Valentine’s wishes for London legations
Members of Kingston Peace Council/CND joined other campaigners for a Valentine’s Day tour of foreign embassies to emphasise the need for nuclear weapons to be abolished. The event, organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons UK, visited more than a dozen London embassies ending up at the Mexican Embassy to say thank you for their country hosting an international conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (see below).
At each stop the campaigners, including Maggie Rees, Martin Birdseye and Jim McCluskey, handed diplomats a Valentine’s heart as a way of saying thank you for that nation’s support for a nuclear weapons ban. At the UK Foreign Office and the US Embassy the message was harsher.
It was time for Britain and America to break up their long standing relationship with the bomb!
Maggie and Martin’s group visited the South African, Brazilian, New Zealand, Nigerian, Costa Rican and Mexican Embassies and, Maggie reports, were welcomed at each venue and the diplomats they met accepted the Valentine’s hearts with good humour.
Phillip Cooper continues his discussion on the causes of WW1 contrasting the right wing obsession with blaming it all on Germany with the arguments drawn from Christopher Clark’s book Sleepwalkers
Historian Christopher Clark’s book Sleepwalkers dwells at some length on the role played by Serbia in fomenting the First World War in pursuit of its desire to challenge Austria-Hungary, grab bits of the fading Ottoman Empire and establish itself as leading Slav nation in the Balkans with the encouragement of Russia, an ambition that the Tsar was pleased to support. War broke out in the Balkans in 1912 with Serbia allied to Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro attacking the territories held by the Ottoman Empire. Having won that contest Serbia then went to war with its former ally Bulgaria to seize more land. Russia mobilized and so did Austria-Hungary and a tense stand-off along their borders only eased when Vienna backed away from conflict.
The role of France, although Britain’s perpetual enemy down the centuries, seems to be overlooked by modern right wing commentators in their rush to blame the Germans for starting the First World War. A Franco-Russian military convention from the 1890s committed either state to mobilize immediately in support of the other. The French president in 1914 was Raymond Poincare who detested Germany and, as a native of Alsace-Lorraine, still rankled over France’s defeat by the Prussians 40 years earlier when those provinces were annexed by Prussian forces. This lasting enmity was shared by those responsible for French military planning.
Assuming that Germany would always come to the aid of Austria-Hungary, Poincare and his military advisers saw that any war between Austria and Serbia would immediately drag in Russia and force Germany to deploy large numbers of troops to its eastern borders. This would take pressure off French forces facing Germany in the west allowing it to attack Germany with a better chance of success. Germany was not unaware that France and Russia posed a real threat from west and east simultaneously if conflict threatened.
France was firmly encouraging Russian armed intervention in support of Serbia as early as 1912 and backed this with armament sales to Serbia, generous loans to Russia to assist re-armament and pressure on St Petersburg to quadruple the number of strategically important railway lines that would enable Russia to mobilize troops and send them to its frontier with Austria-Hungary and Germany.
German alarm was voiced in the Reichstag and the Chancellor expressed the country’s determination to defend itself in such circumstances, a notion that the London Times noted, only indicated Germany’s desire for peace. UK Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey disagreed, summoned the German ambassador and warned him that if war broke out between Germany, France and Russia, Britain would almost certainly be drawn in against Germany.
This so alarmed Berlin that Kaiser Wilhelm II convened a meeting of the high command. His minister of war Von Moltke felt that “war is inevitable and the sooner the better.” Some historians view this comment as the smoking gun proving that Germany wanted and planned for war all along. Others disagree. No action followed the meeting, notes Clark. “No countdown to war, no national propaganda campaign and no moves to place the economy on a war footing.” In fact the Kaiser, though prone to outbursts of belligerent rhetoric, counselled caution. He continued to regard an Anglo-German war as ‘unthinkable.’
Fast forward to the spring of 1914 and the Franco-Russian alliance (with Britain as a sleeping partner through the Entente Cordiale) had, says Clark, tied their defence policy to the uncertain fortune of Europe’s most violent and unstable region i.e. the Balkans.
Elements within the German military favoured a ‘preventive’ war before the balance of military advantage slipped away from them in the face of French and Russian military planning which had replaced a defensive strategy with an openly offensive one.
However, the Kaiser, whose moustachioed, spike-helmeted image is so often trotted out as the symbol of German aggression, was still, as late as July 1914, in favour of maintaining the peace. And he was banking on an understanding with his cousin, the Tsar Nicholas II, to achieve this. Wilhelm would not believe that Nicolas would support Serbia in an armed clash with Austria-Hungary because he could not comprehend a situation where Russian royalty would ally itself with ‘regicides’, referring to the fact that Serbia had previously murdered its own king and queen.
After Bosnian-Serb separatists had assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, an Austro-Hungarian ultimatum had been delivered to Serbia and Russia had ordered a mobilization. But a telegram from the Kaiser to the Tsar caused Nicholas to rescind the mobilization order. Military matters could, wrote the Kaiser, “precipitate a calamity we both wish to avoid.” For his part, the Tsar commented; “ I will not be responsible for a monstrous slaughter.”
The Kaiser was also convinced that the Serbian acceptance of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum in just 48 hours meant a war could be avoided. He wrote: “An excellent result for a 48 hour deadline. This is more than we could have expected. But this does away with any need for war.” Not, seemingly, the sentiments of someone who was bent on a war of aggression against the rest of Europe!
Sadly, his confidence was misplaced. Despite the acceptance of the ultimatum by Serbia, Austria-Hungary ordered a partial mobilization, Vienna being unaware that a partial mobilization was not logistically possible and that only full mobilization could be achieved. Again the Kaiser tried to intervene and offered to mediate for peace but it was not to be as officials in Berlin and Vienna, either through deviousness or incompetence, delayed the transmission of this message.
Having halted Russian mobilization 24 hours earlier the Tsar, on hearing of Vienna’s preparations re-issued the mobilization order. Berlin, aware of the speed at which Russia was now able to send vast numbers of troops to its borders first of all activated its State of Imminent Danger of War and then issued a full declaration of war against Russia on August 1st. The dominoes then began to fall with French mobilization in support of Russia followed by Germany’s declaration of war on France on August 3rd. This activated the Schlieffen Plan against France that involved marching through neutral Belgium triggering Britain’s declaration of war against Germany on August 4th.
In the face of this welter of facts, as we approach the centenary of the beginning of the Great War ‘it was all Germany’s fault’ is the view still being pedalled in the British media in recent weeks (with the help of their echo chamber The Daily Mail) by Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Max Hastings et al. How interesting that this attitude is indistinguishable from that which characterised the Foreign Office of Sir Edward Grey and Sir Charles Hardinge in the years leading up to the war. We must be thankful that Gove, Johnson and their fellow travellers are not currently occupying positions that determine British foreign policy in relation to, say, what is happening in Ukraine. We must hope that they never will be.
Sleepwalkers – How Europe Went to War in 1914. Christopher Clark. Penguin
“There’s no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons.”
Tony Benn commenting on the Iraq War.
CND General Secretary Kate Hudson wrote a moving eulogy to Tony Benn on the day that the peace campaigner, former left wing Labour politician and prolific diarist died.
This is what she wrote:
Tony Benn was a towering figure in British politics and a stalwart of the peace and anti-nuclear movement.
We feel his absence today, with grief that we will never hear his words of wisdom again, but also with hope and re-commitment to our shared cause, inspired by his values and his life.
His anti-nuclear principles underpinned so much of his political work. In February 1958, the month of CND’s foundation, Tony resigned his position as one of Labour’s front bench spokesmen on Defence, stating that he could not, "under any circumstances, support a policy which contemplated the use of atomic weapons in war". He has stood by CND on every occasion since, most recently serving as its Vice-President.
And we carry the torch of his beliefs in a better world and his determination to end the sorrow of war. A world where politics is not the language of brute force but an articulation of the possible: of justice, progress, and peace.
I am honoured to have shared platforms with Tony to oppose wars of aggression, from Iraq to Afghanistan, and to reject weapons which threaten the annihilation of our planet. His convictions in a world without nuclear weapons and his vision of equality and peace are a legacy which we will maintain and continue with all our strength.
We will miss him deeply, but we know that his fighting spirit will continue to inspire us as we stand shoulder to shoulder for peace in his memory.
We offer our deepest condolences to Tony’s friends and family.
A few days before this appeared Kate Hudson had also marked the sudden passing of Union leader Bob Crow. She wrote:
Bob was also a great and principled friend of the anti-nuclear movement, and fought alongside CND to oppose replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system. His RMT anti-Trident resolution to the TUC Congress in 2006 began to turn the tide against replacement which rapidly reached majority proportions across the country.
Bob described Trident as an “immoral” and “scandalous waste of public funds”. In his inimitable style, he confronted the jobs issue around Trident head-on – a tricky issue for a trade union leader: “What about when we used to hang people? We had chief executioners – we had to diversify and find new jobs for them.”
In the week leading up to the Budget on 19th March eagle-eyed travellers in London and Liverpool may have spotted CND’s impressive bus advert stating ‘If we cut nuclear weapons we could spend £100bn on jobs, health and education.’
Kingston Peace Council/CND made a donation to the fund that made these adverts possible. In all, 50 London double-deckers and 60 Liverpool buses carried the message.
Noel Hamel reviews Adam Hochschild’s book To End All Wars
Unlike many histories that retell events through dates and facts Adam Hochschild transports us to the Edwardian era’s most pitiful performance through cameo portraits of members of the cast. We understand how the Boer War conditioned the British gung-ho military thinking and how voices of sanity, opposed to war altogether, increasingly gained ground until the fateful decision of August 1914 when jingo-fever drowned them out.
On a topic so massively overcrowded as WWI in 2014 this book stands out for its freshness, life and thought provocation, reading almost like a novel with all the page-turning characteristics of the best. A snapshot of the Boer War immerses us in British colonial attitudes then prevailing with all their overstuffed cynical arrogance.
When Britain decided to intervene in the 1914 European war domestic politics played a significant role. Competing factions in the cabinet wished not to show weakness or offend their electoral support whilst being increasingly conscious of mass public opinion on which success relied, although most citizens were ineligible to vote. Accordingly government embarked on a massive, very successful PR campaign for popular support – so successful the voices of reason and moderation were drowned and today are rarely acknowledged. Subterfuge, imprisonment, threats and denigration were used against trade unionists, left leaning war opponents and conscientious objectors. Tightly controlled news management presented murderous slaughter as great victory.
The senior officer class of aristocratic stock luxuriated in the attentions of 60,000 servants, batmen, waiters, and grooms for the thousands of horses, four years on standby for cavalry charges. Entertainments, official dinners, functions, hunting and horse riding persisted throughout whilst the working classes luxuriated in muddy shell-shot holes. True, the front line officers, drawn from university graduates, had a high death rate as they led suicidal fruitless marches into machine gunfire from the front.
Kier Hardy died broken hearted. Emmeline Pankhurst fell victim to the charms of Lloyd George, Welsh Wizard and ace deal maker, so she acted as chief ‘recruiting sergeant’ in exchange for a promise of women’s votes.
Emily Hobhouse, who had bravely exposed the barbarity of the Empire’s concentration camps in the Transvaal that killed thousands of mainly women and children from hunger and disease, continued her crusade for a diplomatic solution, taking her across Europe to visit heads of state. (To my mind Hochschild misses a trick by not explaining Britain’s unpopularity in Europe over the Boer War atrocities which made it inadvisable for our monarch to travel for a year or two. Of course, had it been Africans dying in squalid camps rather than Afrikaners things would have been different.). Others like Charlotte Despard, sister of the anachronistic Field Marshall Sir John French, Bertrand Russell and Sylvia Pankhurst remained true to their anti-war beliefs throughout despite the avalanche of public feeling and government propaganda ranged against them.
By curious irony the war began insidiously to undermine the fabric of Britain’s class society and the Empire, the very things which the establishment went to war to defend. Australian troops were better paid and their officers promoted through the ranks. So alarmed were the British military about the possibility of such subversion infecting British Tommies that it was decreed Australians should be kept apart in trenches, for meals, recreation and medical care. Indians and others from far-flung corners of the Empire, used to “whites only” policies at home, were amazed to be treated by white nurses and consequently harboured thoughts of sedition and even independence when demobbed.
Eventually Britain did become a democracy in 1928 when everyone over 21 could vote. And gradually a nascent social security network emerged to protect the elderly and destitute; much of which German society had enjoyed for decades. The war was certainly a catastrophe; the work of pompous twits who cared little for the lives of others. Thanks to Hochschild we get to see how those who had compassion and care for the welfare of others persisted against all the odds, and though the struggle still is not won, they helped bring us to where we are today. I can’t help feeling a deep sense of gratitude. I hope sincerely, despite Cameron and Gove, we can at last acknowledge such heroes.
“To End All Wars” – Adam Hochschild. ISBN 978-0-330-44744-7.
Gill Hurle attended an international Peace Seminar in January at Verdun, the site of one of the bloodiest campaigns in the First World War
One hundred years after the start of World War One, peace movement representatives from Germany, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands met in the war-ravaged landscape of Verdun to discuss the lessons we can learn.
One year earlier, representatives of the German and French peace movements got together for the first time in nearly 15 years for a seminar highlighting a gathering of members of the German Bundestag and the French National Assembly which was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Elysee Treaties. That seminar revived cooperation between the two groups, and resulted in the decision to hold this year’s event, prior to the start of commemorations of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, and to invite peace activists from other countries to join them. It also led to common preparations for the International Peace Event to be held in Sarajevo in June this year.
A substantial pacifist movement was active throughout Europe before WWI, supported by all sections of society. However, the wish for justice and humanity was rapidly engulfed by the mass enthusiasm to respond to calls to “fight for one’s country”. The peace movement fell silent once the war fever had taken over. Pacifists who refused to fight were treated very badly, and some paid with their lives.
It was an imperialist war on all sides, but German speakers emphasised that Germany did want war in order to enlarge its empire, having come late to the game. Since the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, Germany had become one nation with a powerful military. Jingoistic cartoons demonised the French and Russians and, in October 1914, a Cultural Manifesto was signed by 93 German intellectuals supporting war, the notable exception being Albert Einstein. (The attitude of intellectuals continued until the student revolt of 1968.) The imperial powers (Austro-Hungary, France, Britain and Russia) were linked by treaties, but Germany had not calculated that Britain would join in, and became quite anxious when it thought the French might back down. One assassination triggered a disaster fuelled by military-industrial might.
One of the sessions of the seminar was devoted to explaining the militarisation of the European Union. Since December 2003 EU policy has provided a political and ideological framework for the EU as a partner of NATO. Even if there is no risk to mainland Europe the European armies must be ready to intervene anywhere in the world, justifying such action as humanitarian, or a “responsibility to protect” the population of the country concerned. But intervention decreases the possibility of alternative solutions through negotiation, diplomacy or political process. What is more, “civilian” EU operations are becoming integrated into military operations, so real development aid is decreasing. A further worrying aspect of EU policy is that since the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 Germany, France, UK and Italy together have increased their share of the EU Council vote to more than 50%, thus increasing the likelihood of militaristic solutions being pursued.
What can be done to avoid the mistakes made a century ago? Key ideas were:
The Verdun seminar was instructive – we can be more effective by working with peace colleagues in Europe.
While peace activists were touring London embassies in mid February pressing home the need for the world to abolish nuclear weapons the Mexican city of Nayarit was hosting the second international Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. The first such event was held in Oslo and Austria has now agreed to hold next year’s event.
Delegations from 146 countries came to Mexico, along with representatives of the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, to discuss the global and long-term consequences of any nuclear detonation, whether accidental or deliberate.
Their wide ranging discussions covered the topics of public health, humanitarian assistance, the economy, development and environmental issues, climate change, food security and risk management. Those taking part included survivors of the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The conference expressed alarm at the fact that the risk of nuclear weapons use was growing globally because of proliferation, the vulnerability of nuclear command and control networks to cyber attacks, and to human error, not to mention the potential access to nuclear weapons by terrorist groups.
In the concluding statement the conference organisers noted:
“It is a fact that no state or international organisation has the capacity to address or provide short and long term humanitarian assistance and protection needed in case of a nuclear weapon explosion. Moreover, it would not be possible to establish such capabilities, even if attempted.”
They also felt that the awareness of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons was already changing hearts and minds worldwide in discussions concerning them. The coming into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is now seen as a core element of the international nuclear disarmament and non- proliferation regime which should be reinforced by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in 2015. Also seen as a positive development was the positive response by many member nations to the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Disarmament held last year.
Now was the time, concluded the conference organisers, to initiate a diplomatic process for abolition comprising a specific timeframe and to define the most appropriate forums to move the discussions forward. They concluded: “It is time to take action. The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks is the appropriate milestone to achieve our goal.”
Kingston Peace Council/CND and TRAKNAT highlighted Kingston's involvement in a secretive arms and surveillance trade fair taking place in March. Local company Creativity Software has been implicated in the sale of surveillance equipment to Iran, which resulted in violent treatment of protestors at the hands of their police, according to international news and business organisation Bloomberg. The company was listed as one of the exhibitors at the Security & Policing conference and exhibition held in Farnborough. This event brought together some of the world's largest arms companies with some of the worst human rights abusers.
The 'security' equipment being marketed by hundreds of exhibitors included sniper rifles, 'crowd control' equipment such as tear-gas and surveillance technology. The event itself was shrouded in secrecy, and entry tightly controlled to enable exhibitors to display products which would be too sensitive to show in a more open environment.
Bloomberg News carried a report (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-31/iranian-police-seizing-dissidents-get-aid-of-western-companies.html) stating that Creativity Software had done business with a major Iranian mobile network organisation providing equipment that allows phone users to be tracked.
‘If we can find money to kill people, we can find money to help people.’
Tony Benn, 2007
As international tensions continue to increase over the situation in Crimea, Foreign Secretary William Hague defended Britain’s earlier decision to grant licences to sell sniper rifles to Ukraine. He told MPs decisions were based on “information available at the time”. Given the fact that sniper rifles are invariably used by repressive Government forces to shoot dead unarmed protesters (as occurred in Kiev before the pro-Russian president fled to Moscow), one wonders what information arms sales decisions are based upon!
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND