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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Nothing succeeds like a parrot with a sore beak

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News.]

It’s hard to know where to begin sometimes, isn’t it [as your column so often fully illustrates –Ed]. So much needs to be done in so many different directions, you can become overpowered by the futility of kicking your head (sic) against a brick fortress. And then (hopefully) you reflect, and realise, well, I can do my little bit, somebody else can do their little bit, and maybe all those little bits amount to one enormous heap of positive action for change. Celebrating success in the face of seeming failure is also difficult; once more over the Iraq war, to take the most pertinent current example, we failed. But did we? Yes, in stopping the war, no in at least raising questions, putting down markers, exposing lies. And what lies they were, too! We as a genus seem such slow learners but maybe, just maybe, the next time someone is promoting their favourite war project there’ll be more questions, more marchers, more scrutiny, more action, and more reluctance to jump in at the deep end by those who do really have the power to make the decisions of life and death.

The same goes for Northern Ireland but lots of lessons have been learnt here. No, not necessarily how to cooperate and work together, that’s an ongoing project and dilemma, but on the futility of violence as a tool of political change in general, although even that took thirty years to reach. Northern Ireland has moved on, maybe not to the Promised Land, but at least it is wandering around a bit rather than in captivity (to violence and the cultivation of enemies which violence so well endows – even if the ‘enemy culture’ is still alive and kicking its neighbour).

I’m pleased to note the evaluation of Iraq war actions which took place in Belfast (see main news section – Ed) because there was really a huge amount done, some of which had already been forgotten about – even by those who were involved in an action! Each little action was a step. And each step was a fulfilment of that old Chinese proverb that “The longest journey begins with a single step” . Remembering and celebrating all those steps that all those people have taken to build a better life for the whole of humanity, locally or globally, is not something we are accomplished at but it’s still vitally important in many ways – to realise what we have achieved, to keep our spirits high, and to reflect and learn for the next time. And maybe, because of all that has been done, the next time will be that bit further away.

Meiriceá abu

I think most of us have tremendous admiration for those in the United States of America who have lifted their heads above the parapets of Fortress America since ‘9/11’ to proclaim a different vision of what the US should and could be about (and what they themselves so often embody). We know that it is very difficult. So it was a particular privilege and pleasure to have Joanne Sheehan, current chair of the War Resisters International and a worker for the War Resisters League in New England, visit and speak in Belfast. It was a good, lively meeting which gave a flavour of what people have had to deal with in the US. There was particular interest, I think, because of the recent war but also because of an awareness of the extent of censorship of peace actions in the States.

One of the things Joanne spoke of was the way interviews (with peace activists like herself) stopped when the war started. However she never saw so much political mobilising going on (going back to the time of the Vietnam war) but the ‘unpatriotic’ label was wheeled out. And the ‘Patriot’ Act had been passed within 3 weeks of September 11th, with Congress not even seeing it before it was passed.

The media in general didn’t cover demos and sometimes grossly underestimated crowd numbers. Lies to get the US into war are nothing new (Gulf of Tonkin ‘incident’ re Vietnam War, babies being taken out of incubators in Kuwait for first Gulf War). Despite all the lies, by the start of 2003 polls indicated a 50/50 split on war on Iraq – but by the start of the war support had gone up to 70%.

Joanne also mentioned the Project for a New American Century which became a focus of right-wing US Republican dissatisfaction in 1997. The original statement then was signed by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (and Jeb Bush who later played such a key role in the undemocratic assumption of the presidency by his brother). The website for this right-wing group is at and I would say that the 1997 statement includes a classic neo-imperialist statement in “We need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles” . That’s a remarkable statement.

Joanne said she didn’t believe that the US Government ever tried or wanted diplomacy to work on Iraq. What we need is a sense of strategy, she said, and an evaluation of what was done. What level of non-cooperation do we promote? Income tax resistance may be more difficult but not paying federal phone tax easier. The Achilles heel of the USA is its economy, which is going downhill, and the corporate scandals happening.

Subsequent discussion looked at different issues including military access to schools, e.g. recruiting (and the right of others to also go in to schools, e.g. peace activists, who don’t have the $2.3 billion recruiting budget). Another theme was listening projects to really hear, understand, and build bridges to people where it might be thought impossible to work (e.g. in military-dominant areas). Cooperation was possible in actions between different kinds of people if certain parameters are drawn. All in all it was an illuminating meeting.

Maybe I can be presumptuous for a minute [you always are, you don’t need to state it – Ed] and speak on behalf of the ‘peace movement’ in Europe to say to the ‘peace movement’ in the USA, and all who are struggling there for justice and humanity – ‘Thank you guys [this is I presume the non-gender US English use of ‘guys’ – Ed] [I don’t want to be a fall guy for your anti-sexist remarks, of course it is – Billy] [A fall guy? It’s only summer! –Ed] for all you do, we know you’ll win through in the end and that what you are doing already makes a big difference.’

I can’t resist ending off this piece, however, without a quote or two from that remarkable analyst, Arundhati Roy, and specifically the talk she gave at Riverside Church, New York on 17th May. She forcefully pointed out many things but one was that it was America’s poor who were both fighting and paying for the war: “According to a survey by the National Council of State Legislatures, U.S. states cut 49 billion dollars in public services, health, welfare benefits, and education in 2002. They plan to make another 25.7 billion dollars this year. That makes a total of 75 billion dollars. Bush’s initial budget request to Congress to finance the war in Iraq was 80 billion dollars. So who’s paying for the war? America’s poor. Its students, its unemployed, its single mothers, its hospital and home-care patients, its teachers, and health workers.”

Roy ended off her piece with a call on the rich tradition of resistance in the States. “Hundreds of thousands of you have survived the relentless propaganda you have been subjected to, and are actively fighting your own government. In the ultra-patriotic climate that prevails in the United States, that’s as brave as any Iraqi or Afghan or Palestinian fighting for his or her homeland. If you join the battle, not in your hundreds of thousands, but in your millions, you will be greeted joyously by the rest of the world. And you will see how beautiful it is to be gentle instead of brutal, safe instead of scared. Befriended instead of isolated. Loved instead of hated. I hate to disagree with your president. Yours is by no means a great nation. But you could be a great people. History is giving you the chance. Seize the time.”

A soldier of destiny

Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins, originally from Norn Iron and now settled in England, was an instant British hero of the Iraqi war before it started, before a shot was fired or a bomb dropped [Ed – Except the British and US had been continually dropping bombs on parts of Iraq in line with their ‘no fly zones’], with a stirring, and totally OTT, speech to his men (and possibly women) troops, widely reported in the British media [‘Over The Top’ seems an excellent description of any military leader’s exhortation before battle, reminiscent of the trenches in the First World War – Ed]. Now various allegations have been made about his shooting at civilians’ feet, pistol whipping an Iraqi, kicking and punching POWs, and also, back in Northern Ireland, not investigating, as he faithfully promised to do, the suicide of a young soldier under his command in the Royal Irish Regiment.

Soldiers do as soldiers do, and the British Army investigation is ongoing and no judgements yet available. I suppose at least there is an investigation. And within the boundaries of soldierly behaviour, well, from my direct knowledge of the British army what he may have done or not done doesn’t seem that extraordinary (which is not to say that it isn’t reprehensible and inhumane).

But there is something which really worried me, which I feel I can write about. And that is something that emerged from what his Northern Irish mother had to say about him, as quoted in the ‘Sun’ (yes) of 21st May; “The colonel’s ambition as a boy was always to join the Army. He would come home from school and swap his uniform for a camouflage suit. His Mum recalled: “One day I was making a uniform for his Action Man toys when he looked at me and said, “I’m going to be a great soldier.” ‘

A culture that can inculcate in a young boy such an ambition is a militaristic culture which has no place in the future of this world. Whether it is locally in Ireland – including both sides in Northern Ireland, USA, Iraq, Russia, China, Africa, wherever, this automatic attachment to militarism is a blot on the landscape and one reason why violence is so endemic. Building a culture of cooperation and nonviolence is not easy but without it we are doomed to threatened wars, endless wars, wars about wars, and subsequent tales about wars. Humanity has some growing up to do. Without the brainwashing in militarism, please.

Sell a field and get the Wind up on a grand scale

It’s amazing how some issues just don’t go away because they can’t. Take safety and emission issues to do with Sellafield, previously and many moons ago known as Windscale (its name was changed for similar reasons to why Long Kesh prison became the Maze prison – the name was so bad the authorities were keen to rebrand it). Some of us are long enough in the tooth to remember something of all those planning and environmental battles since the ‘Seventies over Sellafield. Not for nothing did a protester (I think from Friends of the Earth in England) plant a sign saying ‘Sellafield – Twinned with Chernobyl’ because its safety record has been abysmal.

But you do forget sometimes that it is there, even for a brief while when other things come to the fore. And then bang. Latest headline from late May is that £100 million is needed to fix a leaky roof at Sellafield (or £300 million to replace that installation)! Specifically it is required to prevent a radioactive leak from a fifty year old facility which stores waste before it is released into the Irish sea (sick!). British Nuclear Fuels has been wanting to increase Technetium-99 discharges into the sea (how touching or is that touched) to avoid having to fork out the money and to get rid of it before new regulations come into force in 2007! The Irish and Norwegian governments have been active in lobbying the British government on the issue.

There’s only one certainty in the matter. Sellafield will continue to feature in news reports about radioactive dangers for decades and even centuries to come. Ah, the wonders of nuclear power. The initial spin fifty years ago was that nuclear power-produced electricity would be so cheap it wouldn’t even be metered. Now you can safely say that it is so expensive that no one would pay the true cost, when developmental, environmental and other issues are taken into account. The sooner we can bury nuclear power for good on a global scale the better. Whether that will happen or not, advances in renewable energy will make that a goal that could be achieved this century – if the will is there.

Let sleeping lignite lie

You may have noted the lignite (so-called ‘brown coal’) mining proposals and campaign in the area north of Ballymoney, Co Antrim (as featured in NN107) - Northern television and the media have been giving it some attention, thankfully. The local community have a struggle on their hands to stop the company involved, Ballymoney Power, from literally tearing their community apart with strip mining. In the words of the Saw Doctors, talking about gold and the possibility of gold mining in the west:

“Do you think our greatest asset

Can be mined, dug up, and sold”.

I hope the pictures of lignite strip mining on the television will have influenced many people that it is a disaster – apart from local or atmospheric pollution (even with modern controls). So good luck to the local campaign.

Fifteen years ago there was another development proposal in Norn Iron for lignite mining, in Ardboe and Ballinderry areas of Co Tyrone beside Lough Neagh. Like in Ballymoney, the company involved refused to talk to local people (the company was BP Coal) and indeed stood a chance of ‘dividing and ruling’ by offering farmers a £1,000 fee to prospect on their land, which some people took. The situation was looking dangerous from the local community point of view. And what marked the turning point? Why good old nonviolent action. A local man involved in the lignite campaign was aware prospecting rigs were coming and stood in the road (a one man blockade) preventing the drilling equipment getting through – the whole convoy was halted (it helped that the first driver was a union man). Then discussions, previously avoided by the company, began. This involved the local Lignite Action group in a process as well as BP Coal, but Lignite Action were adamant that the whole community was the decision maker, not them. And then the whole lignite project ran out of steam [very funny – Ed] [You don’t know what it’s like to work at the coal face – Billy] [More lip like that and I’ll ignite –Ed]. Though even if the Ballymoney Power proposals fall that may not be the last Norn Iron hears of lignite.

Part of the above story is told in that ancient publication “Dawn Train”, No. 7 (1988) – if you want a photocopy of the 2-page article contact us at or the usual other contacts.

- Anyhow, that’s about me talked out for another month. One more issue then we get our summer break too. What will I do? Who will I talk to? Don’t you know this Colm is the only thing keeping me from endless visits to a shrink. Sob [I presume that’s not an abbreviation – Ed]. Anyhow, see you early July, aye -


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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