Michael Rosen's poem Safe as Houses was not particularly written for Christmas, but I think it is relevant to Christmas 2016 (ed.).
[At this point in the print version of the newsletter, a copy of Michael Rosen's poem Safe as Houses appears. To avoid copyright issues in the web version, I refer you to Michael Rosen's web site: Safe as Houses. (Charles)]
Report from the Peace Pledge Union, by Symon Hill
Pacifists held an Alternative Remembrance Ceremony on Sunday 13th November as the official ceremony at the Cenotaph was accused of promoting a jingoistic and hypocritical attitude to war.
The alternative ceremony was held at noon in Tavistock Square, London, a short walk from the official ceremony attended by political and military leaders. Other alternative Remembrance events were held elsewhere in the UK.
Those present observed two minutes' silence for all victims of war of all nationalities. They laid a wreath of White Poppies on the Conscientious Objectors' Memorial Stone. Speakers included Scottish poet Ashby McGowan.
The Peace Pledge Union (PPU), who organised the Alternative Ceremony, criticised Theresa May for laying a wreath to remember the war dead while pursuing policies that lead to more deaths in war. They pointed out that May's government is turning away refugees fleeing war while arming the Saudi regime, which is killing civilians in Yemen.
The Alternative Ceremony commemorated all victims of war, including refugees, other civilians, conscientious objectors and members of armed forces of all nationalities. This includes wars still being fought and people still suffering as a result of previous wars.
Those attending included visitors from Egypt and the USA as well as people from around the UK.
The PPU is perhaps best known for its White Poppies. This year has seen some of the highest ever sales of White Poppies, with the figure increased by a last-minute surge in orders.
PPU activist Albert Beale, speaking at the event, said: "Ministers today have mournful faces at the Cenotaph. But we know that tomorrow they'll be back in Whitehall planning the next war. Pacifism can seem like an extreme position, but it is what is needed in the world as it is now. One of the phrases associated with Remembrance is 'never again'. As pacifists, we mean it."
Poet Ashby McGowan, who read his poetry at the event, said afterwards: "Like many of the people there, I was in tears during the ceremony. It was one of the most moving ceremonies I have ever attended. I'm very glad I was invited down from Glasgow. It's a very important time in the world for peace."
At the Imperial War Museum many others gathered to hear the Annual Remembrance Day Peace Lecture, which the museum has hosted for about 12 years. This year the speaker was Vickie Hawkins, General Director of Medecins Sans Frontieres UK. Her subject was
Vickie began by reeling off a list of charities and organisations she had worked for before starting her role with Medecins sans Frontieres. I was amazed - she looked so young to have done so much.
The second surprise was when she said the organisation is not actually anti-war. She explained that because they go anywhere where the need is greatest, for their own safety they have to remain completely neutral in every situation. Any hint of taking sides would risk their ability to do the job.
In spite of this, as I am sure most readers will know, the staff are extremely brave and sadly are often wounded and even killed in the course of their activities. Recently there were many casualties when a hospital in Aleppo was bombed, in spite of the co-ordinates having been given to the USA and other combatants.
More info and details for donating : www.msf.org.uk.
Figures released in November reveal that the British Army has increased its intake of 16-year-olds in the past 12 months, defying calls from the UN, children’s rights organisations and others campaigning for an end to the recruitment of minors. In the 12 months to 30 September 2016, the Army enlisted 1,000 16-year-olds (up from 870 in the previous 12 months), accounting for 13 per cent of total enlisted intake. This makes 16-year-olds the single biggest age group entering the Army, for the first time since 2012. The overall intake of minors as a percentage of enlisted recruits rose to 24.1 per cent (up from 22.5 per cent in the previous period), while intake of adults decreased.
The Army’s recruitment policies state that it uses recruitment of minors as ‘an opportunity to mitigate Standard Entry [adult] shortfalls, particularly for the Infantry’. The Infantry has the highest fatality and injury rate of any major branch of the armed forces, with infantrymen in Afghanistan seven times more likely to be killed than personnel in the rest of the British armed forces. Army policy also imposes a longer minimum service period on those who enlist under age 18 than on adult recruits.
“Polls show overwhelming public support for a minimum enlistment age of 18. But whatever you think the right age is for joining the Army, nobody can justify targeting 16-year-olds for recruitment into the roles adult recruits don’t want to do, and then forcing them to serve for longer than their adult counterparts.” said Rachel Taylor, spokesperson for Child Soldiers International.
In June this year, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child condemned the British army’s safeguards for ensuring informed consent of child recruits and their parents as “insufficient” and called on the UK to raise its enlistment age. A recent report by medical professionals examining the recruitment of minors in the UK also found that current recruitment practices ‘do not meet the criteria for full and informed consent’ and that military recruitment materials ‘take advantage of adolescent cognitive and psychosocial vulnerabilities’.
In 2014 Child Soldiers International launched a judicial review against the terms of enlistment of minors which, if successful, would have forced the Army to stop imposing a longer minimum service period on minors than it does on adult recruits. Although minors have a right to be discharged before their 18th birthday, after this point the so-called “Catch-22” clause commits them to serve until they are at least 22 years old, regardless of their age when they joined. This means that 16-year-old recruits have a total minimum service period of six years, while 17-year-olds must serve for five. In contrast, adults can be discharged after just four years’ service. The claim was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in June 2015. In his judgement, Justice Kenneth Parker agreed that the rules discriminated against minors as they did ‘treat those recruited under 18 less favourably’. Despite this, he accepted the MOD’s claim that European and national law entitled it to discriminate against Army recruits on the basis of age or disability, without any limits of proportionality.
The large majority of countries worldwide now recruit only from age 18 or above. The UK is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council which still recruits 16-year-olds. In the United States the minimum recruitment age is 17 years, but minors only account for around 5 per cent of annual intake. (Full figures available on request)
More information: www.child-soldiers.org.
Raoul Wallenberg has finally been declared dead by the tax agency 71 years after his disappearance. This Swedish business man was sent to Hungary in 1944 by the Swedish Government to help Jews escape the mounting terror as Germany occupied a country they had just fled to. Once in Budapest he bribed and defied officials, handing out Schutz passes, temporary Swedish passports. An employee remembered him intercepting a train bound for Auschwitz, climbing onto the roof to hand out passes, ignoring German soldiers and Arrow Cross Fascists shooting and shouting at him. Unfortunately he was detained during the Red Army siege in January 1945, accused of spying and never seen again. (thanks to Tribune)
Jeff Halper. ISBN 978 0 7453 3430 1. Pluto Press
Jeff Halper is best known for campaigns about the injustices of the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank but in this book he raises his vision to consider global issues of war, weapons and how accidents of history have put Israel at the nexus of the new securitized surveillance society that emerged post 9/11.
Israel’s aim has always been to maintain separation, “hastrada” – translates as apartheid, between itself and the Palestinians. 20% of Israeli citizens are Palestinian and before the occupation of the West Bank were subjected to laws and restrictions later extended to the occupation. The intention is deliberately to oppress and deny freedom, progress and restrict quality of life. Corralled in separated enclaves with movement restricted, West Bank Palestinians are easy to monitor and control. When settlements and soldiers were withdrawn from Gaza surveillance got trickier. The response was to draw on the expertise of science graduates to build the greatest security, surveillance and intelligence complex anywhere in the world.
Conventional wars with opposing armies are a thing of the past. Modern warfare is mainly asymmetrical, fighting Vietnamese, Kenyans, Malayans, Algerians, etc – anyone wanting independence, self-determination and freedom.
After 9/11 George Bush took the convention to a whole new level with gratuitous attacks on the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan. In the process he helped stoke fires of resentment that have erupted elsewhere including on the streets of western cities.
The Israelis’ long experience of asymmetric warfare and surveillance suddenly became the ‘go to’ source for the US and allies to get expertise. Israel marketed its surveillance equipment and provided military training to help contain insurgencies in occupied countries. Drones, 25% of Israeli arms trade, were an Israeli brainchild and the sophistication of its technology for identifying and targeting sites and individuals for elimination and for remote killing are world class. Protection, technical equipment and support for military personnel are an indispensable asset for militaries confronting guerrilla warfare, often in tricky urban areas, and techniques of intelligence gathering are all saleable assets, field-tested and ready to go.
9/11 was bonanza time for Israeli arms sales and enabled the extension of its global arms dealing which had long been a stepping stone to diplomatic friendship; a useful guarantor of protection, in UN votes and elsewhere, against serious retribution for war crimes and human rights abuses. Though western foreign offices may issue notes of remonstration about excessive force, bombing of hospitals and settlements, nothing ever results from this because the military/security ties are so snugly entwined. Although Israel has only 2% of the $500 billion world arms trade, its licensing, development and manufacturing partnership deals exert huge and wide ranging influence in arms and surveillance as well as diplomacy, because of its key experience and sophisticated technology.
Israeli salesmen were never inhibited by considerations of human rights and it has very successfully aided tyrannical regimes to pacify their people. The expertise sold around the world is helping create ever more sophisticated surveillance and control of people everywhere.
Israeli arms business acumen knows no limit. It trades in equipment besides its own high tech creations and its salesmen go wherever there is a deal to be struck, even acting as surrogate for western companies hobbled by embargoes and sanctions.
Noel Hamel, December 2016.
(Uniting for Peace Annual Conference 2016)
This took place in the House of Lords on 25th October, thanks to Lord MacLennan, Liberal Democrat Peer who hosted the meeting.
To me the most interesting speakers were:
1. Daniel Kawczynski, Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and who was former special adviser to David Cameron on Central and Eastern Europe. For some observers in attendance here it must have been refreshing to hear him with open with this comment: “There is a breathtaking lack of knowledge about Russia in the House of Commons and the current debate is very superficial, blinkered and biased”.
As the first Polish born British Member of Parliament, and having left Warsaw in 1978 to escape communism, he has since returned to Poland on many occasions to visit his grandfather who had suffered great hardship under the communist system. Daniel continued by asserting that there was no other British Member of Parliament who would have more reason to be anti-Russian than himself, and he implored us to consider the future for our children and for future generations, should we continue to inch our way towards a war with Russia. He warned that it is our duty to do everything we possibly can to ensure that there isn’t a confrontation, even suggesting that if this build up continues unabated then this could be the new “North and South Korea” of Europe. But Britain and America continue to risk making matters worse by ‘ratcheting up’ these tensions.
During a recent visit to the Ukraine, Daniel and his colleagues had the advantage of listening to the views of the independent Organisation for Security & Cooperation In Europe (OSCE) who have been monitoring this situation. Their observations showed that there were an equal number of cease-fire violations committed between the Ukrainians and the Russians and that both sides were equally responsible for the violations of the Minsk Agreement designed to bring about a cessation of hostilities. Therefore, rather than castigating Russia and using derogatory language we should be doing more as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to ease these tensions. Whilst both France and Germany have shown leadership regarding the Minsk II Agreement, it is regrettable that David Cameron didn’t involve the United Kingdom in this process. Regarding the attitude of the USA, there is somewhat of a paradox when one considers that trade between these two has never been higher, whilst this deplorable state of affairs continues. The impetus should come from the citizens of the United Kingdom who should demand that the Prime Minister show some real leadership in building a personal relationship with President Putin.
The Russian people have, over a long time, lived through the most appalling suffering imaginable and they are not likely to be bamboozled or intimidated to get round the negotiating table and it will take a painstaking amount of time and effort on the part of our Prime Minister to garner the trust required to establish a mutual understanding by means of which more friendly relations could be developed.
2. Dr Marcus Papadopoulos, Publisher/Editor at First Publishing Limited: Politics First, who continued in the vein of the previous speaker in displaying more empathy towards Russia in the face of the abuse it is withstanding at the present time. With respect to Russia when a great country is sidelined, has its views and concerns discarded, has its national security threatened, and has its allies in the world being undermined or militarily attacked, sooner or later it is going to respond – “action-reaction” being the key within which Marcus’ words were set. Having had its face slapped over and over again by Washington since the 1990s it is important to gain a better understanding of exactly how these people must be feeling about the way they are being treated.
Over a period of 300 years Russia had been invaded five times – all by foreign armies coming through Russia’s western borders – in 1605 by the Polish/Lithuanian Commonwealth, then in 1708 by Sweden, in 1812 by France, in 1918 by Imperial Germany and then in 1941 by Nazi Germany. The latter brought about a war of racial extermination resulting in the deaths of over 27 million people. All of this has exercised a profound effect on the Russian mind-set thus making them ever more sensitive and alert to any potential threat directed against them.
The popular notion of NATO being a defensive organisation bears little resemblance to the reality that in 1994-1995 NATO attacked the Bosnian Serbs, Russia’s allies. In 1999 NATO bombed Serbia, in 2003 NATO spearheaded the invasion of Iraq, in 2011 NATO intervened in Libya, and from 2011 up until the present time the Western Alliance have been trying to overthrow yet another government, that of Syria.
Thanks to Bernie Holland for these notes. Full report: www.unitingforpeace.com
NB This meeting took place before the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States.
On January 13th 2017 Journeymen will show Red Flag over Bermondsey, the story of Ada Salter, radical, social activist and the first woman mayor in London. The play was the Ada Salter Lecture at 2016 Yearly Meeting – and it’s a cracker. Proceeds will support a West Bank Women’s Cooperative. Book at Eventbrite
On January 14th 2017 Journeymen will show Feeding the Darkness, shining a light on State Sanctioned Torture through story, poem and song. The production was created for Q-CAT, Quaker Concern for the Abolition of Torture. Proceeds will support Amnesty International and Freedom from Torture. Book at Eventbrite
Booking through Eventbrite (links above), recommended donation £10, concessions £5.
Shows start 1930, run for about 1 hour, tea/coffee before.
Kingston Quaker Centre, Fairfield East, Kingston, KT1 2PT
Thanks to the Morning Star November 30th for this report by Zoe Streatfield
A leading left-wing think tank has called on the Scottish Government to set up a defence diversification agency to plan and resource the scrapping of Trident, while protecting workers jobs. The Jimmy Reid foundation will launch its report, which examines the effect renewing Trident will have on jobs, tomorrow.
Report author Professor Mike Danson said "Renewing Trident makes neither economic or social sense. It is also an affront to democracy and humanity and makes the world no more safe than it currently is".
The report found that only 600 civilian jobs depend on the existing Trident system at Faslane and Coulport, and that the other 3,721 jobs at HMNB Clyde are linked to other submarines and surface ships and would not be at risk.
The Trident successor programme will not lead to any new jobs but merely maintain 11,520 across Britain at a cost of £205 billion - almost £18 million per job. This is wasteful of skills that could be used elsewhere in the economy, and expenditure on Trident and its successor programme is costing jobs as defence budgets are cut to fund Trident, the Foundation argues.
The report makes the case that Trident is not an investment in manufacturing but instead benefits banks, multinational companies and arms suppliers.
Moreover, austerity has led to more than 30,000 job losses in local government in Scotland so far. Even a small amount of the money spent on Trident could easily reverse these cuts.
Foundation director Professor Gregor Gall said “We look forward to politicians and political parties taking up its findings and promoting them in order to do all that can be done to stop the renewal of Trident.”
November 19th 2016
This year's conference focused almost entirely on the fate of our universities, with particular reference to the Higher Education and Research Bill currently going through parliament, and to the compromised funding currently associated with them.
This bill will extend the influence of markets in higher education, and also give the Government direct powers over universities and research bodies---currently these are independent. The Open University will be equally affected.
The research base in UK universities is already falling----Brexit will not help----and it is thought that the polarisation of the Russell Group and the rest will result in 'the rest' probably having very few, if any, research facilities left.
The influence of the market has already led to the casualisation of university staff---in some universities over 50% of staff are already on zero-hours contracts with no guarantee of work from one year/term to the next---they are not paid to prepare courses, only to deliver them---this must surely have an effect on the quality of teaching and on job satisfaction. Academic staff with more secure jobs are often funded by industry.
The UK Government is one of the world's highest military spenders. The current budget for government-funded military research and development is £1.7 billion, one sixth of the overall R&D budget. Most of this money goes to industry, but a considerable amount finds its way into universities to fund projects that often mesh civilian and military aspects together. Almost all universities take some money from arms industries---the largest amounts, at the moment, go to Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, Sheffield and Cranfield. This money obviously influences the research undertaken, the people undertaking the research and future relationships between the two.
Universities are also funded by fossil fuel companies---most of this funding goes to Manchester, Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial, although 80% of the Russell Group admitted taking some money from Shell and/or BP. Top universities get more funding from these companies than from research councils, (also funded to some extent by fossil fuel companies), although some projects are jointly funded. Can fracking research funded by Total be independent, when dissenting research is sometimes vigorously suppressed? There is no corporate funding for renewable energy projects.
Another source of funding for universities is the pharmaceutical industry. Unfortunately a large number of recent incidents have indicated collusion of academic staff in the production of false or misleading research. The UK regulator MHRA is funded by the pharmaceutical industry and has no interest in scrutinizing any research. The Government will not act on this, only calling for more transparency, as it also is being lobbied by the pharmaceutical industry. Academics who speak out generally lose their jobs.
SGR is working hard to bring about a change to the influence of powerful vested interests on science, design and technology, and to the commercialisation of universities-it believes that scientific skills should be utilised for the prevention of war, the improvement of social justice and the movement of society onto a truly sustainable path.
More info:- www.sgr.org.uk
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Rosemary Addington
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND