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Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –
Well, hello again. Last winter does not seem long ago and here we are in winter again, maybe because a swallow doesn’t make an Irish summer, in other words, psychologically, when ‘summer’ has been in inverted commas it makes previous seasons feel nearer. Anyway, on we go, though in kicking off I’ll share one little irony with you. Having bought a new product during the month, I spent twenty minutes removing the label, and the glue it left behind, which described how to clean the object in question! I thought irremoveable labels were a thing of the past but I have been proved wrong.
I have shared my feelings before (see here for example) about being antimilitarist and how that makes me feel about armies, soldiers and the military-industrial complex (no, the latter isn’t a psychological condition that pacifists suffer from!). However, through talking to a historian (or even an historian) during the last month I thought there might be some value in putting down succinctly what I see as antimilitarist values. Here goes.
1. Opposition to all aspects of the military and its apparatus
2. Empathy for individual soldiers and those who support them
3 .Opposition to war as a method of policy
4. Promoting and exploring nonviolent alternatives
5. Taking action regarding the economic base of militarism
6. Having a holistic vision in which violence has no place
Unfortunately the antimilitarist position is not well understood in Ireland despite the history of anti-colonial struggle and even Irish neutrality, such as it is.
November is a difficult time to be antimilitarist in Northern Ireland, in particular, because of the way the 11th November Remembrance Day happens. Given that this is largely subsumed by support for the current British military, it makes it almost impossible for an antimilitarist, like myself, to remember and even grieve for those who have died in war. Rather the very strong prevailing direction is for any remembrance and grieving to be linked to support for the current wars being fought by the British state and military, and for the military as an arm of state. Personally I think that is not only a shame but a tragedy.
INNATE has white poppies available if you should desire to make your remembrance visible in this way.
Food for thought
The modern scourge of global capitalism’s speculation in food and food and food prices is an issue that is not going to go away easily. Given that 1 in 7 people is chronically undernourished, if not starving, and billions more are struggling to make ends meet and get food on the table, it amounts to making money from the hungry and downright starving. I was pleased to see the November 2011 issue of the ‘New Internationalist’ has ‘Banking on hunger – How speculators moved into food’ as its major feature, because with this source you know you’ll be getting a good run down on the issues.
Investments in food derivatives this year stood at $126 billion compared to $3 billion in 2003. One result of capitalist speculation is price volatility but general upward movement - overall food prices went up 83% between 2003 and 2008. As Hazel Healy puts it in the issue “High prices translate directly into misery and malnutrition. In poor households in the developing world, food can account for 70 per cent of income, leaving families with stark choices. People eat fewer and less nutritious meals, cut back on healthcare and schooling....” Since the 2008 price hikes, the proportion of the world suffering from malnutrition has risen – after 37 years of progress in reducing hunger. The ‘New Internationalist’ goes on to explain some of the complexities of this new, and horrific, way for the rich to make money from the poor. And it looks at land grabs in Africa – giving two views of it, from investment firms and local communities.
The feature ends with contacts for taking action – to regulate the speculators, stop land grabs, divestment (pension divestment campaigns in France, Netherlands and California have already been successful in limiting investment in commodities), and farming for self-reliance. All of these are essential in the struggle to avoid even greater disaster for the poor people of the world and turn back the tide. Eating is not a luxury. Sufficient food for a healthy life is a basic human right and those who deprive others have got a hell of a lot of explaining to do as to how they have created hell on earth for others.
The empire strikes back
You would think in this era when slavery and colonialism are dirty words, the concept of ‘empire’ would be anathema to everyone apart from a few on the ridiculously far right. Not a bit of it. David Cameron (just one letter away from ‘Cameroon’ which was a German and then French colony) as Prime Minister of the UK is trying to bring back the ‘British Empire Medal’ (BEM), previously a plebs award for those who didn’t quite cut it class-wise. I can’t think of any greater insult than to be given an award which has ‘Empire’ in the title, it’s like saying you are a slave-owning, cruel, imperialist get, or certainly that you are pleased to be associated with this.
Richard Gott had an interesting piece in the Guardian on 19/10/11 where he quoted Tony Blair saying in 1997 he thought Britain’s empire should be the cause of “neither apology nor hand-wringing” but be used to further the country’s global influence (that is certainly the case – the UK sometimes thinks it is still the head of an empire, woops, Commonwealth).
Gott sets the record straight: the “...benign, biscuit-tin view of the past is not an understanding of their history that young people in the territories that once made up the empire would now recognise. A myriad revisionist historians have been at work in each individual country producing fresh evidence that the colonial experience......was just as horrific as the opponents of empire had always maintained that it was, perhaps more so. New generations have been recovering tales of rebellion, repression and resistance that make nonsense of the accepted imperial version of what went on.....” He then goes on to talk about Ireland and its role in the British empire, as well as the role of slavery and indentured labour. The British, wherever they sought to plant their flag “were met with opposition...the expansion of empire was conducted as a military operation....To retain control, the British were obliged to establish systems of oppression on a global scale, ranging from the sophisticated to the brutal....” You can see the full article here. Richard Gott has ‘gott’ a new book out on this topic: “Britain’s Empire: Resistance, repression and revolt”.
A president for a fair number of people
Finally, in relation to the new President of Ireland, or incoming President, if you wanted someone with a human rights perspective and commitment to peace (including opposition to the Iraq war) then Michael D was a strong choice. Groups like Irish CND and PANA welcomed his election (Irish CND’s website provides a link to a speech Michael D gave on the abolition of nuclear weapons last year, invited by Pax Christi).
So it was a good result. Once he was properly outed, a Fianna Fáil or recent Fianna Fáil running horse (Sean Gallagher) didn’t have much of a chance – despite strong backing from FF voters and others who were impressed by his “can do” attitude (the problem is that the FF approach in the recent past was more “can ‘do’ others”). And while Sinn Féin was projecting Martin McGuinness’ attempt as a great success - their percentage was up almost 4% on the last general election, however their absolute number of votes, with a lower percentage voting but with a high profile candidate, was under 23,000 more so that can hardly be considered a great triumph - unless you consider it successful that he maintained the number of votes despite all the mud that was thrown about SF’s involvement in killings and the war in the North. McGuinness basically got half the number of first preferences as the second candidate (Gallagher) and one third that of the winning candidate (Higgins). The Fine Gael candidate’s result was abject failure; neck and neck with David Norris after what happened to him.
In case there are some people who haven’t yet heard the Saw Doctors song ‘Michael D rockin’ in the Dáil’, the song was put together in Michael D’s previous incarnation though the visuals on this come from recently. You have to hand it to the Saw Doctors though; to rhyme “Michael D” with “up on his bikeldy” has to be a triumph of the English language (you may think otherwise).
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That’s it for now, next time I write Christmas will be staring us in the face, as it is Christmas musak is already assaulting us in the stores (and it does definitely feel like a commercial assault). So keep your cool though no ever listens to my somewhat unorthodox plea to put Christmas back by a week or ten days to let me catch up (That sounds much more Orthodox of you – Ed).
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).