After the disaster of 9/11 in 2001, a group of us came together almost in despair: we had been campaigning for peace in our various ways for the best part of a lifetime in many cases and the future seemed very black indeed. It was clear that the response of President G.W.Bush to the destruction of the Twin Towers would be a policy of violent revenge and so it came to pass: the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the war in Iraq and war in the Middle East which continues to this day.
Fifteen years ago we were convinced that war was the wrong response to terrorism and nothing that has happened since has changed our minds. Violence breeds violence and it is the slower, quieter and less spectacular skills of mediation and negotiation, and adherence to international law that will eventually lead us towards a more peaceful world.
The Wimbledon Vigil for Peace which we founded in October 2001 still takes place every Friday 6–7pm in St Marks Place, near Wimbledon Library, following the Quaker tradition of ‘bearing witness’. Numbers vary from two to twelve (or more), but we are proud that the Vigil has been there every Friday for an unbroken fifteen years, whatever the weather.
Sometimes people stop and chat (and occasionally argue) but we have become a familiar part of the Wimbledon scene. People know where to find us and our message is positive and one of hope: a better world is possible — but only if we are prepared to work for it!
The fifteenth anniversary of the Wimbledon Vigil for Peace has been marked by the publication of an updated leaflet jointly funded by Wimbledon Quakers and WDC/CND, a very basic flyer that we can hand out to passers-by, explaining who we are and why we are there every Friday. We hope to be able to distribute these leaflets more widely than in the past, and we are approaching local churches and other places of worship and making enquiries about placing Vigil leaflets in Merton libraries. Please get in touch if you are able to help with distribution or if you have suggestions about sympathetic organisations.
All WDC/CND members, friends and partners are warmly invited to a pre-Christmas buffet lunch on December 18th at Joanna’s house, 43 Wilton Grove SW19 3QU. Please bring food and drink to share so that we can celebrate our friendship and briefly forget about the horrors of 2016.
On November 13th, in glorious sunshine, Alison Williams and I laid a wreath of mixed red and white poppies on Wimbledon War Memorial on behalf of UNA and WDC/CND; made professionally by a local florist, with a background of greenery, it formed an eye-catching addition to more conventional contributions. We followed the official proceedings with a short ‘white poppy’ ceremony of our own, honouring and mourning all victims of all wars, soldiers and civilians alike, and remembering that war is also a huge abuser of the natural environment, often with long-term consequences.
I found it a very uncomfortable experience to see the massed ranks of teenagers dressed in military uniform as the various cadet corps paraded, and the less-regimented procession of Scouts and Guides provided welcome relief. But why only the uniformed organisations? I also felt that this year’s choice of hymn was particularly insensitive:
“O valiant hearts who to your glory came
Through dust of conflict and through battle flame,
Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved....
Proudly you gathered, rank on rank to war,
As you heard God’s message from afar...”
We were assembled to commemorate the tragedy of two wars where all countries of Christian Europe had convinced their own troops that God was on their side. Surely today’s Christian churches have moved on from such sentiments?
The remarkable life of pioneering ethical socialist Ada Salter has been cleverly dramatised in a production which premiered to great acclaim at Friends House last summer and comes to Kingston on January 13th. This production, the publication of Graham Taylor’s biography (reviewed in our May 2016 Newsletter) and the unveiling of the Salter family statue (see Dec 2014 Newsletter) are all in honour of the 150th anniversary of Ada’s birth and the belated recognition that she was a remarkable and influential public figure in her own right as well as the wife of Dr Alfred Salter, much-loved M.P. for Bermondsey.
Ada’s family background was one of middle-class Methodist respectability, but in her early thirties she made the brave decision to leave the comfort of her Northamptonshire family home and to become a social worker amidst the extreme poverty of the East End. There she met and married Dr Alfred Salter, and both worked tirelessly for the people of Bermondsey from before the First World War to the outbreak of the Second, Alfred as G.P. and Member of Parliament and Ada through local government, rising to become the first woman Mayor of Bermondsey and an elected member of the London County Council.
As ethical socialists the Salters believed passionately in the importance of peace, health, education and a decent environment, and Ada used her position on the council to instigate a ‘beautification’ programme for Bermondsey which attained Europe-wide fame. She was many years ahead of her time in recognising the value of street trees and proposing London’s Green Belt. Alfred and Ada both became Quakers in 1914 and endured widespread criticism for their open opposition to the First World War and support for the No Conscription Fellowship.
Ada was a founder member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and an energetic supporter of the Peace Pledge Union in the interwar years. The renewed hostilities of 1939 represented a double tragedy, with the physical destruction of all their work in Bermondsey added to the grief of their inability to prevent another war probably hastening Ada’s death in 1942.
“Red Flag over Bermondsey” explores both the public and private life of Ada 1909–1922 “interwoven with her beloved Ira Sankey hymns and her passion for Handel”. All profits and donations will help support the Palestinian Women’s Cooperative of Seir, West Bank.
Venue: Kingston Quaker Centre, Fairfield East, KT1 2PT (buses 57 and 131 from Wimbledon terminate nearby). Date: Friday January 13th. Time: 7·30pm. Tickets: £10 (£5 concessions) on the door, or from http://www.journeymantheatre.com
Our big annual money-raiser and social is booked at St Mark’s Hall for Saturday May 13th. Once again it will be an afternoon event. Please put the date in your diaries now and try to keep it free!
The 2017 annual Conference will take place on Saturday January 14th and will not be held in the traditional Conway Hall venue. Instead, it will be held in conjunction with the recently-formed SOAS CND group.
London Region CND’s AGM will take place before the start of the conference (registration from 9·30am) and from 12 noon–5pm there will be speakers, discussion and workshops on “New Approaches to Foreign Policy”. Advertised topics are
It is often salutary to view the international scene from a non-UK perspective, and when Alison returned from a recent visit to New Zealand she brought with her an interesting article on UN reform from the NZ journal “The Listener” (1 Oct 2016).
Most of us will be unaware that at the founding meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco the NZ Prime Minister spoke at length opposing the veto wielded by the ‘Permanent 5’ in the Security Council, a campaign led by Australia. The P5 veto was built into the Charter as a device to avoid the failures of the League of Nations and was seen as the only means of getting the US and Soviet Union on board, and as such was reluctantly agreed.
New Zealand has served four times as an elected member of the Security Council. The current Permanent Representative, Gerard van Bohemen, has been strongly critical of the way the P5 veto “solidifies certain power dynamics”, a criticism which he sees as particularly relevant to the UK and France: “if you are going to have any resolutions come out of the Security Council that have global legitimacy it should represent the powers that exist today as opposed to those that existed in 1945”.
New Zealand is one of a group of 25 small countries, the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group, which are exploring ways to integrate the Security Council more closely with the General Assembly and have suggested limiting the use of the veto in situations involving genocide and war crimes. (New Zealand held the Security Council Presidency during the Rwandan genocide when its attempts to persuade the international community to intervene were thwarted by the veto of France.)
New Zealand has recently hosted an informal discussion on Security Concil decision-making where the elected members were given an opportunity to express their concerns openly, and has introduced the idea of ‘informal breakfasts’ for the whole council without any staff or interpreters present. The UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs is on record as saying “It has been extremely rewarding to work with New Zealand on the council. New Zealand has played an incredibly constructive, positive and pragmatic role, always looking for creative solutions to the problems confronting the council”.
New Zealand was of course one of the co-sponsors one of the co-sponsors of the successful UN Resolution agreeing to hold a conference on a Nuclear Weapons Ban in 2017. Meanwhile the UK concentrates on maintaining its historical ‘great power’ status as a veto-wielding member of the P5 and the nuclear club.
The annual conference of Scientists for Global Responsibility was held on the theme of “Universities for Sale?” and ranged widely over the growing influence of the arms, fossil fuel and other industries on academia. ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’ and corporate sponsorship of professorial posts and departmental research not only threatens to undermine the probity of research results but places intolerable pressure on conscientious whistle-blowers, two of whom spoke at this conference. The hounding of Professor David Smythe whose geophysical evidence has assisted many local UK groups opposed to fracking is particularly alarming.
Executive Director Stuart Parkinson presented a detailed analysis of the MoD budget: nuclear weapons and submarines will represent a quarter of UK military equipment spending over the next ten years, and military research and development is approximately one sixth of UK government R&D. Almost all universities take some military funding. In their defence, universities point out that arms industry funding represents only a small percentage of their total income, but of greater concern is the long-term professional relationships being nurtured in key disciplines, the creation of a reliable supply of qualified military scientists, all at the expense of socially useful research in areas such as renewables and climate change.
All papers presented at the conference will eventually appear on the SGR website: http://www.sgr.org.uk/events/universities-sale
Thank you to all who have already paid their 2016/17 subscriptions, and a polite reminder to those who have yet to get round to it. Please put that cheque in the post or arrange a Bank Transfer now. N.B. Paying by Bank Transfer is new to us and it would greatly help if you can send an e-mail to email@example.com when you have made your payment; apologies if your payment has slipped through the system.