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Billy King

Number 185: December 2010

[Back to related issue of Nonviolent News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Well, that was quite a month for the Public in the Re:Public, with more to come. Coming across a reference to Labour Finance spokesperson Joan Burton saying Ireland was ‘banjaxed’ by the European negotiations, I looked up my copy of Bernard Share’s “Slanguage – a dictionary of Irish slang” for the origin of that up-the-Shannon-without-neither-a-boat-n’oar-an-oar term. It looks like it may derive from banged/bashed/smashed. But what I also found was a short illustration of its use from Ferdia Mac Anna’s 1994 “The Ship Inspector”; “ ‘The country’s banjaxed,’ the woman said. ‘We’re a banana republic without the bananas.’” Unfortunately that’s telling it a bit like it is, but despite the debt, Ireland remains a rich society....the problem is what is done with that wealth, and what the wealthy and powerful haven’t squandered they are certainly not sharing.

Our hearth on Earth
Mid-winter is a good time to ponder the meaning of life whether you be Christian, pagan, Jew, gentile, faith believer, atheist, or agnostic. Or any other description you may like to give yourself. Looking outside at the stars, or sitting inside warm against the winter chill, is a good opportunity to wonder where we come from and where we’re going [down the tubes at a rapid rate at the moment anyway – Ed] [I did mean cosmically – Billy] [And I meant it comically – Ed].

Recent research has shown that there may be 50 billion Earth-like planets in our own galaxy, the Milky Way (‘Guardian’ 29/10/10 from ‘Science’) which is an absolutely incredible statement. 50 billion. In just our own little part of the universe. Wow. Thinking of the size and the numbers involved can make your brain hurt. In fact there may be an Earth-like planet with one in four stars and a fifth of these may lie in the so called ‘Goldilocks zone’ where they are at the right distance from the parent star for there to be liquid water; my advanced mathematical skills would indicate therefore one in twenty stars could have a planet the mass of Earth the right distance for life to form. Research has a long way to go yet and while scientists have based their estimates on mass they do not know about the respective sizes of planets (e.g. you could have a giant planet the same mass as Earth which is composed primarily of gas). As tronomers have also recently found a planet around a giant star near the end of its life which originated outside our galaxy, the Milky Way (perhaps coming from the Latte Cluster, no, I’m joking).

So chances are We Are Not Alone. What that might mean in terms of little, or even big, green men and women we don’t know. And the distances are so vast that it will be a long time before humanity is capable of interaction of our own volition (i.e. being capable of communicating or even going ‘there’). And this is just as well – humanity has a lot of growing up to do before we could or should be let loose on the wider universe; learning to deal with poverty, inequality, violence and creating a meaningful ‘human’ life for all within our ecological means here at home.

We have not yet shown ourselves capable of living adequately on our own little planet. Until we have learnt to be fully human we would be a danger to anyone else we came into contact with, and quite possibly also a danger to ourselves. Of course we want to know what is Out There but our primary goal should be to get earthy, to sort ourselves out In Here on this little planet we call Earth. And that is a major task but one we are capable of if we go about things in the right way. This needs a major shift in consciousness about our humanity and the nature of our relationship to all our brothers and sisters in this world.

There we go then; start with pondering the mysteries of the universe and end up with the need for humans to grow up.

War and pillage with Pilger
John Pilger is one of Britain’s most observant journalists. And I consider the ‘New Internationalist’ (http://www.newint.org) a magazine essential for a good understanding of world issues. So an interview with John Pilger in the ‘New Internationalist’? Just the job, particularly when it is on the topic of his new film “The War You Don’t See” (to be shown on ITV on 14th December at 10.35pm, see also http://www.johnpilger.com ).

Pilger begins by saying the film is about journalists beating the drums of war and not challenging the spin of governments. He quotes a private comment by Lloyd George, Britain’s prime minister for much of the First World War – “If people really knew the truth the war would be stopped tomorrow, But of course they don’t know and they can’t know.” And so the task of governments is to deceive people, and Pilger is here concerned with the role of the media in facilitating this deception. He quotes the figure that the BBC gave just 3% of its pre-Iraq war coverage to anti-war voices. Incredible. But then the Beeb is pretty much Stalinist in making anyone presenting or reporting for them wear a red poppy for several weeks before 11th November (reminiscent of Soviet-era lapel badges in the USSR or stars-and-stripes badges on politicians in the USA post-9/11).

On a brighter reporting note elsewhere, it was good to see Enda O’Doherty in the ‘Irish Times’ (recently noted for various glowing reports on the British Army) on 11/11/10 questioning the effect of remembrance. It’s titled “Remembering war dead helps prepare ground for next massacre”; see here.

Pilger goes on to talk about the ‘embedding’ of reporters (‘in bed with the military’ is my take on that) and, amazingly but probably truthfully, he says “The last British war completely free of state censorship was the Crimea...” Pilger does see some glimmers of hope and “The good news is that much of direct and indirect propaganda is not working....most people oppose colonial wars.” Anyway, put the date and time above in your mind and diary to watch his fillum.

Home for Christmas
Hopefully you saw mention of the report on drones from the Fellowship of Reconciliation in England in the news section of this issue of NN. However a couple of sentences caught Billy’s eye. “Perhaps the most famous ‘rogue drone’ story concerns a(n).....Israeli-made Orbiter drone, being used by Irish peacekeepers in Chad in 2008 which, after a communications loss decided to head home to Ireland, some 5,000 kilometers away. Needless to say it did not make it and crashed.” It was only heading home for Christmas. That was a relatively benign incident; when drones are carrying weapons it’s another story, and as drones are developed to have more ‘a mind of their own’ the dangers will be further multiplied. The owners may be quite safe; it will be a different story for the rest of humanity.

Wicked leaks on Shannon
I do of course mean ‘wicked’ in the relatively modern, ironic sense. I am certainly not going to object to some of the judgements and perceptions of officials of ‘The Leader of the Free World’ (sick) being laid bare by WikiLeaks, particularly when it exposes arrogance, violence, incompetence and corruption.

Included in the communications were some from Ireland such as concerning action against US military use of Shannon. I don’t usually lift whole chunks from other people’s work but in this case I am going to, information from Shannonwatch is worth quoting:

“The message that we must take from the first of the WikiLeaks documents from the US Embassy in Dublin is that not only must we continue to expose and highlight US military and CIA abuse of Shannon airport and Irish sovereign airspace, but that we must reinforce our activities and our effectiveness. In the interest of justice and truth, and in the interest of humanity we all have a clear duty to speak out and to take actions to prevent such gross injustices.

The release by WikiLeaks of confidential US embassy cables is known to include over 600 cables from the US embassy in Dublin, and even more relating to Ireland. Most of these are not yet available on the Internet and their publication is awaited with interest by many. They will be of particular interest to all those who believe that the Irish people should not be assisting a foreign power to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, and that Ireland should not be facilitating torture.  

The Catholic Workers acquittal for damaging a US warplane at Shannon gets special mention in the first of the released cables from the US embassy in Dublin. According to the cable, “Willie O'Dea and governing Fianna Fail party politicians have publicly questioned the legal merits of the Shannon Five jury decision.” It is of grave concern that the US Embassy seems disappointed at the Irish government's apparent reluctance to interfere with the judicial process, and that comments by a government minister that a sovereign jury decision should be questioned are acceptable.

It is also notable that the cable refers to the five activists (Ciaron, Damien, Deirdre, Karen, and Nuin) as “the Shannon Five” and avoids referring to them as the Catholic Workers. This, one can imagine, is to avoid highlighting the principled reasons behind their action.

The cable states that “The major opposition party, Fine Gael, supports continued U.S. military use of Shannon”. This is an issue that Shannonwatch and others in the peace movement plans to address in the forthcoming elections, making it clear that the majority of the Irish people do not support continued U.S. military use of Shannon. The cables also state that: “In late 2005/early 2006, EU-wide debate on extraordinary renditions similarly galvanized this lobby, and the Irish public generally, to question U.S. military access to the airport.” It is good at least that the two issues of war and torture were identified as interconnected by the Irish public, and indeed by the US embassy, and it is important to note that we in the peace movement have achieved some significant successes, even if we have not achieved nearly enough so far.

The cable goes on to say that “[f]or segments of the Irish public, however, the visibility of U.S. troops at Shannon has made the airport a symbol of Irish complicity in perceived U.S. wrongdoing in the Gulf/Middle East.” It is interesting to see how the US embassy view how we perceive US crimes against humanity, or “wrongdoings” to use their own words.

The exposure by peace activists on what is happening at Shannon resulted in the following actions by the Irish Government. “On August 15, the Irish Department of Transport informally advised Post by e-mail that all military equipment, including HMMWVs and trucks, were to be considered "munitions of war," requiring prior notification to the Transport Department and exemption waivers for transshipment.” (HMMWV stands for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or Humvee). No mention is made so far of depleted uranium munitions or large scale explosives, and cruise type missiles and attack drone aircraft, but we are aware that these items have most likely been transported through Shannon airport.

Economic arguments in favour of the US military use of Shannon are also undermined by the leaked Embassy correspondence. The cable admits that the much hyped 'local benefits' such as hotel stopovers occur perhaps 8 - 10 times a year.  Eight nights for 200 troops in one year is not keeping the economy of the mid-West of Ireland afloat, nor does the 4-5 beds for the more frequent air-crew stopovers. It is a drop in the ocean compared to the millions of Euros of taxpayers' money that is spent on security and on subsidising Air Traffic Control fees for the military flights.

Some may argue that in this time of Irish economic crisis, matters such as foreign wars, crimes against humanity committed against “foreigners” and torture should be ignored, in the so-called national interests. In the interest of justice and truth, and in the interest of humanity we all have a clear duty to speak out and to take actions to prevent such gross injustices. The unlawful and unjustified taking of human life is the most serious breach of human rights possible.”

The original communication from the Dublin USA Embassy is available here. See also mention of Shannonwatch in the news section of this issue.
- -

Well, after the recent cold spell, perhaps we should be dreaming and singing of not having a white Christmas. However, with all the difficulties it brings, for old people, for those without money for heat, and for those who are travelling, snow does transform the environment in a remarkable way – even how we move on foot is totally transformed from thoughtless confidence in putting one foot in front of another, to become a potentially precipitous process of gingerly staking a foothold on the surface of the Earth. This may be exciting for those of us who are able bodied but treacherous for those who are not or who are elderly. And some of the views created, or at least framed, by the snow are stunning. The joy of walking in untrodden snow is something like once again being the first person to journey there, ever. “One small step for a human being, a great step in the snow for feeling alive.”

Anyway, I wish you a warm winter, indoors, and the health to be able to move outdoors and stay warm there. And, as is my custom, I take this opportunity to also wish you a Happy Christmas, or whatever you are having yourself, and a Preposterous New Year.

PS The next full issue of ‘Nonviolent News’, for February, will bring you our annual Adolf Awards for Conspicuous Disservice to Peace (the environment, human rights, etc). We welcome your nominations. Vote early, vote often. You know it makes nonsense. Just the thing to talk about at that Christmas party......

Billy

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

Copyright INNATE 2017