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Billy King: Rites Again

Billy King

Number 205: December 2012

[Return to the related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Thus was it ever
It was the first time in life to buy the Scottish tabloid paper the “Daily Record” (9th November 2012), complete with red poppy in the masthead. But there it was staring at me in the Belfast Europa bus centre: “Don’t mention the war – Recruiting officers told not to warn would-be soldiers about the true horrors of life in Army” (British Army that is).

It went on: “The Scots soldiers say they were told to hide the horrors of war from the potential recruits. Those who refused in disgust to follow the orders have been taken off recruitment duties and sent back to their barracks to face disciplinary action.” One recruiter who refused orders to lie said he was told by an officer “Don’t tell them the truth, let them find out the hard way – the way we did.” It also says “The claims come at a time when the Army is struggling to recruit – despite the worst recession since the 1920s.” And a recruitment soldier was quoted as saying “We’ve been told to tell people what they want to hear.....We were ordered not to tell them what happens in Afghanistan and tell them ‘big, pink fluffy things’ instead. They also claimed new instructions to them this summer “include telling youngsters they will get a trade – when they will only serve as infantry.” The article concluded by talking about the shift from “Be the Best” commercials showing soldiers in the thick of combat to “begin your adventure” – “We offer the opportunity to travel abroad, take part in extreme sports and build friendships that last a lifetime.” So would ‘abroad’ be Afghanistan, ‘extreme sports’ include shooting at people and being shot at, and ‘a lifetime’ be very short?

Those of you who remember Michael Moore’s film portrayal (Fahrenheit 9/11, 2004) of recruiting officers in the USA know that it is exactly the same thing there; trying to persuade disadvantaged young people to join up to advance their prospects. It was always thus. Recruiting officers are at best economical with the truth and at worst lying by both omission and commission (talking of what training you’ll get joining up when that is highly uncertain, or there may be strings attached about serving longer if you do get the training you want). The 19th century Irish song ‘Arthur McBride’ takes apart the lies of the recruiting officer:

“But had we been such fools as to take the advance
The wee bit of money we'd have to run chance,
Do you think it no scruples for to send us to France
Where we would be killed in the morning.”

I would not advocate the low level violent response Arthur McBride and his cousin get up to with the recruiting sergeant, corporal and drummer but I would advocate exposing, by every nonviolent means possible, the lies and wiles of army recruiters. The slogan may seem a bit simplistic but there is also truth in “Suppose they started a war and no one turned up”. Soldiers are still a building block of war though with technological advances they may increasingly not even be on the battlefield but controlling a drone thousands of miles away. Of course they are victims or potential victims too and taking the king’s shilling (payment for when you sign up) is putting your wellbeing and life on the line.

Hanna’s House keeping well
I’m not going to give a complete view of the Hanna’s House seminar in Dublin in early November on ‘Women Delivering Peace and Security”, UNSCR 1325, though if you want one you can read Máiréad Collins’ piece and you can also see a few photies on the INNATE photo site . Meanwhile hwww.hannashouse.ie includes the video shown to the seminar on ‘Women’s experience of conflict’ (in relation to Northern Ireland). However I will make a few points.

At this point Hanna’s House itself will be going into reflective mode to decide its next steps, and will share those reflections with a wider audience. I think it’s an important project and area of work for a variety of reasons. Trying to build peace on this island without the full engagement of women in every aspect of that enterprise is a ridiculous concept for a number of reasons, not just numerical. While rejecting the ‘natural peacemaker’ image of women it has to be pointed out that women are and have been the backbone of many, many community and other groups and community enterprises during the whole period of the Troubles and since. While the point was well put from the floor at the seminar that women were engaged in the peace process from other parties, the Women’s Coalition did make an important contribution to getting and working through agreement around the time of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. Peace processes are typically top-down, as Christine Chinkin pointed out; women can help to build the groundswell. And as Prof Chinkin stated, only 16% of peace agreements have reference to women beyond very general equality clauses, and that is a sad opportunity lost.

The spirit of UNSCR (United Nations Standing Committee Resolution) 1325 and subsequent resolutions would indicate that women should, in Ireland, be equal participants to men in all peacebuilding and North-South developments. While the relatively recent Irish NAP (National Action Plan, launched November 2101, see NN 195) does at least pay some attention to the issue of the North, the British plan deliberately rejected the inclusion of the big conflict on the UK’s doorstep from inclusion. And that decision could be accused of being both patronising and patriarchal, as if saying ‘those foreigners need the involvement of women in building peace but we’re superior to that’. Thus was the elephant in that room ignored.

Michael D Higgins in his talk at the opening of the seminar did refer to the gender work of Irish Aid (the development wing of the Irish government) and they certainly deserve credit for their being on the ball on that, and Michael D himself has had a long term awareness of the issues and the importance of the work. But Seán Barrett TD, Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, did his gender of politicians no favours by clearly demonstrating his lack of understanding of the issues. Claire Hackett, however, pointed clearly to the harms against women in the Troubles and the fact that not recognising gendered harms hides injustice, and Monica McWilliams dealt with unanswered issues of domestic violence and asked what do constitutions do to or for women.

Fiona Buckley, in analysing women in politics showed that in Norn Iron women candidates, barring those for the DUP, usually got more votes than men. The Republic is at last introducing gender quotas for national elections; at least 30% of candidates from political parties should be women, and at least 30% men, rising to 40% in seven years. However one real weakness she pointed to was the fact that these quotas don’t apply at a local level where politicians learn the ropes and hone their skills, if that is the right word.

I look forward to what comes out of Hanna’s House thinking for the next part of the journey.

Arms and the manpower
Belfast arms manufacturer Thales (once Shorts Missile Systems) recently announced the loss of 50 jobs over the next year out of its Norn Iron workforce of 500 due to the downturn in the so-called ‘defence’ sector. See the website. Job losses are highly regrettable for those concerned and military spending may be cut worldwide in the current recession but its enormous deleterious effect on human security and development is covered in an International Peace Bureau publication mentioned in this issue. Does Thailand – whose army recently signed a deal for Starstreak ‘made in Norn Iron’ missiles – really need them?

The highly uncritical BBC report (reference above) says the Thai deal “stemmed from the missile's successful deployment during the London Olympics in August, where it served as a deterrent to air attack by terrorist groups.” Did it really? Or was it overkill? And if the UK wasn’t involved in wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan would anyone be thought to even consider attacking London from the air during the Olympics?

Unfortunately in an environment where skilled jobs are scarce, armaments manufacturers are usually welcomed with open arms (sic(k)...). We cannot agree with East Belfast MLA Michael Copeland that the posts being lost are “precisely the type of jobs we should be creating in Northern Ireland.” They are precisely the kind of jobs that should not be created in Northern Ireland. Of course skilled engineering jobs are needed, and very considerable imagination, perspicacity and dedication are needed in developing these. But they should be in fields and for purposes which advance the betterment of humanity and not the batterment of the poorest of the poor world and giving dodgy dictatorships the means to defend themselves (Thales don’t release the countries they export to but if you can name 56 countries that are likely to receive their arms and not include dodgy and repressive regimes then you’re doing better in the international knowledge stakes than me).

Derry showed the way in chucking out Raytheon. Thales has a much bigger, and longer, presence in Belfast. But who can be proud of a blot on the name of a city which refused to engage in the slave trade? International arms companies out! - - - - - -

Before we finish, I’m told the English language spell check on this issue suggested ‘heroin’ as an option for “hÉireann” as in Bunreacht na hÉireann. That’s the way these days.

Well, here we are almost at the end of another year, the Christmas holidays beckoning, and I’m still waiting for last summer to arrive. I wish you all the very best with the recharging of batteries – your own as well as for your children’s toys – and, as always, I would sincerely like to wish you a Preposterous New Year (it certainly won’t be prosperous, that’s for sure). I’ll see you again soon, when 2013 is already well underway, at the start of February by which time the days have perceptibly started to get longer again..... Yours, 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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