This year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Barack Obama in part specifically for his efforts to abolish nuclear weapons. The Nobel committee evidently considered nuclear weapons an obstruction to peace, and so rejected the idea of deterrence, that possession of nuclear weapons helps to keep the peace, a proposition advanced by apologists for our weapon of mass destruction. Obama's reaction, that he has yet to fully earn the prize, is encouraging.
In Love Actually, the British prime minister (Hugh Grant) famously confronts the visiting US president during a joint press conference. To the general surprise and delight he accuses the US president of bullying under cover of the term 'special relationship', and continues, 'We may be a small country, but we're a great one, too - a country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter, David Beckham's left foot; his right one too, come to that. ..' Etc.
Of course, this was just one of those excellent British films. In the real world, politicians are not so unpredictable, yet the question has been raised: Wherein lies the greatness of a nation? A little thought soon leads to the conclusion that greatness, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. Some would judge the greatness of a nation by the talent of its footballers, some by the world-class artists, singers, painters, scientists etc., depending on their particular interests. Politicians, whose metier is the handling of power, would tend to judge a nation's greatness by how well the social system works, and by how strong (militarily) the country is. (Hence their predilection for H-bombs)
Yet, can there be an unbiased assessment of greatness, a judgement that a disinterested outsider might make, concerning the comparative greatness of this nation? In such a cool judgement, Britain comes out rather well.
It is wonderful that people from this relatively small island have contributed so much to the acquired intellectual capital of the world, in some areas laying the very foundations that have made further building possible. In science we can claim Newton, whose investigations into gravity and light and mechanics are basic study for science students the world over, Faraday, whose work on the nature of electricity produced the first electric motor, and so many others - no doubt a complete list of scientists who have contributed greatly to human knowledge would fill this page. In natural science stands the towering figure of Charles Darwin (with Alfred Wallace standing beside him). In geology, we have pioneers such as Hutton, Lyell, William Smith and, more recently, Arthur Holmes. In economics, Adam Smith was the first in an illustrious line to Keynes. The English language is a wonderful, flexible tool that has produced much of the world's greatest literature. In every field of scientific and artistic endeavour, great British names come immediately to mind.
As a society we can claim, amongst other measures, the mother of parliaments, though it is true she needs a facelift today. The National Health Scheme was once the wonder of the world, and arose from a deep-seated feeling for social justice. It remains one of the best and most efficient means in the world of preserving a healthy populace. Though of course there remain tough problems, our unbiased observer would surely note that British society is one of the best extant.
To judge by these large criteria, Britain is undoubtedly a truly great nation. Perhaps the worst aspect of our history stems from how we have been governed. The way Britain has used military power to conquer, to enslave, to exploit, has been shameful, though admittedly such piratical activity was the norm in past days. It took pressure from below to force concessions. For example, those in power encouraged the employment of slaves, until public pressure forced a renunciation. That great democrat Tom Paine showed the way to true democracy - a state not yet attained by any nation.
In the present nuclear era, the world's major problems have resulted from the failure to abolish the scourge of war. The H-bomb hovers like Damocles' sword over our future. To lead the way towards the cooperative, peaceful world essential if the global warming and population increase problems are to be solved, a goal to which all nations are now paying lip service, would set the seal on Britain's greatness. Instead, shamefully, as one of the few nations to possess and to cherish the H-bomb and the means to deliver it, modern Britain is contributing to the problem. The vestiges of our imperial past have convinced our leaders of the need to use nuclear weapons as a ticket to a seat at the top table. For them, greatness resides in power, and so in the fearfully destructive capacity of the H-bomb. Nuclear weapons are as reassuring to leaders as are dummies to infants.
Reforms imposed from the top are rare as hen's teeth, though it is possible that they are occurring in today's United States. The task of building Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land has always been undertaken by passionate individuals who have had to convince and somehow put pressure on those in command.
As in the case of the abolition of slavery, the pressure for a permanently peaceful, cooperative world will no doubt have to come from below. Such a lead can come from within Great Britain.
Kingston Peace Council marked Peace One Day, the U N international day of peace, in the marketplace with an extended stall. As in a previous year we had a Peace Tree which passing children were invited to decorate with doves, after writing their own peace message thereon. This year we had the additional attraction of Raised Voices, a group of ladies with excellent voices, singing stirring songs (see photo). This attracted much attention, so much so that one of our group suggested that those manning the stall in future should perhaps burst into song also from time to time. This suggestion was quickly quashed.
Thanks to all participants, who worked hard to make our stall something special for Peace One Day, an initiative that grows bigger and stronger each year all over the world.
As part of raising awareness of the UN international day of peace, KPC members Mary Holmes, Maggie Rees and Hilary Evans addressed assemblies in four local schools, as described in Mary's report below.
School assemblies were given by KPC members in three primary schools and one secondary school, and resources provided to another school. The assemblies seemed to be well received with several schools saying they would like to have us back next year. We wrote to primary and secondary schools in the boroughs of Kingston and Richmond suggesting they mark Peace Day and of course they may have simply organised their own event.
Peace Day falls in the London Week of Peace, a police and community initiative, and I think this is becoming a more high profile event and we should try and liaise with the organisers in good time next year in both boroughs.
Let us take it for granted that KPN readers oppose Trident, let alone its suggested replacement at a cost of many billions to the British taxpayer. There are many good and sufficient reasons for concluding that Trident is an obstacle to progress on world-wide abolition of nuclear weapons, all of which have had an airing in this newsletter at one time or another. But a cogent reason that would appeal to every member of the public has received no attention at all - that it is unnecessary. Writing letters to the Guardian is rarely successful, but just occasionally one is printed, as below, published 15th July.
Dear Letters Editor,
The necessity of the Trident upgrade, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), has been questioned by a Senate committee which received advice that the plutonium in existing warheads is more stable than the industry has claimed, and reliable for decades yet, by which time progress would hopefully have been made on abolition. President Obama has ordered work stopped on the RRW. Where does that leave our upgrade?
The Vietnam inherited by the new administration was messy, but not as dire as it was later to become. The US military was not yet directly involved, and aid had been limited to money and military equipment sent first to the French, and then after their war had been lost, to the southern government presided over by the US-installed Diem. Though Kennedy had picked a talented, bright team, there was no questioning that Vietnam must be held as a 'bulwark' against the red hordes, even though Kennedy himself, when a senator, had visited Vietnam and had said that to act 'in defiance of innately nationalistic aims spells foredoomed failure'. Nevertheless, when in office, this is what he did.
A diversion into neighbouring Laos, which lay alongside Vietnam, is now necessary. This small, elongated country, in shape ominously like a domino, was at this point in turmoil. In charge was Prince Souvanna Phouma, a neutralist in cold war politics. His half-brother rival was leader of the Pathet Lao, the Laotian equivalent of the Viet Minh. The brothers were negotiating a coalition that would have neutralised their country, but the West was disturbed by the communist nature of Pathet Lao. Once in charge, would they let in the red hordes? Eisenhower thought so, and so briefed his successor. Laos was a prime domino that must at all costs be prevented from falling.
Kennedy asked for military advice from General Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and was shocked by his assertion that if China or North Vietnam interfered in a US action in Laos, they could be contained by the use of nuclear weapons. Still recovering from the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the failed US-supported invasion of Cuba, Kennedy decided to accept neutralisation of Laos without US intervention. His decision proved justified. No communist invasion of Laos followed.
The US handling of Laos was a shining example that was disregarded when it came to Vietnam. The situation there continued to deteriorate. 'The guerrillas now control almost all the southern delta,' reported Theodore White to the White House. 'I could find no American who would drive me outside Saigon without military convoy.'
A mission of Joint Chiefs and the CIA, sent to visit South Vietnam, recommended immediate deployment of 8,000 troops to halt the deteriorating situation. The Southern troops lacked motivation, while the Viet Cong were fiercely determined to achieve a free Vietnam. The problem was, once US troops were committed, victory had to be certain, and there was no lack of advisors predicting severe military difficulties. The president's brother Robert Kennedy advised getting out of Vietnam at once. J. K. Galbraith, sent to assess the situation, reported back that US troop involvement should be resisted because 'our soldiers would not deal with the vital weakness'. He could see no military solution: 'We are now married to failure'. An internationally negotiated settlement aiming at the neutralist Laotian model was essential. De Gaulle now proposed such a solution, but rather than seizing this chance to get out, Washington was annoyed at the 'interference'.
In spite of all this advice, and without Congressional authorisation, US troops began to be deployed. By mid-1962 US 'Special Advisers' forces numbered 8,000, and 10 months later had more than doubled to 17,000.
On 1st November 1965 the generals' coup took place. Diem was assassinated. One month later, President Kennedy was also in his grave.
Next month: Outright war: the Johnson years.
On 10th August 1945, the day before the second, Nagasaki atom bomb was dropped, US President Truman made the following speech to the world, giving his justification for having authorised the first atom bomb on Hiroshima.
KPN readers will recognise one direct lie and, considering that the atom bombs were really dropped on an already defeated Japan to warn off Russia, two indirect lies. As everyone now knows, the atom bombs actually prolonged the war, costing 'the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans' while Truman waited months for the atom scientists to complete their work, instead of accepting Japanese terms for peace. But in addition to the lies, there is one admission and one terrible misjudgement. The admission is that it was he, president Truman, who had taken the awful decision upon himself to drop the atom bombs without involving Congress (no doubt because in an open discussion the realpolitik driving the decision could not be admitted), revealing just how much despotic power an American president is allowed. The misjudgement is of course the decision to use the bomb as an overpowering military weapon before 'means have been found to control the bomb'. While the bomb was only a theoretical possibility and not an actual military weapon, those all-important means could have been much more readily put in place. The terrible subsequent history of the insanely dangerous nuclear arms race, resulting in the mess that this generation of politicians is trying to clean up, might have been avoided. It is noteworthy that when Stalin was first told of the atom bomb by Truman, he took no notice, evidently thinking it was some kind of Western ploy, and was galvanised to produce a Russian bomb only after the demonstration at Hiroshima.
The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid the killing of civilians. But if Japan does not surrender bombs will have to be dropped on war industries. I urge Japanese civilians to leave the industrial cities immediately to save themselves from destruction.
We won the race of discovery against the Germans. Having found the bomb, we have used it. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of the war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans. We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war.
The atomic bomb is too dangerous to be let loose in a lawless world. That is why Great Britain and the United States, who have the secret of its production, do not intend to reveal the secret until means have been found to control the bomb so as to protect ourselves and the rest of the world from the danger of total destruction.
I shall ask the Congress to co-operate to the end that its production and use be controlled, and that its power be made an overwhelming influence towards world peace. We must constitute ourselves trustees of this new force to prevent its misuse, and to turn it into the channels of service to mankind.
It is an awful responsibility which has come to us. We thank God that it has come to us instead of to our enemies, and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.
We know now that the basic proposition of the work and dignity of man is not sentimental aspiration or a vain hope or a piece of rhetoric. It is the strongest, the most creative force now present in this world. Let us use that force, and all our resources and all our skill in the great cause of a just and lasting peace.
Once upon a time, when ships put to sea, navigators had a tough time guiding their vessel safely to port. Even after the continents had been found and put upon the map, voyaging involving months of sailing over the trackless ocean was an uncertain, dangerous business. Latitude, the north-south dimension, was an easy calculation in the northern hemisphere at least, when it was simply a matter of measuring the angle the north star made with the horizon, but determining longitude, the east-west measurement that with latitude fixed a ship's exact position, was a different matter.
Finding the longitude involved having an accurate chronometer on board that showed the time at the prime meridian, zero degrees of longitude, and then finding the local time of day where the vessel was. Knowing these two facts allowed a simple calculation which showed just how far west or east the vessel was from prime meridian (15 degrees of longitude for each hour time difference).
After some centuries, a chronometer sufficiently accurate was devised. But where on the globe should we place the north-south line that represented zero degrees of longitude? In a way, it didn't matter where, so long as general agreement could be reached. But general agreements, involving co-operation between all nations, is never easily obtained.
At one time many seafaring nations had the prime meridian running through their own capital city. For the British it was Greenwich, for the French it was Paris, for the Spanish, Cadiz, for the Portuguese, Lisbon. The USA preferred Washington, the Italians Rome, and the Dutch Amsterdam.
It was clear that this system, or rather lack of system, would have to change. A generally-agreed line of zero longitude was important for all sailors. Confusion is dangerous at sea. Maps showing zero longitude in different places around the globe invited disaster. So thought the scientists. All that remained was for the politicians to agree a prime meridian. This involved swallowing some national pride in the interests of common safety - a task not often accomplished in the history of mankind.
In 1884 an International Meridian Conference was held in Washington. Greenwich was a favourite from the start, as it had been long established. Another smaller advantage Greenwich possessed: the international date line, where it would be exactly midnight when it was midday at prime meridian, would in the case of Greenwich pass harmlessly through the Pacific, avoiding the awkward problem if on land of the date for a short time being different on one side of a country to the other. In any case, the vote was Greenwich in the end, 22 in favour, with two abstentions (France and Brazil).
Maps were standardised, and ships sailed happily upon the sea ever after.
Washington D.C. (September 21, 2009) - Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) made the following statement after a report prepared by General Stanley McChrystal calling for more troops in Afghanistan was released in the press:
"If the Obama administration is determined to 'win the war' in Afghanistan, then we should be prepared for another Vietnam. An unending military commitment is unacceptable to the American people and it should be unacceptable to Congress. If the Obama administration refuses to bring this war to an end, then Congress should use the power of the purse, granted by the Constitution, to end the war and bring our troops home. Many objective analyses indicate that the U.S. should withdraw from Afghanistan. If the Obama administration can't do it, then Congress must," said Kucinich.
Newsletter Editor for this issue was Harry Davis.
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.