Kingston Peace News - October 2010

New shelf life for Blair book

Tony Blair’s memoir A Journey has been finding its way into the Crime section of bookshops, thanks to the direct action of a group that has set up a Facebook site called ‘Subversively move Tony Blair’s memoirs to the crime section in bookshops.’ People have been moving the books when shop assistants are not looking. An online petition states: “Make generations think twice about where they categorise our generation’s greatest war criminal.”

The symbol of London’s resistance to the Blitz, St Paul’s was spared destruction, but could most of the rest of the capital, not to mention other cities, have escaped relatively unharmed too?

So did the Blitz start by mistake?

By Phil Cooper

During September the country has been commemorating the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Blitz. Moving testimony from the dwindling number of survivors has been heard involving stories of great courage and stoicism. But what has not been discussed in the acres of newsprint or the hours of TV and radio coverage is how the strategic bombing of London and other British cities by the Nazis had started and, in fact, who was responsible to starting it.

The answer to these questions poses a clear warning for the nuclear-armed age in which we are still living, fingers crossed.

There are many websites to be found with intemperate accusations that the Blitz was Churchill’s fault claiming that, immediately upon becoming prime minister on May 11, 1940, he ordered the start of an RAF bombing campaign against German centres of population. Quoting a mixture of sources, often full of contradictions, the proponents of this theory would have us believe that bombers were in the air within hours of Churchill’s appointment as PM tasked by him with the specific job of killing German civilians. No wonder then that the Fuhrer ordered massive retaliation.

That is the conspiracy theory. The alternative, cock-up, theory appears to have more to recommend it. At the outset of war the British Government, still under Chamberlain, renounced the bombing of civilian property, outside of combat zones, as a deliberate military tactic. The policy held sway until mid May 1940 (still some weeks before Dunkirk) when the Germans bombed Rotterdam in an apparently deliberate attack on the city centre killing around 1000 civilians and making 78,000 people homeless.

A few days prior to this the first RAF bombs had fallen on German soil, on the town of Monchengladback where the bombers were trying to hit roads and railways near the German-Dutch border to frustrate the German army’s advance. The day after the Rotterdam raid the RAF was ordered to attack the Ruhr, again aiming to cripple oil plants and industrial targets such as blast furnaces. A few nights later the RAF bombed more oil installations, this time in Hamburg and Bremen, killing 47 people. There followed attacks on the railway yards at Cologne then raids on similar targets in several other German cities.

At the time Bomber Command lacked the necessary navigational equipment to ensure accuracy in the dropping of their lethal payloads. Consequently bombs went astray over a large area, causing uproar among the German population who, although not targeted, were nevertheless on the receiving end.

Despite these attacks the Luftwaffe failed to respond with tit-for-tat raids on British mainland industrial targets. They completed the defeat of France first and then chief of the German air force, Herman Goering issued an order to the effect that:

‘The war against England is to be restricted to destructive attacks against industry and air force targets which have weak defensive forces …the most thorough study of the target concerned, that is vital points of the target, is a pre-requisite for success. It is also stressed that every effort should be made to avoid unnecessary loss of life among the civilian population.’

So at this stage both sides were apparently attempting to avoid what, years later, the Americans euphemistically called ‘collateral damage.’ For his part, Hitler still hoped that the British might conclude an armistice with him and stay out of the fight.

Then, on August 24th, fate took a turn, as it invariably does, for the worst. A couple of months earlier Churchill had been briefed about a technological breakthrough that meant the RAF could disrupt the radio beam guidance that the Luftwaffe used for dropping bombs through cloud cover. This bending of the beams meant that Goering’s bombers were misled into dropping their cargoes on the wrong spot.

Bombed by mistake?

On August 24, 1940, during a Nazi raid on Thames Haven – an oil refinery and storage depot near Tilbury - a number of German aircraft got lost and bombed by mistake parts of East London inflicting damage and casualties in Bethnal Green, Hackney, Islington, Tottenham and Finchley. It is not known whether this was the result of a straightforward navigational error on the part of the Nazi bomber crews or whether they had been confused by interference from the ground of their radio beam guidance.

In any event, the British Government acted immediately and ordered a retaliatory bombing raid against Berlin which took place the following night. Again, military and industrial areas – Templehof airfield and the Siemans factories - were the targets but, again, poor RAF navigation resulted in at least some bombs falling on the residential areas of Kreuzberg and Wedding, resulting in ten deaths. As far as Hitler was concerned, this was too much and he immediately got into retaliation mode issuing a directive for “disruptive attacks on the population and air defences of major British cities, including London, by day and by night.”

The rest is history. And following the Blitz that killed tens of thousands of Londoners not to mention civilians in so many other cities such as Coventry, Bristol, Hull, Southampton, Plymouth and Manchester, the RAF and American airforce were able to deliver infinitely heavier blows on such places as Dresden (135,000 killed) and Hamburg (70,000 killed).

But did the deliberate destruction of so many cities and lives begin because either technology or human error made it impossible for aircrews to follow the British and German government directives to avoid civilian casualties? Of course, once a mistake had occurred there had to be retaliation and so on and so forth.

Fast forward that scenario to the present nuclear policies and hair trigger alert status of the British, American and Russian atomic arsenals. Also reflect on the fact that human or technological error might come down to a rogue or unexplained blip on a radar screen.

The critical difference between 1940 and now of course is that there will be nobody around to commemorate the anniversary of nuclear Armageddon.

Safety at the Atomic Weapons Establishment

from Jim McCluskey

A fire in the explosive area at AWE Aldermaston on 3 August 2010 resulted in an unprecedented public evacuation and asbestos contamination. Investigations into the causes are expected from AWE and the Health and Safety Executive. Attention has also been focused on a series of safety incidents over recent years, which include repeated fires, staff exposure to beryllium, the mislaying of both radioactive material and a nuclear weapons trigger, the collision of a vehicle carrying high explosives, the flooding of warhead assembly buildings and several incidents with a criticality risk. The suggestion was made in The Observer that cost-cutting may compromise safety: A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the Defence Environment and Safety Board believes budget cuts will make it "increasingly difficult to maintain that the defence nuclear programmes are being managed with due regard for the protection of the workforce, the public and the environment. The key areas of concern for the medium term are the sufficiency of resources, both money and staff complement, and the maintenance of a suitable cadre of suitably competent staff."'

For further information see the article in The Observer of 22 August 2010 Group calls for planners to think twice about a major new facility at Trident warhead base at Aldermaston in Berkshire

Peace Day commemoration

Kingston Peace Council/CND was commemorating International Peace Day on September 21 in a number of ways. On the Saturday before, September 18, the Peace Pram was out in Kingston Market Place. For the third consecutive year, members of the group were also speaking at special assemblies in four local schools.

This followed an invitation to all local headteachers to recognise International Peace Day and to organise an event to discuss its origins and the necessity for peaceful co-existence in the world.

The fact that local schools have invited KPC/CND members to speak at a number of assemblies is particularly pleasing, especially as the original concept of Peace Day came from Richmond resident Jeremy Gilley.

A further initiative is a Young People’s Peace Prize to be organised by KPC/CND in spring 2011. Participants will be invited to submit poetry, prose or artwork on the theme of peace. Prizes will be awarded to individuals and their schools and an award ceremony will be held in March.

Scenes from this year’s event at Canbury Gardens, Kingston riverside

Hiroshima Day Commemoration

Members of Kingston Peace Council/CND and other peace campaigners gathered by the Thames in Kingston on a cold and damp Friday evening on August 6 to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during the Second World War.

Fifty members of KPC/CND and their supporters held a ceremony in Canbury Gardens. Following an introduction by Peace Council chair Noel Hamel, deputy mayor of Kingston, Councillor Ken Smith, read the moving account of one of the Hiroshima victims, 11-year-old Sadako Sasaki who contracted leukemia as a result of the radiation released by the blast.

The little girl believed that if she made 1000 paper cranes – a Japanese symbol of peace – she would be granted her wish to get well. She completed 644 cranes but then died. Since then the origami cranes have become a symbol of peace with a particular relevance to children. A permanent memorial to Sadako stands in Hiroshima, erected by the local authority as a monument to all the children who died as a result of the atomic blast. School children from all over Japan regularly visit the monument and it is frequently festooned with garlands of paper cranes made by them.

At Kingston riverside a minute’s silence was observed for the estimated 200,000 people killed and injured by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki three days later. Noel reminded those gathered that people were still dying from the cancers caused by the radiation released by the weapons.

Floating paper lanterns were then lit and placed on the river echoing a traditional Japanese ceremony in remembrance of the dead.

Ceremonies of this sort took place throughout the world on Friday August 6, including one in Hiroshima which, for the first time, was attended by the ambassadors of the United States and Britain.

Trident not for the defence of Britain: official

The fact that the United Kingdom adopted nuclear weapons and has maintained them as a matter of political expediency, rather than for military defence, was admitted from the beginning when Labour’s Nye Bevan, told the 1957 party conference that to deny the UK the Bomb was to send future British Foreign Secretaries “naked into the conference chamber.”

That frank admission of the real purpose of possessing nuclear weapons tended to become progressively diluted over the intervening years. Britain, content that its V-bombers and then Polaris and now Trident have continued to ensure its seat at the top table of the Security Council, has all the time been feeding the population the line that the nuclear ‘deterrent’s’ purpose was defensive.

Within the last month, with the publication of his memoir A Journey Tony Blair has sought to justify his decision to retain Trident on both political and defensive grounds writing:

“The expense is huge, and the utility in a post-Cold War world is less in terms of deterrence, and non-existent in terms of military use.” He nevertheless justifies the decision to retain it by saying: “in the final analysis I thought giving it up too big a downgrading of our status as a nation, and in an uncertain world, too big a risk for our defence.”

However, at the same time, the current budget argument between Defence Secretary Liam Fox and Chancellor George Osborne has stripped the rhetoric back to where we started with Nye Bevan. This disagreement between senior Conservative ministers was neatly summed up by columnist Simon Jenkins writing in The Guardian in mid September.

“Push having come to shove,” writes Jenkins, “the coalition is now asking direct questions – such as why does Britain’s defence require a nuclear capability? Fox and the service chiefs were desperately reduced to pleading that renewing Trident was not about defence but about ‘politics’. Its cost should therefore be removed from the defence budget and borne centrally, presumably by the Foreign or Cabinet offices.”

So, honesty at last from Government and, as Jenkins notes wryly, “If renewing Trident is not about defending Britain but about some global diplomatic posture, then not renewing Trident cannot jeopardize Britain’s defence.”

Which of course makes it a ludicrously expensive luxury that should be dispensed with at a time of national belt tightening.

Phil Cooper

Call for no nukes in Europe

Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) is a global network of over 700 parliamentarians from more than 75 countries working to prevent nuclear proliferation and achieve nuclear disarmament. Membership is open to current members of legislatures and parliaments at state, federal, national and regional levels.

A number of PNND members who are also MEPs have drafted a letter to President Obama supporting his call for a nuclear free world and, as a start, calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons in Europe.

Truth Out

As well as his work with the World Court Project, INLAP, Abolition 2000 and the World Futures Council Jim McCluskey has also been contributing to the Truth Out website. If you haven’t yet looked at Truth Out it is well worth a visit for a wide range of news articles and opinion pieces on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and peace issues in general.

Visit the website at

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.