examines them critically one by one. The pamphlet is heartily recommended and copies can be obtained from WDC/CND for £1.

Peace Women defeat Ministry of Defence in freedom to protest case

A Ministry of Defence bylaw banning camping outside the Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston was quashed by the court of appeal on February 5th.

The case brought by Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp (AWPC) hinged on whether the government’s ban on camping violated their rights to freedom of expression and assembly under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Women have been camping outside the Atomic Weapons Establishment every month for the last 24 years in opposition to the manufacture of the UK’s nuclear weapons. Following the original hearing on 1st February 2008, the court quashed a byelaw outlawing the attaching of banners to the perimeter fence. The MoD chose not to appeal. This appeal judgement reverses an original ruling that the bylaw banning camping was justified.

In a unanimous verdict, the Court rejected the Secretary of State for Defence’s arguments, saying “Rights worth having are unruly things”. The women’s peace camp is no longer criminalised. This ruling has an impact beyond AWPC and the Aldermaston nuclear weapons factory. It strengthens the right to protest and legitimises camping as a form of protest. Congratulations to all concerned.

London Region CND AGM

Saturday 18th April 10am-5pm

Conway Hall, Red Lion Square WC1

Registration and coffee
Morning Session 10·30–12·30:
AGM including election of officers, delegates to CND National council, discussion of resolutions, campaign review, reports, future events
Afternoon Session 1·30–5·30:
Open session (entrance by donation to those who didn’t register in the morning):
  1. Workshops: ‘US Policy under Obama’; international cooperation for peace: China’s response to US militarism and the current crisis; Afghanistan; Olympics, terrorism and nuclear trains
  2. Speaker 4·30: Mark Almond (Lecturer in Modern History, Oriel College, Oxford) on ‘Sixty years on, is NATO making the world safer?’. Questions and discussion.
Registration fee £4/£2
Lunch not provided this year. 020 7607 2302

Who Said?

“Trident is unacceptably expensive, economically wasteful and militarily unsound”:
Gordon Brown, 1984

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