Most people will remember Walter Wolfgang, who died on 29th May at the age of 95, as the frail 82-year old who was manhandled and ejected from the 2005 Labour Party Conferenc after interjecting “Nonsense” when the Foreign Secretary (Jack Straw) claimed that Iraq was a better place because of the invasion. Walter was then refused re-entry to Conference and detained briefly under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. However, this shameful treatment rebounded on the organisers: Tony Blair was forced to apologise, Walter was readmitted next day to a standing ovation, and the following year, was elected to the National Executive of the Labour Party.
We in WDC/CND were privileged to have Walter as a guest speaker at one of our meetings. When I introduced him, I said that he had achieved fame overnight, because of this experience. He replied, with typical modesty, that there were more important things than getting thrown out of Labour Party Conference.
Born to Jewish parents in 1923, Walter’s childhood was abruptly interrupted with the coming to power of the Nazis. Witnessing the growth of anti-Semitism, including personal attacks on him at school, Walter’s parents sent him to Britain in 1937 and they followed in 1939, just before the outbreak of war.
From an early age, he knew all about, and was involved in, the struggle to end anti-Semitism and all forms of prejudice, exploitation and oppression. He believed a vital part of this struggle was a commitment to peace, opposition to all wars, and the solving of problems through negotiations. He was a founder member of CND and participated in every march to and from Aldermaston. He was passionate in his opposition to the Iraq war and equally passionate about securing justice for Palestine.
He was active until the end of his life and his achievements were rewarded by CND, who made him Vice President for life, by Stop the War Coalition, who made him Patron, and by the Labour Party, who gave him a Merit Award.
On receiving the Merit Award, his modest response was that he did not deserve it, as he had only done what he had to do. His brief response to being made Patron of Stop the War Coalition said it all: “We can win, We Shall Overcome”.
On 16th May RUSI hosted a discussion about the House of Lords International Relations Committee report ‘Rising Nuclear Risk, Disarmament and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’ (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201719/ldselect/ldintrel/338/33802.htm), published in April 2019. A panel of experts, including the Chairman of the International Relations Committee, gave their views as to the salient points of the report, and there followed an off-the-record Q&A.
The whole panel agreed that, with the inconsistent noises coming from Washington, the world is increasingly closer to a situation where there are no international agreements amongst the nuclear powers. The five nuclear powers under the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) are often referred to as the 5+1 (the +1 being the nuclear-free power of Germany). India, Pakistan and North Korea are not signatories of the NPT and nor is Israel, but they have neither confirmed nor denied having nuclear weapons.
The discussion continued to express concern about the problem of complacency and that the geopolitical structure of the past seventy years will hold firm. They identified five important factors to which the world community should be alerted:
The report that gave rise to the meeting is useful in a number of ways; it provides an overview of where we are and the committee, to their credit, took evidence from organisations such as CND and ICAN and individuals like Rebecca Johnson and Paul Ingram (of BASIC) .
In New Malden supporters of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and Kingston Peace Council co-sponsored an event which combined fun and games with protest against the arms trade. Peace activists from Merton and Wandsworth were also involved.
Over 50 people of all ages gathered in Blagdon Park to share and enjoy a mountain of food, some of it donated by local businesses. There were plenty of banners and placards to focus people’s minds on peace and — mindful of the date — a two-minute silence was held in commemoration of D-Day.
The protestors left the picnic in a conga line, singing peace songs down New Malden High Street to Apex Tower where BAe Systems occupy eight floors of offices. Activists drew attention to the presence of the world’s fourth biggest arms company with banners (one reading WAR STARTS HERE — LET’S STOP IT HERE), cardboard coffins (a man-sized one decorated with key words and the phrase “Told you I was ill”), a die-in, leafleting and getting sheets of signatures on a petition.
In keeping with the policy of consideration for the community, all action was peaceful and protestors kept on the pavement to avoid disrupting traffic. Dr Tariq Shabbeer, CAAT’s fundraising manager and chief organiser of the event, was so encouraged by its success that he hopes to have another Peace Picnic during the August Bank Holiday weekend. Watch this space!
Thanks to Gill McCall and Dave Johnson for once again setting up the monthly Peace Table outside Wimbledon Library, and for using their many creative skills to make it so interesting and relevant. The theme for June was to promote the ‘Together Against Trump’ rally at Trafalgar Square on 4th June. Trump poses a real and present danger to our planet, and judging by the reception that morning, an overwhelming majority of the passers-by agreed with us. Well over 1000 leaflets were handed out in two hours, thanks to help from Maisie, Alison, Daphne, Adam, Edwin and Julian. There were very many meaningful conversations with the public, lots of support for our efforts, and promises to attend the Rally.
Flaming June was nowhere in evidence. The gusting wind kept us on our toes as books and leaflets flew off the tables and plants were buffeted, but we persevered and by closing time we’d sold most of the donated plants and about half the books, a good number of passing children had been persuaded to draw Peace Bubbles, and we’d attracted some new faces to our cause.
Thanks to everyone who donated goods, gave support in booking, setting up and clearing up. Special thanks to Gill McCall and Dave Johnson for arriving early to set up the stall, for dismantling it at the end, for being ever cheerful and optimistic throughout the day, and managing to wrestle the gazebo back into its bag as the wind swirled. We even covered our costs and made a £50 profit.
Sadly, the DSEI Arms Fair will be returning to London at the start of September, selling weapons to kill, torture and harm people, places and wildlife. Thousands of white poppies made last year to remember victims of the last century of war are now available to turn into mini-banners to advertise Stop The Arms Fair , Campaign Against the Arms Trade https://www.caat.org.uk, and Art the Arms Fair https://www.facebook.com/ArtTheArmsFair/, and to mourn victims of the arms trade. They could be tied around lamp posts near the venues or in central London and/or taken to various associated events.
It’s not difficult sewing, but would be good to share around, and I can’t be around in late August/early September to take them. If you would like some poppies (and a suggested format for the mini-banners) please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be a pity to wait until the moths get them in my attic!
On 20th June, the Court of Appeal ruled that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are unlawful. The Court found that the government had failed to properly assess whether there have been breaches of International Humanitarian Law — a historic judgment.
On a recent trip to Newcastle I had the opportunity to visit the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, housed in a converted flour mill. The gallery holds a biennial artists’ award where three internationally renowned artists each choose an emerging artist who receives £25,000 to make a new work.
One of the artists chosen this year was Aaron Hughes. Born in 1982 and based in Chicago, he is an artist, anti-war activist, teacher and Iraq War veteran who works collaboratively in different spaces and media. His work seeks out and shares the poetic connections that bind us together to reveal our shared humanity and try to make meaning out of personal and collective trauma.
Hughes’ work for the Baltic Artists’ Award was called Poetry Despite/Music Despite (Eternal War Requiem). He created nine large scale woodblock prints. Hughes said “the project emerged out of my personal reflections on Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem and maestro Karim Wasfi’s ‘spontaneous compositions’, solo cello performances held at sites of recent bombing in Iraq. These works, along with my own memories of being a US soldier in Iraq in 2003–2004, resonate with each other. They facilitate connections between our current state of endless war and its historical antecedents”.
Hughes invited Dunya Mikhail, an Iraqi-American poet, Kevin Basl and Carlos Sirah, Iraq War veteran poets, and a group of local Syrian refugees supported by GemArts, a arts organisation based in Gateshead, to re-imagine Wilfred Owen’s poetry.
It was a profoundly moving exhibition. The nine wood block prints were powerful by themselves but it was enhanced by listening to Wasfi’s cello music and reading the ancient and modern poetry and hip-hop. The exhibition crossed so many barriers: enemy/friend, Arabic/English, oppressed/oppressors, soldier/civilian, refugee/host country, Muslim/non-Muslim. It was a work of real collaboration.
At a time when there appears to be no end to conflict in the Middle East and other parts of the world it was truly inspiring to see what one artist with the vision to collaborate on a global scale can create.
Members of WDC/CND were at the rally in Trafalgar Square on 4th June, joining an estimated crowd of 75,000 people from dozens of different political and social groups who had come together to voice their opposition to everything that Trump stands for. There was an amazing array of placards, banners, costumes and statements.
CND’s concerns are about Trump’s nuclear brinkmanship, the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and moves toward war with Iran. It was encouraging was that these issues were widely reported in the media coverage of the state visit.
The global dangers before us are real and growing, so, beyond the protests, it’s crucial that we continue to reach new audiences to raise these concerns and present the alternatives. To this end, CND is highlighting the threats we face in a national Global Dangers Tour (see article below).
We live in increasingly unstable times, where nuclear dangers are growing alarmingly. President Trump has pulled out of anti-nuclear treaties with Russia and Iran, while championing the role of ‘usable’ nuclear weapons in US military strategy. The crucial agreement that is preventing a nuclear arms race — the New START Treaty — is now in danger.
Trump has ushered in a new era of militarism and is preparing for high-tech, massively violent wars against Russia and China, as well as launching a Space Force. Artificial Intelligence, with its dual use and military capacities, is on the rise, as is cyber-hacking.
This is all happening against a background of dangerous climate change, resource wars and mass migration.
CND is highlighting these dangers in a national tour this year. The tour has already visited eight towns and cities, and nine more stops have been announced with further stops to be confirmed. Underpinning the meetings is discussion about the actions we can take to eliminate nuclear weapons and work towards a more peaceful world.
WDC/CND is hoping to arrange a joint meeting with Kingston Peace Council, possibly in November. We will keep you informed of developments.