The film “Shadow World”, which exposes the corruption fostered by the international arms trade, was shown as part of the MyRaynesPark Festival in June. It made me think of my attendance at the International Conscientious Objectors (CO) Day in Tavistock Square back in May. It was the first time I’d attended and there were speeches — including one by Mark Rylance, the actor — and songs. The programme included the names of 79 COs from as many countries as could be found, and some members of the audience had each been given a white carnation to lay on the CO stone in the corner of the square as each CO’s name was read out. There were some spare carnations and I took one and placed it on the stone in memory of my father-in-law, Bob Sprackett, who was a CO in New Zealand during WW2. He was not imprisoned but sent to the remotest, poorest parish in the South Island that the Presbyterian Church could find.
It is encouraging to look back and remember how far we have come since WW1. During the Great War COs were treated appallingly. They were routinely imprisoned and sent to do hard labour, and some were even shot. After WW1 it was the campaigning of men such as Fenner Brockway, who had been imprisoned as a CO during the war, that the right to refuse to do military service was established in this country. There are still countries where this right does not exist. Through the actions of COs during WW1 and campaigning after the war by a small group of people, not only was the law changed but the attitude of society in general to conscientious objectors also changed. It is a good example of how pressure from a relatively small number of the population can change hearts and minds.
I hope that as many WDC/CND members as possible took the opportunity to visit this inspiring exhibition before its closure at the end of August. For peace activists, rarely can an exhibition have been more stimulating. Ideally it would have been central to the whole museum instead of being restricted to those prepared to pay the £10 exhibition entrance fee, but the fact that it took place at all is a great tribute to the management of the museum, and (one suspects) to the liaison and mutual respect built up over the years between IWM staff and Bruce Kent’s Movement for the Abolition of War (which organises the annual IWM/MAW Remembrance Day lecture).
The exhibition traced the history of anti-war demonstration since the beginning of the 20th century, starting with the conscientious objectors and pacifists of the First and Second World Wars, and the rôles many of them played in a non-military capacity. In the post-Second World War and Cold War section, it featured events that were familiar to almost all of us: the first Aldermaston March, the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, Greenham Common. The final section brought us bang up to date, documenting the more recent protests against western interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria etc. (The list is a long one.)
Presentation was excellent, with a mixture of evocative displays: original letters (e.g. conscientious objectors’ letters to the Tribunals), posters, paintings (e.g. Paul Nash), banners, badges, placards, film clips, recorded personal testimonies (via headphones), clothing (e.g. Brian Haw’s sheepskin jacket). There was even a piece of “Greenham Common fence” with ribbons supplied for the addition of personal decorations.
The jaw dropped in the face of archive Public Information film clips about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack: not just the absurdity of the official advice to retreat to a “fallout room” (created with old doors and sandbags) but the tones of arrogant superiority adopted by the narrator. At least (one felt) the government would not get away with such rubbish nowadays — progress of sorts.
Why protest? Are protests effective? These and other questions were explored in short soundbites by a variety of activists (Kate Hudson, Lindsey German, David Gentleman and Mark Rylance, to name a few) in a video at the end of the exhibition.
The low-level background soundtrack, composed of snippets of speeches, music and chants from various rallies and demos, randomly spliced together, was I thought very effective.
The book of the exhibition, “People Power — Fighting for Peace from the First World War to the Present” by Lyn Smith (Thames & Hudson, 255pp, £24·95) is still available and highly recommended.
The text of a new international treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons was agreed by 122 countries on July 7th 2017, and will open for signatures on September 20th. The UK, along with all other nuclear weapons states and their allies, boycotted the UN negotiations (claiming that they were a “sideshow” from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation talks which have long been in stalemate), and Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, issued this statement in Parliament. “The UK will never sign, ratify or become party to the treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. We do not believe that it will bring us closer to a world without nuclear weapons as it fails to address the key issues that must first be overcome...” Meanwhile the UK, along with all the other nuclear weapons states, continues with a costly programme to modernise its own ‘deterrent’, while determinedly attempting to prevent North Korea from doing the same.
The NPT committed the nuclear weapons states to negotiate nuclear weapons abolition “in good faith” (something they claim to have been doing for over forty years), but the new ‘Ban’ treaty is much more specific. Article 1 says: “Each Party undertakes never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess, stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices”, while states must also undertake “never to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons”.
There is a ‘join then disarm’ pathway enabling states to sign the ban treaty before getting rid of their nuclear weapons: in this situation a state would have to take all its nuclear weapons off operational status and then produce a plan for irreversibly eliminating its nuclear weapons programme (the plan to be negotiated with a UN verification authority).
David Krieger (President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, http://www.wagingpeace.org) sums up as follows: “The new treaty... provides an alternative vision for the human future, one in which nuclear weapons are seen for the threat they pose to all humanity, one in which nuclear possessors will be stigmatised for the threats they pose to all life. Despite the resistance of the US, UK and France, the nuclear ban treaty marks the beginning of the end of the nuclear age.”
As international leaders gather at the United Nations for the opening of the General Assembly this September, they will be invited to sign the new treaty on the ‘Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’, and one of the Resolutions to be adopted in the new session will set the dates, venue and agenda for the 2018 UN High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament.
Opinion polls showed huge majorities in favour of UK participation in the ‘Ban’ negotiations, but the struggle for global nuclear disarmament is a subject which the London-based media continue to ignore (it is different in Scotland). Maximum publicity for the new treaty and for the High Level Conference is essential. Reach HIGH for a nuclear-weapon-free world is a campaign which aims to raise awareness about the UN conference with photos on social media, using the hashtags
#Sep26dontNukeUs [Sept 26th: the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons],
#YouthAgainstNukes. Take photos of yourself on a high place, reaching high or lifting a peace sign/object up high — or anything else creative that you can think of!
The 2017 Annual General Meeting took place on August 20th with 16 members present, joined by several non-members for the social part of the proceedings. A very successful Fête of the Earth had enabled us to donate £1000 to National CND and £250 to Médecins Sans Frontières. Membership and donations raised almost £400, covering the cost of the newsletter. There was a small financial surplus over the year which will enable us to purchase a new gazebo (to replace the one which finally failed at Morden Family Funday).
The current committee was re-elected unopposed (with the addition of two new members):
|Secretary & Membership||Joanna Bazley|
|Minutes Secretary||Ruth Crabb|
|Social Media||Sue Jones|
|Merton UNA rep||Alison Williams|
|Co-opted members:||Christine Bickerstaff, Sheila Knight, Margaret Leigh (new), Dave Esbester (new)|
Full Minutes and the Annual Report are available upon request.
Our annual ceremony beside Rushmere on Wimbledon Common was blessed with a fine summer evening and our little fleet of tissue-paper lanterns was a beautiful and a moving sight (see photos). Alison Williams read the Epistle from the Annual Meeting of the Quakers. Joanna spoke about the atrocities of war and the blamelessness of individual victims, the responsibility of governments and (quoting Professor Joseph Rotblat) the need to “remember our humanity” above all else. This year we had no guitars but we sang “We shall overcome” unaccompanied and with deep feeling.
WDC/CND regulars were joined by several members of the public who had picked up leaflets we had handed out on the Broadway the preceding week. Most of these people were happy to add their signatures to the CND Trident petition, and indeed two new members joined on the spot.
Alison Williams is hosting a discussion group on this important subject to mark the International Day of Peace on September 21st.
Founded in 1945 by the governments of nation states on behalf of ‘We the peoples”, the United Nations is the subject of many popular misconceptions. How often do we hear the complaint “Why can’t the UN do something?” (forgetting that the UN is no more and no less than the sum of its member states). All national governments have equal voting rights in the General Assembly, but permanent membership of the Security Council plus a veto was guaranteed to the five powers which emerged victorious from the Second World War, in order to ensure their compliance with the fledgling institution. Matters are further complicated by the prevalence of ‘internal’ disputes in many parts of the world (reflecting the fact that national borders do not always respect the ethnic loyalties of local populations), over which the UN has no jurisdiction.
UNA (the United Nations Association) regards itself as a ‘critical friend’ of the UN, and it is through discussions like this that we can begin to generate the ideas needed for constructive reform. There will be two identical sessions: one at lunchtime, 12·30–2·00pm (bring your own packed lunch), and one in the evening, 7·30–9·00pm. RVSP to Alison: 020 8944 0574 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Every two years, London hosts the world’s largest arms fair: the DSEi† at the ExCel Centre in Docklands. This is a trade show exhibiting drones, tanks, sniper rifles, helicopters, armoured vehicles, tear gas, bombs, missiles etc. — all the equipment needed to wage a war or repress a population. ‘Battle-tested’ provides extra kudos.
† Defence and Security Equipment International
The event is closed to the public but 30,000 arms dealers will attend, including some very unsavoury dictators, and UK officials, armed forces personnel and government ministers will be on hand to assist the forging of multi-million export deals. The Arms Fair opens for business on 12th September but the focus of protest will be the set-up during the previous week, 4th–11th September, with the aim not only of disrupting set-up preparations but of maximising publicity; most people have no idea that the Arms Fair exists.
“We want to make it the most talked-about arms fair ever,” say the organisers of Art at the Arms Fair, a focal point of the Big Day of Action on September 9th. “At 10am on 9th September artists will come armed with canvasses, clay and their creativity to the site of the fair. All work produced will be taken to a gallery to be shown alongside other donated artworks for a public exhibition coinciding with the Arms Fair, and sold to support the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.”
All forms of art and artists, both amateur and professional are welcome, including performance art (Auriel’s ‘Statue of Taking Liberties’ will be on show). WDC/CND member Linda Murgatroyd is co-ordinating a display of hand-crafted white fabric poppies which can be made in advance (deliver to 48 Kenilworth Avenue, SW19 7LW — tel. 020 8946 8365) or on the day.
Saturday’s Big Day of Action is the culmination of a week of protest with a different focus each day [see Diary]. On Wednesday 6th September Trident Ploughshares and regional CND groups will be working together to highlight the links between UK nuclear weapons and the Arms Trade. The world’s biggest arms company, Lockheed Martin, manufactures UK nuclear missiles and jointly manages the bases at Aldermaston and Burghfield where the warheads are designed, manufactured and refurbished, and Rolls Royce (Derby) manufactures the nuclear fuel rods used in submarines.