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produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
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Last month’s edition of Nonviolent News carried news,
as every year, of the white poppies available from the Peace
Pledge Union. The season of ‘remembrance’ in Britain
and Ireland is rapidly approaching.
We all need to remember. The world wars and
the wars of the world in the twentieth century certainly need
remembering, and those who suffered and died in them. There
is nothing that should be actively forgotten, although we
cannot carry everything in our memories – there are
too many atrocities and deaths to do proper justice to the
humanity of the dead. We do have to remember the big picture
but also have, unfortunately, to select – hopefully
in a non-judgemental way – the details that we carry
But there is a problem. How things are remembered
is a key issue, and in the British tradition the British army
is an integral part of the official remembrance ceremonies
which makes remembrance also a celebration and glorification
of militarism today. This is unacceptable. It is doubly unacceptable
when we see the role that the British army played, and is
playing, in Iraq, allied to the world’s superpower.
While the Republic has made strides in remembering all Irish
who died in wars, therefore including those who died in a
British uniform, there is a danger that even this remembrance
simply celebrates all the dead uncritically. We need to remember
all the dead, both critically and respectfully, including
those who were in a British uniform or fought to rid Ireland
of British uniforms.
Some people wear both a red and a white poppy
to indicate remembrance of those who died with a real desire
for peace in the future. Some of us shy away from wearing
anything and wait for the season of remembrance to go over,
a bit like some of us wait for the Twelfth of July to disappear
into the past in the North. Some who wear a red poppy would
be totally uncritical of the British army; others wear it
as a symbol of the struggle against fascism in the Second
World War. There are a myriad of responses from both those
who wear or do not wear a red poppy.
However it is a shame that some of us are denied
the opportunity to remember because of the connections to
current militarism. Soldiers do not go out to die as such,
in general they prefer to kill rather than to be killed. And
the old adage that ‘Greater love has no man than that
he gives up his life for his friends’ is a euphemistic
red herring seeing that most of those who died were actually
trying to kill other people at the time.
Undoubtedly there was incredible courage and
sacrifice, and these are qualities that deserve to be remembered.
But also the fact that the various wars being remembered were
not inevitable has to be taken on board. The First World War
came through conflicting imperialisms and nationalisms in
Europe, including the race for empire. The Second World War
grew directly out of the First, a downward spiral coming out
of the penalties which Germany paid for losing the war (of
course there were other factors too, but this can be identified
as the main causative factor). By 1939 most people in Britain
and various other European countries may have felt they had
no choice but to fight Nazism militarily. But the question
remaining is – how and when do we break into history
to prevent the downward spiral to war?
This year the people of the world, in their
tens of millions, voted with their feet against war in Iraq.
Popular opinion now expresses anti-war sentiment strongly.
This was ignored by Bush and Blair who pressed ahead with
their pre-ordained war project in Iraq with the consequences
which we see today and which they did not envisage. The USA
and UK missed an opportunity to ‘break into history’
in Iraq and the Middle East which might have been slower to
take effect but which could have had longer term positive
implications. They went for what they thought was an easy
option – war. It may have been relatively easy to ‘win’
the war but they show no signs of being able to win ‘the
peace’. Once more war has been tried and found wanting.
As remembrance develops in the future we hope
it may be possible to say – “We remember all those
who died and the sacrifice they and their loved ones made.
But we look critically at the causes of war and those who
sent people out to die. We have to build a future where living
for Ireland and the world is more important than dying for
Ireland, ‘Europe’, the USA or NATO. We demand
that our countries’ policies lead to the development
of peace and justice so that war becomes a memory and not
a current reality.”
This demands some amazing changes in how the
world works in economic, political and social justice, in
fair trade, and in human rights. But without these changes
we will be asked to remember the dead of more wars which were
unnecessary and easily avoided. And ‘remembrance’
will still be something which tends to glorify militarism
and military attempts at solutions.
We don’t yet have a tradition of people
writing letters to Nonviolent News, or sending in material
they have written themselves unsolicited, but we would certainly
like to encourage both these things. Please tell us if you’re
writing in and you don’t want your letter/material published.
Here’s one letter anyhow. –Ed.
I remain most appreciative of your work for
peace and am always glad to see the Nonviolent News. I live
in an Appalachian mountain community in the U.S. where activism
is rich and diverse. Folks here are resisting efforts by police
and municipal authorities to squelch protest. Anti-war vigils
have been met with arrests, fines, and the shutting down of
traditional areas in the public square where we gather to
make our dissent visible. But we persist. We are involved
in efforts to stop the manufacture of nuclear weapons in Oak
Ridge, Tennessee, and to alert our community of the shipment
of nuclear materials by truck through our city. In November
we will gather in Miami to demonstrate against the FTAA and
in Columbus, Georgia, at Ft. Benning, to continue calling
for the closure of the U.S. Army School of Americas, source
of much of the terror and massacre in Latin America. And,
of course, we continue to be mindful of the many women and
men who are locked up in our prison nation-- well over two
million disenfranchised persons. The fastest growing and least
violent of these are women. Our local Women in Black group
stands weekly in the public square, despite ten recent arrests
for persisting during a time when the square was closed to
dissent. Our freedoms are on the line as the current regime
attempts to silence opposing views by equating healthy democratic
disagreement with aid and comfort to the enemy.
It is always heartening to hear word of the
courage and creativity of nonviolent activists in Ireland.
Have you seen a copy of our local alternative weekly, the
Asheville Global Report? www.agrnews.org.
I wish you continued success and perseverence in your important
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