What is peace? What does it mean to you? The UN International Day of Peace gives us an opportunity each year to consider these questions. It provides us with a day to reflect on our role in creating peace on this wonderful earth. In 2007, it provided a day when a vaccination programme could take place against Polio in the middle of a war-torn country. In a world where we have become so used to violence and war, this day represents a time when the light of peace can shine through the darkness.
So what is peace? I think peace represents different things to different people. For some, peace is the freedom to live life according to their culture without discrimination. For others, it is the hope to one night be able to go to bed without the fear of a raid on their home. For some, it is the dream of living in a community where people know their name and they do not have to be invisible.
Freedom, hope, dreams, community - peace can be all of these things. Peace is a way of growing together, learning together, creating together.
This Peace Day, I'd like to give you three challenges:
May this UN International Day of Peace sow seeds of peace in many lives that will grow, flourish and spread.
Happy Peace Day!
11 June 2009, A/63/881-S/2009/304, http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/367/70/pdf/N0936770.pdf?OpenElement. (Note: originally http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/367/70/PDF/N0936770.pdf?OpenElement but that gave problems)
"There are no quick fixes for holding and sustaining peace. National actors face enormous political, security and development challenges after conflict. But if the international community, led by the United Nations system, is ready to respond rapidly, coherently and effectively, we can help to give national actors a greater chance of sustaining peace and laying the foundations for sustainable development.
All too often it is innocent men, women and children who pay the price of war.
We cannot ask them to pay the price of peace".
The International Day of Peace, observed each year on 21 September, is a global call for ceasefire and non-violence. It is a time to reflect on the horror and cost of war and the benefits of peacefully resolving our disputes. This year, I will use this important day to ask governments and citizens of the world to focus on the important issues of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
The end of the Cold War helped lift the burden of nuclear catastrophe from a generation that had lived under its cloud since the end of the Second World War. Nonetheless, the threat persists, as recent events attest. Unless we vigorously work for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, we will continue to face threats from existing nuclear weapons, as well as additional risks that more States, even terrorists, might acquire and deploy such weapons, potentially annihilating millions of people.
This alarming outlook is counterbalanced by a new momentum on the part of world leaders to address the issue of nuclear weapons. The United States and the Russian Federation have signalled a new commitment to cut their nuclear arsenals. Furthermore, the Conference on Disarmament, which includes all States with nuclear arms, has recently broken a decade-long deadlock and agreed to work to resolve some of the key issues related to disarmament and non-proliferation.
We must build on this momentum. To that end, I am launching the WMD-WeMustDisarm! Campaign. Over the next 100 days, the United Nations and our partners around the world will work to raise awareness of the true costs and dangers of nuclear weapons. Between now and 21 September, we will issue 100 reasons to disarm, via Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, email, text message, radio and from friend-to-friend. Celebrities will also help us spread the message. And finally, as we observe the International Day of Peace with world leaders gathered in New York for the 64th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, I will proclaim one strong, simple message: We Must Disarm!
Court martial proceedings have began against Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, the first British soldier to speak out publicly against the war in Afghanistan. Joe has joined the Stop the War Coalition and intends to deny desertion, calling an expert on international law to argue against the legality of the war in Afghanistan. Joe delivered a letter to Gordon Brown last week at Downing Street giving his reasons for refusing to fight an unjust war (read letter at: http://bit.ly/eO3V0).
His case has received widespread media coverage, including the BBC TV News discussion between Lindsey German, national convenor of Stop the War, and Major-General Sir Patrick Cordingly, who led the British army in the first Gulf War against Iraq (watch the video of the discussion).
E-mail your support to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Download the petition via the link on the video page above. (excerpt from Stop the War newsletter, No. 1109 05 August 2009, E-mail email@example.com)
Nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament are top priorities for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon this year. To mark the 100-day countdown to the International Day of Peace on 21 September, Mr Ban has launched a multi-platform campaign under the slogan WMD - We Must Disarm. Take action by signing the declaration at http://www.globalproblems-globalsolutions.org/site/PageNavigator/UNF_We_Must_Disarm_Declaration in support of the Secretary-General's campaign. You can also submit your own reasons for why 'We Must Disarm' at http://www.un.org/en/events/peaceday/2009/.
The United Nations is looking for short videos from anyone, regardless of skill or experience, to submit their work by Thursday, 10 September. All entries should be on the subject of nuclear disarmament and/or non-proliferation and no longer than three minutes in length. Films should support the Secretary-General's multiplatform WMD-We Must Disarm campaign. Participants should upload their films on YouTube and send a link to the film to Melanie Nolte at firstname.lastname@example.org. More info at: http://7thspace.com/headlines/316025/wmd_we_must_disarm_launches_short_film_competition.html.
Asuka and Hisao had waited many years for a child but Asuka finally gave birth on August 6, 1936, in Japanese the year Showa 11. It was the year of the mouse, not the most auspicious and their daughter was born on Butsumetsu, the least lucky day of the week. Still, they were delighted to have their child at last and they called her Shinju - Pearl - because she was precious. There was no inkling then of the impending Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, nor of how it would affect their lives. The nurses noticed she didn't respond to the light. Asuka and Hisao were too excited to notice and only later realised she was almost blind. They loved and doted on their little girl who was their greatest gift.
They lived in the outskirts of Hiroshima and Shinju went to school with other children who couldn't see, and though learning was difficult they were all very happy and well treated. Every year they made a big fuss of celebrating birthdays, including Shinju's, with songs and flowers and games and food that parents sent from home.
August 6, 1945 was a lovely warm day and Shinju could feel the sun on her skin as she went to school in a pretty flower-print dress. Her heart beat light and quick as it was her 9th birthday and she anticipated the celebrations as usual.
Despite her blindness Shinju could see the flash at 8:15 and hear the roar. The Japanese call the blinding flash and boom of the nuclear explosion the Pika-don - the spark and bang. She felt the blast that threw her to the floor, and she felt the heat that burnt her. She heard the cries of the other children and the crashing of broken glass and bits of burning buildings flying around and falling. A heavy piece of burning wood fell on her hands and she felt the searing pain and screamed.
She was luckier than many. The school was over a mile from the centre of the blast. She had arrived early and was partially protected by a large concrete beam next to her. Others had been outside or inside near the windows and were badly injured. She couldn't see the glass embedded in skin. She couldn't see the bloated and burned bodies, grey and naked, hair and clothes burned off. Some cried out; others were eerily quiet. She couldn't see the flower patterns burned into her skin from her burnt dress and she couldn't see the destruction and devastation around her. She was in pain and very thirsty and she cried out. She didn't know that the nurses and teachers were dead and injured, that the centre of Hiroshima had disappeared and many thousands were dead and dying, burned by searing heat, many with their very lives sucked out by the blast. She couldn't see the masses of charred bodies, some still alive and plunging into the rivers to get relief. She didn't know about the internal organs burnt by the heat and that many had lost their eyes to the heat and the blast. Later people described the scene for her and told her about how so many had endured excruciating pain and cruel protracted deaths. For now she could do nothing but wait, trapped and unable to move and not understanding what had happened to her. She heard others moaning and crying out and smelled strange smells of dust and burning, and heard the crashing of parts of the buildings collapsing. She was very afraid.
Eventually her mother came. She recognised her voice and cried out. Asuka was overjoyed to hear her daughter's voice from the rubble. At first she didn't recognise her with her hair gone and burnt grey skin and most of her dress disappeared. Several people struggled to release her hands from under the burning timber. They were so badly injured that they would never be of much use again.
Hisao had been called up to serve his country and His Imperial Majesty Hirohito. He had to go though he preferred to stay with his beloved Shinju and Asuka. He was never to return. Shinju and Asuka were lucky their house was still standing though they had to share now with a homeless family. Things were hard and Shinju and her mother had numerous hospital visits to deal with her injured hands and skin problems and the cancerous growths which everyone seemed to be suffering. Many of the Hibakusha, survivors of the atom bomb, friends and neighbours soon succumbed to terrible skin sores; diarrhea and bleeding gums and people quickly recognised the familiar signs of the "atom bomb diseases". Many developed Leukaemia and died.
Shinju's school was gone and she missed her friends but her mother doted on her and they were happy together though birthdays were never the same again. Everyone mucked in and when her mother wasn't around others were. There was American food aid and life wasn't too bad despite the illnesses and hospital visits. Then when Shinju was 18 she began to lose weight and feel ill. The doctors looked very grave and she had to go into hospital. She had Leukaemia. In the bed next to her was a girl called Sadako who had many visitors. There were lots of school friends who gave her much encouragement. They said that if she made a thousand paper cranes, according to legend, her wishes would come true. They brought her paper every day and everyday the pile of cranes grew higher. Shinju couldn't see them and she couldn't make cranes with her broken hands but she was excited by the activity and the comings and goings of Sadako's friends and family who were kind and gave hope to everyone. The celebrations on Shinju's 19th birthday, the 10th anniversary of the bombing, reminded her of happier school days. Sadly, despite everything Sadako got weaker and on 25 October 1955 she died, though she continued folding cranes till the last. It was very sad, particularly for Shinju as the friends stopped coming. She grew sad and her strength ebbed away until a few weeks later she herself died.
The story of Sadako and her fight against the "atom bomb disease" is legendary and an inspiration to us all. In the memorial garden in Hiroshima is a statue to the brave girl who kept up her hopes and those of her friends. There are massive displays of wonderful coloured paper cranes, now a universal symbol of peace reminding us of the wasted lives caused by the devastation of the nuclear bomb, and the bravery of those who endured and struggled to survive; including the many like Shinju whose names are long forgotten.
When industrial killing weapons are used it is people like Shinju and Sadako who are overwhelmingly the victims. If we all understood that then maybe we would realise that it is not such a good idea; no matter who started it and no matter how much clever ingenuity goes into it. The deaths of Shinju and Sadako are a stain which serves to remind us that wars and killing are stupid and futile and just plain wrong. Noel Hamel, 27 July 2009.
"Watch me throw stones," said Jones.|
"Look at my stick," said Rick.
"A slingshot is wicked," said Khalid.
"My spears really kill," said Phil.
"The best's my bow and arrow," said Gennaro.
"From horseback my short bow can,
kill more men," said Genghis Khan.
"We've made a blade,|
but we've made a cannon," said General Han.
Then we all got guns.
and sub-machine guns,
and field guns,
and huge, big artillery guns,
and tanks with guns and ships with guns,
and planes with guns and bombs.
and bigger bombs,
and flying bombs,
and absolute, total destruction bombs,
and cluster bombs;
rockets, torpedoes and mines,
germs, gasses and poisons...
Then Harry Truman sent "Little Boy,"|
The A-bomb, to destroy
Now, if the button is pressed then...
The subtitle is unfair. The Senate, let alone the American people, were not involved in the decision to commit US armed forces in Vietnam. It was only after the military were deep in the morass, and needed Senate authorisation for increased funding, that the US government had to make a decision - and by then extrication without loss of face was almost impossible. Yet the watching world, seeing pictures of children burned by napalm, villages exploding in flames from US bombs, witnessing the massive bombing of the North, the use of poisonous defoliants, reading the accounts of the trial of William Calley, and of the massacre of hundreds of helpless villagers at My Lai, were aghast at the brutality the great superpower was capable of. The reputation of the US, self-styled leader of the free world, and with some justification for the title, was severely damaged, and has perhaps still not recovered to this day. Yet the American people had no hand in any of these atrocities, and in the end - it took a very long time - it was the American people, through massive protests against the war, who were instrumental in stopping it.
This was a war started behind the closed doors of successive Administrations, and continued through five US presidencies. What was the perspective of those few, on whom the hard decisions fell? What influenced their decision to keep the US involved, even when each was presented with opportunities for withdrawal?
Truman's administration set the whole process in motion after the world war, by countermanding Roosevelt's oft-stated adamant opposition to the French recolonisation of Vietnam. Not only did the US withdraw its opposition - with huge amounts of military aid it actively supported the French war to regain its former colony. Though such support ran counter to expressed US ideals, a stronger motive overruled the distaste. The French were seen as a bastion against the creeping tide of communism. The Viet Minh included communists, but their aim was a Vietnam free of occupation. The US vision of Vietnam was as a 'domino' that might fall and cause the fall of others, extending in the most extreme scenarios to the fall of the whole of Asia, New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand! As the example of Laos was later to show, this was a mistake, and bitterly did both Vietnam and the US pay for it.
This 'domino' theory pervaded thinking in all successive administrations, but in addition there were two other major motives in the continued commitment in Vietnam. One was a loss of US face on the world stage - a consideration hardly worthy, or even true (a UN-mediated withdrawal would have improved US standing), but one which, being humans, successive administrations thought cogent. The other was the personal thought, expressed in clear words by two of the presidents and no doubt entertained by the others, that 'America is not going to lose its first war under my presidency!' Such is the degree that human failings enter into the large decisions that determine human history.
Democracy was meant to spread decision-making to involve our representatives, but in practice, when it comes to decisions of war and peace, democracy has proved little different from dictatorship. Today there is much talk of improving our democracy by reducing executive power, and perhaps some improvements will actually result. The history of Vietnam demonstrates the need.
Subsequent history of the tragedy of Vietnam is interesting (if you have a strong stomach!), and next I would like to briefly summarise the main incidents and decisions made by the remaining four presidents involved, as the war extended towards its 30th year.
Next month: Vietnam under Eisenhower.
Newsletter Editor for this issue was Fiona Brown.
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.