Inspired by an article by Christine Titmus in the Autumn MAW Newsletter† we decided to make more of an effort to engage with the powers-that-be and try to introduce an element of universal sadness for all victims of all wars into the institutionalised civic Remembrance Day ceremony. It is a sensitive area, because the last thing we want is to upset people who have become involved in the tragedy of war, but many of us feel that the Armistice Day solemnity has degenerated into a nationalistic ritual exploited by politicians who still find warfare an acceptable foreign policy tool.
† Movement for the Abolition of War Newsletter Nº 20, Autumn 2011
“Whatever you do, do something, anything that moves people beyond their comfort zone and makes them rethink what Remembrance Day could and should mean,” writes Christine. We discussed the matter with Merton UNA and asked Alison Williams (UNA Branch Secretary) to approach the local Royal British Legion. She had a constructive conversation with the local branch secretary with Alison explaining that she personally had been wearing both a red poppy and a white poppy for many years: the red poppy honouring the memory of those in the armed services who had sacrificed their lives and the white poppy representing hope for a world where such sacrifices will no longer be necessary. The branch secretary conferred with a colleague and both men agreed that the British Legion would be happy for a UNA wreath (including white poppies) to form part of the official proceedings, as long as red remained the predominant colour and the wreath was professionally made.
Unfortunately the permission from the Royal British Legion is not enough. Alison asked for the necessary official permission from the mayor of Merton, explaining that she had already discussed the matter with the British Legion. “Naturally members of the United Nations Association want the United Nations Organisation to live up to the promise of its charter and ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’. Alas there have been many more wars/violent armed conflicts since the Charter was signed but we continue to hope and believe that the future need not go on repeating the past in this way.... My colleagues and I will be happy if our wreath can be part of the official ceremony. For us, it would signify that officially Remembrance Sunday isn’t solely about honouring past suffering and sacrifice but includes an element of commitment to live and work for peace.”
The reply came back that legal team advice was that “as an authority” Merton could not comply with the display of any “insignia or advertising” on poppy wreaths, and that the standard poppies in wreaths are just red in colour “thus not confusing any political or organisational representation which could set future precedence.” In other words, with the Royal British Legion’s blessing we can carry our wreath during the official ceremony but we must lay it on the war memorial afterwards, with the white poppies among the red being a respectful expression of our conviction that the best way to remember the sacrifices of wars is to work hard for a world at peace.
Please be there — Wimbledon War Memorial, Sunday 13th Nov 10·40am. (Wimbledon Common end of Wimbledon High Street).
The Peace Pledge Union has been distributing white poppies since 1934, a response to the rising international tensions and the renewed threat of war, inspired by a generation of women bereaved in the Great War (that “war to end all wars”). White poppies commemorate the victims of all wars and are also a symbol of hope and commitment to work for a world where conflicts will be resolved without violence and with justice. Poppies are available from 43 Wilton Grove SW19 3QU (send donation and stamp) or from the Vigil or Peace Table. We hope also that local Co-op stores will agree to display them.
The Movement for the Abolition of War has established itself as a respected and influential advocate of a ‘peace’ rather than ‘war’ culture with events such as the annual Peace History conference and Remembrance Day lecture at the Imperial War Museum. MAW is appealing for funds to complete its project for an educational film on climate change and conflict, and to promote a major exhibition on peace and sport to coincide with the 2012 Olympics, plus ten days of craft and musical events at the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe. Cheques payable to MAW can be sent to 11 Venetia Road, N4 1EJ.
[Continued from Nuclear Safety shortcuts report last month]
The Nuclear Information Service report of August–September 2011 http://nuclearinfo.org revealed a story of MoD financial muddle, leading to cost-cutting in areas where safety should be paramount.
A footnote in MoD accounts for 2010/11 notes that the government is preparing to write off spending of £120 million on Project Hydrus (new hydrodynamics research facility at Aldermaston), overtaken by the Anglo-French Teutates Treaty (see March Newsletter) which transfers such research to France — without being specific about future costs: the considerable sums already spent on inception, design and site preparation for the cancelled facility at Aldermaston appear to have been spent to no effect.
A Systems Engineering Facility (planned to support development of non-nuclear components for Trident) has also been cancelled “in favour of a more cost-effective approach”: resultant constructive loss, £16·8 million. For the first time we know that estimated costs for Project Pegasus (Aldermaston’s new enriched uranium facility) are £764·7 million at 2006 prices.
It all adds up to an awful lot of money. How can the government justify such wanton waste?
Meanwhile the Defence Nuclear Environment and Safety Board (which oversees safety in the MoD) in their latest report chart a deterioration in military safety standards as spending cuts “become yet more painful” and warn that although levels of nuclear safety are currently “acceptable” there are “potentially significant risks”. The number of incidents at nuclear sites remains “too high”. “Pressure to reduce defence resources means that this issue is now getting progressively worse rather than being steady” and the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator is understaffed and “faces considerable challenges in maintaining the necessary level of corporate competence”. It does not inspire confidence, does it?
Please pay promptly — cheques payable to WDC/CND will ensure the delivery of your newsletter for the next 12 months! Subscription rates are £5 or £3 concessions: send to Julie Higgins (Treasurer) at 129 Chestnut Grove, SW12 8JH.
We celebrated our 10th anniversary on October 7th in style, with Quaker balloons, new placards and old friends. The Wimbledon Guardian ran a small paragraph and it was an opportunity to publicise (and celebrate) our sheer persistence. We finished the evening with a happy party as guests of Wimbledon Quakers at their Meeting House in Spencer Hill Road, and a heartfelt round of applause for Edwin Cluer who has been the mainstay of the Vigil since its inception.
See website for pictures: http://www.wimbledoncnd.org.uk/Photos/Vigil/tenth.html
The “We the Peoples” Film Festival, now in its sixth year, promotes the aims and work of the United Nations via film to new and existing audiences. This November it features four films of major importance at different locations around London on topics as diverse as Balkan history (hosted by the Serbian and Slovenian Embassies), Jewish peace activists, and the deportation of children from the UK. A Young Film Makers for Development event will also screen at the National Film Theatre on the South Bank. See http://www.wethepeoples.org.uk for full details of venues and films.
The Tricycle Theatre’s production of “A Walk in the Woods” runs until 12th November. This multi-award-nominated play by Lee Blessing portrays a stand-off between US and Soviet arms negotiators during the Cold War as they battle for supremacy; with tension and humour it shows how the relationship between the two experts evolves during a walk in the woods above Geneva, away from the posturing of the negotiating table — but is this enough to lead to a true break-through, or is it just another performance?
The original US production received plaudits from the American press and the new version was reviewed by Michael Billington for the Guardian on October 18th. Tickets range from £12 to £22 with performances at 4pm Tues–Sat and 8pm on Monday and Saturday. The Tricycle Theatre is located at 269 Kilburn High Road in North London, near Kilburn station on the Jubilee line: Box Office 020 7328 1000 or http://www.tricycle.co.uk
This conference, held on United Nations Day, 24 October, was an event open to the public in advance of a two-day experts’ workshop aimed to smoothing the way towards the 2012 Conference on a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East agreed at the last NPT review conference.
Diplomats representing the governments invited to co-sponsor (Russia, the US and UK) took part in a panel discussion. It was Laura Davies from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who spoke most frankly about the frustrations along the way — a proposal for a Nuclear-Free Middle East was first on the Security Council’s agenda in 1974. At the NPT Review Conference in 1995, that was broadened to include all WMD, and fifteen years later came the agreement to hold a conference to talk about implementation. It was only at the beginning of this October that the hard-won agreement came that it should be Finland to host the conference and provide a facilitator.
The Finnish ambassador spoke briefly and was asked if the conference should be delayed to give a better chance of achieving its aims; further doubts on this were raised during the day, but none regarding the importance of a successful outcome. And all three co-sponsors insist that their rôle is to assist the process, not to impose any particular outcome.
A second panel emphasised the need for confidence-building measures in a chicken-or-egg situation: no disarmament without a sense of common security, no common security without prior disarmament. All panellists agreed that a simultaneous two-track process is essential.
Palestine and Israel were represented by colleagues from the Palestine-Israel Journal (http://www.pij.org). The Palestinian, Zia AbuZayyad, a lawyer by trade and detained in Israeli prisons more than once, said that Israel — which had not signed the NPT and had nuclear weapons in an old and dangerous facility — deserved more pressure from the international community than Iran. As for the turbulence across North Africa, he prefers to call it “the Arab awakening”: a wave of popular protest with no clear agenda or leadership, different in each country. The Israeli, Hillel Schenker, a veteran journalist and co-founder of the Peace Now movement, had been part of the largest-ever demonstration of mass protest in Israel on September 3rd. In Tel Aviv as across North Africa and in New York and London, people are taking direct action to call for a change in government priorities.
Regarding the 2012 conference, the message was first, keep expectations low while insisting that it must launch a follow-on process, and equally important, recognise the importance of civil society — i.e. us — to the whole project. Academics and other experts have their rôles but “we-the-peoples” also need to inform ourselves and our elected representatives about the issues and be clear about our priorities. In our own country, what’s more important for our security, Trident or investment in green jobs and affordable housing? In the Middle East: a market for our defence hardware or prosperous societies with accountable governments? And assuming we would all agree on both answers, how do we persuade our government that this is the way to go?
It was an interesting day, but I didn’t come away aglow with optimism; just encouraged to keep on keeping on....
Report by Alison Williams
On Monday 21st November the local branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be showing an important new film “Stolen Children, Stolen Lives” introduced by Irish director Gerry O’Sullivan who was in Israel/Palestine in 2010 as an Ecumenical Accompanier and witnessed the arrest and torture of Palestinian children. Merton will be Gerry’s only venue in the London area during her visit to the UK so please publicize the event as widely as possible.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Monday 21st Nov 7·15pm, South London Irish Centre, 140 Hartfield Road SW19 3TG. firstname.lastname@example.org
At our meeting on October 18th we decided to send a donation to support the campaign against development at Hinkley C nuclear power station in Somerset. Campaigners are mounting a legal challenge to a recent decision by West Somerset Council to grant planning permission for major “pre-construction works” even before EDF have received approval for the proposed new power station itself. http://www.stophinkley.org