The cause of peace is not helped by sub-headline sensation-mongering

February 4, 2016

“President Assad’s army cut the last supply line for rebel forces in the northern city of Aleppo yesterday as peace talks in Switzerland collapsed”.

Not so.

alleppo destruction

It was a relief to read in the actual report by the Times’ Bel Trew in Cairo, that the Syrian army said it had broken a three-year rebel siege of two government-held Shia villages and the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, had merely announced a pause in peace talks in Geneva: “I have already fixed a date for the next talks of February 25.”

Most comments were well worth reading:

  • It’s worth remembering that Assad was nominated for an honorary knighthood by Tony Blair’s government, and was a guest of the Queen at Buckingham Palace at the same time. Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have been entirely consistent in where their loyalties lie. It’s “our” foreign policy which is in total disarray.
  • We need a better foreign policy. We are now supporting the insupportable, as the lesser of two evils.
  • The west, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi back the rebels, the rebels fight each other, the Russians, Hezbollah and the Iranians back Assad. Good luck to anyone trying to sort out that mess.
  • And how do you rationalise the behaviour of providing weapons to these so-called rebels which has caused this crisis? Are we humanitarian in our desire to determine the destiny of another nation that is no threat to us?
  • My kids cannot understand why Blair got involved in Iraq and Afghanistan or why Cameron got involved in Libya and Syria. Nor can I. Having correctly predicted the outcome in all four countries, I await any valid excuse for the stupidity of our politicians.

Max Hastings: the military historian who hates war

January 23, 2016

Sir Max Hastings has been called the leading voice in the anti-war sentiment: “(War) can cost an enormous number of lives and a lot of those people haven’t been killed by al-Qaeda or the Taliban but by our bombs and our guns.”

max hastings 2He describes the drone strikes as ‘pred porn’. “The military get seduced by watching live images and being able to say ‘take him out’ from their armchairs.

Everyone seems to think that the First World War in the trenches were awful but all wars are ghastly; the drone business can kid people there is a clean nice way of winning but there isn’t. You have to go in, get your hands dirty, see young men being maimed if you want war, the idea that you can push a few buttons in Lincolnshire and fire a few missiles from a drone is insane.”

Both his parents were journalists and he was determined to succeed in their world, becoming editor of two newspapers and author of 25 books.

“I was brought up to believe that the first duty of a journalist is to be a troublemaker, though I hope one is never an iconoclast doing it for the sake of doing it.”

Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester writing for the Times, see him as the leading voice in the anti-war sentiment.

He believes the prime minister was wrong to join the bombing campaign in Syria: “People like me have a responsibility to say, ‘Look there is no plan here, there is no coherent strategy.’ If we don’t say it, who will? . . . I’ve seen so many wars it makes me very wary that military action without purpose is a good idea.

“Cameron is not being correct to say it will keep our streets safe, this isn’t part of a coherent policy, we are making it up as we go along. I would focus far harder on what to do about Islamic radicalisation in this country and not just be thinking about making a gesture by dropping bombs in Syria . . .

“What worries me is his short-termism — his idea of strategy is how to get through until Tuesday. He doesn’t think through what he says, he once described Isis as an existential threat. He’s a clever man, he ought to know better”.

He also believes it is “nonsense” for the prime minister to suggest that 70,000 moderate Syrians are ready to fight. “We just don’t know. The prime minister should be leading a proper debate rather than chucking out spurious figures. There are three threats, Isis, migration and the Syrian war. We can try to combat Isis and treat the refugee crisis seriously but we should not take sides in Syria. There is no point in getting rid of tyrants if we replace them with anarchy or something worse.”

Sir Max, who has just written his first book on military intelligence, The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas, 1939-1945, says: “It has been a huge mistake to run down our Foreign Office so our diplomatic presence is weakened. A lot of our best information has come not from spies with moustaches but diplomats in suits . . .In peacetime the best brains don’t need to waste their minds in intelligence but during difficult times and wars intelligence is the front line. Instead of buying the F-35 [fighter jet] we would do much better to spend a fraction of that money identifying and employing really clever people to work in analysis and cybersecurity . . . we need to give up some freedom so we can monitor these people.”

On social media Isis is winning, he thinks: “I would love to scrap the aircraft carriers and run a social media offensive against Isis that destroyed their propaganda machine. Isis is just a ludicrous death cult with no coherent vision to offer rational people. They are absurd.”

What is lacking is people who understand the nuances of battle. “The recent debate in the Commons was preposterous . . . Hilary Benn’s speech was passionate but juvenile, we need to be pragmatic. Politicians can’t give all the answers but they have to pose the questions. The public aren’t as stupid as most politicians think.”

Fundamentalism is ‘a disease of all religions’, says Pope Francis

January 5, 2016

pope in bangui

Business World online reports that after he flew back from Central African Republic after a three-nation tour of Africa, Pope Francis spoke in front of his weekly audience in St Peter’s Square, Vatican City. He focussed on fundamentalism, saying that it is not just an Islamic problem but something which exists in all religions, including the Catholic church:

‘It is a disease of all religions. We Catholics, we have a few, even many fundamentalists. They believe they know absolute truth and corrupt others. I can say this because this is my church.’

He hailed Africa as ‘the continent of hope’ and made a powerful impression on both Muslim rebels and Christian militias in Central African Republic

He visited a mosque in the Muslim PK5 area of Bangui in the Central African Republic where he was given an enthusiastic reception by thousands of people. Before he held a papal mass at the capital’s Barthelemy Boganda stadium, a group of Muslim rebels from the PK5 area leapt out of two pickup trucks, all wearing T-shirts bearing the Pope’s image. As they pushed through the crowd in an area where Muslims usually do not dare to venture, people cheered and shouted: ‘It’s over’.

In Kenya Pope Francis called on Christian and Muslim ‘brothers and sisters’ to end the sectarian conflict that has torn the country apart: ‘Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself’.

pope opens door in bangui
On Sunday, he opened a “holy door” at Bangui Cathedral, marking the symbolic beginning of a Jubilee Year dedicated to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Roslyn Cook sends good news

December 15, 2015


Roslyn continues to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons – and a treaty to ban them – wearing more than one ‘hat’.

roslyn cook 2 world court projectShe is an active member of ICAN, a global campaign coalition launched in 2007 by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which works to mobilize people in all countries to inspire, persuade and pressure their governments to initiate and support negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. ICAN now has more than 400 partner organizations in 95 countries.

Next year, governments will start substantive discussions on creating new law on nuclear weapons in Geneva.

un_general_assembly_hall3 best

An ICAN press release informs us that on December 7th at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, governments adopted a resolution that will convene talks in Geneva in 2016 to develop new law on nuclear weapons. The resolution presented by Mexico received the support of two-thirds of the governments of the world and is a response to the growing demand for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Following the failure of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May 2015, the desire for launching a new process on nuclear disarmament has grown significantly. 121 governments have signed the “Humanitarian Pledge”: a commitment to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. The talks in Geneva will be an opportunity to start working on the elements of a new prohibition treaty.

The nuclear-armed states strongly opposed this resolution and exerted pressure on allies and other governments to prevent these talks from happening . . .

The misuse of the consensus rule contributed to the deadlock of the Conference on Disarmament and the collapse of the 2015 NPT Review Conference. This new working group will not be bound by strict consensus rules, which means that nuclear weapon states and their allies will not be able to veto any concrete outcome.

ICAN will be there to monitor these talks, coordinate civil society and make governments take the next step towards a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

In commending ICAN, Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General said: “The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded”. Readers are asked to consider sending a donation for ICAN – and help to make peace history:


Neutral or non-aggressive countries and states

December 11, 2015


This is the title of the most widely read page on this site, published four years ago and reproduced below. Readers from the United States had 10,540 ‘views’ and below is a snapshot of the first twelve countries out of 177 listed.


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Today, after a reader pointed out that Japan was not widely recognised as neutral, the title has been altered from Countries or states recognised as neutral, to ‘Neutral or non-aggressive countries and states’ – the link remains unaltered – and we reproduce it on the site this week.

Does the preference of so many readers not on our mailing list indicate a greater desire for stability and peace than for contemporary news?

And what is the significance of the larger numbers from USA – who also read our drone warfare and pharmaceutical sites in large numbers?

One reader said this was just due to its size – but US readers show little interest in our political, environmental or food-related sites – so?

The hope is that one day peace loving American people will reassert themselves, rid themselves of the ‘gun culture’ and select leaders who will prioritise the well-being of their own people and offer that fine example to the rest of the world.

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Neutral or non-aggressive countries and states

Source:  Neutrality [international relations]

Austria (now a member of EU, see below): neutral country since 1955, maintain external independence and inviolability of borders (expressly modelled on the Swiss neutrality).

Costa Rica: neutral country since 1949, after abolishing its military.

Finland (now EU): military doctrine of competent, “credible” independent defence, not depending on any outside support, and the desire to remain outside international conflicts. In 2006, Finland’s neutrality was brought into question by Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen during the inauguration of the Finnish EU presidency.

Ireland (now EU): a traditional policy of military neutrality defined as non-membership of mutual defence alliances.

Japanconstitutionally forbidden from participating in wars, but maintains heavily-armed self-defence forces and a military alliance.

Liechtenstein: since its army was dissolved in 1868.

Malta (now EU): policy of neutrality since 1980, guaranteed in a treaty with Italy concluded in 1983

Panama: neutral country since 1989

Sweden (now EU): has not fought a war since ending its involvement in the Napoleonic Wars in 1814 with a short war with Norway, making it the oldest neutral country in the world.

Switzerland: self-imposed, permanent, and armed, designed to ensure external security. Switzerland is the second oldest neutral country in the world; it has not fought a foreign war since its neutrality was established by the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

Turkmenistan: declared its permanent neutrality and had it formally recognised by the U.N. in 1995.

Ukraine: Declared policy of state non-alignment in 2010.

Vatican City: the Lateran Treaty signed in 1929 with Italy imposed that “The Pope was pledged to perpetual neutrality in international relations and to abstention from mediation in a controversy unless specifically requested by all parties” thus making Vatican City neutral since then.






Len Aldis

December 4, 2015


LenAldisMark Shapiro has written to tell us that his good friend, Len Aldis, well known campaigner for peace and justice, has died. Len’s local paper, the East London News, recorded his work for the pensioners’ movement, speaking up for a range of improvements for older people and as ‘a stalwart’ of the Tower Hamlets CND branch.

In 1949-50 and during the U.S. War era on Vietnam, Len took part in marches, meetings and demonstrations calling for an end to the war. He worked as a secretary for an association relating to Vietnam and later on set up the British-Vietnam Friendship Society in 1992 and sent a comment on the post about Britain keeping out of the Vietnam war, detailing covert assistance.

He visited the country frequently, taking gifts of money and solidarity to all the people who had suffered in the war and in particular to those who continued to suffer the effects of US bombing with Agent Orange. The Vietnamese people responded warmly to his unstinting support and he received a series of honours in recognition of his work.

len aldis award

The local paper adds: “It was Len who exposed, more than anyone else, how lasting the effects of this chemical warfare were, lasting down four or five generations”. He highlighted the facts that over three million Vietnamese and thousands of American servicemen and women, and their children, continue to suffer from the serious illnesses and disabilities caused by Agent Orange and that their petition against the manufacturers of Agent Orange headed by Monsanto and Dow Chemicals, seeking Justice, was denied by the US Supreme Court on 2nd March 2009.

His disgust at the US use of chemical weapons in the Vietnam war led to Len spearheading the campaign against Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics, which took place just a stone’s throw from Len’s flat. Dow had played a large role in the production of Agent Orange but had also worked on how to make napalm more deadly.

len aldis paintingIn 2014 this site carried news of recognition for ‘our’ Len Aldis as oil paintings by Vietnamese artists, featuring people throughout the world who supported Viet Nam during its wars and development process, were displayed in Ha Noi. His description:

“Len Aldis: a British activist who joined mass demonstrations to protest the US invasion in the south of Viet Nam. In 1992, he established the UK-Viet Nam Friendship Association in the UK and conducted charitable activities in Viet Nam”.

His nephew writes: “I have, over the last few days, received many tributes and emails from all corners of the globe, so we thought a a memorial website where we can share our fondest memories and add photos of Len would provide his many friends from around the world an opportunity to pay their respects. You can find the site here ”. The latest picture:

 len aldis with children

As the East London News ends: “The people of Vietnam and of East London have lost a fearless and principled defender of their rights and a giant campaigner for justice”.

Responding to terrorism: a statement from Quakers in Britain

November 25, 2015

News Release: 24 November 2015


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As Parliament prepares to debate next steps in Syria, Quakers in Britain have made this statement.

The attacks in Paris on 13 November were deeply shocking and our hearts continue to go out to those killed, injured, bereaved and traumatised.

It is human nature that the closer suffering comes to us, the more acutely we feel the pain and grief. But that experience should sensitise us to the suffering caused repeatedly by acts of war and violent crime in more distant places, including Beirut, Sinai, Bamako and Aleppo. It should strengthen our determination to build a safer world together.

Terrorism is a deliberate attempt to provoke fear, hatred, division and a state of war. War – especially war with the West – is what ISIS/Daesh wants. It confirms the image they project of the West as a colonialist ‘crusader’ power, which acts with impunity to impose its will overseas and especially against Muslims.

The military actions of Western nations recruit more people to the cause than they kill. Every bomb dropped is a recruitment poster for ISIS, a rallying point for the young, vulnerable and alienated. And every bomb dropped on Syrian cities drives yet more people to flee and seek refuge in safer countries.

Our political leaders seem determined that Britain should look strong on the world stage. Quakers in Britain believe our country should act with wisdom and far-sighted courage. A wisdom that rises above the temptation to respond to every problem with military might. A wisdom that looks back at our failures in Libya and Iraq and Afghanistan and learns from experience. The courage – and strength – to think through the likely consequences of actions to find a long term, lasting solution.

The courageous response of ordinary people who refuse to give up their way of life and refuse to be driven by fear is one that politicians could learn from.

Although there are no quick or easy answers, there are things we can do, all of us together, which will defeat the terrorists more assuredly than military action. Quakers in Britain commit to playing our part in these actions.

We can quieten ourselves and listen to the truth from deep within us that speaks of love, mutual respect, humanity and peace.

We can and will refuse to be divided. By bridge-building among faiths and within our local communities we can challenge and rise above the ideologies of hate and actively love our neighbour.

By welcoming refugees, we can not only meet the acute needs of those individuals but also undercut the narrative of those who seek to create fear and mistrust.

And we can ask our political leaders to:

  • Treat terrorist acts as crimes, not acts of war
  • Stop arming any of the parties fighting in Syria
  • Observe international law and apply it equally to all parties
  • Build cooperation among nations, strengthening those international institutions which contribute to peace
  • Export peace rather than war, so that we can create the conditions the world needs to address its most serious problems, including climate change.

The statement concludes with this extract from a statement made by Quakers in Britain in 1943 (Quaker Faith and Practice 24.09):

“True peace cannot be dictated, it can only be built in co-operation between all peoples. None of us, no nation, no citizen, is free from some responsibility for this.”


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