Feeling the effects of the recession, having trouble coping with the credit crunch? Well you wouldn't be if you were a major arms manufacturer. Figures just released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show that global military spending rose 4 percent in 2008 to reach a record $1,464 billion dollars or £914 billion - that's a 45 percent increase in ten years. Paradoxically perhaps, peace-keeping operations also rose by 11 percent - which or course also benefits the arms industry. With peace-keeping missions launched in trouble spots such as Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo the number of international peace keepers reached more than 187,500. It will come as no surprise to learn that the US is by far the biggest spender on arms accounting for 58 percent of the total spending increase worldwide. The Land of the Free spent $607 billion defending freedom in the past year. Poor old cash-strapped Blighty didn't do so badly, though, managing to stump up $65.35 billion last year putting us fourth in the global league table, pipped at the post by France (with $65.74 billion) and China in second place with $84.9 billion. Britain even managed to beat Russia ($58.6 billion) which might be an occasion my some degree of pride if we were referring to Olympic gold medals rather than guns, tanks, aircraft etc.
"The idea of the 'war on terror' has encouraged many countries to see their problems through a highly militarised lens, using this to justify high military spending," said Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of the military expenditure project at Sipri. The world's major arms manufacturers, meanwhile, are as one would expect, predominantly American. Top of the league is Boeing with a cool $30.5 billion worth of sales last year. But it was a close run thing with BAE Systems chalking up $29.9 billion ( a further non-cause for national rejoicing). Then come Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Raytheon. Eads (West Europe) is seventh, L-3 Communications (another US Company), Italian firm Finmeccanica and France's Thales (which is contracted to help build the UK's two new aircraft carriers.)
Let's leave it to former American president Dwight D Eisenhower to offer a comment on the subject of arms sales. Speaking in 1953, the man who later coined the phrase 'military-industrial complex' said: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense."
The statistics quoted in this article come from the SIPRI Yearbook 2009, published in June. For further information about SIPRI and its research go to www.sipri.org
From 1962 & 1971 the US sprayed 80 million litres of Agent Orange, containing DIOXIN, the most poisonous substance known, in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government estimate 4.8 million Vietnamese were poisoned, 400,000 died and today 3½ million survive, sick and disabled and deformed; and many extraordinarily deformed foetuses do not survive. Gruesomely deformed children are known as 'Agent Orange babies'. Many of the poorest families on earth are struggling heroically eking out miserable lives with severe illnesses and disabilities affecting sometimes 3 generations. GIs and others have had their condition recognised and have received support and compensation. The chemical companies, Monsanto and Dow, have been successfully sued, except by the Vietnamese victims who are routinely ignored and have now been denied the right to seek compensation in American courts. 46 years after the event the conditions of many and their families move anyone with an ounce of compassion to tears. The least they deserve is not to be ignored, but from the US just eerie silence! Dioxin causes serious illnesses, particularly cancers and gruesomely disfiguring skin lesions; and genetic damage causes extraordinary mutations, disabilities and deformities in children like spina bifida, blindness, mental incapacity and deformed and missing limbs. Information from Vietnamese studies is increasingly available through translation.
|80 million litres of Agent Orange sprayed over a nine year period|
The Vietnamese have built 11 "Peace Villages", for between 50 & 100 victims each, giving medical, physical and psychological help. US Vietnam Vets' have given considerable personal charitable support including building the "Vietnam Friendship Village", outside Hanoi, providing medical care, rehabilitation and vocational training. Vietnam, as it emerges from the afflictions of colonization, wars of independence and debilitating embargoes till 1994, isn't wealthy and can't afford the costs of healthcare and support that the millions of sufferers justly deserve. It does what it can, supported by charitable donations and donations from sympathetic governments. Germany contributes $1million annually towards 'mine' clearance, expected to take $10billion and 440 years to complete. 104,000 injuries and deaths have resulted from 16 varieties of cluster bombs and other unexploded ordinance since 1975.
Len Aldis, secretary of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society, has been involved since its foundation in 1992, is now involved with projects in Vietnam, goes on speaking tours and has stalls to raise awareness, funds, and to sell Vietnamese craft products. See www.lenaldis.co.uk. The shaming thing is that such a sickening tragedy as this, caused by the richest nation on earth which trumpets its commitment to the highest values, should have to resort to relying on the compassion and goodwill of a few ordinary people, whilst the USA valiantly ignores them.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana
The 30-year US involvement in Vietnam (technically an involvement: war was never declared) is universally regarded today as a disastrous mistake. It ended in defeat, after an estimated 500,000 Vietnamese killed; 45,000 US soldiers, many of them conscripts, dead and 300,000 wounded physically (many more mentally, resulting in a high post-war suicide rate); the savage blow to US prestige, just when, after the second world war, its standing was perhaps at its highest ever (along with Vietnam, the US also lost its virtue); the damage to the environment with the destruction of villages and infrastructure, the use of poisonous defoliants; the use of napalm on villages, the massive high-level bombing, the massacres of civilians carried out by US soldiers, of which My Lai is the most notorious example; all of this was watched by a horrified world. US prestige has never recovered. Nor has its economy. The £150 billion spent, when corrected for inflation, is in the same ballpark as the $3 trillion estimate for the Iraq war, and had a predictable effect on the economy with an increase in national debt and a weakened dollar.
It is therefore important to know exactly how this tragic foreign policy blunder occurred. First and foremost, this was an executive war. The US government gradually became tied in by the decisions of successive presidents and their intimate advisers until so enmeshed that finally the Senate meekly granted more men, more money, more materiel when the executive demanded it. Opposition to the war was slow to gain any momentum. These were Cold War days, and the war was continued, even though experts advised that it was unwinnable (shades of Afghanistan!), partly because Vietnam could not be left to be taken over by Commies, partly because US prestige became heavily involved, and partly to save the face of the executive, in particular president Lyndon Johnson. When reading over the history, it is sickening to discover that the vicious war was continued for years against expert advice, for reasons that included election dates.
In the beginning, US aid was involved. Not aid to Vietnam, which had seized the opportunity after the war to declare a People's Republic, but aid to France, which wanted to re-establish colonial rule, and continue its century-long exploitation of that rich country. When a post-war French force set sail to establish control over Vietnam, it was in American ships. The French found a nation intent on self-determination. After the initial opposition had been crushed, the Viet Minh vanished into the villages, and Ho Chi Minh fled to the north, which China administered, and set up the Provisional Government in Hanoi. It is worth noting that if left alone, the Vietnamese would have had a government which would have included communists, but which would have been strongly nationalist, resisting takeovers from communists or anyone else. The 'domino' theory (if Vietnam falls to the communists, other SE Asian states will follow) on which US involvement was based was flawed from the outset. Once upon a time the US fought a war of liberation for their own independence from Britain, yet US policy over all the years of their occupation of Vietnam failed to take this obvious, powerful motivation into account, and so seriously underestimated the resistance of the Viet Cong.
(Next month: The French are ejected from Vietnam, and the US takes their place.)
Join people from across the broad spectrum of the British peace movement for five days of exploration, celebration and empowerment at the Peace News annual summer camp. The event is taking place from 23 to 27 July, near Faringdon, Oxfordshire. Bring your contribution to a hothouse of creativity, a small self-governed society run by democratic camp meetings, a viable example of the kind of world we are trying to bring about.
We will be learning from other movements, struggling with challenging issues, creating more cohesion in a segmented peace movement and debating nonviolence. Workshops will range from theoretical discussion to practical planning for actions later in the year.
Fifty years of activist experience will be represented, along with fresh faces and new blood. Sessions will include:
As well as walks, poetry, games, a play-reading and much, much more!
Fed by local organic fruit and veg (lovingly cooked by the wonderful Veggies of Nottingham), we're camping in a family-friendly and renewably-powered way from 23-27 July in a lovely field belonging to farmer Adam Twine. Adam's farm is on the B4508. It is about 5 miles outside of Faringdon and about 8 miles from Swindon. Entrance to the camp costs £15-£50 depending on income. For all the details see www.peacenewscamp.info or contact 0845 458 2564.
It was reported in Washington in June that the US Army's most senior officer, Chief of Staff General George Casey had expressed confidence that the United States could fight a conventional war against North Korea despite continuing conflicts elsewhere. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was quick to 'lower the temperature' around this suggestion. A Korean War, for so many years only part of people's consciousness through the endless re-runs of MASH (picture), had suddenly re-appeared, at least on somebody's agenda in the Pentagon. And all because North Korea has belligerently held a nuclear weapons test, begun firing missiles hither and yon and announced it is longer bound by the ceasefire that ended the war with South Korea in 1953 all to the alarm of not only the west but also Japan, Russia, and even China.
But should we be surprised by the unreconstructed Communist state's threatening behaviour? Commentators say not really. In April 2003 North Korea drew the obvious conclusion from the American and British aggression against Saddam Hussein's Iraq and commented at the time: "that to allow disarmament through inspections does not help to avert a war, but rather sparks it" and it went on: "... only a tremendous military deterrent force" could prevent attacks on states that the world's only superpower was determined to subjugate. Remember that North Korea had already been branded as a major player in George W Bush's 'axis of evil' along with Iraq and Iran. A previous guarantee by Bill Clinton that the US harboured "no hostile intent" against North Korea had also been ditched by Dubya. America's increased enthusiasm for invading other countries has created a powerful incentive for states in the firing line to acquire nuclear weapons for their own security. The main nuclear weapons states have lambasted those such as North Korea and Iran (but not Israel) as a threat to world peace but, until the arrival of President Obama, uttered no word about reducing their own stockpiles, let alone ridding the world of the threat that their own mega arsenals constitute. Even Pakistan - which has seemed on the verge of being taken over by the Taliban - escapes Washington's censure as a threat to world peace.
Economics Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz in his book, co-authored with Linda Bilmes The Three Trillion Dollar War makes the point "While we were focusing on weapons of mass destruction that did not exist in Iraq North Korea acquired such weapons. Many believed that our distraction in Iraq not only provided North Korea with an opportunity, which it seized, but that we provided (it) with strong incentives." However much one regrets North Korea's present attitude and actions it is difficult not to admit that they have a point when they attack permanent member nations of the UN Security Council as hypocrites. The country's official news agency said: "The nuclear test conducted in our nation this time is the Earth's 2,054th nuclear test. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council have conducted 99.99 percent of the total nuclear tests."
I had to keep pinching myself to remember that this is the work of an American President, so accustomed am I to the sad catalogue of deceit and inarticulacy of so many in recent times. Kennedy's Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin and Vietnam, Reagan's Iran/Contra scandal and Nicaragua, and of course the Bushes. Obama's memoir would be remarkable even if he weren't US President. He trades in honesty and insight, and he writes accessibly whilst at times being touchingly vulnerable and romantically poetic. Without a hint of self-pity he describes the realities of his situation as the son of a black man and a white woman, yet belonging to neither camp. We learn about the casual sleights of the preppy-school playground and the suspicions of others completely immersed in the culture of what are in essence black ghettos of urban America. The absent father, whose ambitions for self-improvement and education brought him, via scholarships, to Hawaii where he met his mother, is a constant presence throughout the narrative; finally exorcised when the villages, relatives, friends, and memories of Kenya are visited and explored. On the way he takes us to Indonesia where he spent formative years and began processes of awakening to discover that life may often present adults with hard choices, whilst others, through accident of birth, have few choices at all.
He elucidates the obscurely named 'organizing' he embraced after graduating; working with the poor, the deprived, the ill-housed, the disadvantaged, the forgotten, and the ignored and disdained of prosperous America. 'Organizing' is about bringing people together who share common disadvantages to pressure authority to institute improvements which are overdue. Obama was chosen to work in downtown Chicago because he was black, yet because of his preppy upbringing he wasn't automatically accepted. By sheer force of personality he made progress and he introduces us to a cast of characters whose trust he won on the way. Episodes are dealt with practically and with objectivity, and the characters described with great sensitivity and insight. This is a man who really understands how human beings interact and relate; how cultures and customs mesh or collide. This is no armchair socialist or mere aspiring career politician seeking a cosy sinecure.
Father Obama was a man ambitious for his country, Kenya, and his purpose in gaining knowledge and education was to be useful and constructive in the emerging democratic state. His opposition to corruption and tribal nepotism forced him into destitution when out of favour with the ruling group. After his journey of discovery Barack Obama returned to the US to study law which he describes as "a sort of glorified accounting that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power - and that all too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition." Or more positively, "a nation arguing with its conscience". It would be nice to think the Presidency could live up to the book. It will be interesting to see how the insights about people, their aspirations and motivations, their diverging cultural conditionings, their attitudes and humanity can be brought to bear on the office which has huge potential for influencing events, not just in America but around the globe, for the positive benefit of the many whom life has often condemned to penury and despair, whose hopes and ambitions have often been dashed by events beyond their control, so that a culture of respect and fairness might be given opportunity to grow and prosper where before greed and self-interest have all too often had the upper hand. In international relations maybe the tides of aggression and mistrust will be reversed in favour of debate and discussion, and a recognition that human beings the world over have common interests that are best served through agreement and co-operation. A dream? Maybe, but certainly not from my father - maybe not from many other fathers!
During the bleak Bush years he was our wish-fulfillment Democratic alternative president and we are now hoping that Barack Obama lives up to the West Wing's fictional Jed Bartlett. But actor Martin Sheen who played the eponymous good guy in the White House has many other qualities that his West Wing fans would applaud. In a recent interview the prominent real life Democrat supporter revealed he had been arrested 66 times, most recently in 2007 - for trespassing on a nuclear test facility. "Acting is what I do for a living," he told the interviewer. "Activism is what I do to stay alive."
If you believe, as I do, that Anthony Charles Linton Blair breached Geneva Conventions by initiating war in 2003 against Iraq and by being responsible for subsequent action prejudicial to the welfare of the country and its people, specifically 14 counts as itemised in a letter to the United Nations and the British Attorney General, and you believe he is entitled to a just and fair trial, please, please, please go to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or to: blairfoundation.wordpress.com and sign the letter as soon as possible. It is hoped 1 million will sign - so please spread the word!
Many thanks! Noel
Jim's booklet: The Nuclear Threat, Intolerable and Avoidable, is available free, yes free, from Kingston Peace Council (though a donation of £1 towards the cost would be appreciated), and you know where we are!
Newsletter Editor for this issue was Phil Cooper.
Disclaimer: It is the nature of a newsletter like KPN that views cannot be sought on everything that appears herein, so views expressed are almost never the agreed opinion of the group.