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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 138: April 2006

Also in this editorial:

The ‘Long War’, the long struggle

As US authorities rebrand ‘the war on terror’ as ‘the Long War’, our thoughts go back to George Orwell’s 1984 and the attempt to control thought through manipulating language and what words can be used. In this case, it is to attempt to direct thought through a concept which, they hope, will be seared into the consciousness of US and world citizens. The concept of “the war on terror” was a brilliant one from the US neoconservatives because it labelled anyone you made war on as terrorists (though, to quote Chris Patton, “you don’t make war on improper nouns”) – so that even today the majority of US soldiers fighting in Iraq believe that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were central to 9/11. The concept of the ‘Long War’ goes further in exhorting perpetual military vigilance and action.

Make no mistake about it, if the USA says a ‘long war’ they mean a long, long war. The US ‘defense’ budget requested for 2007 is $513 billion dollars, or, to give it the noughts the figure deserves, $513,000,000,000. The document (of the Pentagon’s 4-yearly review which has been presented to Congress) states that “The US will work to ensure that all major and emerging powers are integrated as constructive actors and stakeholders into the international system. It will seek to ensure that no foreign power can dictate the terms of regional or global security.” Here, by “international system” it clearly does not mean the international system of the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and so, but its international system of NATO and other alliances. And by denying any foreign power to dictate the terms of regional or global security it seeks to continue to dictate those terms itself.

The whole strategy is misplaced. The idea that in the USA they “face a ruthless enemy intent on destroying our way of life” is pure fantasy, 9/11 notwithstanding. It is clear that if the USA was not involved militarily in Muslim countries then Al Qaeda would not have attacked the USA. It apparently does not occur to the US administration that the reason some people wish to attack the USA is precisely because of its international military role. Certainly many in the world are not too gone on the US ‘way of life’ but it is a case of some people in the world discovering the USA as a ruthless enemy intent on destroying their way of life.

The implications for the peace movement, the human rights movement, and so on, are profound. The US seems to have learned little from its intervention in Iraq which has not only made a bad situation many times worse but has swelled the ranks of military Islamists enormously. Of course it may seek to avoid the kind of situation it has currently become bogged down in throughout much of Iraq but the fast military reactions which its strategy envisages will not necessarily have the outcomes desired by the US – and may lead to more “Iraqs”. This may mean peace and human rights movements have to work on such gross abuses that other important work gets ignored or is unable to develop.

It is of course possible that when George Bush’s term of office is up in a couple of years a less militant US president may direct policy in a slightly different direction. Bush’s policy on Iraq is now very unpopular in the US. But it is most likely that it will be a cosmetic change where the US will still try to exert global hegemony but without the wilder and more blatant military excesses of the likes of the Iraq war.

Integral to the USA’s strategy is cooperation with its NATO and other allies. This, apart from any other reason, is why the creeping NATO-isation of Europe should be resisted, and why Irish involvement in any way with NATO and its surrogates must also be resisted. Meanwhile, Bertie Ahern and the Irish government can hang their heads in shame that they have provided, and continue to provide, the one facility in Ireland which has been of military use to the USA in its ‘war of terror’ – Shannon airport.

If the USA was less belligerent globally, and used just a fraction of its $513 billion military budget to deal with global warming, lack of safe drinking water, and fair trade, to name just a few major global concerns, they might discover that their ‘enemies’ became real friends and they could sleep safer in their beds in the knowledge that they had done something constructive in and for the world. The strategy of the ‘Long War’ will lead to yet more misery and death.

Chernobyl 20

To say controversy has been raging might be an overstatement, but there has been a lively debate in the Irish and international media about the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, twenty years ago (26th April 1986). The two takes on the effects of Chernobyl are simply poles apart – in one case the estimates of the numbers killed differ by a factor of 10,000 - the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and World Health Organisation (WHO) say only 50 deaths can be attributed directly to the Chernobyl accident while new research states up to 500,000 may have died.

The research which came up with the much higher figures is collated from a whole range of scientific studies but there are problems in being definitive when some deaths and illnesses could have other or multi-causal origins. Increased poverty after the fall of the Soviet Union is one factor here. But how can you possibly explain the fact that one third of newborn children in the Rivne region of Ukraine, 310 miles west of Chernobyl, have deformities, mostly internal (‘Guardian’, 25th March 2006). That cannot be put down to poverty. And a University of Hiroshima study has concluded that birth defects in Belarus have nearly doubled since 1986. Many cancers from radiation exposure do not develop for a couple of decades so we may only now be approaching the peak of cancers caused by the Chernobyl disaster.

The Chernobyl explosion is a lasting testimony to the danger of nuclear power. We are fortunate that, among the many accidents at Windscale/Sellafield, nothing as catastrophic developed or Ireland (and of course Britain) would be in the same position as Belarus and Ukraine. At a time when nuclear power is being touted as an answer to global warming (see the Billy King column in Nonviolent News 137 – which also showed nuclear power as unsustainable) it is important to stress that while modern nuclear plants may be ‘safer’ than older ones, the technology has enormous inherent risks and ‘human error’ or action can be an important contributory factor. Every stage of nuclear energy from mining through to storage of waste is dangerous. The IAEA in its assessment of Chernobyl is acting less as a watchdog on the nuclear industry and more of a lapdog of it.

The answer to global warming, of course, is not to do nothing or do it so slowly that it makes virtually no difference (an approach most countries including Ireland and the UK seem to have adopted) but a massive and sustained renewable energy drive harnessing every possible means and level of society.

The numbers behind the Chernobyl tragedy are uncertain but logically, anecdotally, and from other research, the number of deaths would seem to be much much greater than the IAEA/WHO figures. However the massive human tragedy and suffering involved, continuing unabated today, is not uncertain. If we want to remember all those who have suffered through the Chernobyl disaster we should be working for a nuclear-power free world. We should also be supporting Chernobyl children’s projects in their work to assist the people, and particularly the children, whose misfortune has been to live in the dark, dark shadow of Chernobyl.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:

Enlightened Legislation

With government departments north and south of the border intent on pursuing what is euphuistically called development, at the expense of the quality of life and the health of nonhuman nature, eco-minded citizens welcome the announcement on the 16 March by N.I. Minister of the Environment, Dick Roche, of ‘Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines’. The guidelines ban new housing in the countryside with a few exceptions. There is a 12-week public consultation period before the policy becomes law. In the meantime the policy is being applied in order to prevent the Planning Department from becoming over-whelmed by applications.

The statistics with regard to the building of new housing in the countryside are depressing. According to Jeff Rooker, the North’s Minister for Rural Development, the number of rural planning approvals has soared from 1,790 in 1991 to 9,520 in 2004, with indications that the latest annual figure will be well over 12,000. This, Rooker stated, is equivalent to a town the size as Ballymena, and three times the combined total of England, Scotland and Wales. In the Republic the number of one-off houses in the countryside is approximately 32,000 a year, which is equivalent to roughly 10 times that of the whole of Britain. As Friends of the Earth, and other environmental organisations point out, new houses in the countryside cause a number of environmental problems. These include car dependency, water pollution from septic tanks, degradation of the landscape through hedge removal and tree-felling, and light pollution with many dwellings lit up like Christmas trees at night disturbing the habits of wildlife. In addition to these eco-costs, new houses impose financial costs on the wider community through the provision of school transport, drainage infrastructure, and an increase in the number and scale of road repairs. The policy, known as PPS 14, does allow for new houses to be built in villages and towns, provided they are within village and town boundaries.

Except for the Green Party, politicians across the political spectrum oppose PSS 14. They argue that it will have a detrimental affect on the rural economy. This is not likely to be the case as new residents don’t create employment, and most do their shopping in town rather than village shops. Another point made by those who object to the policy is that there were twice as many houses in the countryside a hundred years ago than there are today, and therefore PPS 14 is against a long-standing tradition of rural living. The point this misses is that a hundred years ago few rural dwellers owned cars, polluted the night sky with lights, or rivers with chemical waste. As Frank McDonald in The Irish Times, 25 March, points out, the absence of a similar rural housing policy in the Republic means that people from the North will build rural houses in the south, as many have done in scenic parts of Donegal. Hopefully PPS 44 will prompt the authorities in the Republic to take similar action to protect their rural environment.

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