Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
If it happens to me that I am waking up in the night and thinking of the war in Ukraine and what people are going through, I cannot imagine what it is like to actually be in Ukraine. War – an offence against humanity. And yet so many people around the world are still facing it and the terror of the prospect of war. Homo sapiens has a lot of learning to do.
Keeping our hopes up
It is hard sometimes, often, to keep up our hopes of building peace when there is so much war, violence, and rumours of war around, even on the continent of Europe which saw the worst military conflagrations of the last century. And who is paying attention to what is happening in – for example – Yemen where people face not only devastating war but death from malnutrition and lack of medical aid.
There was a great piece in the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/feb/23/is-the-world-listening-the-poets-challenging-myanmars-military about the use of poetry by Rohingya people as a form of resistance. In a piece by Mayyu Ali there is a brief statement of the plight of Rohingya refugees:
“There are more than a million Rohingya now living in the world’s largest refugee camp complex in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. They also face a desperate situation; living in overcrowded conditions and lacking freedom of movement or access to formal education. Deadly fires are frequent, and in early January a blaze left thousands homeless. Over the past two years, the Bangladeshi government has also relocated more than 20,000 Rohingya refugees to the flood-prone Bhasan Char island, in many cases without gaining their informed consent “
Some of the poetry quoted is about the terrible violence inflicted on them by the Myanmar military. But a couple of pieces are about hope for themselves and Myanmar – and we can take that hope and apply it to the world. I will just quote one poem:
We choose hope, that’s our virtue
We believe in peace, that’s our mantra
See the stars through this darkness
We’ll rise and rise, and smile again in colours
– By Thida Shania, on her wishes for a future Myanmar.
If a Rohingya person in exile from their homeland, in the grips of a vicious military dictatorship and in an exceedingly precarious position can express that wish, how joyful should our hope be?
Global warming – the (micro) proof
You’ve seen all the statistics and worried over them. You’ve looked at the horrific wildfires of last year. You have wondered what the future is going to bring for you and your children or grandchildren if you have them or may have them. You have probably realised that, as always, it is the poor of the world who are the ones who will suffer most; but all of us will be more at risk in terms of our lives, livelihoods and wellbeing.
But some still wonder how fast things are changing. As a common or garden gardener for around forty years in Belfast and thus the north of this island, admittedly in a city and a couple of miles from the sea, (with the north of this island tending to be a couple of degrees colder than the south) I can tell you directly. Forty years ago you could rely on there being a hard frost by the end of October; now it could be Christmas, the New Year, or not at all. This last winter might not feel ‘warm’, and in the wind and damp or rain of the Irish environment that is not surprising. But I have a very reliable plant thermometer which indicates when there has been a ‘hard’ frost (one where the temperature dips to -2° or -3°C or below); nasturtiums. These go to mush when the temperature dips this low. This year most of our nasturtiums from last year are still looking happy though they don’’t flower in lower temperatures; they even survived briefly lying snow in late February.
We also have a few varieties of marigolds; these have continued flowering throughout the winter, admittedly not very expansively but a few flowers nonetheless. And I have also noticed how summer and autumn flowering plants now hang on in flower, again not expansively, until the spring flowers begin their colour.
Of course winter can have a sting in its tail but I have noticed a big difference in just a few decades. And if you go back further, and admittedly it was extreme even for then, March 1937 was completely frozen so that daffodils were only in full flower around 20th April [You remember it well? – Ed] [A photo in a paper told me – Billy.] This year daffodils are coming into bloom, almost two months in advance of 1937. A survey in England has shown that flowers are blooming on average a month earlier than a few decades ago, and I imagine that the situation in Ireland is very similar.
These are big changes in climate and its effects in such a short period of time. Ireland may not run short of water, and some parts may be getting wetter, but storms and floods will increasingly wreak major damage. We still have our heads in the sand – though many beaches may disappear with higher sea levels.
Peace News is an excellent British peace magazine https://peacenews.info/ which, as well as news from peace doings across the eastern waters has plenty of informative and challenging features. One such piece, in the February-March 2022 issue is a centre page spread featuring a map of the world, “How the world appears to China”. The details include nuclear strategic warheads and US military bases with the latter indicated by different size US flags.
A large Stars and Stripes indicates lots of US military bases, a medium US flag a medium US military base, and a small US flag a small US military base. So guess what is plonked on top of Ireland because of Shannon Airport? Yes. It’s a small US flag. This accurately depicts Ireland’s Shannon Airport as a “Small U.S. military base”. No ifs, no buts. Oh no, in Irish government speak it isn’t, it is just US military forces passing through (…..to wars and military operations all over the place…) but this succinctly names what Shannon is; a US military base. The truth should be told, and the Irish government should be told by voters – who overwhelmingly support Irish neutrality – that it is not acceptable, not then, not now, and not in the future.
Behind the scenes
Some people ensure they are always visible and that their good work and deeds are on view, and they cultivate their image. There are others who are totally different; people who do the work, no matter how hard or how long it takes, often the boring donkey work or financial affairs which would drive others to distraction. They know their organisations inside out, they carry the administration and sometimes the collective memory. They are always busy but they are the people to ask if you need something done, and they will squeeze it in. Usually calm, always efficient, their organisations depend on their organisational acumen and dedication.
And yet outsiders may not know they even exist. They are not necessarily backward at coming forward but what is important to them is that the work is done, the goals achieved, and not that their face is in the photo for the project record or the media. If it helps then they are prepared to be visible but they don’t need it. They may be at the top, the middle or the bottom, if the organisation has rungs, but they pull more than their weight.
These people are often women and they are the backbone of an organisation. Women can have big egos as well as men, though not usually as dominantly, but these women, and men, know that egotism is a detraction from the work and an obstacle to everyone’s wellbeing and getting the job done. They may not be visible but if they disappeared then civil society, and many other sectors, would be limping along.
They may be next to invisible in many instances but they are irreplaceable.
This piece has been written following the death of Marilyn Hyndman in Belfast, aged 68, and as a tribute to her.
Chips on their shoulders
The new album on the INNATE photo and documentary site https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72177720296995989 about newspaper coverage of the 1994 ceasefires, Good Friday Agreement and the DUP coming into the power-carving-up fold in 2007 made me think about propaganda in the Troubles. There were periodic propaganda or PR efforts by all armed groups during the Troubles in Norn Iron. For paramilitaries this included photos or videos of the group ‘on patrol’, brandishing weapons, or practising firing their weapons – and of course firing over the grave of killed comrades was a big set piece ritual. The government had many different campaigns including their “7 years [of the Troubles] is enough” posters after the emergence of the Peace People in 1976; republicans changed these to “700 years [of British involvement in Ireland] is enough”. For the British Army, efforts were varied, including an annual proclamation of how ‘Irish’ British army Irish regiments were on St Patrick’s Day (which I would consider cultural appropriation).
But the most bizarre British army PR stunt that I am aware of was when a photo was published about the new ‘healthy eating’ kick for soldiers stationed in the North; larger potato chips. Yes, a photo appeared, I think in the Belfast Telegraph, detailing the fact that the army was now serving larger chips so they didn’t have so much fat. Really. I can imagine a conversation in the British army PR department:
Person 1; Things are a bit quiet, I’m bored, let’s stir things up and create something really bizarre, off the wall, and see if we can get it into the media.
Person 2: Like what?
Person 1; Oh, something really crazy, like news about how the army is now making bigger chips for the sake of soldiers’ health, you know, with less fat.
Person 2; That’s ridiculous. Bet you a tenner you couldn’t get that into any of the media….
Person 1; You’re on. Some papers will take any old rubbish from us, you’re going to owe me…..
Person 2: You’ll never do it but if you do I’ll lose a tenner and have a chip on my shoulder….
And the most stupid and exploitative advert I saw was one in a magazine for a camera where it showed a reporter with said camera stepping onto the ground in Northern Ireland…out of a helicopter. Eh no, Northern Ireland was a violent place but it wasn’t the Vietnam war and reporters at least didn’t need to use helicopters.
Speaking of helicopters and the Vietnam war, the most tone deaf film propaganda/advertisement I saw was for joining the RUC, as it then was, where it showed helicopters swooping while Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries was played. Eh, was this an unconscious mirroring of Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now where there is the massacre of a Vietnamese village from helicopters with the Ride of the Valkyries blaring? Or how did this RUC ad get made. I have no idea how or why this happened but as befits the era concerned, I can say – answers on a postcard please. You are still allowed send postcards but they are now an endangered species or will they make a comeback? But we don’t need a comeback by any of the above.
Well, I hope early springtime is treating you well and you are not too depressed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine – as they say, don’t mourn/moan, organise. And there is a lot of organising to do as militarists try to use the invasion of Ukraine as a reason to be more militarist and inflict more militarisation on the world – which is sad and will not end well. Take care until we meet again, Billy.