January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
We’ll always have Paris
‘Here we go again’ might be a reaction to hype about the Paris climate summit (30th November – 11th December) – COP21 – the 21st ‘Conference of Parties’ held under UN aegis. In Northern Ireland we have learnt that it is never ‘the last chance for peace’, there is always another chance. In relation to the environment, and stopping runaway global warming, Paris is not the ‘last chance’, and indeed any agreements made there may be inadequate to keep climate change below a highly dangerous increase. But each opportunity missed, each fudge which protects fossil fuels companies and rich polluting countries from paying and changing, makes the task more difficult.
‘The New Internationalist’ concludes (in a piece, part of a feature on Paris, by Jess Worth and Danny Chivers, November 2015 issue) that “We already know that the emissions cuts the most polluting countries are going to pledge won’t even keep temperature rises below three degrees. That means low-lying islands disappearing, coastal cities flooding, mass species extinction, extreme droughts and weather catastrophes.” But this piece is not pessimistic in that it shows Paris as part of a wider move for change, with growth in ecological resistance and the delegitimization of the fossil fuel industry through divestment and anti-sponsorship campaigns, for example.
In Ireland we have been generally tardy to take ecological issues and climate change seriously. There is now, this year, a Climate Bill about to become law in the Republic, and, inadequate as that might be, it is a start and something which can be built upon. The opposition to fracking might seem NIMBYism for those who worship at the altar of uncritical economic development but it is actually a key struggle against the development of fossil fuels and for moving immediately to green energy sources. So congratulations to campaigners on the North coast who have helped to see Rathlin Energy hand in the towel on prospecting there. 80% of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground.
While Ireland is vulnerable to massive storm damage and, in due course, low lying areas will be flooded, whether we will escape some of the worst effects of global warming remains to be seen (but we have also to expect the unexpected when our ecosystem fails or changes rapidly, e.g. if the Gulf Stream moves). But with Ireland producing more than its fair share of carbon emissions, even in comparison to other European countries, we are very much part of the problem and therefore have to be part of the solution.
Ireland has a relatively good reputation for helping ‘the Third World’ and poorer countries, either by the state or personal involvement, but this is totally negated by our role in global warming which threatens the lives in, and sometimes very existence of, some of these same countries. It may not be too obvious but our role is a violent one; we are threatening both a huge chunk of humanity and our ecosystem (on which we depend). Inaction is not an option. We must get the best result we can from Paris and move on to the next part of the ecological struggle.
The news section of this issue contains information on ‘Paris’ events in Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Galway. Be there. And if you can’t be there send a note to your TD or MP/MLA supporting effective action. Let’s all do our bit so politicians begin to realise that ecological issues are important to many people and therefore something they should concern themselves with deeply, not least if they want our votes or us not to be protesting at their lack of action.
Violence and nonviolence, in Ireland
Is nonviolence ‘innate’? That is an interesting question to ask in a publication produced by a network named ‘INNATE’. Are ‘we’ naturally violent, nonviolent, or a mixture of the two? What are the roles of nature and nurture in violence and nonviolence? And what are the peculiarities of violence and nonviolence in Ireland, North or Republic? No, there will not be a simple answer to any or all of these questions in this editorial, nor could there be, but it will try to at least look at some aspects of these questions in relation to Ireland.
Sometimes an extrapolation is made from evidence of an ancient skeleton with a spear wound or from mythic warrior tales from ancient Ireland. These things indicate that war and that kind of violence did exist. There certainly was warring going in between native kingdoms and tribes, and possibly against prehistoric invaders as well as the ones we know about (Vikings and Anglo-Normans, then the English, though some of these did indeed become ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’). But this tells us little of nothing about what ordinary people really thought about peace or war, or indeed whether they had a choice about participation in violence when that was expected by their rulers (they probably had little or no choice in this case). If people were like those today then there would have been a whole range of approaches from outright resistance to violence through to militant participation in slaughter. But since history is written by the victors, and what we know from a number of centuries ago tends to be about, or written by, the literate elite, it is hard to be sure.
The INNATE ‘Nonviolence – the Irish Experience’ quiz begins with the Céide Fields in Co Mayo some 5,000 years ago. Here people lived a peaceful and settled cooperative agricultural existence with scattered houses (no threats) and presumably no enemies. Was this when habitation levels in Ireland were so low that no one could be bothered to attack or raid? Or was it a time before patriarchy and a Stone Age arms race? Once one tribe or group started warring, did everyone else feel they had to join in to survive? We do not honestly know. What we can say is that there is evidence of a peaceful society in Ireland at this time and that war or violence was outside their lives and experience. It cannot be said that life in ancient Ireland was only conducted in a warring and violent way.
When we get to more recent history there is also plenty of evidence for people who have rejected the ways of violence. The ‘Dawn’ magazine pamphlet ‘Nonviolence in Irish history’ (1978), text online , looks at some of the main areas. One important article in this pamphlet is the one by Angela Mickley looking at Daniel O’Connell. From a modern, nonviolent point of view we might say that O’Connell could have used non-cooperation more forcefully, and even gone for illegal nonviolent action, but his approach of building a constitutional nationalist movement was an important one in the longer term development of Irish politics. We can certainly be critical of how constitutional politics in the Republic has worked out (and in Northern Ireland where there are still very basic issues to be sorted) but we can also ask what things would have been like without it.
As the quiz referred to above mentions, one of the most important aspects of the Irish struggle for independence involved not a bomb and not a bullet. This was the simple transfer of allegiance by nationalist MPs following the general election at the end of 1918; instead of pledging allegiance to Westminster they pledged allegiance to the Dáil in Dublin. The War of Independence and the Irish civil war which followed were as a result of British intransigence and, admittedly, the Irish concept of the time that matters could be settled by violence. What was achieved by violence in the War of Independence that could not have been achieved by nonviolence it is hard to say. Even more so we can make the judgement – despite military republican thinking – that there was nothing achieved by republican military action in the Troubles in Northern Ireland which could not have been achieved, and achieved more easily, by nonviolence, and without the same cost in life or hatred and distrust, not to mention the damage done to economy and society in the North.
We can argue quite clearly that, yes, if violence has been part of our history then so has nonviolence. Whatever about the practices of the past, and we are arguing here that violence has not been a universal feature of Irish history and life, another question is what is the potential for peace in the future. There are many dangers for the Republic in increasing EU militarisation and harmonisation with NATO, and the North remains part of a nuclear-armed NATO member state. But there are also many opportunities, not least in common public revulsion for war and war-making, and the lies told by politicians in dragging a country into war (this applies to the Irish government in relation to Shannon just as it applies to the Blair government and British involvement in the Iraq war which has done so much to destabilise the whole region).
We need to throw a light on the possibilities for nonviolence in general, nonviolent resistance, nonviolent defence, and nonviolence as a means of struggle for justice internally. Revulsion at violence and war is one thing but it is often manipulated by politicians and others to get support for what they want, which is quite possibly more war and violence. We have to clearly make the case for the possibilities of nonviolence and nonviolent struggle. This is no small task but it is an essential one if humanity is to grow out of the fix which some people – and we emphasise ‘some’ – have for violence.
Significant resources exist on the INNATE website on nonviolence, and there is a linked photo site which includes not just photos but documentation as well of peace groups and activities over the years. We – the movement for nonviolent change - have a proud history. With your work and assistance we will have a greater future.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
What does a willingness to press a button that sends nuclear missiles into the atmosphere destined to incinerate tens of millions of people, obliterate physical infrastructure, and cause the death of ecosystems have in common with our ecologically unsustainable way of living? Of the various commonalities that come to mind the critical one is lack of emotional imagination.
The mainstream media in Britain were scathing of Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement shortly after being elected leader of the Labour Party that if he became Prime Minister he would not press the nuclear button. The establishment view on Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons was put by Lord Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff 2006 – 2009 in an article in The Daily Telegraph, 30th September 2015. He said:
“For a deterrent to be effective there has to be both the physical capability and the willingness and intent to use that capability.”
I expect that most of those who favour the use of nuclear weapons are likeable people who help their neighbours, work with charities, pay their taxes and are honest and caring. When it comes to complicated issues with all-encompassing consequences such as climate change, the rapid loss of biodiversity and nuclear war it would seem that their capacity to emotionally and intellectually appreciate the pain, horror and ultimate nature of such catastrophes fails them. This failure to believe, to accept the science of the necessity of living within ecological limitations and the destructive power of nuclear weapons is likely imbedded in the wish not to see their worldview, which they have been socialised to hold, have a psychological investment in, consider themselves to have benefitted from, be shown to be unsustainable.
The psychological investment of those who believe their country should possess nuclear weapons includes a sense of identity based on the myth that their nation / country is ‘greater’, ‘better’, ‘stronger’ more resilient than others through having them. The UK patriot who holds that it is an absolute must that the country have nuclear weapons, even though the renewal of Trident will cost £100 billion over 25 years, sees themselves as belonging not to Britain but Great Britain, an alpha power that receives the respect of other countries because it has the capacity through pressing buttons and flicking switches to murder millions if not billions of people. Other competing views, such as love your neighbour as yourself, every human-life is precious and only God has the right to end a human life are put to sleep.
The horror of nuclear war is described by Robert Jungk in “Children of the Ashes: The People of Hiroshima” (1959). Jungk spend some time in Hiroshima as a journalist after the dropping of the nuclear bomb on the city by the United States on the 6 August 1945.
“It was no quick and total death, no heart attack of a whole city, no sudden, agonizing ending that struck Hiroshima. A mercifully quick release, such as is granted even to the vilest criminals, was denied to the men, women and children of Hiroshima. They were condemned to long-drawn-out agonies, to mutilation, to endless sickness. No, neither during the first hours nor in the days that followed was Hiroshima a silent ‘graveyard’, filled solely with the mute protest of the ruins, as the misleading photographs imply; rather it was the site of movements repeated a hundred thousand times, of a million agonies that filled morning, noon, and night with groans, screams, whimperings, and of crowds of cripples. All who could still run, walk, hobble, or even drag themselves along the ground were searching for something, for a few drops of water, for food, for medicine, for a doctor, for the pitiful relics of their possessions, for shelter. Or searching for the uncountable thousands who need no longer suffer, for the dead.
Even in the unending nights, beneath the bluish glow reflected from the piles of corpses that the clearance squads had stacked with military precision, this whimpering, helpless hurrying hither-and-thither never stopped.” (p.17-18)
It is estimated that 140,000 people were killed by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later a nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki killing an estimated 80,000 people. Thousands more died in the following weeks and years because of exposure to radiation. Today’s nuclear weapons are many times more powerful and cities are much larger.
Lack of emotional imagination prevents those who advocate retaining nuclear weapons from seeing themselves and their loved ones being incinerated or of having to live in a radioactive environment that is unable to provide the sustenance they presently take for granted. They may well think that the apocalyptic horrors of a nuclear war are as unreal as the terrors and horrors of some fairy tales. Likewise when it comes to the disregard and often callous savagery with which we treat nonhuman nature, the attitude is as we are not the other that is suffering it does not matter. We anaesthetize our emotions and refuse to draw the dots together and acknowledge that our way of life, predicated on structural injustices and the degradation of the life-support systems of the planet are responsible for the suffering of other people and species.
Humans are endowed with wonderful imaginations, but for existential reasons people, such as those who believe in nuclear weapons, often chose not to use theirs for fear of undermining the worldview they are imbedded in and without which they think they would drown in meaninglessness. Buddhist teachings are of help here, advising us to let go of our fears, grandiose ideas and dysfunctional beliefs as a means to becoming enlightened to the end of living in harmony with other people and nonhuman nature.