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Readings in Nonviolence: Disarming the nuclear argument

 

Billy King

Number 190: June 2011

[Back to the related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Hello again. After the ‘best of’ [Thanks, Ed – Billy] [I was probably off my Ed when I decided on it – Ed] it’s on with ‘the rest of’. Some of you may know Community Dialogue in de Nort that works on facilitating discussion of topics that matter, see http://www.communitydialogue.org Well, I had some dealings with them this last month and suggested they should open a Kildare Street, Dublin branch, which would be known as Community Dáilogue, but if you say ‘dialogue’ with a Dublin accent that’s pretty much what you get anyway. Meanwhile, someone writing about an unimpressive film described it, presumably meaning it ironically, as ‘exiting’, meaning to write ‘exciting’. However describing a film or show as ‘exiting’ could be a good description, implying that is what it makes you want to do. Anyway, on wit de show and I hope you don’t want to ‘exit’ before the end.

The Zero sum game
I went to the ‘opening night’ of the anti-nuclear weapons fillum, Countdown to Zero (which had a link to post-film discussion of the issue coming from London). I thought the film had many positives but I felt, despite covering US accidents, it let the US off the hook a bit in that it did not mention a) US army generals in the 1950s wanting to use nuclear weapons in Korea, b) US development of ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons which made nuclear war much more likely as well as c) US willingness to use nuclear weapons first. This information would kind of put the USA in the same breadbasket as some of those non-state military groups who’d like to bomb the hell out of whoever they would want to bomb the hell out of.

But in fact, as we were watching post-film discussion in London, it was the British Labour Party’s Margaret Beckett who got it hardest, firstly over Labour Party support for Trident replacement. Secondly, after the panel had promoted public opinion making itself heard, another questioner or commentator said that the Blair government didn’t listen to public opinion in relation to Iraq, so why should it be any different in future? In the UK context I would regard not replacing Trident as a smart move (a smart non-bomb); save an enormous amount of money which can be used for health and social services, make the world a safer place, and get rid of a dangerous and useless, anachronistic weapon. Just who would the UK nuke???????

I felt that the Global Zero chair was somewhat simplistic, and western-oriented, in counting global warming and nuclear weapons as the two major world issues; what about poverty and hunger, and ‘ordinary’ war? Or the effect on ordinary people worldwide of the lack of human rights? Obviously I agree global warming and nuclear weapons are up there in the top few issues needing tackled but at the moment people are dying and suffering massively from the other issues I mention.

The film did convey a number of disturbing facts. Some were about the fallout (geddit!) from the breakup of the USSR. A specialist Georgian police unit intercepts annually an average of two or three illegal shipments (well, small amounts but it only takes relatively small amounts) of highly enriched uranium which are for sale or being sold on the black market. Seeing Robert Oppenheimer, biggest daddy of the bomb, opining on matters nuclear was also fascinating. The breakdown of options for those wanting to acquire nuclear weapons was useful; steal, buy or build. And how many skilled people (with the right knowledge) you would need to DIY: 25. There are currently around 23,000 nuclear warheads compared to 60,000 at the height of the Old War, I mean Cold War. The facts of the effect of nuclear explosions are astounding but well known, though perhaps half forgotten, to those of us graduates of the anti-nuclear movement, but worth showing.

Global Zero does not take a position on nuclear power, presumably a strategic decision to maximise its impact due to the widespread nature of nuclear power (which can be the source of uranium for enrichment to build a bomb). But as nuclear plant accidents have shown, nuclear power can be just as dangerous a source of lethal radiation. So let’s ban the bomb and ban the nuclear plants as well.....

Kader Asmal
I was sad to hear of the death of Kader Asmal. For me he represented everything that Ireland had to gain from immigration; a towering intellect and presence, despite his small physical stature, and complete commitment to human rights and human progress, here and abroad. Those of a certain age in Ireland reading this are likely to remember him well. Of course he is best known internationally as respectively minister for water, and then minister for education, in the first two democratic governments in South Africa following the end of the apartheid system in 1994. In these roles he played a very constructive role in his native country which, alas, still has many problems, most stemming from poverty.

He was a founder of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain and then, when he came to Ireland, of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement in the early ‘sixties, and also of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties in 1976. My mother and myself would have been rather different politically but I was always proud of her interaction with Kader Asmal. She was one of the organisers for a meeting speaking about apartheid in a town ‘somewhere in Ireland’, and my mother was both very impressed by him, and his arguments, and simultaneously horrified by some of the racist reactions he received locally. She was so impressed that, a year of two later when I went to college where Kader Asmal was lecturing in law, she requested that he become my tutor (the person ‘in loco parentis’) which he did, despite the fact that he was in a different faculty to where I studied. On our first meeting coming to college he told me of the services a tutor could provide, such as getting bail......fortunately, despite various questionings by the constabulary when I was engaged in the cause of peace, I never had to take him up on that offer.

Kader Asmal flew the flag of justice for South Africa, more than that that he played a prominent role in working for democracy and human rights, and one achievement for the new South Africa has certainly been in relation to the latter. But he also played an important role in Ireland, not just conscientising us about the injustice of the apartheid regime but standing up for civil liberties and human rights in Ireland when they were strongly under attack due primarily to the Northern Ireland conflict (and secondarily due to a conservative political system). He was a remarkable man with remarkable achievements in different countries as well as internationally and I remember him with affection and also pride that I knew him. May he rest in peace.

You can read Fintan O’Toole’s Irish Times piece on Kader Asmal.

The marching season
I’ve written about the marching season in Norn Iron a number of times before. It always has been and is likely always to be divisive, not everywhere all the time but in some places some of the time and it is those that get the publicity. I think it’s a shame that Protestant and Unionist culture in Northern Ireland should come to be represented by military-style parading, since as someone into peace and nonviolence that is anathema to me, whoever does it – loyalist or republican. But most parades are unionist, Protestant, and in fact Orange (though there are the ‘Black’ men – Royal Black Institution and then the Apprentice Boys of Derry as well – note ‘of Derry’ not ‘Londonderry’. You can find plenty of information and misinformation about these on the web).

However, when I say that it is a shame that Protestant and Unionist culture ‘should come to be’ represented by these orders, most Northern Prods would not touch them with a bargepole, for a variety of reasons; they may be seen as irrelevant, outdated, sectarian, and for some evangelicals even unchristian (dubious rituals in a secret society and lack of adherence to perceived evangelical tenets). There may also be no social or economic or employment advantage to being involved, in the new era in Norn Iron. Long, long gone are the days when being a loyal Prod, with all that entailed, meant you were likely to get a job handed to you in shipbuilding or the linen industry.

Relatively small as the Orange Order may now be – possibly 30,000 active members in Northern Ireland – and much smaller than it was, presumably because of perceived irrelevance – it is likely to stick around for quite some time. There are still Orange lodges in the border counties of the Republic and even one in Dublin. I always wonder about whether institutions can live up to their own sets of rules or beliefs; the Orange Order includes the tenet of standing for ‘civil and religious liberty for all’. Ah, wouldn’t it be interesting if that included, as it should if we take ‘all’ literally, supporting the rights of Catholics! The Williamite victory in Ireland over James at the end of the seventeenth century certainly did not establish ‘civil and religious liberty for all’, as Orangemen may claim, but only for Protestants. Catholics had to wait a long time to get their share of the liberty pie.

The classic tongue-in-cheek song about marching in Norn Iron is Colum Sands’ old one, Marching Season (from The March Ditch album, available to download or on CD) where he proposes a marching stadium where people could march to their heart’s content and not annoy others. This is amusing but actually not for the real world because marching is about claiming and marking territory – obviously why many Catholics object. It’s a well crafted song – “Last night I awoke with a thought in my head/ Instead of four seasons we have five instead / Somewhere inside of where summer should be / Is the season of marching for marching must be..........Each year the fifth season’s easily forecast / Don’t look at the weather map, look at the past / Temperature’s high, tolerance low / If you’ve somewhere to go it’s the right time to go ........[And when the stadium’s built] There’d be seating for tourists to sit and to stare / In our wonderful heritage they’d have a share / And a fiver a seat isn’t money in vain / To travel three centuries down memory lane.........Riot facilities would be provided / Dressing rooms could be hired, mixed or divided / And to really pull in massive crowd we could hope / For annual concerts by Queen and the Pope....!
- - - - - -

Well, there I was bemoaning the weather last issue, I could do lots more be moaning this month too, and midsummer has already passed us by. Oh woe, oh woe, achone and a groan. My outdoor courgettes, covered with plastic to protect them when small, look like they have been hibernating, just starting to come out of it very recently. Well, always look on the bright side, it’s easier to get your head showered in the summer if it’s raining.....and think of the time you save watering the houseplants or the garden cos it’s wet and the sun ain’t shining. [That’s a pretty pathetic bright side – Ed] [Well, the water barrel can be seen as half full as well as half empty though actually it’s overflowing...] I do wish you a good rest wherever you are, and I’ll see you again when the autumn is well and truly here and schools are restarting in September (get that into your scoil). And that, unfortunately, is the time of year I like least – work schedules reasserting themselves after some lazier, if not hazier, days of summer. When back into the routine it’s bearable but the transition, I hate it. But for now, some holliers beckon and I wish you all the very best recharging those batteries,

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).

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