This month sees the long awaited EU referendum. I have found the level of the debate, the crudity of the arguments and the primitive hostilities stirred up profoundly depressing and I have a great fear that we shall find ourselves living with its legacy for some time: the genie is not going to go back into the bottle. The EU is bureaucratic and undemocratic and undoubtedly needs reform but it’s a rare example of peacetime cooperation, far removed from a military alliance such as NATO.
Bruce Kent has drawn our attention to an excellent article by Jill Segger on the Ekklesia† website: ‘Peace in Europe, a Precious Legacy Demeaned’. She argues powerfully that current political point scoring in search of cheap headlines “demeans the very concept of peacemaking... is historically and morally illiterate and is contrived to sow fear. The founding fathers of what was to become the European Union belonged to that wounded [wartime] generation... formed by the two huge conflicts of the twentieth century which had their origins, if not their ultimate boundaries, in Europe. For these men, ‘never again’ had a meaning which we must neither lose nor cheapen in pursuit of lesser goals.... Ties of shared interest, cooperation and knowledge are the enemies of that concept of ‘otherness’ which may be exploited for alienation and hostility...”
†Christian political thinktank
The Schuman Plan of 1950 gave rise to the European Coal and Steel Community which was the forerunner of the EU: coal and steel were the raw materials of weapons production and thus key to ensuring that nation states which had long seen their military-industrial complexes as the tools of competing empires would instead develop a common interest. “Battleships and bombers were to be beaten into BMWs and railways” and one hundred years after Verdun it is indeed truly impossible to imagine France and Germany ever at war again.
“Peace is not the absence of war. It is the choice to strive for understanding... to make policies which will enable the sowing of peace and cultivate societies which will sustain it. This is our legacy from statesmen who had seen their continent sundered and deformed by total war twice in the space of twenty-five years. And it is far too precious an inheritance to be demeaned by the ahistoric and morally inadequate knockabout of shallow, opportunistic politicians.”
Which is why I shall vote Remain.
This year’s Fête was a great success, both financially and socially. It may well be that we made a record profit: certainly takings (including donations) topped £2000 for the first time, so, after deducting expenses we shall be banking at least £1500. The afternoon timing seemed to result in a more relaxed atmosphere and greater numbers of visitors; we shall consider doing it again.
It was fantastic to have such marvellous support from members, friends and family. All stall holders did wonders sorting, displaying and selling, with the kitchen team keeping everybody fed, but running an event on this scale is a huge logistical operation dependent on very many unsung heroes and heroines. Loading and unloading our van and Mick’s lorry involved heavy physical labour and it was nice to have such a positive response to the appeal in the last Newsletter. The publicity team spent hours on the streets putting up posters and handing out leaflets. Skilled cooks supplied the home-produce stall with record numbers of cakes and preserves.
So many people donated generously and were involved on the day that it is not possible to list you all individually but there are a few who deserve our special gratitude: Mick for the invaluable loan of his lorry, Bob and Helena for collecting and driving the hired van, Aden the cook, and Edwin, the champion leafletter. I should also like to pay personal tribute to Julie, who spent several hours at my house cutting up margarine tubs to make plant labels (a horrible job!) and to the anonymous donor who once again supplied me with potting compost.
The figures speak for themselves. All stalls did well, the final totals being as follows:
Report by Joanna Bazley
UK soldiers have fought overseas in many wars in recent years, as dictated by the UK government — “shoulder to shoulder” with the USA and other allies but seldom under the ægis of the UN.
The Oxford Research Group has published a new report on why the UK needs to take on a greater role in UN peace operations. Whilst the UK makes significant political and financial contributions to such operations, it has not deployed many of its own uniformed personnel as peacekeepers since the mid-1990s. Today, Cyprus is the only mission with British ‘blue helmet’ contingents deployed. The UK also maintains a small number of staff officers and military experts scattered across a few other UN missions, mainly in Africa.
The report discusses recent signs that the UK may give UN peace operations a more significant rôle in British foreign policy and argues that it is in the UK’s interests to do more and enhance its participation in UN peace operations. Enhanced participation would bring political, security and institutional benefits, not least by strengthening the UN system, as an important stated objective of UK foreign policy. For the British military, meanwhile, greater participation in peace operations would boost skills retention, facilitate relevant retraining, and further refine specialist capabilities developed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Read the full report at http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/briefing_papers_and_reports/uk_and_un_peace_operations_case_greater_engagement
This is the title of an academic lecture given in the US in October last year by the former director of Charter 88 Anthony Barnett (co-founder of openDemocracy) posted on YouTube and drawn to our attention by Alison Williams.
In Anthony Barnett’s eyes “Jeremy Corbyn was transformed from an eccentric irrelevant peacenik into a leader who is redrawing the boundaries of British politics”, his leadership being an instance of a “democratic insurgency” which demands a politics of integrity: Jeremy Corbyn stood out against all other candidates for the Labour Party leadership (“corporate products of the system”) as a manifestly authentic opponent of austerity and unfairness. Anthony Barnett sees the Corbyn phenomenon as one of a new family of democratic insurgencies against the lack of democracy in so-called representative democracies. He cites the 15th May movement in Madrid which in 2011 called for “democracy now”, drawing wide analogies — the Greek protests, Scottish referendum campaign, the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong and the Catalan Movement for Independence. Far from being single-issue protests these new organisations and networks strive to be lasting, as evinced by the fact that both Madrid and Barcelona now have mayors drawn from the 15th May movement: “in American terms, without Occupy Wall Street, would there have been Bernie Sanders?”
For the UK the question now becomes a matter of whether the Jeremy Corbyn “insurgency” is able to maintain its open democratic spirit or whether it will become “prisoner of the very undemocratic Westminster system”.
This lecture which was sponsored by Global Voices for Justice was delivered at the elite University of California, Los Angeles, and can be viewed in full on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utCViz8Rgx8
There is increasing disquiet about what many people see as the creeping militarisation of modern society, with a government that recommends introducing army discipline into schools and fast-tracking the ex-military into the teaching profession. The pressure group ForcesWatch was set up to scrutinise the recruitment of young people into the armed forces and monitor the wider role of the military in society today.
The MOD’s ‘British Armed Forces; Learning Resource 2014’ (a sanitised view of war presented as a History, English and Citizenship resource) can be viewed on http://www.armedforceslearningresources.co.uk
ForcesWatch (2015). A critical response to the ‘British Armed Forces: Learning Resource 2014’ is available on http://www.forceswatch.net/armed-forces-learning-resource
This detailed critique is published in conjunction with a short video created by Quaker Peace and Social Witness: ‘The British Armed Forces: Propaganda in the classroom?’ which can be viewed at http://youtu.be/wB9JD6P1RCM
Atomic Weapons Establishment [AWE] Burghfield occupies a 225 acre site between Aldermaston and Reading in Berkshire. It is responsible for the final assembly of UK Trident warheads and their disassembly and maintenance while in service. A large construction project is currently under way: ‘Project Mensa’, a £734 million scheme to build a new warhead assembly/ disassembly facility which forms part of the government’s Nuclear Weapons Capability Sustainment Programme.
At least £7 billion will be spent on construction work at AWE sites over 25 years, so it does not look as if the government has much faith in its nominal support for multilateral nuclear disarmament.
Trident Ploughshares is planning a month of action throughout June, with the joint aims of non- violent disruption and publicising the secretive package of government measures which will ensure that AWE can develop and manufacture nuclear weapons until 2050.
A London group is organising a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, begining at noon on June 20th. A minibus will provide transport from London to Burghfield and there will be preliminary training/planning sessions. Contact David Leal on 07707 026 926 or email@example.com to book your place.
[from ‘Peaceline’, May–June 2016]
A feature by Stuart Parkinson (Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility) in the latest SGR journal (Issue 44) examines how technological innovation contributed to one of the most devastating wars in human history — and asks what lessons we should take from this.
The Industrial Revolution transformed a wide range of industries and it was not long before the military started harnessing some of this new technology: for the first time mass production was possible. Guns became more reliable, steel became standard in battleships, large numbers of troops and equipment could be transported by rail.
Advances in chemistry led to the creation of new high explosives — and guns and artillery were developed to use them.
Muskets were replaced by far more accurate and rapid-firing rifles and machine guns. (Machine guns, first invented in the US, soon became capable of firing 666 rounds per minute). By 1914 a 1 tonne shell could be propelled more than 30 kilometers. Attempts were made to limit the development of poison gas as a weapon of war at the Hague Peace Conference of 1899 but because restrictions only applied to delivery systems, Germany, Britain and France all retained active research programmes.
The military importance of submarines grew rapidly in the 20th century and the main weapon of the submarine soon became the torpedo (invented in Britain but rapidly deployed by all major powers).
The world’s first steam-driven battleship was HMS Dreadnought, launched in 1906, initiating a rapid naval arms race with other naval powers, especially Germany.
It was not just military rivalry: international commerce helped to fuel these arms races. Vickers Armstrong in the UK and Krupp in Germany each made huge profits from arms sales, including major contracts with each other’s governments.
After the outbreak of war in 1914, pressure grew for scientists and engineers on each side to try to create ‘military advantage’ through innovation and all these new lethal technologies developed with great rapidity.
Dr Parkinson shows that in WWI the overwhelming majority of deaths and injuries were borne by armies, with naval deaths being only a few percent of the total, artillery death being by far the leading cause of death, followed by machine guns.
He points out that artillery is still being used to devastating effect in many parts of the world and there is similar lack of progress in the fact that we appear to have learned nothing from the absence of controls in the years before WW1 that allowed private corporations to profit from arming both sides. An international trade in arms is still only weakly regulated and continues to fuel widespread war and repression.
The overarching conclusion is that allowing militaries to play a significant role in scientific research and technological development was a major driver of world war 100 years ago and still creates dangers today. We need instead to prioritise using science and technology to support and strengthen disarmament and conflict resolution.