This has been a summer of death and destruction in the Middle East with the upsurge of the ISIS militants in Iraq and the Israeli confrontation with Hamas in Gaza, in addition to ongoing civil war in Syria and Libya and continued instability in Egypt. Many WDC/CND members will have been joining the passionate protests against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and we must hope that the current ceasefire holds, even as we are aware that there will never be a lasting peace without political justice for the Palestinians.
Our government is struggling to make up its mind about the extent of renewed UK involvement in Iraq: the need for humanitarian aid is undisputed but there are calls for direct or indirect military intervention, supplying equipment and undertaking surveillance, even if not sending in British troops. “Responsibility to protect” was internationally agreed after the genocide in Rwanda but unfortunately it never seems to be clear whose responsibility this should be. The news of the beheading of an American journalist by an ISIS jihadi with an “English accent” has rightly appalled all civilised people, but how many of these same people have paused to reflect that they have freely endorsed the killing of innocent civilians by remote control with high-tech weaponry? I am haunted by the image of a small Palestinian child cut in half by an Israeli missile: this was a child not ‘collateral damage’.
I was challenged recently on the Vigil by someone who wanted to know what I would do about the situation in northern Iraq, and the only answer had to be that I did not know. I do not think that we have to pretend that there are easy answers. I suggested that there was a clear need for humanitarian assistance and for support for those neighbouring countries offering sanctuary to refugees.
The one certainty that I do have is that the arms manufacturers and their governments who have spent decades flooding the Middle East with weapons hold great responsibility for the current fighting. Many of the firms represented at the big international arms fair (Docklands last year, Farnborough in July, Eurosatory in Paris) will be rubbing their hands with glee as more and more of their equipment can now claim to be ‘battle tested’.
Our government maintains the fiction that a system of export licences enables it to control the end use of weaponry acquired from the UK, but the reality is very different as the Americans have discovered to their cost: much of the equipment currently in use by ISIS was captured from the US-equipped Iraqi army. Libya is now in the throes of a civil war after well-intentioned Western military intervention, while there is additionally a thriving trade in Western-supplied arms across the Sahara Desert to war-torn sub-Saharan Africa.
The government not only tolerates the arms trade, it promotes it. There is a large civil service department dedicated to supporting arms exports and UK politicians make regular trips abroad in search of contracts, often shamelessly involving members of the Royal Family.
Some of this I attempted to convey to the man on the Vigil and he listened quite sympathetically. My final point I was able to make with absolute certainty: the irrelevance of Trident!
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) is challenging the use of the First World War to promote militarism, focusing instead on inspiration to challenge the arms trade: “to use the war to promote military spending and justify conflict is a miserable legacy for those who died”.
A new website has been launched to expose details of the early 20th century arms trade and draw modern-day parallels. “By the time of the First World War arms companies had already developed the characteristics that they have been criticised for ever since: corruption, creating war scares and selling to potential opponents or to both sides of a conflict.” [CAAT News, July–September 2014].
Visit http://www.armingallsides.org.uk for more information and resources, and watch out for our planned public meeting on the arms trade and the First World War, with a speaker from CAAT (date to be confirmed).
Adam Hochschild: “To End All Wars” (Pan Books £9·99). A scholarly and readable account of the First World War which also covers the story of the socialists, trade unionists and conscientious objectors who protested against the war: the peace movement of their day.
More than a year of work culminated in the rollout of seven miles of pink knitting between Aldermaston and Burghfield on August 9th. Thirty of us went by coach from Wimbledon and it was a happy and moving experience which none of us present will ever forget: I feel that it will go down in the lore of the peace movement on a par with the women’s ‘embrace the base’ demonstration at Greenham Common all those years ago.
There were actually only a few thousand people there, spread out along the whole 7-mile route, but it was the extent of the Pink Peace Scarf itself that impressed, literally mile upon mile of it, with every panel representing hours of work by some individual knitter. Many of the panels were works of art (they can be seen the Wool Against Weapons website) but some of the contributions were obviously the product of considerable effort by knitters who were very inexperienced indeed.
People had been knitting all over the world. 500 metres came from the Netherlands and 90 metres from France. Unexpectedly a car-load of knitting arrived on the day from Austria and Switzerland. It was heartwarming to find how far our message had spread and to know that every single one of these knitters wanted to help ensure that the hideous business of both UK Atomic Weapons Establishments was no longer carried out in secret.
Some of us started knitting in Wimbledon at Easter 2013. We had our first public Wool Against Weapons stall at Deen City Farm in August, we knitted outside the library in September, and we mounted a stall at London Region Conference the following January. Neighbouring CND groups and Quaker Meetings joined in, plus a network of friends and relations, many of whom had never done any campaigning before but all of whom shared our fundamental conviction that nuclear weapons are wrong. Pink Knitting provided seasoned campaigners with the excuse to talk about Trident renewal on trains and buses and in meetings, happily seizing on the openings provided by each inevitable “what are you knitting?” We had a lot of publicity in the local press and I almost felt that the work of the whole scarf project had already been done before the actual rollout, but I was wrong.
We needed to see the full extent of what we had jointly achieved and we needed to come together as a group to celebrate. We needed to see our own rolls of knitting joined with other similar rolls from all over the country. We needed to see the early panels that had become so familiar over the past months smiling out at us from the hedgerow like old friends. This was what we had been working towards.
After so many local practice runs, we handled our own length of scarf (approximately 200 metres) with great efficiency and were amongst the first to complete our allotted section at Red Milestone (towards the Burghfield end). The weather was perfect and we had plenty of time to enjoy our picnic in the sunshine in the incongruously beautiful Berkshire countryside. I went for a two mile cycle ride to admire more of the scarf as it snaked its way over Burghfield Common, and it looked particularly lovely there suspended between the roadside trees.
In the early days people were sceptical that we could ever achieve the full seven miles but in the event there was knitting to spare and in some places it ran down both sides of the road. The ‘join up’ was marked by the ringing of bells (or tinkling of triangles in our case) followed by an impressively disciplined silence broken by the joyful clamour of more bells. And then we had to identify our own knitting, pack it up and take it back to Wimbledon. (I think we may have acquired a few bits extra!)
Now we are committed to making a pile of lovely warm blankets and we shall be arranging working parties over the winter, but before we rush into this we are waiting to see if the scarf is needed for a further outing in London. Ideas are circulating for wrapping up prominent public buildings to catch the attention of media and politicians more prominently than we could do in Berkshire, so for the time being our rolls remain beneath my dining room table.
N.B. A foam camping mat and a smart metal-barrelled biro were found on the Wimbledon coach and still await their owners.
WDC/CND pictures from the event can be found on the Photo pages on this website.
(An amusing postscript: friends visiting Stroud were leafing through a Wool Against Weapons album in a local café and were tickled to find that the very first photo was one of me knitting on the cabin roof of a sailing boat on the Norfolk Broads in June 2013. What a long time ago it seems!)
There have been very encouraging developments in the organisation of Hiroshima Day at the Sidmouth Folk Festival over recent years; not just that the event is organised solely by the Sidmouth Peace Group, rather than imposed from outside by members of Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition/CND, but also it is now recognised as part of Sidmouth Folk Week with Hiroshima Day details appearing in the official programme, which is sold to the thousands of people who attend from as far away as Europe, USA and Australia.
August 6th was a perfect day, warm sunshine greeted the crowd which included new people, as well as some who had been coming since we (Helen Jones and I) organised the first commemoration in 1978. We shared experiences of pink knitting and the forthcoming demonstration on August 9th, we heard poems, readings and stories and with the members of the Festival Choir we sang songs, including The H-bomb’s Thunder and The Vine and Fig Tree. A very moving poem about the children of Gaza was read by Mark Gold, a local peace activist and we finished with a minute’s silence and singing We Shall Overcome.
Leaflets were distributed, much interest was shown and one NHS not Trident T-shirt was sold. We all agreed it had been an inspiring event which hopefully will encourage more people to join CND and become active in the peace movement.
Meanwhile in Wimbledon we were blessed with a perfect summer’s evening for our annual ceremony on Rushmere. It was very simple: just a few words from myself and Rev. Andrew Wakefield, a two-minute silence and the singing of “We Shall Overcome”. We then floated lighted candles in memory of those who died 69 years ago, silently vowing “never again” as we renewed our determination to continue campaigning against an evil which might have been at least explicable (if not excusable) at the conclusion of a bitter war but which has no place in the 21st century. Amongst the passers-by who stopped to find out what we were doing was a young Japanese couple who were amazed (and pleased) to find that Hiroshima was commemorated anywhere outside Japan. We felt we had made some new friends.
Alison Williams of Merton UNA is offering another repeat of the workshops she led earlier this year: “No One Left Behind: towards a global agenda for jobs, security and good governance”. A century after the “war to end all wars” began, we ask how to remove some obvious causes of war and violent conflict: poverty, insecurity and bad governance. Consultations have extended beyond the usual range of governments, businesses, academia and major NGOs to the general public, and the key concerns of the public response are reflected in the report to go to the General Assembly. As individuals, we may feel powerless but as a part of a global tide we are ultimately unstoppable.
For some detail on how the tide is moving, come to 11 Wilberforce House, 119 Worple Road, SW20 8ET on Thursday 11th September. First session from 12·30–2·30 (bring a packed lunch) or evening session 7·30–9·30. All are welcome but the venue is small — RSVP essential! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 8944 0574
Simon Jenkins recently wrote a devastating critique of Trident for the Guardian in the context of the Scottish referendum debate (15/8/2014). “The question is whether Vladimir Putin, al-Qaida or Boko Haram are remotely likely to launch an attack on the British mainland and yet be susceptible to a Trident deterrent. The question is whether, in the spectrum of existential threats to the British state, nuclear deterrence has any credibility in preference to other forms of defence, especially forms able to make similar claims to such huge resources. Ordinary soldiers come to mind.”
The WDC/CND Annual General Meeting took place at 43 Wilton Grove on Sunday July 13th — a busy and useful year with an important public meeting (Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond and Rebecca Johnson in debate) and a successful Fête in addition to an ever-expanding Wool Against Weapons campaign. The Secretary and Treasurer’s reports were followed by the re-election of the Steering Group, with Alison Williams attending ex officio as Merton UNA Branch Secretary.