We have reports from a number of meetings, conferences and demonstrations this month, but we start with another instalment in Harry Davis's history of American involvement in Vietnam.
When Lyndon Johnson became president after Kennedy's assassination, the US involvement in Vietnam soon became a full-fledged war in all but name. The incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, now widely believed to have been invented, when two US navy ships reported that they had been attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats, provoked the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (7/8/1964) in which the US senate voted the president 'all necessary means to repel armed attack' to protect US forces, in effect granting a blank cheque for Executive war.
Johnson was a clever politician, with a constant eye on his own career prospects. Though quite determined that 'I am not going to be the first president of the United States to lose a war', and in agreement with the Joint Chiefs that the moment had come to enter upon a full-scale war, he recognised that for the 1964 election he must be seen as the peace candidate. His opponent, Goldwater, was a scarily extreme hawk. Johnson played successfully on anti-war sentiment as the peacemaker, got elected by a landslide, and made his preparations for war.
A campaign of bombing was decided upon, to try to bolster Southern morale and break the will to fight of the North, as well as having the purely military objective of stopping supply and infiltration.
War was the choice, despite the chance offered at this time to end the conflict. UN Secretary General U Thant was told through Russian channels that Hanoi was interested in talks with the Americans. A ceasefire was proposed, but was met with stalling in Washington. U Thant announced to the world that further bloodshed in S E Asia was unnecessary, and that only negotiation could 'enable the United States to withdraw gracefully from that part of the world'. The bombing commenced, ending the last chance of a graceful exit from Vietnam.
Johnson feared that a negotiated settlement, likely to lead to a neutralist Vietnam at best, and communist control at worst, would be seen as wounding to his personal reputation, and wounding to US reputation, in that order. The stated raison d'etre for the war, the domino theory, was discounted by the CIA, whom Johnson now asked for an assessment. Confirmation came from a Working Group consisting of Joint Chiefs, CIA, and Defence, which warned that the US could not guarantee a non-communist Vietnam without risking war with China, and even possible use of nuclear weapons. These advisory bodies had no perceptible impact on the Johnson administration. The strategy was to be an escalation of the bombing until Hanoi caved in. On 9th June 1965 'combat support' of the South forces was authorised, and Johnson announced an additional 50,000 US troops. By the end of that year, the total US forces numbered 200,000. There was to be now no turning back, no more negotiations; the undeclared war would have to end in defeat or victory.
The attempt to destroy Viet Cong, and their suppliers in the North, became brutal. Watched by a horrified world, napalm was used on villages, long-acting poisonous defoliants were sprayed over great tracts of forest to make supply lines visible, crops were ruined to create famine, and search and destroy missions on the ground sometimes ended in massacres of civilians, as at My Lai.
In the beginning American public opinion was equivocal. True, there was anti-war feeling, but there was also a strong belief that their country was taking an heroic stand against communism. To want the boys to come home seemed unpatriotic, and undermining of morale. The realisation that this foreign war was unnecessary, and brutal, was slow to take hold.
As more soldiers were committed, a draft became necessary. By mid-1967 the number of US soldiers reached 463,000. The brutality on the ground began to be reported in the press; anti-war demonstrations became massive; Johnson's popularity dived. The Saturday Evening Post declared in an editorial, 'The war in Vietnam is Johnson's mistake, and through the power of his office he has made it a national mistake'. (Years later, when George Bush declared war on another nation in his capacity as 'Commander in Chief', it was clear that this lesson still had to be learned.) Johnson's political antennae were sensitive, and rather than face a humiliating deselection at the Democratic conference in favour of Robert Kennedy, as the selection date neared he surprised the nation by declaring that he would not be a candidate.
The war had another terrible five years to run.
Next month: The Nixon years.
CND Conference was this year themed around 'Making Nuclear Disarmament Happen: Ideas and Action in a Changing World'. Time and again speakers referenced the possibilities that may exist for change following the election of Obama tempered with the need to ensure that promises are kept and that we campaign as strongly as ever to seize the new opportunities..
In the debate on 'Opposing NATO' Kate Hudson considered what the intentions of the new Obama administration were. Far from collapsing post 1989 NATO has expanded and in 1999 extended its remit from the concept of the defence of member states to an anti-Russia/China trajectory through control of the whole Eurasian landmass. NATO is currently considering a new strategic concept that is due to be released in 2010 and there are key points that it will need to address - the maintenance of nuclear weapons in Europe, whether NATO forces could or should be sent wherever Western interests are threatened including threats to energy supplies, NATO's expansion to the borders of Russia and on into Asia and what level of involvement a heavily militarised European Union would have. Jane Shallice, of the Stop the War Coalition, considered the importance of Afghanistan as the US feared that troops from other countries would drift away in the next year or two (with Canada, Australia, Italy and Germany all having plans to withdraw or having expressed concerns at their involvement). Jeremy Corbyn ended the debate welcoming the new inspections in Iran and Obama's statements regarding a wish for disarmament and that he is prepared to discuss the reduction of warheads but sounded a note of caution that the non-proliferation treaty remains under threat, that India and Pakistan were not being brought into nuclear treaties as they should and that states in the Middle East may seek to develop nuclear weapons if they see that Israel continues to receive such massive US support and retains a nuclear capability. Conference was encouraged to write to their own governments and to contact NATO to express what their wishes would be for the future of NATO.
Speakers at conference had come from all over the world and one of the most interesting was Sharon Dolev from Greenpeace in Israel. She spoke of the difficulties in campaigning within Israel on issues connected to nuclear weapons where discussion can be considered taboo and people are unwilling to acknowledge that they even exist as part of the countries military capability. For two years she has helped develop a still small anti-nuclear movement including protests at a conference which was attended by Shimon Peres. The conference was intended to consider nuclear weapons in the Middle East but for two days the only discussion concerned Iran. Sharon and her fellow activists have used a variety of means to highlight the dangers of nuclear weapons and have found that among the most effective has been to highlight what the effects of explosions would be and the need for discussions to move towards disarmament. She finished by showing a short film of recent protests when Sarkozy visited Israel to sell nuclear technology with banners and demonstrators outside the meeting venues and along the streets.
Others taking part in the debate on 'Global Disarmament' included John Loretz of ICAN, USA and Achin Vanaik of CNDP, India. They spoke of hope for the future with nations outside of the West banding together to discuss nuclear weapons free zones (the whole of the Southern hemisphere having recently achieved this status), voting against nuclear weapons in the UN and campaigns for a no first use policy between India and Pakistan. Once again people stressed the possibilities of a new administration in the White House but the need to run strong campaigns so that when, for example, Obama speaks of a belief that disarmament is possible but not in his lifetime we ask 'Why not?' and push for that to happen now. John, like Sharon, spoke of the need to refocus people's minds on the potential effects of weapons to the environment, in the destruction of cities and millions of deaths to counter arguments that they are necessary for protection and that it would be dangerous to give them up. The importance of pressure on the UK government was reiterated as, of the nuclear nations, we are one of the only ones where there is any possibility at all that weapons could be scrapped. Kate ended the conference by highlighting the need to keep campaigning to show the ridiculousness of a two pronged UK policy of stating that there is support for disarmament while renewing Trident - but that there was currently more hope both home and overseas than there had been for some time.
Kingston Peace Council was well represented at the Stop the War Coalition demonstration in Central London on 24 October, calling on Government to bring home the troops from Afghanistan. We assembled with the KPC banner at Speakers Corner and marched to Trafalgar Square. At the head of the march, and speaking in Trafalgar Square, was Lance Corporal Joe Glenton.
Lance Corporal Glenton faces desertion charges for refusing to return to Afghanistan, and has now been arrested and charged with five further offences for leading the anti-war demonstration in London and speaking to the press in defiance of orders. The new charges carry a maximum of 10 years imprisonment in addition to the possible three to four years sentence if the desertion charge is upheld. Lindsey German of Stop the War Coalition said in a press release: "This is not about breach of military regulations. In the last few days a range of military personnel have been speaking in the media in defence of this appalling war. I doubt any of them have been arrested. This is about the persecution of a soldier who believes in telling the truth in accordance with his conscience. He is saying what the majority of the population believe; this war is unwinnable and immoral."
You can support Lance Corporal Joe Glenton:
More details: http://stopwar.org.uk/content/view/1593/1/
On 31 October over 300 people, many from Plymouth and across the country and one from Kingston, demonstrated in the city centre and at the Devonport Dockyard against the creation of a nuclear dump, which could see submarines cut up and stored in Plymouth for perhaps a century.
The Dockyard is where, after about ten years of service, each of the four Trident nuclear weapons submarines arrives (unarmed) for a refit, during which time the reactor is refuelled and a new reactor core fitted. The old core and spent fuel rods (all highly radioactive) are then transported to Sellafield for storage. The Dockyard is run by Babcock Marine who also services the adjacent Ministry of Defence Naval Base and provides services for Rosyth naval dockyard and Faslane Naval Base in Scotland, where Trident submarines are based. They also have to make plans for dealing with eight obsolete nuclear powered submarines which are being kept stored afloat at Devonport, plus seven more obsolete submarines at Rosyth dockyard, and the twelve submarines, including Trident ones, currently in service which will eventually be declared obsolete too. The problem is that the storage space at the two dockyards will be full by 2012,
Plymouth has a population of around 250,000 people. Devonport Dockyard is situated close to the city centre and minutes from homes and schools. There have been numerous accidents at the Dockyard releasing radioactive discharge into the river Tamar. The refit work and proposals to cut up obsolete nuclear submarines (whose radioactive nuclear reactor compartments are the size of two double-decker buses) may release further radioactive discharges into the environment. Short term plans might mean nuclear waste from the submarines being stored at Devonport for many decades. Long-term plans for it to end up in an enormous underground site elsewhere might not be viable - such nuclear dumps have not yet been built anywhere in the world.
One of the speakers at the demonstration was Peter Lanyon, who had just resigned as an advisor on the project's consultation group. He stated, "The MoD is ignoring its own advisory group. The integrity of the project, any openness, transparency and accountability has disappeared" and "I can no longer bear to see tax-payers' money being spent on it". He resigned in protest also at the sacking of two other advisors from Lancaster University, who had previously consulted on the Project in 2001 and 2003. In the 2003 public consultation, commissioned by the MoD, respondents were insistent that "the management and storage of nuclear waste should not take place within a city, in close proximity to housing, schools and hospitals". Now the MoD has hired a commercial PR company, Green Issues Communications, to conduct yet another public consultation.
Tony Staunton, Plymouth CND campaigner and Secretary of Plymouth's Trades Union Council said: "With a new public consultation the government is desperately trying to sidestep previous consultations and is ignoring the voices of the people of Plymouth. There is outrage locally at Plymouth becoming the national centre for storing nuclear waste from obsolete submarines, including extremely toxic metals and equipment, not just low level waste."
More information: http://www.cnduk.org/index.php/campaigns/trident/devonport.html
Clare Short MP was the main speaker at a recent meeting of Action for UN Renewal/World Disarmament Campaign. on the subject of Global Financial Crisis and World Security.
Clare said she welcomed the opportunity to give an overview of the situation as she sees it, starting from the premise that the whole focus of our Foreign policy is wrong. She felt that things had gone well for a time after the breaking up of the power blocs, in spite of disastrous set-backs such as Rwanda, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia. Barbara Castle and Judith Hart had brought in new types of post-colonial policies, Millenium goals were set during the 1990s and development assistance grew. There were big UN meetings in Cairo, Beijing, Rio and Johannesburg and targets were set such as halving numbers of people in extreme poverty by 2015. Sustainable development was being discussed more, poorer countries were benefitting from greener policies, and the Kyoto protocol was adopted. The Debt Campaign was very powerful, involving people who had never taken part in protests before, and the Highly-Indebted Countries Relief (with strings attached) did lead to improvements. Aid was being viewed more as an investment fund to get things going in under-developed countries.
Then of course after 9/11 everything turned round. Britain missed an opportunity to be a voice of reason when the UN General Assembly and Security Council were urging solidarity with the USA , but urging them not to hit out blindly. Instead there was a kneejerk reaction, and a massive increase in military spending. The American people were lied to and led to believe Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attack. Even so 80% of Americans opposed "going it alone" and wanted a coalition to support the war. This was our great chance to be a real power for good - but instead we fell back on the "special relationship" - having lost an empire but never found a role!
Where are we now? Unsurprisingly Clare was pretty depressed on this. The millenium goals will not be reached unless we can act very decisively. The environment is key. For example Bangladesh has a population still growing and a land area shrinking due to increasing flooding problems. Unless we can curb poverty increasingly large numbers of migrants will be trying to reach developed countries with very ugly results. We also face over-fishing, forest destruction, urbanisation of the poor, water over-use and unfair distribution, and declining oil supplies on which we depend heavily not just for fuel, ie. plastics and many manufactured products. Even in the West hunger is rising - and yet a quarter of food bought is thrown away. Enormous turbulence is coming unless we take things seriously now
We need massive levels of international co-operation and conflict resolution - and the Middle East problems must be solved to start this off. Not only does the USA ignore countless UN resolutions but Europe does too, and the Trade Treaty with Israel should be suspended. The UN must push harder for support for International Law. We must support the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty properly - there is no excuse for continuing the "we need them for our protection" line - if we do so does everyone.
On the financial situation Clare was hopeful that we will not make the same mistakes as in the 1930's. She explained that general banking needs to be separated from Investment banking, as advocated by the Bank of England. US and Western indebtedness is being kept afloat by Chinese and Asian economies holding dollars, the USA imports far too much so the dollar must fall eventually, and to an extent pounds and euros also, but protectionism is not the answer. Neither is cutting down on assistance to developing countries. We must start to spend more on protecting the environment, and less on military preparations and war. She hopes the new regime in USA will be able to rise to the challenge.
Dick Olver's Mountbatten Memorial Lecture to the Institute of Engineering and Technology Solving Global Challenges Demands Ethical Leadership on 12 November was really rather fatuous and simplistic. Engineers, he said, should consider the ethical implications of their work, bearing in mind the most important issues facing the world today. So engineers working on a Formula 1 car should take into account the effects of that car's huge CO2 emissions, while those concerned with nuclear power generation should be thinking about more than just cheap electricity. However, before refusing to deal with a project deemed to be unethical, an engineer should consider the potential for ethical benefits which may be lost if (s)he refuses to assist in its development. Dick Olver would like to see compulsory courses in ethics introduced into engineering degrees, comparable with those undertaken by medical and law students. (But has he considered the negative impact this could have on BAE recruitment drives in Universities?)
BAE Systems is of course a beacon of ethical probity, having cleaned up its act following the recommendations of the Woolf investigation into its business practices. The company produces a glossy booklet devoted entirely to its ethical policy, concentrating on accountability, honesty, openness, integrity and respect and Mr Olver assured his audience that all of BAE's business dealings are crystal clear: bribery, for example, is completely unacceptable. (Curious then that there are ongoing questions into BAE's dealings with Saudi Arabia, The Czech Republic, South Africa, Tanzania and Romania and that the one question at the end of the lecture which really riled the normally slick and urbane Mr Olver was from Symon Hill, formerly of CAAT, and related to the recently published Nimrod report.)
Engineers should welcome any chance they have of going into developing countries, even corrupt ones, because of the opportunity this affords for setting a good example. (True, perhaps, in the case of water supply systems but what about providing weaponry to Saudi Arabia with its appalling human rights record and to other governments on the Foreign Office's 'countries of concern' list?)
What are the major global challenges today? Climate change? Poverty? The threat of nuclear annihilation? Two mysteries remained at the end of the lecture: given that the arms trade fans the flames of war, puts weapons in the hands of murderers and dictators, diverts spending away from health and education in some of the world's poorest countries, contributes to climate change by its phenomenal carbon footprint and generally contributes to global instability, in what way is the business of BAE Systems ethical and why on earth was Dick Olver, of all people, invited to give a lecture on the subject?
And from the laughable to the chilling: a bleak assessment of the effects of climate change on world instability by Dr Mark Levene of Southampton University at MAW's annual Remembrance Day Lecture at the Imperial War Museum on 8 November.
We in KPC heard from Stuart Parkinson earlier in the year of the colossal carbon footprint produced by military activity and of its role in causing climate change; and that climate change in turn leads to increasing global unrest. It was the second part of this vicious circle that Mark Levene focused on. His forecast is that the climate crisis can only worsen, that wherever scientists look they find a fast accelerating rate of change and that in spite of the world economic downturn in 2008, there was no significant slowdown in the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
It is unlikely that there will be a strong enough political solution at the forthcoming Copenhagen meeting. Mark Levene believes that governments are starting to regard as lost the battle to control emissions and there is already a shift towards treating climate change in state security terms. A 2004 Pentagon report predicted the mass movement of billions of people, pointing to the need to protect the homeland, and the CIA has announced the establishment of a permanent climate change bureau to prepare for a long term threat. A group of former NATO generals argued in 2008 in favour of maintaining a commitment to nuclear first strike, citing in support the inevitability of mass migration. Very little is reported on the rising proportion of research and development devoted to PDT - Perimeter Deterrent Technologies. The Israel/Palestine wall is well known but not so much is heard of the 2,500 mile steel barrier being erected by India on the India/Bangladesh border. For those who can't be kept out, there are MOUT plans - Military Operations in Urban Terrain - involving containment zones in urban slums.
There will be serious scrambles for diminishing gas, oil, food and water supplies including the hitherto untouched oil deposits in the fast thawing Arctic. China is already experiencing a shortage of water and its plans to dam the Yangtse River will have implications for water supplies in India and Bangladesh (nuclear armed China versus nuclear armed India). South Korea has already made arrangements to feed its population by arranging with Madagascar to plant a large proportion of its fertile land with maize and palm oil for South Korea - with very little benefit to Madagascar. The 'final frontier', said Mark Levene, is the management of the weather which will consume spectacular quantities of resources and involve such techniques as the fertilisation of oceans and aerosols in the stratosphere - techniques which will become weaponisable with who knows what consequences for life on earth. And all the time, governments are likely to become more and more authoritarian as people helplessly look to their political leaders for guidance in an increasingly impossible situation.
A glimmer of hope was offered at the end of this grim analysis. There is still a small margin for political manoeuvre involving urgent contraction and convergence. I hope KPN readers will feel that, in the light of all this, measures such as those called for by the Campaign Against Climate Change for, amongst other things, an end to domestic flights and a reduction in the national road speed limit to 55mph are not really drastic at all - in fact they are mere drops in the ocean. If we survive, there will have been a social transformation and society as we know it now will be utterly changed.
Newsletter Editor for this issue was Gill Hurle.
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.