An inconvenient atom bomb explosion

Spoken in the House of Commons in 1952:

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of further information available, he will order a new inquiry to be made into the dangers to bird and animal life on the Monte Bello islands before the atom bomb explosion is carried out there.

No, Sir.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the recent answer he gave in the House on this question was more picturesque than accurate? Is he also aware that the leading Australian ornithologist has said that there are at least 20 different kinds of wild birds on these islands, and is nothing to be done to prevent this bird life from being blasted out of existence?

Every effort will be made to inconvenience them as little as possible.

hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1952-07-24/debates/665c1db3-fb2e-4991-9e7d-e3c3bd1c11f5/AtomExplosionMonteBelloIslands

Don’t send boilerplate letters to politicians

Don’t ask supporters to send standardised letters to politicians, but to write in their own words.Sometimes organisations ask you to click on a link to send a pre-written email to politicians supporting some campaign or other.  Alternatively, they provide the words for a letter asking one to send it.  I have been told a couple of times that politicians ignore these standardised letters.  I’ve just seen the following text from the debate in the Commons about air strikes on Syria in 2013:

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)

 

My constituents’ instinct is also against any direct UK military action. Like, I am sure, all my colleagues throughout the House, I have received not just form e-mails sent by some lobbying organisation but individually composed e-mails showing the strength of feeling and fear that lie in the British population. Having said that, and despite feeling strongly that my constituents’ instincts and my own should be followed, what I have seen on the television and experienced through reports of what has gone on in Syria has struck at the very fabric of my being. However, I am unclear about our response and our objectives. What are punitive strikes? Will they send a message to Assad to use it or lose it when it comes to chemical weapons? What will be the reactions of other countries? What are the capabilities of the people who may be deployed in support of Syria? There are still many questions that need to be answered.

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2013-08-29/debates/1308298000001/SyriaAndTheUseOfChemicalWeapons#contribution-13082928000036

No reduction in defence spending until at least June 2022

As part of Theresa May’s £1 billion deal to buy the support of the DUP so she can stay in power, defence spending will be at least maintained until the next general election.

Link: www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-40245514

So there’s not much point campaigning for any kind of reduction for the next four or five years.

Specifically: “On defence, the parties have said they will ensure they meet the NATO commitment of spending two per cent of GDP on the armed forces, as well as committing to the Armed Forces Covenant. They will also look at ways to support reserve forces in Northern Ireland.”  UK GDP is just over £2,000,000 million, 2% of that is about £40,000,000,000 or about £750,000,000 per week.

Note that it is 2% of the Gross Domestic Product which is the entire output of the economy, not 2% of the tax income, nor 2% of government expenditure.

What do we learn from history? That we are repeating it.

It’s funny where voluntary work can take you.

Yesterday I was helping someone put together words for inclusion in a United Nations report, responding to Human Rights Council resolution 20/2, proposing conscientious objection to military taxation be considered a form of military service thereby including it under article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1998/77 can then be used to advocate people be permitted to say they want the military part of their tax to be spent on peacebuilding.

Meanwhile Donald Trump is getting around human rights legislation and treaties by recreating the CIA’s secret overseas detention and interrogation centres for unrecorded and untried undesirables.  Their “black site” prisons where they humiliated, tortured, murdered and detained people without trial for years.

It must take an awful lot of volunteers to overcome the work of one powerful man’s pen.

It’s topical because I’ve been learning about the history of the SA, SD, SS, Gestapo, Gefepo and other Nazi tools of security and oppression.  They were granted authority above the law by order of the top executive.  Just like Donald Trump is about to do for the CIA.

Remember what they say about absolute power?  It corrupts absolutely.

Chilcot, briefly

At the most sympathetic interpretation, the second Gulf War was initiated on poor quality intelligence, incomplete intelligence, contrary to evidence-based failure to find WMDs, an overly-keen desire to initiate war, a premature decision to initiate war, a lack of collaborative decision making and not listening to objections and alternatives.

So, it should not have been initiated.

Tony Blair is a war-monger.

I don’t think we learned anything we did not know already.

There’s also no discussion going on about alternatives – which is what I have been feeling and saying for years.  Stop looking for reasons to go to war – which is what happened here – but instead look for evidence-based, properly-researched, alternatives.

Is western philosophy inherently violent?

I’m studying philosophy (“should war criminals should be punished for crimes committed half a century or more ago?”  “what we ought or ought not to do”  “what brings about the greatest possible amount of happiness in the world?”  ought we fight for our country if it is under threat?” “political obligations: can I just opt out? When did I opt in?“) as part of my custom Peace Studies degree.  But sometimes the best material comes not from text books but from unexpected sources.

A favourite web cartoon strip is Dead Philosophers in Heaven.  In the comments below the strip about Machiavelli: immoral sociopath or satirist?, is this:

Machiavelli’s The Prince just describes the fact that there is no state or nation in history that hasn’t been founded on massive violence.  Arguably creating the biggest, fattest, ugliest paradox of western political philosophy.  He also lets us know that any state at least partially dependant on consent, if it’s going to last, is going to have to learn how to deceive its citizenry.

Ouch!

Confidence in our leaders

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that the RAF would move to round-the-clock bombing raids and taunted the terrorists that they will enjoy no respite at Christmas.
Daily Mail.

I wonder if someone should tell him IS are Moslem extremists and, as such, probably don’t book a week off for Christmas to scoff pigs in blankets and quaff sherry.

Still, I shouldn’t be nasty.  Peace and good will to all men, and all that.

“We were only following (the UN’s) orders.”

Another OU student made this observation on his blog:

The whole Authoritarianism thing a complete area on its own as there is a definite case of further investigation needed into why socially superior society accepts these individuals as authority.

which prompted these thoughts:

I did a Coursera course on international criminal law which talked about how the “I was only following orders” defence was challenged at the Nuremberg Trials and created a precedent for international justice by rejecting it.  I find that whole history—from Nuremberg to modern day decisions about what legal action can be taken across borders—fascinating.  We now have continental courts of justice and war trials procedures and all sorts of good stuff to improve the safety and security of (most) everyone on the planet from abuses by their own government.

But the pendulum seems to have swung the other way from the principal established in the mid-1600s of sovereign states having absolute control of internal affairs, (“Westphalian Sovereignty”) to NATO saying the Westphalian principles are undemocratic and humanity is not relevant and then Tony Bliar simply called it anachronistic and that you can therefore attack who you like with impunity which, it appears, he could.

When I take a step back and look at the last 1,000 years of European history, it seems in this past 20 years we have undone the work of the preceding 350 in a supposed pursuit of justice on behalf of the citizens of other countries.  We have scrapped the idea of governments killing their own citizens and replaced it with it being OK to kill the civilians of other countries.

The victims of the Nazis got justice (as much was practically possible, anyway) at Nuremberg.  But where do civilians killed by Western airstrikes get their justice?  As Hilary Benn said yesterday: “Ve are only folloving ze orders of ze United Nations!”

So that’s all right then.

As for accepting authority, the Milgram Experiment was the one where unwitting volunteers were talked into electrocuting people to death because the bloke in the white coat told them to.

When Hilary Benn¹ gave his speech, the bit about “We are only following a UN mandate” was the bit that won over the MPs: knowledge that whatever happens, not only does their collective responsibility mean they are only a tiny bit to blame if things go wrong, it was all the UN’s idea anyway.  They can vote for war and airstrikes that will kill civilians² with impunity.

Maybe that right there is a very good argument for our elected representatives to be held responsible for their actions, not just those of countries we don’t like, and I don’t mean at the ballot box.  Maybe we should be sending our war criminals to trial as a lesson to the others.  Maybe the MPs will cheer less than they did last night when they voted for war.

 

¹ The son of Tony Benn, the man who said “When there is a great cry that something should be done, you can depend on it that something remarkably silly probably will be done“.

² The first targets are to be oil fields and related infrastructure.  These are operated by civilians.  (Why weren’t these destroyed over a year ago?  Oh, yeah, the oil has to keep flowing, doesn’t it?  Even if it is bankrolling Islamic State.  Until it ends up all over the media that Israel and Turkey are cheerfully buying it for sale to the world market.  But it’s not all about oil, oh no…)