Members attend riverside ceremony
Thirty members of Kingston Peace Council/CND gathered at Kingston Riverside on Monday August 6th so as to commemorate the 67th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. They were joined by deputy mayor of Kingston upon Thames, Councillor Barry Mahony.
The annual ceremony – which Kingston Peace Council/CND has organised for many years – mirrors that held in cities and towns around the world to commemorate the destruction of Hiroshima which heralded the beginning of the nuclear age and claimed the lives of 140,000 people. Three days later, on August 9th 1945, a second American atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, killing a further 70,000.
Chair of Kingston Peace Council Noel Hamel recited a short poem, those present observed two minutes’ silence and then floating peace lanterns were set adrift on the River Thames at Canbury Gardens. The lanterns are a traditional Japanese symbol of peace meant to guide the souls of the departed.
See ‘ Japanese surrender and the Bomb’ and the poem ‘The First Atom Bomb’ below.
A dozen local primary schools plus one secondary in Richmond and Kingston have agreed to discuss UN Peace Day at their assemblies during September. This represents an increase in last year’s total and shows the value of getting in touch with headteachers and explaining to them the background to the United Nation’s annual Peace commemoration. Well done to Maggie, Hilary and Mary for this initiative.
Noel Hamel describes the politics surrounding the first atomic attack
In February 1945 the Japanese knew the game was up and made attempts through neutral embassies, Sweden, Portugal, Russia and the Vatican, to negotiate surrender with the USA. Defenseless against US bombers flying from within easy striking distance and short of vital resources they saw the ‘writing on the wall’. The 13 & 15 February firestorm of Dresden alarmed Japan which wanted to avoid the decimation and invasion Germany endured before finally surrendering. The USA wanted to avoid a costly land invasion and the Japanese wanted to retain their culture and the Emperor. The Atlantic Charter of 1941 agreed no territorial gain from war and the restoration of self-determination for countries post war. Japan used this as a basis for negotiation but the USA demanded unconditional surrender, maintaining that position till 15 August when Japanese surrender was agreed broadly on terms it had proposed in February.
The US abandoned targeted bombing in March and began area-bombing and fire-bombing, devastating Japanese cities and civilians. 67 cities were attacked, starting with Tokyo, the most devastating attack of WW II. The wooden houses burnt “like autumn leaves”. An estimated 150,000 died in Tokyo and many thousands in bombing raids before 6 August.
The US was developing two nuclear bombs, the Uranium, “Little Boy”, and the Plutonium, “Fat Man”; neither tested in action, only demonstrated in the Nevada ‘Trinity Test’. In May the atomic bombing ‘Target Committee’ advised bombing undamaged urban areas over 3 miles diameter so that anticipated extensive atom bomb damage could be gauged. They wanted the first bomb to be “sufficiently spectacular for the importance of the weapon to be internationally recognised ….” Hiroshima and Nagasaki were deliberately spared till August 6 & 9. As the atom bombings were experimental, scientists wanted to see which type was most destructive. No warnings were given to avoid loss of face in case the bombs failed.
Clear visual targeting and observation was critical to the success of the missions and the first suitable opportunity was 6th August when early reconnaissance reported ideal weather conditions. “Enola Gay”, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Bomber was accompanied by two others, “Necessary Evil” and “The Great Artiste” to measure the blast, for scientific observation and for photography. The city centre was cynically chosen and so few planes did not alert people to seek shelter. The second bombing was intended to demonstrate that there could be an unlimited supply of atom bombs. It was scheduled for Nagasaki on 9th August to avoid bad weather. Nagasaki was not ideal. Its topography ensured less damage than Hiroshima despite a more powerful bomb.
Harry Truman announced that Hiroshima, “a military base”, was chosen to save civilian casualties; but it was of no military significance and the heart of the city was deliberately targeted for maximum destruction. He said the bombing was the “greatest achievement of organised science in history.” He claimed it was no “great decision”, merely another powerful weapon in the arsenal of righteousness - “the greatest thing in history”. Japan was a cruel and pitiless foe but many military leaders were not convinced the atomic bombings were necessary, nor that they shortened the war. Russian entry into the war against Japan was scheduled for 8 August. Anticipating inevitable Japanese surrender it is thought the bombings were scheduled before surrender to avoid the disappointment of cancellation. The bombing was widely con-demned as a continuation of total war; a last opportunity to wipe out two more cities before Japan’s surrender. Paul Oestreicher, the sometimes controversial Christian spokesman on peace and reconciliation, believes the logic was simple: “Japs are evil. We have one more bomb. They cannot retaliate. We’ll use it.” Eisenhower said: “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Air supremacy over Japan … exerted sufficient pressure to bring unconditional surrender …”
Nowadays the accepted wisdom is that the atom bombing of Japan was a political decision of questionable military value, designed to demonstrate and project power. It is held that the awesome destructive power of modern nuclear weapons, many times that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has dissuaded political leaders from sanctioning their use in Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.
A ‘squabble’ in the UK Cabinet recently about renewing Trident exposed continuing divisions of opinion that resonate with events of August 1945. The military did not want the costs to be included in ‘defence’ expenditure’, arguing that nuclear weapons are political, not military.
As the September newsletter went to press the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan reached 425. The up to date total can be found on The Guardian website by going to the News Datablog section.
But the BBC News, whenever it reports another Afghanistan UK service death, never now refers to the total death toll (let alone the numbers of Afghan dead). If, like me, you feel this is a dereliction of duty by our public service broadcaster, then complain to the BBC. You can do this by going to the website http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/ which will give you a number of options. The Beeb has to reply to every complaint so let’s get a groundswell going.
Phillip Cooper looks at the state of play in the robot arms race
Drones are wonderful things and can undertake so many brilliant tasks in the service of humankind. They were used to assess the damage suffered by the Fukushima nuclear plant without putting pilots at risk, they can be used by police forces to track downs villains, they could be used to fight forest fires overnight …
This was the tenor of an article that appeared in The Guardian early last month which reported the exponential growth in the drones market with Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Iran, Latvia, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates all now pursuing active drone research or manufacturing programmes in the wake of the United States and Great Britain.
Fortunately, in the interests of balance, the newspaper’s special report gave equal billing to the deadly aspects of drone design and use – which of course is the only reason they exist in the first place.
The articles abounded with chilling news: UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) could be flying in commercial airspace if their promoters get their way. The international market for drones is currently estimated at £4 billion per annum and it represents the most buoyant part of the aviation industry.
In the USA one manufacturer explored the potential for nuclear-powered drones but discontinued this line of investigation because of public apathy towards pilotless nuclear reactors zooming over the countryside.
One US Air Force strategist suggested that America scrap its strategic nuclear bomber fleet and replace them with drones capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The White House has “shown no enthusiasm” for this, thankfully.
Other developments, which are very much active, however, include giving drones a target acquisition ability. In other words, letting the machine determine its target so as to overcome the risk that an opponent could jam the instructions beamed from the operator to the equipment.
While at present the US does not export its drones willy-nilly, China has shown itself happy to jump in and fill this export opportunity. Russia meanwhile has produced a new drone armed with cruise missiles while Iran also has a capability. Needless to say, so has Israel, which designed the prototype upon which the MoD’s Watchkeeper spotter drone is based.
An organisation of which more will be heard in the future is the International Committee for Robot Arms Control which is particularly concerned by the fact that greater emphasis on the disruption of an enemy’s communications will inevitably lead to greater automation with drones effectively wandering the skies and choosing their own targets without human interference.
As if this concept were not worrying enough let’s just include a few statistics:
But let’s return to something ostensibly less menacing and I don’t mean the concept of a pilotless Ryannair charter flight.
Welsh CND has campaigned against the Wales Government’s support for a centre of excellence in unmanned aerial vehicles at Aberporth. Currently, there are only two areas in Europe where it is permitted to test drones and the area between the Epynt Mountains in Powys and Aberporth on the Cardigan Coast is one of them. So far two drones being tested in the area have crashed.
The Wales Government and the companies developing drones are at pains to point out the harmless civilian uses to which the UAVs could be put and, The Guardian reported that at the Farnborough Air Show experts had been approached by the Welsh Development Agency which wanted to know if the robotic aircraft could be used to count sheep!
Now there’s a drone in sheep’s clothing if ever there was one!
by Bob Dean
The Woodcraft Folk is a co-operative organisation working with children and young people for a world based upon peace and social justice. Our motto is Span the World with Friendship. There are two Woodcraft Districts that meet in the area, New Malden Woodcraft Folk and Kingston and Tolworth Woodcraft Folk. They have both been in existence for many years. Above are pictures from the big Iraq War Demo in 2002 when Maggie Rees from KPC came and spoke to the young people in Tolworth and Kingston Woodcraft Folk who later went on to take part in the anti war demonstration.
This summer both local districts camped together at the Woodcraft campsite in Lurgashall. We had camp fires each night and sung songs of peace to music provided by five young guitarists. One of the most popular songs was Down By the Riverside. The words, below is the first verse, could have been written for singing at the Hiroshima Day commemoration in Canbury Gardens and in 2013 we are hoping to take part in the commemoration and sing this song.
I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside, down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the river side
I ain’t gonna study war no more
The Arab Spring has implications for the peace movement, even if you are not greatly comforted by the claim that democracy promotes peace. Sadly, recent wars have been waged by ‘coalitions of the willing’, all democracies, and led by a superpower with democratic credentials which claims to be acting in the interest of freedom, peace and democracy.
Nevertheless, the vision of a world of truly democratic nations does appeal. More mature societies, free of despots, cooperating with one another for mutual benefit, seems to be a prerequisite for a peaceful, stable world. Thus the Arab Spring has raised hopes that the successful groundswell protests against cruel dictators will lead to a more peaceful Middle East – perhaps a region that might even act as an example to a warprone world, proving a benefit not only to the Arabs themselves, but to all of us.
More directly of interest has been the international reaction to the Arab Spring. The modern organisation set up to involve all nations in a cooperative action to prevent the world sliding into another disastrous and possibly terminal world war is the United Nations. How was the UN involved in the Arab Spring? How was the military pact Nato involved? Military pacts, the cause of the escalation that led to the first of the world wars, are yet far from discredited in the public eye. The events of the Arab Spring have tested both of these standard methods of international control, and reveal the modern effectiveness of both.
In the first, successful uprising no outside involvement was required. Within a month of the uprising in Tunisia on 17th December 2010, dictator Ben Ali had fled to Saudi Arabia and the political police force was dissolved. Political prisoners were freed, and in October 2011 elections were held.
One month after the Tunisian success in December, popular uprisings occurred in many other Arab states, notably in Lebanon, Jordan, Mauritania, Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Public pressure in all these states resulted in government concessions, a lifting of oppression, release of political prisoners, and in some cases free elections. Sometimes government resisted the uprisings, and protesters were killed. In Egypt the army stood aside, refusing to fire on the public. However, some unarmed protesters were killed in Tahrir Square, and after the transfer of power to an elected government, former president Hosni Mubarak was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for the killings. In all these cases the transition was effected by the people, and outside assistance was neither requested nor desired.
However the situation was to change when entrenched dictators in Libya and Syria retained control of the armed forces in the face of the popular uprisings, and refused to concede power. As the outside world watched, protesters were killed by the military on the orders of the tyrants. In Libya a massacre was in prospect as the army advanced on the city of Benghazi. At this point, on 17/3/11, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1973, authorising the establishment of a no fly zone to protect civilians from aerial attack. The no fly zone was first patrolled by French, US and British aircraft, using Cruise missiles to destroy Libya’s air defences: later, on 31/3/11, control of the mission to implement the UN resolution was handed over to the military pact Nato.
Aware of the growing public distrust of military solutions, Nato Secretary-General Rasmussen declared that Nato would enforce the UN resolution, ‘nothing more, nothing less’. It became more, as command of the air was exploited, Gaddafi’s tanks were destroyed, and the rebels helped to victory. Gaddafi himself was found by the rebels, and executed on the spot. Should the military response have been under UN control, as in East Timor, or the Ivory Coast?
The situation in Syria was an even greater challenge. Here the dictator Assad was firmly in control, and determined to stay. International concern rose, as the popular uprising in Syria met a murderous response. Arab League Secretary-General Elaraby called for an end to the violence. Three months later, the murders continuing, the Arab League suspended Syria from the League, and took the issue to the UN.
Harry Davis. Next month: The crisis in Syria.
Giving an exclusive interview to The Independent in mid August Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was reflecting on the role played by British troops who were drafted in at the last minute after private firm G4S had failed spectacularly to provide sufficient security personnel for the Olympic Games. The cost of the armed forces came into the subjects under discussion prompting Mr Hammond – who is a moneyman rather than a militaryman - to an interesting aside. He admitted, reported the newspaper, that Iraq and Afghanistan had made it much less likely that future governments would commit “boots on the ground” to foreign conflicts.
He said: “I think people are aware now, because they have seen it twice, that it’s easier to get in than to get out. I’m sure that governments in the future and public opinion will be more cautious.”
Well, we have news for you, Mr Hammond. The public, not least the two million who marched against the Iraq War, realised long ago that we cannot afford wars. We’re still waiting for the politicians to catch up …
The financial cost of war will be the over-riding theme of Kingston Peace Council/CND’s contribution to Think in Kingston, the borough’s annual festival of ideas.
Plans are currently underway to create a piece of original street theatre in central Kingston on October 6th and other days. The drama would include people dressed as teachers and nurses defending their budgets against Treasury cuts whilst Trident remains unaffected.
The idea builds on the success earlier this year of a TRAKNAT street theatre in Twickenham depicting Vince Cable MP signing export licences to arms dealers.
Aside from the brilliant sporting events witnessed, two aspects of the London Olympics should have gladdened the heart of peace activists. There, for a global audience, in the midst of the stupendous opening ceremony, groups of young dancers came together, albeit briefly, to form a huge CND symbol. The fact was picked up by various commentators and Tweeters. One wrote: “First the NHS, and now CND. All hail Danny Boyle.”
Then, in the closing ceremony’s homage to British pop music, there was John Lennon on the stadium big screen singing Imagine before an audience that brought together Americans and Iranians, Israelis and Palestinians and North and South Koreans. How’s that for peace propaganda!
A leader comment in The Guardian (August 15) was sounding the alarm bells about a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. It quoted well-briefed Israeli journalists who were speculating that such an attack could come before the US presidential election in November.
The principle hawks were, not surprisingly, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defence minister Ehud Barak each with a high stakes political agenda. Netanyahu was accused of wishing to force President Obama’s hand, knowing that he would find it difficult to be seen not to support Israel in an election year.
Fortunately for Middle East peace Israel’s defence, security and intelligence community have united in their opposition to such an attack. And even the country’s president Shimon Peres has publicly fallen out with Netanyahu over the issue.
‘Avoid popularity if you would have peace.’
‘I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.’
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND