The Labour Party leadership contest has proved an extraordinary affair, and whatever the outcome (which will be ancient history by the time many of you read this Newsletter) it is undeniable that the intervention of Jeremy Corbyn, CND Vice Chair and backbench MP, has transformed what would have been a very uninspiring contest into something else entirely.
Many of us have felt for some time that the modern British political system is profoundly unsatisfactory and undemocratic. Many have argued for proportional representation and many have joined minority parties. Larger numbers than ever before have disengaged entirely from Westminster politics, either maintaining “they are all the same” (and nothing we do will make any difference) or choosing to campaign on single issues outside the party political system. It cannot be healthy that party politics has become the narrow preserve of such a small minority and that the Westminster career path has become an end in itself, divorced from the world as most people know it. It is almost as if ‘political’ has become a dirty word.
I have felt for some time that something had to give. The Alternative Vote referendum after the 2010 General Election was a now almost forgotten distraction and Westminster continued on its unsatisfactory way until jolted out of its complacency by events in Scotland. Here was an issue which empowered ordinary citizens, political engagement became mainstream, professional politicians got the fright of their lives, and the dramatic rise of the SNP followed directly from this experience.
At last a political party with opposition to nuclear weapons as a prominent feature of its manifesto was winning votes and Westminster seats, giving the lie to the received wisdom (“longest suicide note”) which has ruled for so long.
Anybody who has campaigned on the streets will tell you that there has been a sea-change in public opinion about UK nuclear weapons and all recent opinion polls support this. The majority of people regard the renewal of Trident as an irrelevance and a waste of money. A minority still believes the official cover-story that we still need nuclear weapons to avoid attack from some (unspecified) enemy and are generally very surprised to learn that most countries in the world do not have nuclear weapons.
Whatever its result, the Labour Party leadership contest has generated the real debate that has been stifled for too long and it is almost impossible that this particular genie will go back into its bottle. Perhaps there will be a party conference where membership views are sought and real debate takes place?
“We are Many”, the inspiring film that was premiered in the spring, left us with a message of hope: the rise of social media is empowering ordinary people in a way never previously possible. We can no longer be dictated to by our political masters. Rejection of a hidebound political process does not equal apathy. ‘Don’t knows’ are not ‘don’t cares’. I have always believed in the possibility of change, but who would have thought it would take this particular form — or happen so quickly?
The WDC/CND Annual General Meeting took place on Sunday July 19th in Joanna’s garden and was preceded by a very convivial bring-and-share lunch. We reviewed the previous year (as usual noting how much campaigning activity we had managed to pack in), made future plans and elected a new committee.
|Minutes Secretary||Ruth Crabb|
Additional Steering Group Members: Alison Williams (ex officio, Merton UNA), Julie Higgins, Christine Bickerstaff, Sheila Knight, Sue Jones. Joanna and Harriet will continue to edit the newsletter and Sue Jones will receive training to run our website and Facebook.
Press Officer and Membership Secretary posts remain vacant but it is encouraging that we have two new recruits to the Steering Group. Julie continues on the committee but is enjoying a well-deserved retirement from the responsibilities of Treasurer and we are very grateful to Edwin for volunteering to take over this rôle.
Membership secretary duties simply involve the keeping of clear records and would suit someone with computer expertise. Any volunteers?
Hiroshima Day, August 6th, marks the dropping of the world’s first atomic bomb and this year it received much more media publicity than usual because of the 70th anniversary. We handed out many hundreds of leaflets from the Vigil and the Peace Table and put up notices, but this cannot have been responsible for the record numbers who turned up to float candles on Rushmere on the evening of August 6th.
Every year we hold a ceremony to remember the blameless dead and vow to continue our work for the global elimination of nuclear weapons. The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima owed its origin to a horrible war, and there has been much argument about its justification ever since. There is absolutely no justification for the continued existence of a world arsenal of 17,000 nuclear weapons concentrated in the hands of the handful of élite ‘nuclear weapons states’ that dominate the United Nations: nuclear weapons states that continue to defy global opinion and their legal obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
CND has just issued a new set of A5 cards featuring moving photos of items from the Hiroshima Peace Museum: the lunchbox of 12-year-old Reiko Watanabe (the contents of boiled peas and rice were completely carbonised) and the tattered school uniform jacket of 13-year-old Akio Tsukudo. No trace of the body of either child was ever found and there is something infinitely moving about the survival of these personal possessions.
The cards are blank on the reverse for messages and it is hoped that they will help to convey the reality of nuclear weapons to the decision-takers who will give the final go-ahead (or not) for Trident in 2016. Before MPs cast their votes we want them to be confronted by the pathetic memory of these blameless children.
These cards are beautifully (and quite expensively) produced and must be carefully used to best effect. It would be good if we can help ensure that every MP receives a pile of these unforgettable images. Perhaps you can think of other recipients?
(020 8543 0362 for cards)
Many, many people want to do something to commemorate Hiroshima Day and hope that their voices will be heard everywhere. In my case, I was in Sidmouth in Devon for the annual folk festival, and I attended an event that Maisie Carter started some years ago: in an empty tarmacked area there is a commemoration and a hope that nothing as dreadful will ever happen again.
This year there were about 100 people, singing, holding hands, reciting, trying to make sure that the day is never forgotten. Every year we sing the song “I Come and Stand at Every Door” by Nazim Hikmet, set to music by Pete Seeger. Anyone can suggest a song, or say a poem, or simply articulate the fervent hope that never again will there be such an event as Hiroshima. At the end is a moment’s silence, and the final thing is to sing, all together, “We Shall Overcome”.
The feeling is one of hope and confidence that by people joining together things can change and the world will be a much better place for all its people. I have been to this for five or six years, and every time I am uplifted greatly by the showing of good feeling as well as feeling a fresh sorrow for what has already happened. For the last two or three years Maisie has made sure that there is a notification in the events booklet, but it is very heartening to see not only many people we have known before but a goodly number of new ones as well. I can only hope that the time will come when such a gathering is not needed to stop killing and torturing all around the world.
The winter-flowering cherry tree in Cannizaro Park which we dedicated to the victims of Hiroshima in 1985 has now died of old age. The tree was originally planted by Brigadier Sir Michael Harbottle and was re-dedicated by his widow Eirwen in 2005. Merton Council has retained the dedication plaque safely in storage and Dave Lofthouse, Merton arboricultural officer, has located the original records and ordered a replacement tree on our behalf. Delivery will be some time in November and we are planning for a planting ceremony to take place towards the end of the year.
Combat Stress is medically defined as a stress-induced, abrupt and transient disruption of the normal integration of conscious and psychological functioning. Physical reactions can include paralysis, deafness, stuttering, violent shaking, blindness and a change in personality. Mental effects include feelings of terror, helplessness, shame and guilt.
We now have copies of the excellent booklet published by the Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW) written using information provided by Dr Colin Kelcey, a neuroscientist/psychologist who has worked with veterans returning from the Gulf and Afghanistan. It is a stark fact that more British soldiers and veterans took their own lives in 2012 than died fighting the Taliban over the same period.
MAW says that the booklet is offered in the hope that “the more we know of the particular burdens borne by combatants the more unviable war will appear as a solution to the problems besetting the world today”. Acknowledgement of the chasm between the ‘warrior ideal’ and the realities of warfare is a first step towards placing the problem where it belongs: not with the military (who are simply doing the job for which they were trained) but with all of us in whose name wars are waged.
This booklet is a valuable tool for those of us challenging military culture in our society. Please get in touch if you would like a copy — or copies can be ordered from the MAW website: http://www.abolishwar.org.uk
Kelvedon Hatch in Essex is one of the many Cold War relics now reinventing themselves as tourist attractions. For anybody who remembers the climate of fear during the Cold War, the terrifying fear during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the official government “Protect and Survive” civil defence booklet, there is something irresistibly ridiculous about a promotional leaflet (featuring a colourful atomic mushroom cloud) offering “exciting outdoor and indoor adventure for all ages at the Bunkerland Adventure Park”.
The bunker (which is ostensibly a rural bungalow) conceals a labyrinth of rooms built into the hillside where “devolved central government and military commanders would have run the region had the UK been attacked and nuclear war broken out”. The only hint of grim reality in the promotional leaflet is the chilling description of an Entrance Corridor “designed to protect the bunker from blast but would also facilitate the defence of the bunker had civilians tried to get in”.
One would have thought that there was an obvious opportunity to market educational visits to schools teaching about the Cold War (now part of the GCSE syllabus) but no. “For schools. Why not combine an activity with a day in our countryside classroom and learn all about nature around us?.... We also hold Caravan rallies, Paranormal investigation nights, Scout group sleepovers, Corporate awaydays and Conferences.” And (the ultimate in black humour) they advertise “Kids birthday parties: do an activity and then have a birthday meal in the bunker café”.
You couldn’t make it up, but those of us with longer memories and more knowledge of the realities of nuclear weapons (including the fact that there is still a 17,000 global nuclear arsenal) have a great deal of work still to do.
This was the title of a press release published in the Guardian on Monday August 24th quoting the remarks of the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, on his recent visit to Iran.
“Up to now we have been having a discussion among ourselves in the West without the two most important and influential players in Syria... being in the room. That may be very gratifying to us but it’s not going to get us to a political solution. We need to have the Iranian and Russians in the process as well.... Now we’ve got the opportunity for Iran to be engaged in that discussion with us and that makes it a more realistic discussion.... If you don’t talk you can’t make progress and we are now talking....
“What we have identified today is quite a bit of misunderstanding of each other’s positions. That inevitably occurs when you don’t talk to each other. I suspect that many people in Britain... will have an image of Iran as a desperately theocratic deeply religious society motivated by ideology. But what I’ve seen is a perfectly normal, bustling, dynamic, entrepreneurial, thrusting, middle-income developing world city. One of the things that struck me most was that our police escorts as they have driven us around the city have struggled to persuade Iranian motorists... to do their bidding. I don’t get the impression of a population cowed by authority.” Well, well!