Rosemary Addington reports from a tenth anniversary meeting
Recently I attended the conference that Stop The War organised to mark 10 years since the massive London demonstration (and others around the world) to try and prevent the start of the Iraq war.
This was well attended, and in spite of the disasters of the last 10 years following the failure of these marches to prevent the war which has caused and continues to cause so much destruction and suffering, the spirit was reasonably upbeat. Although many of the participants were discouraged by the "Even with those massive numbers the government took no notice" conclusion, many more have not gone away and given up. All anti-war campaigns have continued to grow as people are more aware that this was not a war for democracy or because of weapons of mass destruction, but a war to boost Western control over oil revenues and over all infrastructure in the region.
Several speakers spoke of the increase in the numbers of people recognising that violence and war is not the way forward. Andrew Murray mentioned that the TUC has recently taken up a position of opposition to the "War on Terror ". Nicola Bennett, new leader of the Green Party, said that there is now a majority opposed to Trident renewal, and was pleased that the US Congress is currently querying the legality of drone strikes.
John Rees remarked that had the Stop The War movement not started then, we would have to start it now! Although the US is a weakening economic power it is still a massive military spender, it destroys democracy in countries it attacks, but also in its own country. They now use drones to stop the body-bags coming home - we must pursue this unrelentingly.
Sami Ramadani, Iraqi writer, mentioned another anniversary, 50 years since 8th February 1963 when a fascist CIA-supported regime began in Iraq. The struggle for democracy there has to be against Imperialism too. The Iraqi people are still paying every day for the US operation - 40% illiteracy, many water-borne diseases, sewage in the streets, and a very spasmodic electricity supply. Women must be veiled and are afraid to go out after dark. Syria pays the price for opposing US occupation and for supporting Palestine and Libya. "Democracy" is to be supported there, but not in Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Bahrain. The US has not left Iraq nor will it - it has a massive base to support its "business interests".
Sami also slated US policies in Afghanistan. Afghans don't want Taliban or war-lords in the Government. Women's lives have not improved greatly, there is much domestic violence, rape, mental illness and suicide, also increasing drug use which was never seen there before the war. Drone strikes are leading to people moving to the towns, resulting in increasing poverty. Most of the massive aid sent goes to war-lords.
Victoria Brittain spoke of the ongoing scandal of Guantanamo Bay, 166 prisoners still there, 2/3 of whom come from Yemen. 157 have had no charges brought against them. 86 have been cleared by high-up US officials and military officers, yet none are released or repatriated. Shaker Aamer (the only British resident still there) was cleared in 2008, but he is not released. The Foreign Office say they are trying to get him back, but she thinks they are not to be believed.
Kate Hudson paid tribute to the great work done by Stop the War Coalition over the 10 years, and said how good it was that they and CND had been able to work so closely together. She spoke of the con perpetrated on Iraq and Afghanistan in the guise of bringing democracy - neo-liberalism and war are two sides of the coin of imperialism. The US pressure on Iran is not to do with the fear of war - if so it would be putting pressure on Israel. Iran does not want war after they suffered eight years of the Iran/Iraq war.
There were many other excellent speakers, and you can see and hear these and more details of the above on the Stop the War web site.
While at this conference I also attended a session addressed by Victoria Brittain and Explo Nani Kofi on the situation in Mali and the recent French intervention there.
Victoria spoke about the post-colonial history of the country - the first President Modibo Keita was a progressive leader who did much to unite the country, linking different cultures, and even persuading the nomadic Tuaregs to free their slaves. But since the 1980s there has been a succession of dictatorships which have neglected the north. France has poured massive resources and aid into the South which has often destroyed local businesses.
She thought the intervention could succeed IF France pulls out quickly and the ECOWAS forces come in, as authorised unanimously by UN resolution 2085 and requested by Mali.
A book review, and personal reminiscence, by Noel Hamel
I had a strong emotional reaction to this book because, prior to the big march of 15 February 2003, I had only incidental association with the peace movement – so it has been ten years since my baptism of fire.
I had always put my faith in the Labour Party and invested my time in house building, homework and family, work and occasional meetings and canvassing. Then there loomed the prospect of another war on top of Afghanistan, which was supposedly about rescuing the Afghans from Islamic tyranny and the world from terrorism. According to reports it seemed to be going OK. But I sensed something phoney as the official Iraq war story flitted capriciously from one excuse to another. What clinched it for me was Jack Straw eternally on the radio and TV arguing about Saddam’s “material breaches”, “material breaches”, “material ...” you get the idea.
The book is particularly fascinating for its detailed recording of the events leading up to the historic march and on the march itself. The story is traced through interviews and quotes – hundreds of them. The sincerity and integrity of the diverse individuals contributing to the event ring true; warts and all. Far from being a strategically planned and organised mobilisation of public protest about the war, it seems the record turnout happened almost by accident and surprised the organisers.
The papers and broadcast media acted like employees of Blair PR Inc. and the ‘peace movement’, consisting of divers groups, individuals, opinions and different agendas, ideas and experience had a lot of soul-searching and debate to work through. Almost by accident and despite the torrent of establishment-speak, dispute over where to march and the daunting weight of commitment and responsibility shouldered by a comparative few working 20 hour days to coordinate the practicalities, the public, in huge record numbers, turned out on the day. The very wide cross-section of public opinion, political affiliation and outlook drowned all talk of ‘the usual suspects’ and ‘old lefties’. The great British public turned out because they didn’t believe Downing Street fairy tales, and they did not want another war.
Everyone was gobsmacked at the planes hitting the twin towers in 2001. What was it all about, what did it mean, who was behind it and how to respond? Most of us were like headless chickens and only slowly did we learn the ‘back story’, largely already familiar to the Blairs and Bushes of this world.
Thank goodness those working for and associated with Stop The War were onto Blair and Bush and, partly by dint of their effort, the story got through despite an avalanche of government propaganda and a subservient media – some of which turned towards the anti-war campaign in the final days.
On the day I remember the trains and stations being more crowded than normal weekday rush hour. At Clapham no more passengers could get on. Would I be able to meet up with the others at Waterloo in the scrum? When we did get going we didn’t move or we moved very, very slowly. We were diverted over Blackfriars Bridge because of the crowds. I was struck by the sheer diversity of people and organisations. I sneaked off from time to time to talk to others, asking where they were from and why they were on the demo. The geographical spread was amazing, some getting up in the middle of the night to get coaches. I was half an hour from home. Some looked as unlikely marchers as will ever be seen, in smart suits and rolled umbrellas. Muslim women, not known for demonstrating, were there in numbers, some with children and push chairs. It seemed like the whole world was there. We scarcely moved, particularly around Haymarket and Piccadilly where marches converged. I never got to Hyde Park. I saw no chance of joining the rally or hearing speeches for the crowds and the gathering dusk.
Skeptics say the march achieved nothing. It didn’t stop the war. It certainly shamed those who voted for it. I believe the presence of the march is still felt and many converts were made for the peace movement. Politicians and the ‘establishment’ are very conscious of the historic event – the biggest march ever – and continue to look over their shoulders. Blair goes nowhere without security. His appearances are kept secret yet demonstrators greet him everywhere.
Nothing however can ever eclipse the enduring memory of 15 February 2003.
Anyone involved in the peace movement must be fascinated by this account of the historic march and its repercussions. I know I am. Once I had started, I needed to consume every word as fast as possible. So should you.
The March That Shook Blair, by Ian Simpson. £11.50 (incl. P&P) Available through Peace News 020 7278 3344 or www.peacenews.info
An article by Archbishop Desmond Tutu was published in The Guardian to mark an International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons held in Oslo on March 4 and 5.
The full text of the article is reproduced in the printed version of Kingston Peace News, but for the web version we refer readers to the original article on the Guardian web site.
2012 was a good year as we raised over £1000 from sales at fairs etc. With membership dues, a few donations and a little profit from sales on our fortnightly stall, we have been able to produce this newsletter, help campaigns and campaigners when financial help was needed, pay costs for speakers and respond to appeals. We were fortunate in selling some interesting Peruvian pots for £150 and had some very good quality bric-a-brac donated.
However, money will be tighter this year. Last year we moved from the Quaker Meeting House in Eden Street to the Environment Centre. Our debt to the Quakers is immeasurable. For decades we held meetings each month on their premises and until some years ago, held jumble sales twice a year for at least 20 years – without being charged rent! We were very grateful to those running the Environment Centre for giving us a home when the Meeting House was no longer available, for a very moderate rent. The Environment Centre is now having to move because the site is going to be developed. In time there will be a new Meeting House there for the Quakers!
We have been fortunate in finding accommodation at Surbiton Hill Methodist Church – not in the centre of Kingston but quite a short distance from the rear of Surbiton Station and on a few bus routes. The cost of hire however is more expensive and we will need to raise more money to maintain our support of people and groups who work so hard and sometimes risk so much in their attempt to get across the message that we do not want or need nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction.
We plan to run five sales this year. The first two in May will be garage sales. All our goods are stored in my garage which is on a road that leads to the river – a popular place to walk if the weather is good. These will take place on the two Bank Holiday Mondays in May – 6th and 27th. On Saturday June 8th Ham Fair – a very popular and enjoyable event – will take place on Ham Common. The street fair to celebrate New Malden Fortnight is on Saturday July 13th and Carshalton Environment Fair will be held on Bank Holiday Monday 26th August. Volunteers to help at all these events are needed please.
Not all of us can get up before dawn to go to Aldermaston to try to persuade the workers to use their talents for something more beneficial to mankind. Some of us aren’t able to engage in discussions with politicians about the immorality of spending billions on Trident renewal. Perhaps writing letters is not your forte. Many would hate to try to persuade passing public to part with money for a lovely little jug which they don’t really need. BUT all of us can attempt to find some books or bric-a-brac which are not needed or used any more. The general public is more particular these days and so we would welcome items in good condition. We are very willing to collect any items you wish to donate. Please ring me on 020 8549 0086 or email if you have any queries or would like us to collect. Thank you.
KPC/CND is a member of Network For Peace. Hilary Evans attended the recent AGM in Milton Keynes. Here she reports on the issues raised by speakers. Additional material by Tony Kempster
Marching Orders for the Military Ethos: a culture of peace versus a culture of war followed the AGM with speakers Sam Walton of Quaker Peace and Social Witness and Emma Sangster of Forces Watch.
Sam identified a new type of militarism in our society. Following 9/11 and the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, endless conflict with rising death tolls among service personnel weakened public support and made recruitment to the armed forces more difficult. The 2008 Report of Inquiry into National Recognition of Armed Forces (see http://www.ppu.org.uk/militarism/recognition_of_our_armed_forces.pdf) gave 40 recommendations for increasing public awareness of and support for the military, ensuring future recruitment. The government endorsed this report in its entirety, accepting all recommendations including the establishment of the annual Armed Forces Day. Other features include increased frequency and prominence of returning parades of soldiers, and increased visibility with soldiers being told to wear their uniforms more often in public. These strategies seem to be quite successful, for while wars may continue to be unpopular, the military personnel are generally well regarded.
Further manifestations of this militarism include frequent references by the Prime Minister and other politicians to the work of the armed forces: ‘motherhood and apple pie’ statements which go down well with the electorate. Military affiliations with a range of organizations such as livery companies are on the increase, as is the development of cadet forces in schools together with the adoption of a military ethos in schools with discipline problems. The military prominence at the 2012 Olympics Games was noticeable with servicemen and women involved in all medal ceremonies.
Remembrance Day has been affected too. The tone has changed from one of solemn remembrance of the dead and wounded with an underlying sentiment of ‘Never Again’ to the more drumbeating style of Help for Heroes (in themselves emotive words). Sam reported hearing sellers of red poppies exhorting buyers to ‘support our troops’ and felt this was a subtle change from the older message of remembrance. (In the general discussion later, reference was made to a statement on the British Legion’s website to the effect that the best way to honour the dead is to prevent war. A look at their schools learning pack also reveals, “Remembrance is an opportunity to ... above all reflect on the human cost of war and the importance of working for peace”.)
Emma made reference to the Armed Forces Community Covenant of 2012 - another outcome of the 2008 report (not a party political issue: the initial report was prepared under the last Labour Government). It complements, at a local level, the Armed Forces Covenant, which outlines the moral obligation between the nation, the government and the armed forces. The aim of the community covenant is to encourage local communities to promote understanding and awareness of issues affecting the armed forces in their own areas. Since its launch, some 150 local authorities across the UK have pledged their support and signed up, including cities such as London, Edinburgh and Liverpool. The Government has also made £30 million available for communities to establish their own projects.
The recent report ‘Future Reserves 2020’ gives another indication of government policy. A new campaign has just been launched with TV advertisements portraying leadership and other skills, in an attempt to attract recruits to the Territorial Army. With cuts in public expenditure, reservists will play a bigger role. The Department for Education and the MoD are working together (and this is approved by the Shadow Education Minister too) to promote the military ethos and skills programme which comprises a number of initiatives to encourage the military “spirit”. Other developments could see schools being run exclusively by ex-forces personnel or sponsored by the MoD and the armed forces. It is estimated that 900,000 children a year between the ages of 8 and 18 come into contact with the military in one way or another, and a positive interest is built up through a drip-drip process starting, perhaps, from when a 7 year old sees an air show.
All this raises questions of whether the armed forces should be given access to children within schools and whether the military’s agenda and the development of a ‘military ethos’ are appropriate within education. Forces Watch is not anti-military: its remit is to look at the issue from a perspective of informed choice but it is much more difficult to get another point of view into schools, in spite of the requirement of the 1996 Education Act to give issues a balanced treatment.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey (also Kingston’s MP) has just given the go ahead for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, Somerset. A File on Four report (Radio 4) in February reported that Britain has the biggest stockpile of civil plutonium in the world, some 112 tonnes, of which 28 tonnes is from foreign sources. This is sufficient to make 10,000 nuclear weapons. An additional 4 to 6 tonnes of plutonium is created by the nuclear industry every year. It currently costs the British taxpayer £80million per year for the plutonium to be stored safely and securely.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND