Several WDC/CND members joined in an emergency demonstration in Whitehall on November 28th urging the Government not to bomb Syria. The whole situation is desperately sad and while there is understandable desire for revenge against ISIS after the Paris atrocities it is difficult to see how yet more bombing can help bring peace to the Middle East.
There are two certainties in my mind: the lunacy of the continued sale of weapons to the region (arms manufacturers’ shares are rising in value every day) and the utter irrelevance of the so-called ‘nuclear deterrent’. Nuclear weapons did not save Russia from the loss of its civilian aircraft, nuclear weapons did not save France from the November 13th attack and Trident will do nothing to protect the UK from terrorists.
On Monday December 7th at 1·30pm there will be a short ceremony in Cannizaro Park as we plant a winter-flowering Japanese cherry to replace the one we planted on the 40th anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima. As before, the tree will be dedicated to the memory of the “100,000 men, women and children of Hiroshima” who lost their lives on that dreadful day in 1945, but we shall also be remembering all the other innocent victims of war right up until the present day. We shall celebrate human capacity for joy and creativity as we display sections of the Aldermaston/Burghfield peace scarf and the Peace Ribbon (which originated in the USA) and we shall renew our commitment to ‘break the cycle of violence’ and work for peace.
This will be a multifaith ceremony (for all faiths and none) and all are welcome. The planting site is near the top of the main lawn (on the right as you face down the hill).
Following CND’s Lobby of Parliament on 4th November, Christian CND hosted a meeting to discuss the approaching ‘maingate decision’ on Trident against the background of countries which have decided against the nuclear weapons option and closed their programmes at various stages of development, including South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and Australia. South Africa is the only country to have got as far as producing weapons before choosing the non-nuclear path and signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty. MEDACT produced a special issue of their journal on these Nuclear Exits which is well worth reading (Medicine, Conflict & Survival, Vol.30, Supplement 1 August 2014).
Frank Boulton spoke for MEDACT at the CCND meeting, his overall message that the present situation is “very, very dangerous”. None but the nuclear-weapons states (nine of them, including the P5 of the UN Security Council) think the NPT process will achieve anything more than an endless status quo which suits them. The rest of the world endorsed the Austrian Pledge agreed at the third Humanitarian Impact Conference in Vienna in December 2014. That conference was to be followed by one in South Africa but for reasons as yet unknown they have postponed it. That is bad news; momentum has been lost. Frank Boulton cannot foresee nuclear disarmament being achieved multilaterally with all nine nuclear states finally implementing Article VI of the NPT. On the contrary, he fears one of the nuclear-armed states may produce a technology designed “to win a nuclear war”.
Andreas Persbo, Director of VERTIC, spoke of the Swedish experience. In 1947 a public-private energy company was set up to exploit Sweden’s uranium reserves and ten years later three nuclear reactors were up and running. Early plans for a weapons programme were discussed by a closed circle of military officers and scientists, those in favour arguing that the country’s non-aligned status required a nuclear defence capacity. When the debate became public, opinion in political parties and civil society was divided at first but shifted definitively against.
The third speaker was Brendan O’Hara, the SNP’s Group Leader at Westminster and their defence spokesman. Regarding the Trident decision, he said the overall cost of its replacement would more or less equal the size of the current national deficit: how can we justify spending sixteen thousand million pounds on a weapons system that can never be used?
The stories of the nuclear exits are encouraging — if them, why not us? To help us on our way, ICAN have produced a concise and clear “Nuclear weapons myth buster” you can find online: http://uk.icanw.org/action/nuclear-weapons-myth-buster/
Report by Alison Williams
This year Professor Paul Rogers of the Peace Studies Department of Bradford University gave the annual Peace Lecture at the Imperial War Museum. He started by talking about some of the reasons for world insecurity. Firstly the widening social economic gap since the end of the 1970s. There is a much bigger middle class but not social justice, the richest 1% own as much as the poorest 50%. Secondly environmental degradation. It’s the first time that the world has been aware of the catastrophic dangers of climate change and the poles and the tropics will be worst affected. Lastly the use of force to control threats by the richer countries without looking at the underlying reasons. The real long-term cause of conflict in the world is between an elite and the marginalised majority. The one certainty is that the marginalised will revolt and much of modern politics is concerned with what he calls ‘lid-ism’, measures aimed at keeping the lid on but not addressing the underlying issues.
Professor Rogers felt that the answers were possible to achieve; a more equitable economic system with a much lower carbon footprint, and dialogue and conciliation that tackle the root causes of revolt rather than invasion and bombing. He was asked if he felt optimistic about the future. He said that once change has been decided upon it can happen very quickly and gave several examples, one of them being the discovery of the ozone holes over the South Pole and the very quick international action to ban CFCs which were the cause. He also said that after spending so many years in the area of peace studies one was either a drunk, suicidal or an optimist and he’s an optimist! Let’s hope that he’s right. His lecture was certainly inspiring and emphasised the importance of each of us doing our bit, however small, to work for a fairer and more peaceful world.
Further reading: “Prosperity without Growth”, Tim Jackson; “The Establishment”, Owen Jones; “Chances for Peace in the Second Decade”, Paul Rogers.
Thank you to all who have renewed your subscriptions for 2015/16 and a plea to those who have still to pay. (£5 cheque to WDC/CND, 43 Wilton Grove, London SW19 3QU)
We are pledged to help National CND raise the funds it needs to continue the fight against Trident in the next crucial months. Campaigning costs money and it was alarming to hear at Conference that CND is facing the prospect of staff cuts at this most critical juncture.
So in place of our usual informal Christmas party we invite you (and your family and friends) to a Fundraising Dinner and Auction on Friday January 8th at 267 The Broadway with Bruce Kent as guest of honour. Head chef will be Aden whose regular contributions to the refreshments at the Fête of the Earth are so well known and so much appreciated. The main course will therefore have an Asian flavour but the choice of desserts will be many and various and you are welcome to bring your own bottle(s). We have decided to hold ticket prices at a very modest £15 per head in the hopes that you will all bring your chequebooks and wallets and spend generously at the auction which will round off the evening.
It is essential for the cooks to receive firm bookings by January 4th and we ask that cheques (made payable to CND) be sent to 43 Wilton Grove, London SW19 3QU so that names can be added to the guest list. (We can also receive cash by hand.)
The wonderful Bruce Kent will be our auctioneer on January 8th, helping us to raise much-needed funds for National CND, of which he is Vice-President, so please think about what you can donate. It doesn’t have to be the family jewels: we need both the expensive and inexpensive (and post-Christmas there may well be a few of those embarrassing presents that would be better appreciated by somebody else...)
‘Promises’ are equally acceptable. We have already received offers from an artist who specialises in ‘house portraits’ and from a recorder teacher who will take pupils from 6 to 106 on descant, treble or tenor. Items and offers can be brought on the night but it would be helpful to receive advance notice so we can invite sealed bids from people not able to be present in person. Contact 020 8543 0362 or email@example.com.
“The Making of a British Soldier” was the title of Ben’s talk at the new Kingston Quaker Centre on 14th October (brief summary reported in the November Newsletter). He proved to be a youthful, vigorous and charismatic speaker who resigned from the SAS in revulsion during the Iraq war and is now devoting a large part of his life to campaigning for non-violent routes to peace. He spoke for nearly an hour without notes.
He always intended to be a soldier. His family background was military, he played with war toys and watched war films as a child, studied military history and joined the cadet force at school. He never even considered going to university but joined up as soon as he was physically strong enough.
Ben vividly described the rigours of army training, how 35 new recruits were whittled down to 8 after six months: all were physically fit but had to be able to ‘hack it’ psychologically, the sole aim being to produce soldiers who would follow orders without question. It was a dehumanising process using arduous drill, punishment (including group punishment to build up peer pressure), gang loyalty and the gradual removal of the ‘barrier to kill’.
We learned that this last has exercised military minds for many centuries. (Archaeological evidence from the American civil war indicates that many recruits were repeatedly reloading their rifles without ever firing any of the shots.) Conscript armies are typically more reluctant to kill than professionals. Ben reckoned that in addition to the brainwashing achieved by constant repetition (drill), the army has developed psychological methods of overcoming basic human nature — only 2% of us will instinctively attack if threatened. Modern technology increases the physical distance between soldier and target and the manipulation of language deliberately depersonalises: “aim at the centre of the mass” says the instructor, meaning aim at the centre of the chest. The sole reason for being in the army becomes “to go to war and kill the enemy”, all noble ideals forgotten. “A gang feels special if everyone else is like dirt”: a soldier’s loyalty is to his regiment and civilians are the lowest of the low.
Ben spent six years as a paratrooper before undergoing six months’ SAS training and being deployed to Baghdad in 2005 as part of a joint UK/US special operations force, rounding up ‘insurgents’. He spoke bitterly about this experience which eventually precipitated the abandonment of his military career. The use of suspect intelligence, the nightly raiding of private houses and the removal of all males of the family for interrogation and torture began to feel like the actions of “the secret police of Baghdad”.
He began to be aware of the calculated military use of “compartmentalisation”: when a big process is broken down into ‘easy to do parts’ so that the people involved at each stage are unaware of the bigger picture. By rationalising each stage in the process we can deny overall responsibility. (He felt that only thus were the Nazis able to carry out genocide.) What was taking place was not only morally wrong, it made no military sense. Irish history has shown that internment leads to radicalisation and resentment. The people of the Middle East have become vengeful and the outcome has been ISIS.
It took Ben several years to adapt to his new life, but he became enraged by the “rubbish” on the news and he gradually started to talk at public meetings and give interviews with the press. He only briefly touched on an official attempt to silence him (a secret trial in 2008 delivered an “injunction for life” based on the contract he signed as a 22-year-old — which one gathers he has ignored).
Together with other ex-service personnel he decided to form a campaigning group to tackle the problem of the military going into schools “trying to recruit my kids” and it was at this stage that he became aware of the US Veterans for Peace (formerly Vietnam Veterans against the War). As none of their principles was specific to the US, Veterans for Peace UK was born four years ago and now has 190 members. They run interactive workshops in schools, stage public actions to demythologise the military (e.g. the public discarding of medals) with particular focus on the Remembrance period in November and the more recently invented Armed Forces Day.
Veterans for Peace reject the “state-sponsored version of Remembrance” and they held an alternative ceremony on the afternoon of Remembrance Sunday, processing with a banner saying “Never Again” to lay a wreath of white poppies on the Cenotaph.
See http://veteransforpeace.org.uk for pictures from the Cenotaph and video of Ben Griffin’s talk in Kingston.