When President Gorbachev created a different attitude towards the West, bringing in perestroika and glasnost, the world seemed to be moving into a new era where hopefully we would have at long last a peaceful universe. Indeed, since the collapse of the USSR the stockpile of nuclear weapons has been reduced and one hoped they would be eliminated. Sadly there are still enough weapons of mass destruction to destroy the world over and over again.
What is even worse is that more nations want to become possessors of these evil weapons and it is not difficult to understand why. On the one hand we have the USA and the UK attacking Iraq in the false belief that Iraq owned weapons of mass destruction, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and thousands of UK and American soldiers. Since the devastation in Iraq the United States has turned its eye on Iran, again in the belief that they are in a position to produce a nuclear weapon. The United States is also threatening North Korea who they say is trying to develop nuclear weapons. It is easy to understand why Iran believes that it should own nuclear capability, for in the Middle East there is a volatile situation and although the Israelis do not admit it, it is common knowledge that they too have the weapons they feel they need to defend their country. These weapons have been developed with a nod and a wink from the United States and yet they continue to criticise other countries for being nuclear weapons owners. This hypocrisy by Britain and the United States knows no bounds and a blind eye is turned on Pakistan, India, France and China. When a country as large as the United States starts threatening a tiny country the size of North Korea one can understand why they do not wish to be bullied and feel that being part of the nuclear weapons club would put them in a different league; the same applies to war against Iran. It is my belief that the United States along with Russia and the European Union must pressurise Israel into giving up its nuclear capability, give up the land it has stolen since 1967, end the blockade and start trading as equals. We would then see a greater degree of peace in the Middle East. Maybe it is time we started resurrecting the idea of a federal world where all nations work together for the good of each other. Then and only then will we be able to completely discard all weapons of mass destruction.
Events in Merton form part of the London Week of Peace (incorporating the UN International Day of Peace on September 21st) which is supported by all 32 London Boroughs. Events are coordinated in this borough by the Diversity and Community Cohesion team who write:
“Peace Week is an event for the whole community, celebrating diversity, equality and social harmony. It provides an opportunity for people of different backgrounds, ages, faiths and cultures to participate in events that promote peace, community cohesion and community safety. This year the theme is ‘giving back’.”
The official Peace Week launch is on Monday September 20th at Wimbledon Piazza (outside Morrison’s) 12·30–2·00pm, and on Wednesday September 22nd there will be a Peace Walk from Merton Priory to the peace garden at The Canons in Mitcham. Other events include sessions by the Mediation Service (“Be a peace-maker in your community”) and an anti knife and gun workshop. On Saturday September 25th there will be a multicultural Family Fun Day on Mitcham Fair Green from 1 to 4pm — there will be widespread local publicity nearer the time.
We are delighted that a showing of the wonderful Canadian film “The Strangest Dream” on Tuesday September 21st (celebrating the life and work of Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat) will this year form an official part of the proceedings. Nothing could meet the chosen theme of ‘Giving Back’ more eloquently than the life of this great man who rejected his pioneering work on the first atomic bomb when he withdrew from the Manhattan project on moral grounds, put his personal wartime tragedy (the death of his young wife) behind him, and devoted the rest of his long life to the causes of nuclear disarmament and world peace.
We are extremely honoured that National CND chair Kate Hudson has agreed to be present to lead discussion, and we want the widest possible support for the venture. Please put the date in your diaries and spread the word.
About two dozen people gathered at the War Memorial in Wimbledon Village on the evening of August 7th; not a huge number, but it was the middle of the holiday season and this was a new venture. Councillors from all three main political parties were present, and Maxi Martin (Lab) and Ian Dysart (Lib Dem) spoke, both emphasising that their presence was in a purely personal capacity.
The Rector of Wimbledon, the Rev. Mary Bide, spoke firmly and emphatically about the need to recognise the great wrongs of the past and to work towards a better future. Alison Williams quoted the words delivered by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in Hiroshima itself the previous day at a ceremony attended for the first time by the US Ambassador to Japan. Martin Bazley read ‘No Man is an Island’ by John Donne and Sheila Knight read Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’.
After standing for a one-minute silence we were led by Brendan and Helen McAuley in a chorus of ‘We Shall Overcome’, and then moved across the Common to Rushmere for our traditional candle floating: symbolic lighted boats in the Japanese tradition. The evening cleared to a magical stillness and it was a peaceful and beautiful occasion reminding us of why we continue what we do, and this year for the first time involving several key members of the wider Wimbledon community.
For approximately 30 years our Chairman, Maisie Carter, has been responsible for a gathering to remember Hiroshima Day, on August 6th, at the Sidmouth Folk Festival which always takes place on the first week of August. It was usually a small group — about 20-30 people, including, when he could, the Vicar of the Parish Church — who gathered to sing some songs together, read a poem or two, speak of their feelings or experiences, or just join in and share a minute’s silence as well. Maisie ran this event every year since she and Helen Jones started it during the first year they attended the Sidmouth Folk Festival, and I, your humble reporter, was part of it for the past 6 or 7 years. Until this year it meant that I, and all of Maisie’s friends, had to spend much of our time giving out leaflets, asking that the gathering be mentioned at the different workshops, concerts, dances, etc., which happened every day. This year, however, at the suggestion of Sandra Kerr, a wonderful singer, choirmaster and musician, there was an actual concert held on Friday, August 6th, at 2·30 p.m. in a huge marquee. The featured artists were Roy Bailey, Sandra Kerr, David Ferrard and a group called Chumbawamba. They all kept us singing, listening, cheering and wiping away tears for 2 hours without a break. I and, I think, almost everyone else (I think there were about 600 of us, and would have been more if the powers that be hadn’t scheduled yet another peace event at the same time!), was moved, uplifted and heartened to have so many like-minded people around us. I wasn’t absolutely sure if I would go again next year, until this event. It was very special indeed to have been a part of that fantastic outpouring of goodwill, love and determination that such a thing as war of any kind would not happen again. The fact that it has happened, and will likely continue to happen, is not the point. The point, to my mind, is that we are doing our best to stop it, and to make all the people in the world cherish and care for each other. I think everyone who was present felt that resoundingly. Thank you, Maisie, you are truly an inspiration to us all!
The Army for Today Presentation and Briefing seems an unlikely event for CND to be involved in, but we were invited because of our community work and told that we would be given the opportunity to ask questions, so on a pleasant summer evening in July, two delegates, Jill Beauchamp and I, went along. The Grade 1 listed building chosen for the venue was a sumptuous one and the same can be said for the reception. Army officers danced attendance on us, made sure that our wine glasses were constantly refreshed and were quite charming throughout the reception. We were then ushered into a larger hall where the film and presentation was given. The film showed army cadets and recruits in various activities, reminiscent of an adventure holiday for young people; it was complemented by leading officers talking us through it. Training for battle was included but my impression was that it was very low key; the emphasis was on fun. We were then invited to ask questions but were told that if we had political issues we could not raise them in that meeting, but with our MPs later. This presented us with something of a dilemma but I was determined to try, so my question went along these lines:
“I am very impressed with the generous hospitality and excellent organisation of the evening, which has been very informative. I feel, however, that I am in an Alice in Wonderland situation where the reality is quite different from the one presented, with little attention given to what really happens in war. I have a personal involvement with the war in Afghanistan, having a grandson who has just returned and a nephew who is there now. My concerns are for their welfare and linked with that there are the horrific images of the flag draped coffins parading through Wootton Bassett with such frightening frequency. The tragic loss of British and Afghan lives seems to me to be indefensible, so I ask the question: What are we doing there? Isn’t it all just a futile waste of time and resources and most of all, of human life? I do not believe that we are in Afghanistan, any more than in Iraq, to defend us from terrorist attacks; on the contrary, as Dame Eliza Manningham Buller said in her evidence to the Chilcott Inquiry, our presence in Iraq did not decrease the threat of terrorism, it increases the threat and puts us in greater danger.”
My remarks were given a polite reception by the officer concerned, but he dismissed my argument in a quite perfunctory way, which I suppose is not surprising. Nevertheless, a number of people, including a young man who had a Peace Studies degree from Bradford University, came up to me afterward and congratulated me on my remarks. I mentioned all this in my feedback and suggested that future presentations should have a greater sense of reality and honesty.
The WDC/CND AGM was held on 18th July at 43 Wilton Grove. All officers were re-elected as follows:
Edwin Cluer, Sheila Knight and Christine Bickerstaff complete the Steering Group. (More volunteers to attend these monthly planning meetings would be very welcome.)
We have 71 paid-up members (with another 14 whom we are charitably assuming are simply forgetful). It was agreed that the annual subscription should rise to £5 (or £3 concessions) to take increased postal rates into account. Subs are due in November and reminders will be sent.
Mr Junichi Kodama from the Japanese daily paper Akahata attended the meeting as a guest and his report was published on July 23rd. He writes that his article will be encouraging to the Japanese people who hope to make the world a more peaceful place, and he wishes us all success in our activities for a world without nuclear weapons. We hope shortly to be in a position to publish a full English translation of Mr Kodama’s article on the WDC/CND website.
Conference this year is once again in London: 9–10 October, Mary Ward House, Tavistock Place. The International Conference with invited speakers on key issues takes up the whole of the first day. Reviews of campaigning activities and finances, officer and Council elections, a strategy debate and Ordinary Resolutions are scheduled for day two.
Please get in touch with Joanna (8543 0362) if you wish to register as a Wimbledon delegate. All conference information can be found on the website http://www.cnduk.org/conference