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Billy King


Nonviolence News



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

Number 203: October 2012

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Trident - for the dustbin!

It is amazing the power of economics. It can bring governments to their knees, ousting them or making them unelectable (in the case of Fianna Fail, certainly for some considerable time if not longer). Currently it can justify squeezing the poor in some countries while the rich remain relatively unscathed because they are ‘wealth creators’. Regarding the nearest weapons of mass destruction to Ireland, in Britain it can raise the possibility of the UK nuclear ‘deterrent’ (whatever that means) being reduced to a ‘wheel it out when seen to be needed status’ and the UK no longer having 24/7 nuclear strike capacity – though given the need for US assistance in targeting, this is a bit of a myth at the moment as well.

The British government military review may suggest downgrading Trident from being a 24/7 activated system (a Trident nuclear submarine at sea all the time) to a nuclear weapons capability which actually took some time to get out and activate. We do not accept the doctrine of nuclear deterrence but, well over two decades after the Iron Curtain rusted away, the powers that be in Britain might finally be realising that there is no justification whatsoever for the current nuclear weapons capability which is, in any case, a legacy of Britain’s imperial past. Even the military and their supporters in Britain realise there is no credible nuclear threat to them of any major kind and therefore no justification for the current system. So even in the thinking of the military minded the current system is useless and unjustifiable. We, however, would go much further and say there is no justification for nuclear weapons or indeed for NATO itself.

The bad news, however, is the UK would remain a nuclear power if these proposals come to pass; there are various possibilities for a new system which could involve launching from air, sea or land depending on what is agreed. Some possibilities would have a time delay before the possibility of warhead use, based on the assumption that any military crisis which might necessitate (sic) the threat or use of nuclear weapons would take some time to develop. The good news would be, for the people of the UK, that a new system might not be as mind-bogglingly expensive as replacement of Trident by another 24/7 system – though expensive it would certainly be.

Trident and Trident replacement should be for the dustbin. The UK has no need of it, nor do the poor who are being increasingly squeezed as the Tory government takes from them. What strength Britain has comes from the character of its people and what commitment it has (a subject open to debate) for poverty alleviation and human rights at a global level. The power that grows from the barrel of a gun or a gunboat or Trident submarine – or replacement by some other nuclear weapons delivery system - is power over other people for mutually assured mass killing and not power for positive change. Trident and Trident-replacement should, metaphorically, be allowed to sink to the depths of the ocean where they belong.

Power corrupts

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” said John Acton and there is a terrible truth about that. It might be thought of as a tendency rather than a law of nature but we see so often in politics, and even in war, the way that power which arises to combat evil and repression can develop to be as evil as, or more evil than, the power it replaced. Stalin and Mao Zedong (Tse-Tong) set out with many idealistic intentions and personally suffered for the cause but the suffering that they subsequently inflicted when in dictatorial power themselves was far greater than anything they agitated against. Where there is no restraining code of morality or ethics then there is a tendency for people to do what they can get away with. At a more personal level we have recently seen, through the revelations about sex abuse by British media personality Jimmy Savile (who died a year ago), the way that ‘new power’ (in the case of Savile, a media saint) can be just as exploitative and violent as old power (e.g. sex abuse by priests or others in authority in Ireland). There are many different kinds of power.

It may seem simplistic to juxtapose the examples in the previous paragraph or to promulgate a short response. But there arises the responsibility which we have to oppose violence and exploitation of all kinds in our society. No, we do not live in Stalinist Russia or Mao’s China but we do live in a society which is similar to the one in which Jimmy Savile flourished – a society where image often counts for more than reality, and image can buy you power and allow injustice. Awareness of the sexual abuse of young people, and the right they have to grow up without such violence, has developed very considerably over the last few decades; it is to be expected that awareness of other rights and freedoms will grow in the decades to come.

The answer to the abuse of power is of course to build a ‘bolshie’ society (a term derived from the Russian ‘Bolshevik’) not in the sense of Stalinism or even being obstreperous but one where everyone is strong in standing up for their rights. This necessitates both a human rights culture and a nonviolent one. Applying a human rights approach at different levels of society, as well as nationally and internationally, is time-consuming and hard work but essential and rewarding. And it needs to be backed up by nonviolence as an active way to seek justice but also an approach which recognises the needs and humanity of the opponent – the opposite of a violent approach which disregards, scapegoats, misrepresents, nullifies and even obliterates the opponent.

There is nothing wrong with power. Power as such is neither positive nor negative. The judgement comes regarding what kind of power is exercised and to what ends. The fact that we all have power, and can exercise it, is a central tenet of nonviolence and also relates closely to human rights which emphasises that everyone, but everyone, has certain rights which cannot be taken from them (well, they can be taken from them in practice but they still remain their rights). The old slogan ‘Power to the people’ might seem simplistic but it is part of what we are about; if power in the sense of centralised power tends to corrupt then there has to be a strong counterpoised weight of people power.

- - - - - -


Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

The Covenant

A number of incidents over the past three months highlight what religion means for untold millions. In August three members of a feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years imprisonment by a Moscow court for hooliganism after being arrested for singing a political song inside a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. In September there were riots in 14 Islamic countries in response to the anti-Islamic film The Innocence of Muslims. Fatalities included the U.S. ambassador for Libya who was killed in an attack on his embassy. (The Guardian, 15.09.2012) In Northern Ireland there were three consecutive nights of rioting in North Belfast as a result of a Royal Black Institution band playing music outside St. Patrick’s Church offending local Catholics. (The Irish Times, 4.09.2012) In Nigeria there were almost weekly bombings, shootings and riots between Muslims and Christians. In Plateau state 50 church goers were killed in July as they sought refuge in their pastor’s house. The annual reports by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom show how widespread inter-religious violence is.

Although a lot of inter-religious violence is about access to economic resources and opportunities, much of it is about identity and intolerance. Given that non-violence and compassion are the central teachings of the world’s major faiths, religious inspired violence speaks of the acute lack of awareness proponents of violence have about the cardinal tenets of their faith. Environmental destruction, and passivity in regard to it, is an equally stark theological contradiction.

Belief in the sacredness of the Old Testament is shared by the religions of the book. In Genesis God asks Noah to save two representatives of every species. This illustrates that God not only values human beings but biodiversity in its entirety. It also shows that God was neither passive nor apathetic in the face of the ecological catastrophe that the Flood would bring but acted to avert mass extinction. A clear message of the Noah story is that God values humans and nonhumans equally. God says to Noah:

“This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations. I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth."

In the Noah story the Earth has relevance and its environmental plight addressed. Today we are in the midst of an unfolding ecological catastrophe in the form of the mass extinction of species and global warming. Both are caused by ignorance, avarice and indifference. If we behaved towards our environment as God does in Genesis 9, which interestingly tells us that God regretted flooding the Earth, then we would behave with compassion towards other species and live a low-carbon life-style. If the fervour people feel about their religion encouraged them to behave as God asked Noah to then it is possible that in time the Earth would become a paradise for all species. Instead of people becoming martyrs for their religion, or heroes for their country, they should dedicate their lives to the wellbeing of the entire handiwork of their Creator.

In the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant it is appropriate to reflect about the Covenant we have with nonhuman nature and take steps, individually and collectively, to live in harmony with it. Science tells us that we can’t live without a healthy ecosystem. If we are to prevent the ecological crises we have created from drowning, smothering and starving us then we need to stop living unthinkingly, marching as we do in-step to the drum beat of economic and cultural orthodoxies.

If the religious read their sacred texts carefully they would realise that God cares about all life-forms, not just humanity, and that we are mandated to be good neighbours with the community of all living things. An example from Belfast of what can be achieved at a local level is the transformation of a dumping ground in Poleglass into a thriving community allotment providing healthy food and a sense of meaning and purpose to the gardeners. (Belfast Telegraph, 26.09. 2012) The ‘good news’ is we are empowered to take initiatives.

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