The newsletter of Kingston Peace Council / Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
How the First World War started
The war that was to change attitude to war itself was not caused by an assassination: there had been many worse terrorist assassinations of leaders, including two American presidents and the Czar of Russia. Europe had been preparing for, and was on the brink of, war from the start of the 20th century – a war that no nation wanted. Germany embarked upon it largely out of fear.
At the outset it must be stated that the usual shorthand is to be used here. When it is said that England feared this, or Germany decided that, what is meant is that a tiny ruling clique, or even a single individual leader, e.g., the Kaiser in Germany or King Alfred in Belgium, feared this or decided that: a dangerous condition, scarcely modified by democratic forms, that persists to this day (e.g. the 2003 war against Iraq, decided upon by two leaders and then pushed through the respective parliaments).
The wounds inflicted after centuries of war had left scars on every European nation. Most recently Napoleon had led French troops across Europe all the way to Moscow. Sixty years later the Germans had their revenge, when in 1870 their troops marched down the Champs Elysees. They imposed a merciless indemnity of five billion francs on their defeated enemy, and seized the territory of Alsace-Lorraine (no wonder Clemenceau insisted on the ill-advised demand that Germany pay heavy reparations at the end of the coming war!)
By the turn of the 20th century Europe was preparing for war once more. A mesh of military pacts was created. France formed an alliance with Russia, which France’s traditional enemy Britain, after a dalliance with the Kaiser’s Germany, joined to form the Entente Powers. To counter the Entente, Germany and Austria were joined by Italy in a triple alliance of Central Powers (Italy was to betray her allies and remain neutral in the coming conflict). Turkey, geographically vital as Russia’s connection to the Mediterranean and her allies, having sought a permanent alliance with Britain in 1911 and having been coolly received, eventually fell into the willing arms of the Central Powers. Belgium’s neutrality was guaranteed by Germany, France and Britain, and when King Alfred decided to refuse on principle the free passage of German troops on their way to attack France, the invasion of Belgium clinched a British decision to send an army to France. Japan, with her own Chinese agenda in mind, declared for the Entente, thus freeing Russian troops for the coming war in Europe.
There was a certain glamour about war such as could never exist again, after the coming four years of slaughter. The German militarist theory that war was ennobling, a way to a nation’s greatness, was shared by others outside Germany. This view of war as an outlet for heroism and the spread of Kultur died with the millions of victims in the trenches.
Not surprisingly in view of Europe’s turbulent history, decision-makers felt that another war was inevitable, and coming soon. Germany felt encircled by the Entente powers. After the humiliating defeat by Japan in 1903, Russia had embarked upon a huge military buildup programme, and so Germany decided that if the coming war was to be won, it must come sooner rather than later.
The sequence of events that followed the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist is well known. The Austrian Ultimatum to Serbia was deliberately provocative on German advice, as was the sudden unexpected declaration of war on Serbia by Austria in the full knowledge that the Russians would probably come to the aid of their fellow Slavs and so precipitate a great war between the powerful military alliances. Less well known is the fact that German Chief of Staff General Moltke had written the original ultimatum to neutral Belgium announcing the coming invasion of the country on the way to attack France two days before the Austrian declaration of war against Serbia - a proof of pre-existing war plans.
The suburban equivalent of the military pact is the street gang, where security is sought by threats and intimidation. The international equivalent of the suburban policeman and rule of law had not yet been invented, though after the first world war the nations did come together to form a League of Nations, with the idea of outlawing future wars. The struggle to form an effective international body with such a mission continues today, while the danger posed by military pacts persists.
Much of the information above was gleaned from American historian Barbara Tuchman’s famed book on the First World War, August 1914.
On the anniversary of Hiroshima, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg announced the party’s policy on Trident, the major plank of which was going to sea ‘only with unarmed [nuclear] missiles’ (Clegg offers centre ground future for Lib Dems, Guardian 6th August). He claimed that the unarmed missiles represented ‘the greatest single act of de-escalating ever undertaken by one of the established nuclear powers’, and indeed it may be, provided the missiles cannot be re-armed at sea.
The assumption is that the missiles cannot be re-armed at sea – otherwise the statement is merely an empty gesture. But if the missiles cannot be re-armed at sea, then there is of course no point in taking them in the first place.
Iconic events like the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki of August 1945 attract popular myths. Typically myths are founded on grains of truth. Most people accept unquestioningly two ‘certainties’ in defence of the bombings: the bombings “ended the war” and “the Japanese were asking for it”.
The Japanese military was a formidable and merciless foe, fighting to the death despite overwhelming odds. They showed no mercy and treated prisoners appallingly. The bombs however were never intended to hit the Japanese military. They were intended for the women and children, elderly and disabled left behind whilst fighting men were away.
As early as February 1945 Japan’s diplomats knew the game was up, the war was lost and Japan couldn’t win; it couldn’t defend itself from increasing US bombing raids. They wanted to negotiate an end to hostilities fearful of fighting to the bitter end and fearful of the kind of devastation suffered by Germany. Under the “Atlantic Charter” agreed by the allies in 1941 Japan should have been guaranteed survival as an independent state in exchange for surrender without any territorial gain from military aggression. The allies refused Japan’s offers and bitter fighting continued. Japan was increasingly starved of supplies and munitions.
The USA was developing atom bombs and in May the “targeting committee” selected urban sites over 3 miles diameter which were to remain unscathed by bombing raids. Accordingly Hiroshima and Nagasaki were spared the carpet bombing of cities like Tokyo where wooden houses “burnt like autumn leaves”. Without air defences Japan couldn’t protect cities from bombing. The shovels to clear up Tokyo were made from recycled shrapnel. The war was already lost and could have been ended at any time by agreement, but that was only forthcoming after bombing Nagasaki on August 9th – along the lines Japan had proposed in February.
The bombs were tested in the Nevada Desert where it wasn’t possible to gauge the full devastation. Of the two bombs, Uranium “Little Boy” and Plutonium “Fat Man”, there was uncertainty about which was more effective. There was an appetite for ‘field testing’ on two Japanese cities. They wanted the bombing to be “sufficiently spectacular for the importance of the weapon to be internationally recognised ...”
The bombs were to be visually targeted on the city centres, requiring good clear weather conditions without air defences. The mission was planned with three planes: one bomber, one observer and one photographing and recording. The small group of planes did not alert those on the ground who assumed it was a surveillance mission. The US gave no advance warning lest the bombing didn’t live up to expectations and embarrass the USA.
Harry Truman announced that Hiroshima, “a military base”, was chosen to avoid civilian casualties; but it was of no military value. He said the bombing was the “greatest achievement of organised science in history”. The bombing was no “great decision”, merely another powerful weapon in the “arsenal of righteousness” – “the greatest thing in history”.
Many allied military leaders believed the bombings were unnecessary and did not shorten the war. Russia had agreed to declare war on Japan on 8 August. which may have influenced timing. Earlier Japanese surrender would have meant the disappointment of cancellation. The bombing was widely condemned as continuation of total war; the last chance to wipe out two more cities before Japanese surrender. Paul Oestricher, controversial Christian spokesman, said the logic was simple: “Japs are evil. We have one more bomb. They can not retaliate. We will 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 ... ”
* At the Nuremberg Trials aerial bombardment was not prosecuted as a war crime partly because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
* True figures of deaths from the two bombings are disputed since many died slowly and painfully for decades – perhaps ½ million total.
* Nuclear weapons aren’t accepted mainstream military equipment; hence argument recently over UK military budgeting.
* Only cities provide suitable targets.
Noel Hamel, July 2013.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, now 45 years old, looks suspiciously like an arrangement dreamed up by the few nations possessing nuclear weapons, in an attempt to keep the nuclear club exclusive. If so, in this it has been ineffective: despite the attempt to restrict membership, the nuclear club has grown to include Israel, India, Pakistan and now North Korea. South Africa took the initial steps to join the elite nuclear states, but then changed its mind, the only nation so far to renounce nuclear weapons after developing them. To encourage non-nuclear nations to sign up, renouncing nuclear ambitions, a clause was put in the NPT obliging nuclear states to work towards getting rid of their arsenals ‘in good faith’, a faith that has been notably lacking after nearly half a century. According to the latest study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, all nuclear weapon states now are either actively modernising their arsenals or are planning to do so.
It is easy to be cynical about the NPT. It is much harder, and maybe more productive, to regard it as the first hesitant but genuine step towards a cleansing of the world of these weapons of unimaginable mass destruction. The Treaty itself is fine: it has been flawed in its operation only because of non-compliance by its nuclear weapons signatories. At least it is there to point at, as Britain votes to commit to a renewal of Trident in 2015.
KPN readers are well aware that Britain’s nuclear weapon has other, more significant costs than money, though I suppose that you feel much as I do when the government takes £2.6 billion from council budgets, £500 million from education, with the police, student grants and charities also hit, when at the same time our money is spent so extravagantly in other areas.
One unregarded but notable haemorrhage of public funds is the day-to-day running costs of the Trident nuclear weapon system. In 1998 Scottish CND used government figures to estimate the daily cost of keeping our nuclear weapon at £2.9 million. More recently, on 4th April this year in an article in the Telegraph, prime minister Cameron revealed that the running cost of Trident now averages 5% to 6% of the defence budget, or £2 to £2.4 billion. This works out at just over £6 million of our money every day. This is the government’s own figure. A puzzling feature of this statistic is that it appears the running cost of Trident has increased, when the change in the value of money is taken into account, by an unexplained 40% in real terms since 1998.
KPN readers are generally not of the trusting kind. They are not easily led, and are convinced that disasters, including catastrophes like world wars, could have been avoided with better management. They question authority, and when a decision is made in their name that they do not like, they make their protest known. Professor Norman Dixon, in Our Own Worst Enemy, gives authoritative support for this attitude in this analysis of the human psyche.
Dixon takes the view that fallible humans ought not to be in charge of a system that requires infallibility, where a failure would mean a terminal catastrophe. This is a also a position held by antinuclear campaigners, and Professor Dixon, an outstanding psychologist, is in a powerful position to show how very fallible those in authority have always proved to be. He analyses with an expert eye the human causes of the worst train and air disasters, explains for example the implications of the work of Milgram (on unquestioning obedience), dissects the human psyche of ‘tripartite man’ (the primitive urges of the id, the pragmatic, selfish control of the ego, the overruling (sometimes) exerted by the superego, that uses guilt to impose the values of the conscience, and shows how each of these parts of our psyche has its own dangers when individuals achieve a position of power, explains how features of our minds that have served as essential prompts for action for more than a million years have suddenly become dangerous in this technological age. One example: the stress response that enabled us to act quickly to avoid the sabre-tooth damages us today when we must sit fuming in a traffic jam, or submissively take a tirade from the boss.
Dixon takes pains to explain difficult matters in the simplest, most lucid way, and laces his explanations with delightful humour, for which, in the circumstances, one is grateful. His purpose is to explain the modern dilemma, where we have hydrogen bombs on alert, and a system of deterrence wired to escalate to unimaginable destruction, a system that needs benign gods to operate, but which is supervised by these very unreliable, mixed-up, unpredictable humans. He singles out authoritative figures for special analysis, describing past blunders of prime ministers, presidents, generals, who on their way to the top positions need characteristics that become extremely dangerous once installed behind the top desk.
In a review it is not possible to give more than the merest outline of a book that has shaped the world view of this particular reviewer. The importance of Our Own Worst Enemy is that it presents the problem we face in a clear light, and if a problem is to be solved, that is the first thing to do. Dixon is not optimistic about our future. The changes that are essential for our long term survival are unlikely to be made, due to issues surrounding the psychopathology of leadership. The hydrogen bomb cannot be controlled by human supervision forever – we have in fact been lucky so far – and the only possible solution is to remove it from the agenda altogether, somehow!
I ordered this book long ago, after hearing a radio interview with the author in 1987. It is still obtainable second hand from Amazon, price one penny, with £2.60 postage.
At the beginning of the 20th century the United States of America was a nation facing a dilemma. Americans were proud that their nation was a beacon of hope to the world, an example of modern democracy where the aim of government of the people, by the people, for the people had created a state that had focused on human rights and dignity, a benign nation, self-confident, powerful yet posing no threat to other nations. The ‘self-evident’ idea that all men are created equal, with none deserving of special privileges, contrasted with the assumptions of other nations of the time, including a Britain still very largely ruled by an elite governing class, an aristocracy of power that had ruled the country for its own good (in practice, for their own good) for countless generations. Americans saw their country as opposed to militarism, conquest, standing armies, and all the other bad habits associated with the monarchies of the Old World. The American dream was of a just, egalitarian, benign society.
But by the end of the 19th century America was a world power, and there were those who began to turn their eyes outward, with the idea of emulating other powerful nations. Throughout history power had been gainfully employed, and a ‘great’ nation had become so by its conquests of neighbours, by the plunder and the slaves brought back to enrich the victor. Slaves were no longer frankly paraded in chains, but conquest and tribute had never gone out of fashion.
The first steps towards militarisation of America came in 1890 after a successful campaign to build an American navy, one with much more than coastal defence capacity. Five state-of-the-art battleships, the Oregon, the Indiana, the Massachusetts and the Iowa, with the later addition of the Texas, were constructed, ships powerful enough to match Britain’s first-line vessels. With such a backup, some US eyes were turned to Spanish-occupied Cuba. In 1895 the Cuban people rose against Spanish rule, and in America there were calls for Cuba to become an American colony. War was declared on Spain, and when the Spanish were thrown out with the compelling aid of the new battleships, Cuba became an American protectorate in 1901.
In the Pacific, an independence struggle was occurring against Spanish rule in the Philippines. The expansionists in America saw the Philippines as a key gateway to trade with Asia. The Senate was evenly balanced, but the empire builders won, war was declared against Spain on April 25th 1898. Again the American battleships came into their own; the Spanish squadron and shore batteries were destroyed in Manila Bay. The independence movement was ignored, and the Philippines became an American possession; ‘America had become the new Spain, as far as Philippinos were concerned’.
The anti-imperialist voice was still strong in the America of those days. After US forces turned their guns against the Philippinos themselves who were continuing to fight for independence, one Professor Norton wrote in despair: ‘Never had a nation [America] such an opportunity: she was the hope of the world. Never again will any nation have a chance to raise the standard of civilisation.’ Such an idea was perhaps too pessimistic, but the torch of liberty was passing from American hands.
The annexation of Hawaii was seen as strategically imperative both commercially and militarily. A revolt against the native government was engineered, and a treaty of annexation was prepared and put before the Senate. Ratification was refused by the Senate of those days (1893), but was finally achieved in 1901, and Hawaii was annexed.
(next month: America the superpower. H. D.)
Twelve years ago this month the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, the response to which has cast such a long and dark shadow on the contemporary world, succeeded in destroying the twin towers and murdering more than three thousand Americans. Four large jets full of passengers had been seized by the terrorists and then flown to targets. Two destroyed the twin towers, one crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth, probably on its way to the White House, crashed after a heroic resistance by its passengers.
Because of some anomalies, such as the way the Towers collapsed and the unexpected shape of the damage to the Pentagon wall, some questioned whether the terrorists had acted alone. Could they have been actively aided by a US administration looking for an excuse for war? (See Des Kaye’s letter in last month’s KPN)
The murderous history of the CIA is well established. For example, during the Cold War CIA involvement facilitated covert decisions by the US administration (illegally bypassing the Senate) in the bloody overthrow of democratically elected governments in Nicaragua and Chile, and in propping up a military dictatorship in El Salvador. So suspicion of CIA involvement in the 9/11 attacks was natural.
The common view is that such treacherous collusion in a gigantic operation involving the deaths of thousands of Americans is unlikely. Also, the main facts, that the planes were in fact seized by suicidal terrorists of the type that has become so common today, that defence blunders caused a delay in reacting to the seizure of the planes, that the foreign policy of the US administration provided a motive for the attacks (an illegitimate motive, but a motive), appear to be sufficient to explain the attack.
It is always wise to be suspicious in this very wicked world, but in the case of the terrorist attacks on the 11th September 2001, the simplest explanation seems the most likely.
Next year, in September, Scots will be asked ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ One factor Scots will have to consider is the question of national security. The Scottish Government has made it quite clear that a ‘yes’ vote would be an explicit mandate for a non-nuclear Scotland. Trident would have to find another home.
Because of Scotland’s anti-nuclear stance, Nato officials have warned that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to join Nato, a military alliance with a first-use policy for nuclear weapons. For unexplained reasons Alex Salmond is keen that Scotland join Nato. Why would he want the considerable expense involved? It must be something to do with security, though a real threat, an invasion of Scotland, is hard even to imagine.
An invasion from Norway can surely be ruled out. The Vikings with their long boats no longer pose a threat to an alert defense force. The threat from today’s England can surely also be discounted. Perhaps memories remain of the ‘rough wooing’, when in 1543 Henry V111 declared war on the Scots because they refused to have their infant Mary Queen of Scots married to Henry’s son Edward. But today the only English invasion is from tourists, and that the Scots welcome. Invasion from other countries is even more far-fetched – even if it is merely to safeguard her own borders, England would resist an invasion of Scotland by, say, Russia or the Ukraine. The Scots are very desirable neighbours.
In point of fact today’s Scots would not be bereft of a military pact even if they were cold-shouldered by Nato. The Auld Alliance with France still stands today. In 1995 there were celebrations of the military pact in both countries to mark the 700th anniversary of the oldest military alliance in the world. It has never been revoked. So that the Scots already have an alliance with Nato, by the back door, so to speak.
The terrible problem created by the flooding of three reactors at the nuclear power station in Fukushima continues unresolved, more than two years after the tsunami struck. In hindsight it was a stupid location for a nuclear power station, right on a coast that was no stranger to earthquake-generated tsunamis. The need for access to water necessary for cooling the reactors had overridden caution. In Britain our nuclear power stations are also situated on the coast for the same reason, with the exception of Trawsfynydd, now decommissioned, which had a large lake (now radioactive) for its coolant.
Despite efforts at containing the leaking radioactive material, 180,000 residents have had to be evacuated from a 20 K radius from the plant. The sea surrounding the plant has been heavily contaminated with radioactive debris. Desperate efforts are being made to prevent radioactive contamination of the groundwater. The local fishermen are no longer permitted to catch fish, which are too radioactive for human consumption. The plume of radioactivity in the water has now been detected as far away as Hawaii. The cost has been great: a trillion yen ($US13 billion) has been given to Tokyo Electric Power Co to keep it going, and of Japan’s 54 commercial nuclear plants, 52 have been idle since the March 2011 disaster.
The explosion of the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in 1986 has been described as the world’s worst accident, but the destruction of the power plant at Fukushima will probably prove worse still.
As might be expected, polls show that 80% of Japanese are today opposed to nuclear power, and the wonder is that the figure is not nearer 100.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Harry Davis
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND