“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” We must remember this famous remark by US anthropologist Margaret Mead every time we are tempted to give up on an a campaign that can at times seem impossibly ambitious.
“Rid the world of nuclear weapons? Don’t be ridiculous” is the comfortable, career-minded professional politician’s retort. It reminds me of that Flanders & Swann sketch about cannibalism (“but people have always eaten people”) only of course we have not always been obliged to live with nuclear weapons. These are a relatively modern invention, maintained as part of the fabric of our so-called defence policy by present-day scientists and engineers and paid for out of our communal (increasingly scarce) financial resources. “Eating people is wrong,” said the Reluctant Cannibal. Nuclear weapons are immoral, dangerous and useless. The Emperor has no clothes. Politicians do try to make things very complicated sometimes. Probably it makes them feel very important.
There is a rôle for everybody in a group like WDC/CND. There was a lot to do and think about last month (see separate reports) culminating in the final weekend of November when we simultaneously ran a book stall at the Congregationalists’ community market and sent a leafletting team to Basingstoke.
Not everybody wants to go to meetings, go on marches, distribute leaflets or sell books, but just by maintaining your membership of WDC/CND and receiving and reading your newsletter, you are providing essential background support for our more energetic members: I can write to Stephen Hammond M.P. on behalf of nearly a hundred of my fellow thoughtful, committed citizens instead of as one voice.
This will be the last Newsletter until February, and I hope you will all take a break over the holiday season, relax and enjoy yourselves. But before you take this much-needed break, please do three things:
Our colleagues in Kingston Peace Council/CND came up with a brilliant idea which WDC/CND (in the persons of Edwin and Joanna) decided to support. There is no CND group in Basingstoke and very little understanding of what is going on at AWE Aldermaston, virtually on their doorstep, other than its role as a local employer in an area of considerable deprivation. So we decided to take a leafletting team to Basingstoke town centre on November 27th as an experiment. Kingston had produced a special leaflet for the occasion with straight-forward factual text.
“Aldermaston — danger! Nuclear weapons on your doorstep.
“The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston has been at the centre of Britain’s nuclear weapons production since 1950. Since 1958 all of the UK’s nuclear weapons have been designed, tested and built (in collaboration with the US) at Aldermaston.... Since 2002, the government has invested in building massive new facilities at Aldermaston and recruited new staff to test, design and build the next generation of nuclear warheads.... It has been reported that £3 million a day is spent at Aldermaston — on weapons of mass destruction which are wasteful, dangerous, militarily useless and completely against the terms of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Surely a far more worthwhile investment of this vast sum, together with the skills of the workers, would be in tackling the real threats to our security, particularly climate change.”
The leaflet ended by mentioning safety considerations and pointing out that accidental release of radioactivity would have massive local impact. Eight of us gave out 1000 leaflets in two hours and were very well received by the unfailingly polite local population. Perhaps Reading next time?
Peacenik Patty (a cut-out doll with clothes) can be found in Toys for Peace under Free Downloads in the Movement for the Abolition of War website, http://www.abolishwar.org.uk. All clothes are drawn in outline so that children can cut them out and colour them in. Sue Gilmurray (MAW chair) has also designed peace sweaters for dolls (MAW logo) and these knitting patterns also appear on the website.
At the Imperial War Museum on November 14th Philippe Sands QC provided a closely argued legal analysis of the Attorney General’s contribution to the Blair case for going to war against Iraq in 2003. The hall was packed with several hundred people in the audience, which is a huge tribute to the Movement for the Abolition of War who organised the event. Philippe Sands’ conclusion was that Lord Goldsmith displayed “tragic weakness” in allowing his professional integrity to be subverted by political considerations: this in his view is the only possible explanation for the way in which Goldsmith’s consistent legal advice to Tony Blair (7th March) was reversed ten days later despite the absence of any new material facts.
Philippe Sands was equally scathing about the limitations of the Chilcot Inquiry, pointing out that none of the five-member team has a legal background (“think Gilbert & Sullivan rather than the Old Bailey”) and that all key witnesses had proved adept at swatting away difficult questions. The terms of reference of the inquiry have prevented public reference to unpublished key documents (some of which Sands himself has seen and which contradict or undermine witness testimony). Nevertheless Chilcot has succeeded in ‘teasing out’ new information which clearly shows that Blair’s diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning rather than the other way round: “Never again should the British Government take us to war in such lamentable circumstances.”
This is a new initiative by a small congregation anxious to expand its community links, taking place on the fourth Saturday of every month. The booking fee for a stall is a modest £5, so we decided to take part on November 27th as an experiment. There were insufficient customers to make the occasion much of a financial success (total takings £15) but it was nice to be received by the church with such friendliness, and with the striking turquoise and black CND banners decorating our second-hand book stall we were literally ‘flying the flag’ in new places for the afternoon. Thanks go to stall holders Sue and Hazel, and to Joanna’s and Hazel’s family members who helped lug boxes. We shall be back at the end of January, and will be looking for a new team of volunteers.
A small group from Wimbledon went to join the Stop the War Coalition/CND march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square on November 20th and the Wimbledon banner was carried by Joanna and Harriet. We marched behind a group from Bridgewater (“make cider not war”) and spoke to people from the edge of Exmoor (by car to Taunton and then by train to London) — and reflected that protesting is so very much easier for us Londoners. There was virtually no media coverage of this dogged demonstration in the bitter cold despite its respectable size (perhaps we were too well-behaved?) but we can be sure that the government has noted that people are still prepared to take to the streets and continue to protest after nine years of the mindless war in Afghanistan.
The speaker at the Merton PSC meeting on 15th November was Rotem Mar, a young Israeli Jew who made his first political statement by refusing to serve in the Israeli army and being sentenced to a term of imprisonment. After his release, he worked tirelessly for many years to make links between the different ethnic and religious communities in Israel, and to draw attention to the injustice of government measures such as the dividing wall (the “apartheid wall”) which is carving up Palestinian land. Some of the protestors’ peaceful demonstrations were very imaginative such as mass kite flying (showing that the air above the wall is free for all) and I particularly liked the ‘alternative tours’ which he has arranged for visitors to Jerusalem, showing them something of the off-the-beaten-tourist-track aspects of the city’s multi-ethnic community.
This was a very gentle campaigner, thinking globally and acting locally; brave, but not aggressive. He has recently enrolled as a student at the (one and only) School of Middle Eastern music in Jerusalem where his fellow-students are drawn from all the neighbouring countries of the Middle East, sharing their love of their common musical heritage and ignoring political difference. An inspiration to us all.
The next PSC meeting is Monday December 13th: an end of year get-together and fundraiser.
Report by Joanna Bazley
There was guarded optimism from the new National Director of the United Nations Association, Philip Mulligan, who spoke at Wimbledon’s Quaker Meeting House on November 16th anticipating what can be expected from the Summit on Climate Change (Cancun, Mexico, 29 November– 10 December). Alison Williams reports:
Lessons have been learned from last year’s disappointment in Copenhagen. Expectations are not so high. Instead of an all-embracing, legally binding agreement the hopes are to achieve agreement on issues where divisions are not great, for example the transfer of clean technology from richer to poorer countries, curbing carbon emissions from deforestation and creating a new fund for long-term climate financing. And instead of trying to get consensus from all 194 countries signed up to the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) they have agreed to negotiate in smaller groups for a time.
Climate change may well be humanity’s biggest long-term challenge but it is also our greatest opportunity. The kind of changes necessary to adapt to climate change and to mitigate its effects are the same changes needed to achieve sustainable, affordable, profitable and equitable development across our planet. Given the necessary compromises, Cancun could be a springboard for ‘bigger and better agreements every year.’
On 27th October the United Nations General Assembly Committee on Disarmament held a vote to have all countries take their nuclear weapons off High Alert: 144 states voted in favour and only 3 states voted to retain their High Alert status, one of which was Britain. (Thanks to Jim McCluskey for this information: the UK government should be ashamed.)
Brigitte has offered us the hospitality of her beautiful house for this showing of “Beating the Bomb”, made to mark CND’s 50th anniversary and intended to be a tool for campaigning and organising today as well as informing a new generation about past struggles. Nº 28 is at the top of Conway Rd on the left, approached via Montana Rd which links Arterberry and Langham Roads, and is only a few minutes’ walk from Raynes Park station or the buses along Worple Road.
Commander Robert Green served for twenty years in the Royal Navy. As a bombardier-navigator he flew in Buccaneer nuclear strike aircraft and antisubmarine helicopters. On promotion to Commander in 1978 he worked in the MoD before his final appointment as a Staff Officer (Intelligence) during the Falklands war. This book charts his own personal journey from a mild concern about the nuclear strategy of his superiors (but “because I was ambitious... I complied”) to the absolute conviction that “not only were nuclear weapons militarily useless, but that the full consequences of their use had not been thought through.” The Falklands war (1982) raised “major concerns” relating to nuclear weapons (faced with the realities of operating Polaris on behalf of Margaret Thatcher) but it took the 1990–1 Gulf War to “break me out of the brainwashing that had sustained my belief in nuclear weapons”. Addressing a crowd of 20,000 people in Trafalgar Square in January 1991, Rob was the first former British naval commander with nuclear weapons experience to speak out openly against nuclear weapons.
There follows a useful summary of the history of the nuclear age, analysis of “nuclear deterrence in the real world” (the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis, India, Pakistan, Iraq) and a calm, analytical consideration of the alternatives. Rob’s conclusion is that nuclear deterrence should be rejected on the grounds that it is impractical, politically unsound and counterproductive to our real security needs, as well as immoral and illegal. “Moreover, there are alternative non-nuclear strategies to deter war and secure just and lasting peace.”
This is invaluable as a reference book and inspirational in its intellectual analysis. We have made a bulk purchase on behalf of WDC/CND: contact Joanna (020 8543 0362) to reserve your copy for the bargain price of £10.
Maxi was for many years an active and loyal member of WDC/CND but increasing infirmity has persuaded her to move to North London, just round the corner from her son. We wish her well in her new surroundings.