Kingston Peace News - February 2012

The Cost of the Reaction to Terrorism

The tiny gang of al-Quaida terrorists who hijacked aircraft on 11th September 2001 and turned them into missiles against their hated enemy, the United States of America, achieved an effect that was on their terms a great victory – in fact, a victory that must have been beyond their wildest dreams. They succeeded in ushering in a ‘war on terror’ that looks like creating a world-wide state of fear and military vigilance for the foreseeable future, a state that will surely have an adverse effect on both prosperity and the environment worldwide. This is not to say that the modern anti-terrorist precautions are not necessary following the fateful decision that combating terrorism was a job for the military rather than the judiciary – the wars have now recruited thousands of terrorists, and the threat has become real. Children born after 2001 will hardly be able to imagine that once upon a time the world was a more secure, more laid-back and pleasant place.

KPN readers will be well aware of the main sequellae following the attacks on the twin towers, which precipitated the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (remember, Iraq was part of ‘the axis of evil’?). To get an idea of the scale of the human, environmental and financial costs this decision has involved, it is worth visiting the website created by professors Crawford and Lutz, from Boston and Brown universities respectively ( This well-documented website and its associated videos list some of the human, environmental and financial costs of the decision to respond to the 9/11 attacks by declaring outright war on two countries. The information is shocking, the more so when one reflects that it all might have been avoided had a different US president been in charge of the response. The authors illustrate the cost of military intervention as an iceberg, where $1.3 trillion of obvious direct costs are immediately visible, while other related costs below the surface are even greater (see diagram).

Iceberg showing $2 Trillion of other war costs

The cost of combating terrorism continues. One insidious cost has been the erosion of civil liberty, especially in the US. The National Defence Authorisation Act (S 1867) was passed through the US Senate last December. This Act allows arrest and indefinite detention without trial of US citizens in America, who are now to be handed over to the military. President Obama had threatened to veto the Act, but abandoned his commitment. A presidential veto can block legislation that does not have a two-thirds majority in the Senate. This bill had a two-thirds majority, but only by 3 votes, and an impending presidential veto might well have decided three Senators to change their minds, and so been effective in stopping this draconian Act. The Act has been fiercely criticized by Americans as unconstitutional and ‘unamerican’, which indeed it does appear to be. The fact that it can be passed demonstrates the climate of fear created by terrorism in America today.

A story in the New York Times of 2nd December tells of a request by researchers from the University of Maryland to interview detained terrorists, to study why they had become terrorists. The project was approved by the Department of Homeland Security (not surprisingly, as it would be extremely useful as a chance to prevent terrorism in the future), but the Federal Bureau of Prisons refused to grant access, claiming that too much staff time would be involved! A more credible reason is that authorities refuse even to contemplate that terrorists could have any motive beyond a blind hatred of freedom and democracy. There are more prisoners convicted of terrorism being held in Federal prisons (362) than at Guantanamo.

The climate of terrorism-induced fear is not so marked in Britain, though the security for the coming Olympics does demonstrate what kind of a post-9/11 world we live in now. In addition to a maximum deployment of police, 13,500 military personnel will also be on hand. A warship will be brought to the Thames; surface-to-air missiles will be readied, and fighter planes placed on standby. The cost of security for the games will be at least £1 billion.

One indication of how fear of terrorism has gripped America that KPN readers may find even more shocking than any of the above items concerns an anti-nuclear protestor. Recently released after serving all of a long term for a ploughshares action, this person has been placed under strict surveillance. Regarded as a potential terrorist despite a long history of non-violence, the activist is not allowed to decide where to live, not allowed to live with family, though may visit them. If KPN can obtain permission from the activist to tell this story, it will appear in another edition.

H. D.

Overcoming plastic enemies.

The latest instalment of a video game series Call of Duty, titled Modern Warfare 3, has become the fastest selling entertainment ever, beating mega-hits like the films Avatar and Harry Potter – with $1 billion in sales in 16 days. It took $400 million on the first day of launch. Its predecessor, Call of Duty: Black Ops, launched last year, took a relatively leisurely two months to reach its first $1 billion.

The scenario of Modern Warfare 3 is a war declared on the United States by Russian ‘ultranationalists’, rather an old-fashioned theme, since the Cold War was declared officially over in 1991. The aim of the game is to blow up one landmark after another, in search of the arch-villain Vladimir Makarov, who can expect no mercy when the game player finally tracks him to his lair.

How can we explain the extraordinary attraction, the amazing popularity, the beyond-the-dreams-of-avarice profitability, of such a video game? At the very least, it indicates that violent solutions proposed by authorities, even if it means war, and stirring up of hatred of enemy figures, are not likely to be rejected on that account by a quite large section of the public. Does this huge popularity of a game based on extreme violence and destruction, and overcoming plastic evil tyrants (in my youth, it was Ming the Merciless) show that we have an inbuilt predisposition to violence? The phenomenal success of such games does appear to offer an explanation of how easily leaders can commit their populace to war.

Out in the real world, of course, there are plenty of real enemies, but it is much harder to interest the public in them. The 21st century has started off like any other century with needless, heedless wars, now quite generally seen as disastrous, yet it would be complacent to believe that any lessons have been learned. Today there is much drum-banging and threatening posturing against Iran. Will the people who buy video war games be the more easily persuaded to back yet another military strike?

There are plenty of real problems in the actual world, and these require actual engagement for their solution. But persuading people that there are real problems that pose a genuine threat to them and especially to their children is not easy. Maybe there is a market for a video game that has as its object saving Planet Earth from the destruction wrought by its rampant, dominant species? It would be more complicated than pressing a firing button, and so might have a more limited appeal. Anyone who has stood in the street offering a leaflet to the passing public describing what is happening to the planet, the true cost of war, how the environment is deteriorating, how the globe is warming by the reckless burning of fossil fuel, has discovered - what shall we call it? - an immense lack of interest.

This is not, of course, to advocate giving up on campaigning, and retreating to the computer room and destroying plastic villains instead.

H. D.

Is Peace Possible?

Is Peace Possible? Kathleen Lonsdale. A Penguin Special. 65 pence in 1957

This is a small, very compact book of 127 pages, wherein not a word is wasted. Though now out of print, it is still obtainable second hand at Lonsdale was a scientist, a Quaker, a pacifist, whose scientific career was crowned when she was elected Fellow of the Royal Society; along with one other, the first woman to achieve this honour. She turned her brilliant analytical mind to the problem of how we might prevent wars.

Though written half a century ago, the issues she addresses remain unanswered. She starts with an analysis of the problems of waste disposal and creation of plutonium, usable in nuclear weapons, which result from the decision to use nuclear power. This was a problem within her own field of expertise. The slow but certain pollution of the land and the oceans caused by spread of nuclear power and the testing of nuclear weapons meant that ‘absolute national sovereignty cannot be maintained in a world that wishes to avoid slow but certain deterioration of human health and well being’.

Then she turns her attention to the problem of population increase. The simple Malthusian maths are set out, that unaddressed will eventually lead to an explosion in numbers to such an extent that the environment is destroyed in the attempt to feed us all. This central problem posed by the real world needs our full attention, and a degree of co-operation and education impossible in a world of power politics, where each nation looks to seek advantage at the cost of its neighbours.

After the atomic bombs were dropped, Einstein famously said that a new way of thinking was now needed if mankind was to survive, and this idea is mentioned several times by Lonsdale.

A flavour of Lonsdale’s style and perception. Writing in 1957, she says, ‘Perhaps there is no international dispute which so well illustrates the problem of finding any just and reasonable solution whatever, as that which now exists between Israel and the Arab states.’ She goes on to analyse a problem which remains unresolved 50 years later, giving a history of Britain’s ‘not particularly creditable’ involvement in the formation of the state of Israel, describing ‘the mistakes we have made have been due partly to the incorrigible tendency we share with other nations to protect our national interests, partly to stupidity and exasperation and not, as is sometimes suggested, to deliberate wickedness or irresponsibility’.

She sees no hope for the future in the militarism that is the conventional wisdom in all the powerful nations today, and sets out an alternative vision that is most attractive, not to mention probably essential.

H. D.

Cartoon: There's a rumour going round that we won

Drawing by our member Lib Rowlands-Hughes, back in the ‘80s, the MAD days. If we think of the effect of the huge modern military expenditure, and its effect on the environment, the comment remains pertinent today.

Imposing Security

The failure to achieve peace is mainly a failure of management. As Tom Paine said, what incentive has the farmer, following the plough, to go to war with the farmer of another country? Abolition of war, earnestly desired by the great majority, has been a preoccupation of non-governmental organisations, such as the Peace Pledge Union or CND, but there have also been top-level, official attempts to achieve peace and security too. These have largely taken the form of military pacts, and anti-war coalitions such as the League of Nations and the United Nations. Over the following months, these official attempts by governments to preserve the peace will be looked at, starting this month with military pacts and going on to consider the history of the League and the United Nations, including the hope for an extended UN role in the future.

Four part series: 1 Military pacts | 2 The League of Nations | 3 The United Nations Organisation | 4 The Future

1. Military pacts.

At top level, security has always been sought by alliances with powerful friendly nations. It has always seemed natural for those in charge of the security of the country to seek allies, other nations who pledge solidarity and support to counter threats to the peace. A list of double and triple military pacts from many centuries ago to the present day may be obtained from Google. Around five hundred years ago, in his famous survival handbook for princes, The Prince, Machiavelli advised the leaders of his day on the making (and when advantageous the breaking) of military pacts.

However, military pacts have limitations, and create their own dangers by engendering fear and uncertainty in non-members. Indeed, it appears that tensions arising from military pacts were directly responsible for the calamity of the First World War.

The Origins of the First World War

At school we learned that the First World War occurred as a result of the assassination in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Ferdinand by a Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip. However a look behind the scenes soon reveals that the assassination of the Archduke on 28th June 1914 was only the excuse for, not the cause of, that catastrophe. The cause was the tension created by the existence of military pacts.

Unlike the Second World War, the First was a war that no nation wanted. This was not a war fought for spoils or territory. Europe had become a powder keg. The explosion of WW1 demonstrated the inherent weakness of military pacts, and prompted the creation of a new kind of international security, an open forum of all the powerful nations dedicated to the prevention of war, a League of Nations. But in 1914 no such organisation existed.

The adversaries in 1914 were the Central Powers, consisting of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the German empire, Bulgaria, and Turkey, and their opponents the Alliance Powers, originally composed of the French empire, the British empire, and Russia. During the war the Alliance changed composition. Almost immediately, on August 23 1914, Japan joined the Alliance. On May 23, 1915, Italy also entered the war on the Alliance side and declared war on Austria: previously, Italy had been a long-term member of the Triple Alliance (with Germany and Austria-Hungary) but had remained neutral since the beginning of the conflict.

Much emphasis has been placed on the Archduke’s assassination, as though the killing started an inexorable chain of events that led to world war. This was certainly not the case. Between the 28th June when the assassination took place, and 4th August when the World War broke out, there occurred a great deal of geopolitical manoeuverings. The war was the outcome of this behind-the-scenes decision-taking by elites in Germany and Austro-Hungary, and in the end the war started as a result of these decisions, taken in the full knowledge that the first steps were likely to lead, through the intricate network of established military alliances, to a full-scale world war.

An official Austro-Hungarian protest at the assassination of the Archduke, known as the July Ultimatum was issued to Serbia. This was a coercive ultimatum whose object was to eliminate the Kingdom of Serbia as a threat to Austria-Hungary's control of the north-Balkans, the Serbian cause to which the assassins (Princip was one of seven would-be assassins in place along the route that day) had been dedicated. This was supposed to be achieved either through diplomacy (the harsh terms of the Ultimatum would have accomplished this) or by a localized war if the Ultimatum were rejected. The Hungarian Prime Minister Count István Tisza opposed outright war with Serbia, stating that any war with the Serbs was bound to trigger war with fellow-Slavic Russia and hence, via the pre-existing military alliances, might well escalate to a general European conflagration.

But the Austrian ‘war party’ views resonated in Germany. The German top brass did not relish becoming embroiled in a war that they realized might well escalate to a world war. On the other hand, they had long been uneasy concerning the Anglo-Soviet Pact. There were German fears that Anglo-Franco-Russian agreements had led to an encirclement of Germany that could only be broken by war. Their information was that after their heavy, unexpected military defeat by Japan (1904-05), the Russians were preparing a substantial military build-up, due to be completed by 1917. Some German policymakers therefore favoured an early war, if one was inevitable, before Russia’s military was ‘ready’. The German Foreign Secretary, Gottlieb von Jagow, reported on a discussion with Helmuth Moltke, commander of the German army, before the assassination of the Archduke, at the end of May 1914:

‘Moltke described to me his opinion of our military situation. The prospects of the future oppressed him heavily. In two or three years Russia would have completed her armaments. The military superiority of our enemies would then be so great that he did not know how he could overcome them. Today we would still be a match for them. In his opinion there was no alternative to making preventive war in order to defeat the enemy while we still had a chance of victory. The Chief of the General Staff therefore proposed that I should conduct a policy with the aim of provoking a war in the near future.’

The atmosphere of fear and aggression created by military pacts could hardly have been better expressed.

If a ‘preventive’ war had become necessary, then the Ultimatum was the key to provoking it. The feeling grew among the German High Command that the Ultimatum their Austro-Hungarian allies were preparing to serve on Serbia ought to be so very demanding and humiliating as to be unacceptable (shades of Rambouillet, another ultimatum delivered to Serbia before the intervention in Kosovo!).

The pressure they exerted had the desired effect. The Ultimatum was prepared such that it would be virtually impossible of Serb acceptance. The first draft of the ultimatum had been shown to the German Embassy in Vienna on July 12th, and the final text was provided in advance to the German Embassy on July 22nd, and sent to Serbia on July 23rd. The next day firm German official support for Austro-Hungary, described as ‘a blank cheque’, was declared. [In this analysis the usual conventional shorthand is followed, where countries are referred to as if they were single individuals, Germany, France, etc., whilst in fact matters were being decided by a few top people. The people of Germany, France, etc. had no idea of what was being decided in their name.]

The suburban equivalent of military pacts is the street gang. In areas where laws no longer rule, street gangs flourish. They offer a kind of protection to members, though they do also create dangers of their own. Most would regard a neighbourhood free of gangs as a more desirable, and a more mature, society. Such a state is normal in many a locality, but the rule of law has not yet been established on the international stage, where military pacts still rule.

On the world stage it was not to be long after the first world war before power politics and military alliances became once more in favour. The brief, eventful history of the League of Nations is worth telling in KPN (next month).

H. D.

Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq

Notes on the book by Greg Muttitt, who will be speaking at Kingston University on Thursday 23rd February 2012.

Fuel on the Fire is vital to our understanding of the war in Iraq and its consequences. It documents the clash between cultures and strategic interests. It reverberates with echoes of our imperial past and of our tragic failure to learn the lessons of history.

Oil lies at the heart of Iraqi politics. Yet in the eight years since the bombs began to fall on Baghdad it has been a taboo subject. In Greg Muttitt’s gripping and far-reaching investigation we are taken behind the scenes of the occupation to answer one of the war’s most pressing questions: what is happening to Iraq’s oil? In public the USA and Britain strenuously deny any self-interest. In private, however, they tell a different story. Drawing on hundreds of unreleased government documents and extensive interviews with senior American, British and Iraqi officials and oilmen, Fuel on the Fire reveals how the occupying powers have sought to return Iraq’s oil industry to multinational companies - for the first time since it was nationalised in the early 1970s. The attempts to impose a Western oil agenda regardless have dragged the country into ever deeper violence and continue to shape not just Iraq but the future of energy supplies and Anglo-American military strategy.

So They Say!

The compelling need for protest

The practice of Protest and its ethical strength is the essential antidote to the follies of our leaders (as Henry David Thoreau saw 150 years ago) – now it is needed for the survival of our species. (Ralph Arnold, reviewing a book, Voices against war – a century of protest, by Lyn Smith.)

A good principle, selectively applied

We can also lead change with unilateral action – setting a shining example domestically for other countries to follow. (David Cameron 28/11/10, Guardian. No, not talking about nuclear disarmament, but about government initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.)

Where your money goes

The RAF spent £70 million widening taxiways in Kandahar so it could fly Tornado jets for which there was no call beyond the spurious claim that they might cheer up the British squaddies they overflew. (Julian Glover, Guardian 13th June, The Afghan war is lost. So now who’ll take the blame?)

Wise words, from the sideline

The drones are removing one Taliban or al-Qaida leader after another. While it is hard to feel sorry for them, the wrecking of any hierarchy of control replaces a path to peace with renewed vendetta. (Simon Jenkins, Guardian 7th October, on the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan.)

Making war possible

Letter to the editor from Hilary Evans

I'm not sure whether I asked you if you'd seen the Adam Hochschild interview in the December Peace News (the national Peace News, that is). He describes how a conscientious objector in WWI was before a court. The prosecutor said to the CO, "War would become impossible if all men were to have the view that war is wrong".

The No Conscription Fellowship (NCF) put these words on a poster but the government banned the poster. So the NCF suggested that the prosecutor be prosecuted because his were the forbidden words on the poster.

Great story!

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.