Well-attended riverside event
Members of Kingston Peace Council/CND gathered with friends and supporters at Kingston riverside on August 6 for the annual commemoration of the atomic bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The special guest this year was recently elected deputy mayor of Kingston Borough Councillor Olivia Boult who, we discovered at the event, had been born in Hiroshima.
Because of the beautiful weather many people were out on the riverbank that evening and the KPC event attracted a lot of attention from passers-by, many of whom took away information leaflets and some of whom stayed to join in.
As always we were pleased to welcome members of the local Japanese community who brought with them a variety of floating lanterns to place on the water as a traditional remembrance for the souls of the departed.
White flowers were also strewn on the waters.
On behalf of KPC Rosemary Addington gave a short speech to the assembled members and supporters and she quoted comments made earlier that day in Hiroshima by the city’s mayor Kazumi Matsui.
Addressing a large gathering with representatives from countries around the globe Mayor Matsui urged leaders to make the landmark UN treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons “a milestone along the path to a nuclear-weapon-free world”.
He called on the Japanese government to be a manifestation of the Constitution’s pacifism to give effect to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It could lead the international community toward dialogue and cooperation toward a world without nuclear weapons.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted in a speech delivered on his behalf at the ceremony by a UN representative that progress on moving disarmament forward has stalled, pointing to rising tensions between nuclear-armed states. Representatives from 85 countries and the European Union attended the ceremony in Hiroshima.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is calling on its supporters and others to press HSBC bank to end its complicity with Israel’s arms trade. HSBC must end its business relationships with Elbit Systems, and all other companies selling weapons and military technology to Israel, used in the oppression of Palestinians, says PSC.
HSBC is a major shareholder in companies supplying weapons to Israel, and it also provides arms companies with the loans and other financial services it needs to operate. One such company is Elbit Systems, which manufactures and supplies the Israeli military with drones that are used regularly in attacks on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was recently revealed that an Elbit drone Hermes 450 was part of an attack in 2014 in which four Palestinian children were killed on a beach in the Gaza Strip while they were just innocently playing football.
Israel’s attacks on Palestinians, especially in the context of its 2014 war and 2018 repression of the Great Return March, have been identified as grave human rights abuses and war crimes by international human rights experts, including the UN Human Rights Council which condemned the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians.
Elbit Systems has also produced the internationally banned chemical white phosphorous and manufactures cannons for cluster munitions, sold to Israel as recently as 2017. By manufacturing the cannons in Israel – Elbit’s headquarters is in Haifa – Israel sidesteps the international ban on cluster munitions.
The Observer newspaper, working with Campaign Against Arms Trade has exposed the outrageous and immoral activities of arms manufacturers in spending millions of pounds each year promoting their weapons to British schoolchildren.
The companies, chief among which is BAE Systems, regularly sponsor school events at which their brands are on display and also issue ‘teaching materials’ for use in classrooms that promote the defence sector, arranging competitions and awarding prizes.
One company, reported the newspaper last month, even deployed a high-profile children’s television presenter to promote its activities in a school, while another developed a missile simulator for pupils to “play with”. Critics accuse the companies of trying to “normalise their appalling business” in the minds of the young. The body representing the defence sector says such an approach is “vital” if the UK is to produce a future generation of engineers.
CAAT has reacted robustly to the disclosures. “When these companies are promoting themselves to children they are not talking about the deadly impact their weapons are having,” said the Campaign’s Andrew Smith.
“Many of these companies have profited from war and fuelled atrocities around the world. Schools are vital to our society and should never be used as commercial vehicles for arms companies. It is time for arms companies to be kicked out of the classroom.”
BAE Systems, Europe’s largest arms company whose fighter jets are currently being used by Saudi forces in Yemen – where there have been large numbers of strikes on civilian buildings and where many children have died – visited 420 schools across the UK last year and prepared lesson plans for children as young as seven.
The company promotes its roadshows on Twitter and through other social media. One event included an appearance by CBeebies tv presenter Maddie Moate who, according to BAE, was there to “join in the fun and take a few ‘selfies’ for her own personal collection”.
In an online presentation BAE says it spends tens of millions of pounds a year on reaching pupils as young as four. Among worksheets issued to schoolchildren were some encouraging them to think about how BAE’s special camouflage system could have “significant advantages on the battlefield” by allowing tanks to become invisible to hostile thermal imaging systems.
Another sheet encourages pupils to look at the company’s past initiatives to find out “more about how shapes of aeroplanes, ships, submarines and tanks have changed over the years”.
Since 2005, 213,000 young people have seen a BAE roadshow, according to the company. BAE also claims to have 845 “ambassadors” – comprised mainly of school governors across Britain.
The Observer report went on: Raytheon, the fourth-largest arms company in the world, which has sold bombs and missiles to Israel and Saudi Arabia and whose weapons have been used in Yemen, runs an annual competition across the UK for pupils to build model drones. The US company’s website says it supports science and technology programmes “in primary schools, secondary schools, universities and colleges.”
Thales, the world’s 10th-largest arms company, whose customers include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Kazakhstan, has its own mascots, Raybot and Faybot, who are used to promote the French company’s education tools.
French MBDA, whose missiles are also being used by Saudi forces in Yemen, runs a “robot rumble” competition where pupils compete to design and build a robot. Each robot is put through “ a shake test to represent the tests MBDA put their missiles through”, according to the promotional website.
A spokesman for ADS, the arms manufacturers’ UK trade body, claimed that British defence companies “play a vital role in local communities” because the UK had a national shortage of engineers.
Andrew Smith’s response was that schools should sever their links with the purveyors of death. “The fact that companies that arm and support human-rights-abusing regimes are targeting such young children is extremely concerning,” he said. “Arms companies aren’t targeting schools because they care about education. They are doing it because they want to improve their reputations and normalise their appalling business.”
There is of course another, chilling way in which the military are ‘targetting children’. There was no information in the Observer article as to whether US company Lockheed Martin pursues similar “teaching” activities for American schoolchildren. It was recently discovered that it was a Lockheed Martin 500lb laser-guided Mk82 bomb that Saudi forces used to destroy a school bus in Yemen on August 9 leaving 40 of children dead.
The unglamorous side of modern armaments or joining the armed forces i.e. death, life changing physical injuries and mental health problems - is somehow absent from the ‘teaching aids’ and ‘fun’ events run for schools by weapons companies and the British Army.
But Veterans for Peace have filled the gap with a series of hard hitting short videos showing, in graphic terms, the ultimate consequences of military action.
The videos feature a series of three Action Man Battlefield Casualties: PTSD Action Man, Paralysed Action Man, and Dead Action Man (in his own bodybag).
They are cruel, hard hitting, and, as the BBC is fond of saying ‘some viewers may find them upsetting’ but they challenge the banal, human casualty-free indifference of the arms manufacturers’ and the military’s shameless promotion of their work on the minds of children. They can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/131462825
The Girl Guides organisation has announced that it has gone into partnership with the British Army and received its support to develop a Leadership Skills Builder (part of the programme delivered through staged activities to all young members aged 4-18). This means that the main leadership focused activities within the new Girlguiding programme are all associated with the British Army. A petition on the change.org website (https://www.change.org/p/end-british-army-sponsorship-of-girlguiding-leadership-activities-for-girls) protesting against the deal has been launched by Pippa Gardner, a Guides volunteer and former trustee, who is dismayed that members only learned of the sponsorship in a newsletter. “Nobody knew it was coming. There was no consultation,” she said. The decision runs counter to Girlguiding’s international and peace-oriented membership of WAGGGS – the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. It also contradicts Girlguiding’s stance that girls should not participate in war-games or shoot at human shaped targets as part of an activity within the organisation.
A spokeswoman for the Guides defended the new arrangement as part of the “diversity of opportunities this gives to members to develop their skills and interests.” But Emma Sangster of Forces Watch described it as part of the army recruitment process. She said: “The act of enlisting is only the final stage of the recruitment process. The armed forces know that, which is why they have a large and growing programme of youth engagement, with young children as well as teenagers. They don’t like to call it recruitment, but this is what it is.”
This, or course fits in with the Conservative Government’s policy of developing a “military ethos” in schools. And the government has set a target of opening 500 new cadet forces in state schools by 2020, focused in deprived areas. A so-called independent report, commissioned by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, is expected to extol the development of the military ethos in schools and recommend the setting up of military academies.
Britain is to increase its funding to the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, in response to the Trump White House’s decision to remove all financial support.
The Government’s announcement came in reply to a question from Labour MP Matthew Pennycook who had asked Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt:
“In response to the cruel decision taken by the Trump Administration to cut US funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the German government have pledged to increase their financial support for the agency. Will the Minister commit his Government to do the same, so that Palestinian refugees do not suffer as a result of the President’s decision?”
Burt replied that the UK would increase its support for UNRWA by £7million. He added: “We understand the concerns of the United States, but we do not believe that the way it has gone about it is correct. We will continue to support the most vulnerable people, because that also forms a vital part of a just solution to the issues between the Palestinians and Israel.”
UNRWA not only serves Palestinians in the occupied territories but also in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. European and Arab countries have already pledged to protect the agency and Germany promised a significant increase in financial backing.
Loss of international funding would have a potentially devastating impact on five million people that rely on UNRWA-supported schools, healthcare and social services.
Washington’s decision has been interpreted as a means of sweeping aside one of the principal sticking points in peace talks between Israel and Palestine, namely the right to return. Palestinians fear that Washington is attempting to delegitimise the refugee status of them and their descendants.
In a further question to the Government Pennycook asked what recent discussions the Minister had held with his international counterparts on the peace process in Israel and Palestine.
Burt replied: “We regularly press Israel and the Palestinians to resume direct negotiations towards a two-state solution.”
Editor’s Note: Matthew Pennycook, who is MP for Greenwich and Woolwich and also Shadow Minister for Exiting the EU, first became involved in Labour Party politics as an assistant in the then Labour Party office at Kingston Council, working for the office manager, KPC member, Angela Cooper.
The former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan died on August 18, aged 80. He will be remembered for his strong opposition to nuclear weapons, his desire to see the principles of the Non-Proliferation Treaty put into action, and his recognition that nuclear weapons are the world’s number one security threat.
Annan, a Ghanaian, is the only black African to have become UN secretary-general, where he served from 1997 to 2006. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.
In his last public speech on disarmament, in November 2006, he said:
“The total lack of any common and coherent strategy to deal with nuclear weapons may well present the greatest danger to life on Earth.”
This November 11th will have a special significance as it marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War and brings to a formal conclusion the past four years of national commemoration of the conflict.
That commemoration has taken many forms but an underlying theme has been one of education, from the humblest local project to find out about the lives, and deaths, of the people listed on a faded village memorial, to the multi-million pound refurbishment of a gallery in the Imperial War Museum in London.
Peace activists will be organising events and arranging to mark this year’s Remembrance in a variety of ways and one key such event has been put together by the First World War Peace Forum that comprises 11 peace-promoting and anti-war organisations*.
The Forum has arranged two events in central London on Sunday November 11.
At 1pm in Tavistock Square WC1 a ceremony of Remembrance and Peace will be held with a range of speakers.
Then from 2 to 5pm at the Friends Meeting House in Euston Road there will be live music, stalls, films, books, a café and a children’s programme led by the Woodcraft Folk. All are welcome.
*The members of the First World War Peace Forum are Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, Conscience, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW), Network for Peace, Pax Christi, Peace News, Peace Pledge Union, Quaker Peace & Social Witness, Right to Refuse to Kill Group, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Also, Caroline Lucas MP lecture:
Saturday 3 November 2018, 2pm ‘Active Remembrance and Waging Peace Together’, Remembrance Day Lecture, St. John’s, Waterloo, SE1 8TY. Free. Organised by Movement for the Abolition of War www.abolishwar.org.uk
Please note changed location and date from the usual Remembrance Day Lecture.
The islands of the South China Sea might seem ‘far-away places’ even in today’s globalised world. However in his excellent talk to the local UN Association group in Teddington, BBC correspondent Humphrey Hawksley explained some of the background, and the strategy behind Chinese expansion in this area and its relevance to the wider world. He told us how this expansion affected not just surrounding countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, and international shipping routes, but also potentially could lead to disputes between China and other world powers including the USA, Russia, and India.
Hawksley said China aimed to have a new ‘Great Wall of the Sea’ to its south and east. China claims ownership of the South China Sea including the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands. This is despite the fact that many of these islands lie in the territorial waters of neighbouring countries.
In spite of these claims China has adopted a very gradual approach - for example putting up buildings on some remote outpost it says is Chinese territory and simply not removing the structures when ordered to do so by the UN. There may be no further activity there for years and then, often at the same time as some crisis when world attention is focused elsewhere, a runway is built on this same island or further military installations. Also, what were originally coral reefs have been built up into islands using sand.
What is China aiming to do and why? Hawksley reminded us that China sees the period following the first Opium War in 1839 as a Century of Humiliation when a weakened China was dictated to by the British, other Western powers and later Japan. Chinese students would all learn this in history lessons.
As Hawksley emphasised China has not fired a shot or launched a military invasion but slowly and surely it has gained control of islands and rocky outposts. There have been protests from surrounding countries as their fishermen have suffered, livelihoods been lost and land been taken over. These incidents, though serious, have not been sufficient to cause major international disputes. Powerful countries have been reluctant to risk conflict over what they saw as minor incidents. This has meant, Hawksley said, that China knows it can, on the whole, act with impunity.
One aspect, which might be of particular interest to KPN readers, is that a major development on one of the islands took place in 1963 at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. Other conflicts - including the Iraq war - have seen the same thing happen.
“Why doesn’t the UN act more forcefully and insist legal rulings are implemented?” Hawksley asked. His answer was that only the Security Council has the power to take real action and China, one of the five permanent members, has a veto. He emphasised that the set up with the existing five permanent members - all nuclear powers, all major arms producers and suppliers, and all with their own particular interests - meant it was unrealistic to expect the Security Council to work effectively for peace.
Protests might be made and the UN contacted but in the end countries were not prepared to go to war over such issues. The case of Taiwan, though, is different. Taiwan is a flourishing island democracy very close to the mainland. Taiwan was originally recognised as the Republic of China and was a UN member. In 1971 UN recognition was transferred to mainland China from Taiwan. The government on the mainland sees the Taiwan regime as illegitimate and wants the island to become part of mainland China again. Beijing is using its enormous economic power to put pressure on Taiwan.
This well-structured talk certainly helped to make sense of the occasional pieces of info we get about remote islands in the Far East. How does what is happening in the South China Sea affect us in the UK? It’s not news to readers that powerful countries spend their energy and resources on building up their military power and extending their areas of control. Hawksley suggested we in the West should be more prepared to support Taiwan.
The talk and discussion also made me wonder, again, if it was a good idea to have China with a vested interest in promoting our expensive and, in my view, dangerous and unneeded, nuclear power industry. Also we’ve sold off what used to be seen as vital infrastructure to China.
I’d rather it was in public ownership here. But that’s just a personal view.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND