Psychopaths, those devoid of empathy, guilt or remorse, make up only about one percent of the community. For the other 99%, involvement in war, where there is an obligation to kill strangers, is traumatic. Citizens are brought up to believe that killing strangers is wrong, so when their government countermands those learned moral guidelines, and orders them instead to go forth and kill as their duty to their native land, such orders are bound to induce stress. How much stress, and how difficult it is to cope with it, is revealed in studies of the troubled lives of many soldiers who have survived war, apparently unscathed, and return home to civilian life once more, where the old guidelines about killing are reinstated. The mental condition of these veterans is now labeled as post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and its severity is indicated by the numbers of those affected who commit suicide.
The war in Vietnam is not unique in causing PTSD, (soldiers sometimes came home from the first world war deeply traumatized) but as there have been several studies of affected Vietnam veterans, much statistical information about them is now in the public domain. A trawl of the internet reveals much data. Estimates of suicides by Vietnam veterans vary widely, from 20,000 to 200,000. The lower estimates are likely to be inaccurate. Deaths by drunk single-car crashes, and self-inflicted gunshot wounds where no suicide note has been left, are not generally classified as suicide by doctors as an act of kindness to the families. However it does appear most likely that the number of suicides by soldiers returning from Vietnam could well be double that of soldiers killed in action during that war (perhaps 120,000 suicides, as against 58,000 killed in action). Such a figure is even more shocking when one remembers that suicide is only the most extreme way of escaping the long-lasting trauma of war: many more soldiers must suffer deeply troubled lives.
Psychiatrists analyzing the factors predictive of suicide by such veterans conclude, unsurprisingly, that five main elements are : guilt about combat actions, survivor guilt, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Many of the subjects mentioned specifically the killing of civilians, women and children, as painful memories. (Lieutenant Calley, perpetrator of the My Lai massacre, recently said that he thinks about his victims every day.) Other, physical, factors such as war wounds leading to permanent incapacity, and long-lasting effects of poisoning by the chemical toxins used as defoliants, especially the notorious Agent Orange, have also been cited as inducing post-war suicides.
It seems likely that the kind of war in which soldiers are involved is an important factor. Soldiers who fought to defeat an enemy bent upon conquering their homeland, as in Britain in the Second World War, were most probably freer from the kind of stress that induces PTSD and post-conflict suicide. On the other hand, veterans of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, controversial, elective wars that are being fought without majority public backing and which involve many civilian casualties, may well be vulnerable to the same pressures that Vietnam veterans had to face on returning home. They will be much in need of public sympathy and support.
'Medact is a global health charity tackling issues at the centre of international policy debates. Led by its health professional membership it undertakes education, research and advocacy on the health implications of conflict, development and environmental change. Medact speaks out for countless people across the globe whose health, well-being and access to proper health care are severely compromised by the effects of war, poverty and environmental damage.' What a jolly good thing you might be thinking when you read this description of the charity on its website. Nothing controversial there.
Sadly, as Medact Director Marion Birch explained to members of Woking Action for Peace and guests, even collecting basic health statistics may put doctors at risk. An Iraqi doctor was refused visas for travel to the US and Canada to speak about his work which showed a connection between depleted uranium and ill health. This man's house has been searched and he and his family feel under threat. His findings were obviously not acceptable to those in power. Here in the UK, we are used to the idea that if a product presents a possible risk it's taken off the market while it's checked out. Not DU though.
Journalists were not allowed anywhere near the fighting round the Tamil held area in Sri Lanka earlier in the year. Doctors who remained in the hospital in this area used mobile phones to provide mortality statistics to the outside world. When the fighting was finally over the doctors were arrested for spreading 'false information'. After they had been detained for 10 weeks they said they had been 'mistaken about the numbers'. Now they are on bail awaiting trial.
These are two examples of doctors doing what we would hope and expect doctors would do - and in their cases it must have taken a lot of courage. The response shows the importance of information, including health statistics, and the lengths those in power will go to suppress what they don't like.
The title of Marion's talk was 'Don't shoot the messenger: Health Workers in Conflict' and she reminded us that health workers should be protected under the Geneva Convention. She explained the work Medact does: contacting governments, ministers and local medical associations, speaking out, carrying out research and working for a more peaceful world where health is something everyone can enjoy.
Mary Holmes November 2009
Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp(aign) have relaunched their on-line presence today with a new-look website, including detailed background information about both the peace camp and the Atomic Weapons Establishments at Aldermaston and Burghfield, and a comprehensive "resources for action" section.
AWPC has been actively opposing Britain's nuclear weapons programme for almost 25 years and launched their first website more than 10 years ago. All technical development and design implementation for the new site has been carried out by women from the camp. While we don't have electricity or an internet connection at the camp, we have always understood the value of maintaining a presence on the web and the opportunities presented for outreach, organising and campaigning.
We hope that the new website will be a space where people can find out more about the peace camp, and be inspired to take action to oppose Britain's nuclear weapons programme and the replacement of Trident. If you want to get involved just click on http://www.aldermaston.net.
1 We are routinely killing women and children and their innocent men in attacks on villages - and then denying it!. We are increasingly fighting local Pashtuns who don't want foreigners in their country and who reject the central government of President Karzai who is seen as a 'western' puppet. The Afghan government is notorious world-wide for corruption and graft with many former 'warlords' amongst its members whose interests our troops are defending - SUPPORTING CORRUPTION.
2 Talk of "making the streets safer in Britain" is rubbish. We went in in 2001, eight years ago, to oust the fanatical Taliban regime that Britain and the USA had helped install; and to capture Osama bin Laden who was 'our man' in Afghanistan. Mullah Omah and bin Laden simply 'upped sticks' and settled in Pakistan - FAILED.
3 We pledged to secure equal rights for women. Eight years on they are little better than under Mullah Omah and significantly worse than in 1979 before the US gave $500 million to support those opposing women's rights - A LIE.
4 We pledged to help the poor, sick and illiterate. Eight years later Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries with literacy and girls' education hardly changed and health amongst the worst. Life expectancy is declining and infant mortality and death in childbirth is 2nd to bottom in the world, despite the cost to British taxpayers and young soldiers' lives - ABJECT FAILURE.
5 All the experience of past conflict tells us that a 'guerilla' war against local people defending their territory from a foreign 'invading' army - no matter how well equipped - CAN NOT BE WON AND IS DOOMED TO FAILURE.
This war has lasted almost twice as long as WWII and is going nowhere.
Our perceived complicity in corruption, torture and killing is more likely to
excite opposition which could potentially fuel terrorism. The money spent could usefully help our efforts to deal with unemployment and recession at home. Our young men's lives are worth more than covering the embarrassment of MPs who don't want to admit they are wrong. Some are now talking of a 30 year war - Afghans have already endured 30 years since July 1979 when the US paid $500 million to the Mujaheddin and provoked Soviet involvement in December 1979. The conflict risks spreading to Pakistan - a nuclear state. Most people now want troops out by Xmas.
WHAT ARE OUR SOLDIERS EXPECTED TO DO IF THEY REMAIN IN AFGHANISTAN - CARRY ON DOING THE SAME?
'One thing is quite sure: and any would-be reformer must face it. It is not possible for the world population to expand indefinitely and not starve. Simple arithmetic is convincing.' (Scientist and quaker Kathleen Lonsdale, F.R.S., in her book Is Peace Possible?)
There are several major causes of war. The drive for more than our neighbour, the instinct to plunder others' possessions which drove the conquistadors, pirates of all kinds, official and unofficial, has led to the founding of empires and sparked off wars between competing imperialists. The temptations of power, where a dictator (elected or unelected) is left in charge of a population of millions, has proved another mainspring of war. But it is certain that provocation to war has also been, and will increasingly be, driven by exploding populations, in a desperate fight over increasingly scarce resources.
Charles Darwin based his theory of evolution on an easily observable fact: that each and every species possessed the reproductive capacity to achieve a population explosion. Darwin had read Malthus, who in his essay on population described this power in the case of mankind (strangely, in view of the sensitive nature of the subject, man was the first species to be noticed in this regard). Darwin applied Malthus' analysis to the whole of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, and further reasoned that, as a population explosion did not occur in the real world, then a severe culling must take place at one or several points in the lifecycle of every species, which led him to the conclusion that those individuals who had survived probably possessed an advantage, however slight, over most of their fellows. The idea of survival of the fittest, nature's mechanism for evolution, was born.
This tendency for a population explosion in all cases is obvious to any observer of nature. The innumerable seeds set in every plant, in every tree, the power of every mating pair of animals to produce during their lifetime many offspring, which would then even during their parents' lifetime begin to parent a second generation, and that generation a third, is a matter of observation. Darwin calculated that even in the case of the very slow breeding elephant, a single pair would be responsible for producing, after a lapse of 750 years, 'nearly 19 million elephants alive, descended from the first breeding pair' in the absence of predation or starvation.
The tendency for a population explosion in the instance of man is a special case. Homo sapiens is such a very dominant species that predation by other species has become quite negligible - the first such case in the whole long history of evolution. We are experiencing a population explosion today. At the beginning of the 20th century there were only a billion people alive, but by the end of that single century the population had increased sixfold to 6 billion - already an unsustainable number, according to some analysts (possibly the greatest sustainable number of humans, the number that would not cause damage to the available arable land or increasing pollution of the environment with their waste products, is two or three billion, depending upon the average individual environmental footprint (M. Desvaux, Medicine, Conflict and Survival, 25:3:p221). For a discussion of the population problem, see World Wildlife Fund website at http://www.panda.org/about_our_earth/teacher_resources/webfieldtrips/population_growth.
A human population explosion is not inevitable. The huge families common only a couple of generations ago are now very much out of favour. Contraceptive devices have handed us the opportunity to choose the number of offspring. But the biological possibility of a human population explosion, with all its implications for a fragile planet, is a law of nature and will always be with us, and will sorely test any anti-war structures that have been put in place.
When a prominent Labour MP (Kim Howells), who had voted for the war in Afghanistan, now calls for a rapid withdrawal of British troops (in order to use the funds so saved to spend on counter-terrorism at home); when an opinion poll (YouGov, for Channel 4, 5th November) shows 73% of the public who participated want troops home immediately, and 57% think the war is no longer even winnable; when the war is being increasingly described in the mainstream press as a 'quagmire'; it now appears inevitable that an exit strategy will soon be devised even though the original stated aims of capturing the 9/11 terrorists and defeating the Taliban will not have been achieved.
However there is a real danger that this foolish, tragic war will drag on simply because it is hard for those who promoted it to admit failure. The quagmire that was the Vietnam war existed for 25 years, partly because those individuals in command did not want to admit failure. In fact KPN readers will have been struck by the parallels between the wars in Afghanistan and Vietnam, some similarities being:
Question: Are we fated to repeat the same mistakes, generation after generation, because of some inherent human weakness? Tuchman thought we were. She thought that power not only corrupts, as the hackneyed phrase has it, but that it also compels a kind of power-drunk foolishness, as leaders inevitably overreach themselves into folly. In a book well worth reading (The March of Folly, try Amazon.com), she instances many historical follies, detailing in particular the folly of the Trojans taking that suspicious horse into their city, the folly of a succession of popes in the late 15th century that finally precipitated the reformation, the folly of the British king and government in provoking the American colony into a premature secession at a time when there was no desire for independence, and the folly of the war in Vietnam. If she had lived today, she would surely have recognised the same old symptoms regarding Afghanistan.
Richard Nixon was elected on a promise of 'We will end this one and win the peace', by a public increasingly disillusioned with the cold war rhetoric that had kept America in Vietnam for the previous 25 years. His plan and promise was to 'bring the boys home', and this was to be achieved by 'Vietnamisation' of the conflict - sending even more weapons to the Southern army (ARNV), whilst increasing the high level bombing of the North to savage levels, reducing Hanoi and Haiphong to rubble.
One problem with this plan was that it didn't work. The ARNV were, and were known to be, a demoralised force, and the prospect of battling with the Viet Cong to save American lives did not appeal to them.
As with all the other presidents, Nixon had the chance, and was advised, to extricate his country by withdrawing with a minimum of negotiation, but did not do so for the usual reasons - loss of face on a personal and on a national level. The anti-communist rhetoric that had kept the conflict going all these years continued to be the barrier to its termination.
Nixon's Secretary of State Kissinger (bizarrely later the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize) was as autocratic as his boss, and as in thrall to the idea of victory as had been Johnson and his predecessors. Together they concocted plans and carried them out without reference to Congress. Aiming at Viet Cong supply lines, neutral Cambodia was first bombed, and then invaded. The invasion prompted a surge in Khmer Rouge recruitment, setting the stage for the notorious killing fields.
It is hard to invade a country secretly, and the incursion into Cambodia was soon major news in the US press. Huge 'Peace Now' marches began to fill the streets. Vietnam veterans tossed away their medals publicly, and a crowd of 100,000 besieged the White House. The reaction of Nixon to the growing demand for peace was rage, and he began the wiretapping and burglary of 'peacenik' Ellesberg, which came to nothing, but became a method that eventually escalated to Watergate, and resulted in the first-ever resignation of a US president.
In 1971 Laos was also invaded to cut supply lines, a costly adventure increasing anti-American feeling. Morale amongst remaining US forces sank. Drug taking became rife, and there were now instances of 'fragging' - murder of officers by their own men when ordered into battle, using hand grenades.
At long last there were rumbles from Congress, all these years little more than a mere spectator in the Vietnam tragedy. Polls now revealed a majority in favour of getting out of Vietnam, even if that meant defeat. Yet - and this is hard to take - the public were so encouraged by the 'peace is now at hand' propaganda that Nixon was re-elected, in a landslide. The weakness of the Democratic candidate McGovern, who unfortunately said he would 'go on his knees to Hanoi' to end the conflict, has been blamed.
In January '73 the Democratic caucus of both houses voted for 'an immediate cease-fire', and cut-off of all funds for military operations. At this time Watergate disclosures were being heard in Judge Sirica's courtroom, and the Nixon administration proposed calling off the bombing and for a peace treaty. US conditions to preserve Thieu's Southern government and removal of Northern troops from the South, which had kept the war going for the last 4 years, were now abandoned, and a peace treaty signed in Paris on 27th Jan 1973 that was little different from the settlement made in Geneva 19 years before.
With further US involvement precluded by the Senate's cutting-off of funds, within two years the unification of Vietnam by victory of the Northern forces set the seal on the US defeat that had cost so many lives, so much money, and had damaged US prestige around the world.
Next month: A summary
A visit to New York can be a pleasant experience, though the pound sterling does not go far these days. It seems that most UK tourists come away as we did with pleasant memories of smiling, helpful, confident people, acts of real kindness, and an exciting, bustling city. However there will probably be jarring moments for any but a strong Conservative. There is a general underlying feeling that socialism is pretty much the same thing as communism, red in tooth and claw. It would be a brave person who would express any but mainstream, market-forces ideas, and while we were there for a few days recently we heard no opinions expressed on television capable of even mildly ruffling right-wing feathers. You either have socialism, or you have freedom.
President Obama's tentative attempts to extend medical insurance cover to the less well-off has raised an amazing storm, and we learned from the television to our horror (being rather old ourselves) that in Britain old people are refused treatment and must die if the care becomes too expensive.
To illustrate, here are a few things we observed.
President Obama faces a tough job convincing Americans that the world will be better off without nuclear weapons, for that will mean engaging in dialogue with the dangerous, left leaning, baby-eating socialists.
The first booklet tore to shreds the arguments postulated by those wishing to keep Britain armed and dangerous by threatening the world with its Trident Nuclear submarines; each one of which carries bombs with over 300 times the power of Hiroshima. The policy is 'First-Strike-Use' which begs the question, how does that equate with the declared aim of retaining it as a defensive weapon? There are 48 separate bombs on each Trident so they can be despatched in 48 different directions - so as not to waste all that explosive power on one target!
This time Jim has shifted ground away from all the debate about politics and logistics that normally obscures the reality of what nuclear weapons are about - ground on which the 'nuclearophiles' are happiest. Jim has looked at how a nuclear war might be triggered, possibly by accident, going on past experiences of really 'close shaves'. He has also looked at the consequences for death, destruction and injury - we are talking about the ultimate Weapons of Mass Destruction, the purpose of which is to annihilate totally innocent people, like you or I, who are just living out our normal daily lives.
I believe Jim has tapped into a very rich seam of campaigning which we are perhaps too squeamish to shout about. The reality is that people who hold onto some archaic notions about 'he who has the biggest one wins', are in reality prepared to face the prospect of appalling deaths for themselves, their friends and loved ones, fellow countrymen, men women and children, let alone the multi-million deaths of equally innocent ordinary people in other parts of the world who deserve no less consideration than do we. And what about this wonderful planet of ours?
Look out for "THE NUCLEAR THREAT" (in yellow letters) FREE (though a donation would help towards the costs)
As part of Kingston Borough's annual festival of ideas, KPC/CND has this year organised the following talk and discussion to be held on Thursday 11 March, 7.30pm at C-SCAIPE, Kingston University, Penrhyn Road, Kingston. Dr David Lowry will be the speaker and our own expert, Jim McCluskey, will contribute and help to lead the discussion. Please publicise this important event as widely as possible.
Nuclear power is increasingly being seen by the media and some politicians, and even by some who would previously have considered it unacceptable, as one of the most important contributors in the desperate effort to reduce carbon emissions. Our Government is promoting the building of new nuclear power stations and apparently believes this is the right policy in the fight against climate change. But is it safe, now and for future generations, and can human error ever be eliminated? Can nuclear waste be effectively managed? Why, if demonstrable alternatives exist, would we want to generate nuclear electricity and create as an unavoidable by-product the prime nuclear explosive material - Plutonium? Is it possible to control nuclear fuel supplies and processes so that they cannot be diverted to weapons production?
Dr David Lowry is an independent environmental policy and research consultant, based in Stoneleigh in Surrey. He specialises in nuclear policy, particularly radioactive waste and nuclear security. He has written widely on these subjects for thirty years, most recently two chapters in a book on nuclear policy in the UK, 'Nuclear or Not?' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, paperback edition)
Our Saturday stall in Kingston marketplace remembered Veteran campaigner Richard Crump, who died recently from a severe chill caught whilst on a street protest.
So MI5 'only began worrying about the threat to Britain from Islamic terrorism after the invasion of Iraq in 2003' (The response to al-Quaida and the 'War on Terry', 6th October 2009).
The idea that sending our troops abroad to kill Afghans was in order to 'keep the streets of Britain safe from terrorists', as Gordon Brown has often claimed, always did seem dubious. Perhaps MI5's insight into the real motivation of terrorists might be useful in redirecting policy in Afghanistan?
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.