Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko: for more than 27 years, quiet symbols of a now pacifist nation

August 12, 2016

A televised speech by Emperor Akihito of Japan is being described by the country’s media as his final act of resistance against the prime minister, a bid to halt the return to Japan’s aggressive pre-war attitudes and policies as Japan’s remilitarization is steadily underway with a revived weapons industry and rising armaments sales.

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The emperor remembers the war and its aftermath first hand and was thought to be making a lightly veiled reference to these issues in some passages: “I have considered that the first and foremost duty of the Emperor is to pray for peace and the happiness of all the people. At the same time, I also believe that in some cases it is essential to stand by the people, listen to their voices, and be close to them in their thoughts.”

Mari Yamamoto in the IAC/InterActiveCorp’s Newsweek/Daily Beast notes that in recent years, the emperor’s speeches and those of Crown Prince Naruhito have been studied for their sentiments on the importance of pacifism and the post-war constitution:

“They have remembered honestly Japan’s crimes during the war, and voiced subtle opposition to the renewed militarism of the current administration” 

japan article 9 graphicShe adds that the Emperor and his wife, Empress Michiko, have reigned more than 27 years as quiet symbols of a pacifist nation, living voices reminding the Japanese people of the horrific past that the country endured and that Imperial Japan imposed on others, whereas Prime Minister Abe and his political allies have long derided Japan’s constitution as a humiliation imposed upon the Japanese people by the United States occupation government, impinging on “basic human rights.”

On his birthday in 2013, the Emperor said: “After the war, Japan was occupied by the Allied forces and, based on peace and democracy as values to be upheld, established the Constitution of Japan, undertook various reforms and built the foundation of Japan that we know today. I have profound gratitude for the efforts made by the Japanese people at the time, who helped reconstruct and improve the country devastated by the war. I also feel that we must not forget the help extended to us in those days by Americans with an understanding of Japan and Japanese culture.”

Abe’s visit to the shrine and the problems surrounding it were taken up in the 2015 US government report, Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress (PDF). The Imperial Family, even during the previous emperor’s reign came to an end, stopped paying their respects after fourteen convicted war criminals were enshrined in 1978. Neither the current emperor nor the crown prince has visited Yasukuni since.

In recent years, the Royal Couple have visited the sites where Japanese soldiers died overseas, expressing their condolences also to the foreign nationals killed in the war, but in contrast Abe and many in his party are known supporters of the Yasukuni Shrine where Japan’s convicted war criminals such as Hideki Tojo are remembered.

“Everything the Emperor says is correct,” said the acting head of Nippon Kaigi, Tadae Takubo, in a press conference last month – a pronouncement which puts Abe and his cabinet in a difficult position.

Will he retire and see his wishes respected in a pacifist Japan,  with a constitution that guarantees basic human rights and renounces war?

 

 


Marching to a different drum in Moseley

July 10, 2016

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LTN placards (2).jpeg

.Credit: William Baldwin, reduced from the excellent high-definition original..

Three people on our mailing list attended this gathering. Participants were members of the Moseley Society, Forum, CDT, Festival and Buddhist, Humanist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Christian and of ‘no faith’. We thank Richard Tetlow for sending this text. .

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Dear Neighbours, ‘LOVE OUR NEIGHBOUR’? Yes. What a good idea! It is not new, you know, only over 3,000 years old! It’s become a movement spreading round Birmingham. ……. Anyway, who is our neighbour?

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Right now we are all neighbours, Moseley neighbours, both locals and visitors. My name is Richard Tetlow and I am convenor of the Moseley Inter Faith Group. I welcome you here on behalf of all those who have supported this gathering. But this is not another Independence Day …….for we are here to share basic human solidarity and to listen to one another, not just to me, I am simply blowing the whistle. When I finish it will be your turn to take a poster and a sticker, pose beautifully for a photo and talk with one another and that …will be that! ……Please now turn and share a welcome with one another, especially someone you do not know.

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We live in……… ‘interesting times’……….. but we have to beware ‘interesting times, they can prove difficult. At present, times are undoubtedly very difficult and they may get tougher both in Britain and in Europe. They may not. I do think our government has made a terrible and unnecessary mess just as the previous Labour government achieved in  Iraq! Let us take a very deep sigh together!  It is not helpful to be too alarmist. And…we do need to keep a sense of proportion: we are not in Baghdad or Syria or Dallas. We are where we are and we have our own responsibilities.

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So what kind of society do we want?       for ourselves, for our families, our young people, for one another and for far off neighbours?……. for we are all interdependent. What kind of city, what kind of country do we want to be members of, for us, for families, for children?

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Do we want it to be one in which our neighbour, whoever that is, feels unwanted, nervous, fearful and insecure, not at home? ….We know and we hear about people who are feeling just that and unwelcome in Britain.  The scorn…. rudeness… offensiveness and apparent hatred these people have experienced, the huge escalation of hate crimes recorded, people being told to leave and that they are not wanted or just a threatening atmosphere however personal their response! Away from Moseley, we have probably seen or heard of violence from the TV and papers, bullying in school, even a shop set on fire.

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I have personally talked with people in Moseley, Christian and Muslim, British Bosnian, Polish, Nigerian, Afro- Caribbean, Pakistani and British Jewish who feel very anxious despite having been in this country for years or even born here. The situation is especially frightening to the very vulnerable of our society.  At least the Welsh are probably welcomed, if only to teach the English how to play football.

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Who would say such behaviour on our streets and in our public places is acceptable? Such behaviour has been let out of a stinking bag of all sorts and it is not acceptable. Such individuals even in a privileged place like Moseley do however seem since the Referendum process began to be part of a morass on a national scale of dehumanising others, splitting families, communities, propagating instability and anxiety. Space and even permission has been taken or given for racism and xenophobia. If such behaviour becomes the norm then that really would be dangerous.  However, I do think we have to seek to understand the behaviour and attitudes of others …and our own too!

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What should and can we do about it right now?……Are we as powerless as we often think? Certainly, some of us are more powerless and more powerful than others. That’s why some of us voted to somehow get out of Europe …….but whatever way we voted in the Referendum is not our issue now.  I do not accept that any of us are totally powerless……and I doubt if any of us do, when we think about it.

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Let me ask you: what matters most to you in your body, mind and spirit? What is life basically about, whatever faith, philosophy or belief we have or do not? What about the vision, integrity and ideals which have been shamefully absent over recent weeks?  Of course we are all different with different backgrounds and lives but I believe that those are three fundamental questions for everyone, everywhere: what matters to us, what is life about and what is our vision.

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I also believe that the prime issue that for humanity is ………what? humanity – surprisingly! -human relationships and behaviour, how well we love and care for one another and give respect to all people. The word this Love your neighbour movement uses is love.  It’s not a political word nor one fashionable in public except when we hear there is no love lost between a and b, mentioning no names!

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We could use it more, especially those of us who are men……Surely we are not powerless concerning matters of love  and we don’t like to think we are either, whether in receiving or giving. I do not believe that anyone is at heart indifferent to loving and being loved, including those perpetrating the hatred and violence.

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What can we do publicly? Our posters encourage us to do one act of kindness each day. We may wonder how. I suggest…. by simply listening and paying our full attention to someone else and not ourselves, especially someone you think is very different to you. Phones switched off for a while. We could all do that. If that is too little for you, do it all day! And that may mean actually learning another’s experience and point of view. For what is this love anyway?

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It is many sided but I think love it is about wishing the best for someone else and trying to act on that. Maybe you agree with me that that attitude goes both ways and it can be win, win. It is not a lot to seek but I suggest it is our responsibility. We do not know what is going to happen politically in Britain or the EU but we ourselves have to start somewhere. I do not find hope easy right now but hope is vital. If everyone listened to one another we can hope that wonders will result …………beginning here in Moseley. What better place to set an example! We have to start with ourselves.

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I’ve said enough. It’s your turn to talk ….and listen… with one another. Try listening to a new neighbour – even both listening at the same time is fun.  Thank you for coming.  I just ask that first we keep silence for a short while with our own feelings and thoughts but remembering Jo Cox and her inspiration and our all too human national leaders.

 

 

 

 


‘Great’ Britain rampant – despite Chilcot the British prime minister hastens to aid our special friend

July 8, 2016

The UK is to take over the rotating leadership of Nato’s “very high readiness” joint task force, created after the last summit of alliance leaders in Wales in 2014. Three thousand British troops, based in Britain and Germany, will eventually make up the bulk of the 5,000-strong detachment, with forces from countries including Denmark, Spain, Estonia and the US.

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How many will survive to regret this?

Stripping away innuendo and insinuation, an article by Deborah Haynes in Warsaw records that five hundred British troops will be stationed from next year in Estonia and 150 will form an “enduring” presence in Poland. The forces will be “defensive in nature but clearly combat capable”, a Whitehall source said. They will be part of a commitment by NATO to station four new battalions, totalling about 4,000 personnel, as part of a reinforcement of NATO’s border with Russia. A further 3,000 British military personnel will lead a new emergency task force in 2017.

In a strategic use of terminology, the force will be described as a “persistent” or “enduring” presence, to avoid breaking a longstanding deal with Russia that Nato will not “permanently” deploy troops on its eastern flank.

The Murdoch Times reports that there is (American/NATO?) concern that countries such as Germany and France are seeking to build a European army rather than focussing their military resources on NATO.

The article twice anticipates a verbal rebuke from Moscow and records that NATO members who are neighbours of Russia are concerned that President Putin may seek to create unrest within their borders as well. 

David Cameron is reported to have said: “The UK is proud to be taking the lead role, deploying troops across eastern Europe.”

Many readers, however, will feel apprehensive – certainly not proud – echoing Germany’s foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in warning against “saber-rattling and war cries” directed toward Russia and joining the United States Conference of Mayors, in condemnation of NATO’s Anaconda War Games and massing of troops on Russia’s border.

 

 


NATO wargames condemned by the United States Conference of Mayors

July 4, 2016

 

The United States Conference of Mayors, town and city leaders administering populations greater than 30,000, condemned NATO’s Anaconda War Games on Russia’s border as increasing the threat of nuclear conflict.

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“NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia”, according to Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-general

But Sam Jones, the FT’s defence and security editor, reports at length on ‘European wargames’. NATO has been supporting Kevadtorm (“Spring Storm”): a military ‘exercise’ in which around 1,000 troops from Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, the US and Portugal, have been deployed to Estonia to train and ‘play the enemy’ (above).

Across the Baltic, under the alliance’s aegis, Latvia held “Summer Shield” with 1,100 troops, Lithuania has begun “Iron Wolf”, with 5,000 troops and in June, “Saber Strike” saw thousands of US troops airlifted into the entire region and in Poland, “Anakonda”, a 31,000-man war game closed a few weeks ago.

It is said that NATO is worried by Russia’s plans

More than 2,000 exercises and wargames, snap drills and rapid mobilisation exercises will be held, that could see tens of thousands of troops deployed in Russia’s western military zone. NATO’s defence ministers in Brussels will ask for 3,000 to 4,000 NATO troops, in four battalions — one American, one British, one Canadian and one German — to be stationed in the three Baltic states and Poland on a “persistent” basis.

The alliance’s political unity is being challenged by a divergence of views

Next week Warsaw’s NATO biennial summit will take place but some NATO members have other priorities: Southern European members are preoccupied by the Mediterranean migrant crisis and Jones reports that Germany, whose diplomats are known to have the closest ties to the Russian government, fears that NATO is entering into a wildly irresponsible game of military bluff.

With activity in Afghanistan winding down, the Wales NATO summit focussed on responding to the Ukrainian crisis, but ‘dovish voices’ in the alliance believed further mobilisation would be too provocative at the time.

Jones writes that Russia perceives the US game-plan as a military formula of “regime change” to topple or destabilise governments that do not bend to western economic and democratic values.

Russia says that its borderland military build-up is a response to NATO’s own growing military presence. In May 2014, Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff, speaking at the Moscow International Security Conference, described NATO’s reinforcement of the Baltic states and Poland as part of a grander game to expand aggressively the alliance’s influence in Ukraine and, by implication, Russia itself. Successive conflicts after 1990, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the Arab Spring were seen as part of a continuum, as were the Rose revolution in Georgia (2003), the Orange revolution in Ukraine (2004), the green movement in Iran (2009) and most recently, the Syrian civil war.

The Rand Corporation is a think-tank founded by the Douglas Aircraft Company and now funded by the US government, university collaborators & private sources, with clients including the CIA and Defence Advanced Research Projects. It has concluded that with its current forces, “NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members”.

However, one general says it would be unable to deploy “east of the Oder” in the event of outright war. It would simply be too vulnerable during transit and deployment and the logistical planning for the spearhead rapid reaction brigade VJTF would be hampered by:

  • private-sector ownership of infrastructure across Europe, which means NATO now has to deal with many interlocutors to shift even the most modest number of tanks around the continent;
  • military vehicles which do not comply with some countries’ exhaust emission rules;
  • special permits taking weeks to sign off, which have to be applied for before each exercise;
  • though the VJTF is supposed to deploy in no more than 48 hours, the truck drivers transporting its tanks and artillery still need to take their EU-mandated minimum sleeping hours and
  • it takes an average of five days to get the right clearances in place to move troops around Europe, far short of the promised 48 hours rapid response time.

us conf mayors

 The United States Conference of Mayors’ resolution added: “The Obama administration has not only reduced the US nuclear stockpile less than any post-Cold War presidency, but also decided to spend on trillion dollars to maintain and modernize its nuclear bombs and warheads, production facilities, delivery systems, and command and control”. It seems, however, that NATO, backed by the Rand Corporation is calling for additional expenditure to counter the alleged Russian threat.

The country’s mayors are a voice of peace and reason in the face of mounting influence by the foreign policy establishment and defense lobbyists, and have rendered similar resolutions calling for the United States to pursue a less threatening foreign policy for 11 consecutive years.


Conceding the EU’s shortcomings, as individuals and as a nation we have much to gain from continued membership

June 16, 2016

A clear and persuasive article in the Friend, 17 June 2016

 

Over the years my wife and I have been to Vienna, Strasbourg, Prague, Amsterdam and Florence and walked across a Rhine footbridge into Germany into the small German town of Kehl. In all these places we were genuinely welcomed and felt a real sense of being Europeans.

While conceding that the EU has its shortcomings, we believe that as individuals and as a nation we have much to learn and to gain from continued membership. This view is shared by many financial, medical, cultural, trade and human rights organisations with a much greater insight than we can claim.

We would be deeply concerned if, in event of Brexit, the UK became even more dependent on the expansionist foreign and military policy of the United States, which, I believe, has a long record of ousting elected democracies by force.

The US accounts for almost half of all global spending on weapons; it sells to the UK the missiles needed for our Trident weapons of mass destruction, and it provides huge military support to Saudi Arabia and Israel, two countries that, arguably, have fomented instability in the Middle East.

We believe it would be much harder to solve problems diplomatically if the UK were to leave the EU, and that such an exit would itself trigger serious political/financial instability within Europe, to the great cost of ordinary people.

The EU can do much to improve employment conditions and human rights, which could be greatly furthered by further international research and development collaboration, projects in transport, education and climate change prevention.

Ken and Kay Veitch

Cheshire East Area Meeting


Peace in Europe: a precious legacy demeaned

May 28, 2016

Jill Segger opened her article on Ekklesia’s website by recalling David Cameron’s suggestion that Brexit could put European peace at risk and Boris Johnson, ridiculing him with a reference to Germany crossing the border into France and continues:

This kind of political vaudeville demeans the very concept of peace making and keeping, of conflict avoidance and resolution, of memory, sorrow and of the responsibility which we all bear for making it possible for populations to live and flourish in freedom from war. It is historically and morally illiterate and is contrived to sow fear.

I am old enough to have experienced the shadow of the war which ended in the decade before I was born. As a young child, I saw around me men – still in youth or early middle-life – whose bodies had been fractured by war. I had too, a child’s incomplete awareness of the ruin wrought in minds and souls by physical horror and tormented consciences.

The founding fathers of what was to become the European Union belonged to that wounded generation and to the one which was formed by the war of 1914-18. Churchill, Schuman, De Gaulle, Adenauer, Heath and their younger contemporaries, were formed by the two huge conflicts of the 20th century which had their origins, if not their ultimate boundaries, in Europe. For these men, ‘never again’ had a meaning which we must neither lose nor cheapen in pursuit of lesser goals.

As the last generation to have experienced the horror of continental war passes, so too may our understanding of the irenic agency of sharing economic power and a degree of sovereignty. Ties of shared interest, cooperation and knowledge are the enemies of that concept of ‘otherness’ which may be exploited for alienation and hostility in times of difference. It is in the spreading of that shared interest that we may best maintain what was envisaged in the Schuman Declaration of May 1950.

That vision realised that coal and steel – the raw materials of weapons production – were key to ensuring that nation states which had long seen their military-industrial complexes as the tools of competing empires, would instead develop a common interest. Battleships and bombers were to be beaten into BMWs and railways. Thus the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the EU, gave us the connection to sustainable peace in words which are still relevant almost seven decades later: “The pooling of coal and steel production… will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims.”

Of course Europe has, during those decades, been subject to incidences of failure which mark the human condition. Armed conflict has occurred in the former Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Crimea. But these are not EU states and though a Europe committed to peace must consider its responsibilities and its potential here, let us not lose sight of the fact that it is truly impossible to imagine France and Germany ever at war again.

It is this seed of cooperation sown in the psyche of Europe which has inspired and kept peace. Steel and coal were the engines of moral movement among millions of Europeans. That role was not, and never will be, fulfilled by Nato. A military alliance, requiring its members to contribute two per cent of their GDP for armaments, is as for removed from that redemptive vision of changing the destinies of nations, once bounded by the making and usage of weaponry, as it is possible to conceive. It can never be an instrument of peace.

Peace is not just the absence of war. It is the choice to strive for understanding and solidarity, to root out injustice and hatred in ourselves and others, to make policies which will enable the sowing of peace and to cultivate societies which will sustain it. This is our legacy from statesmen who had seen their continent sundered and deformed by total war twice in the space of 25 years.

And it is far too precious an inheritance to be demeaned by the ahistoric and morally inadequate knockabout of shallow, opportunistic politicians.


Army chaplain condemns U.S. policy of preventive war, permanent military supremacy and global power projection

May 19, 2016

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Mark Shapiro has forwarded a link to an article by Andrea Germanos reporting the resignation of an Army chaplain with the 354th Transportation Battalion at Fort Totten, New York. The Army Times relates his growing unease here.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, Rev. John Antal, now a Unitarian Universalist Church minister in Rock Tavern, New York, wrote:

“The Executive Branch continues to claim the right to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any tie, for secret reasons, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials.”

Zubair gran pakistan usaidIronically, as a USAID-funded program enables a grandmother in Pakistan to learn to grow vegetables and preserve food, US drone strikes kill another over the border.

Antal served as a chaplain from September 2012 to February 2013 at the Kandahar Airbase in southern Afghanistan. “While deployed,” he wrote in February last year, a the Times Herald-Record, “I concluded our drone strikes disproportionately kill innocent people.

Less than a month after I deployed to Afghanistan, on October 24th, 2012, a grandmother who lived over the hill from our base camp was out gathering okra in a field when she was killed by a U.S. drone strike . . . I didn’t see her, or anyone else, die. All I saw were the drones, taking off, landing, and circling around. I did not even hear the explosion . . .

At a US congressional briefing 13-year-old Zubair Rehman described how he saw his grandmother blown to bits by two hellfire missiles on the day in question, asking his American audience: “Why?” They didn’t have an answer”. Official sources claimed they killed “militants” that day. Rev. John Antal continues:

Zubair gran okra“From the perspective of both religious wisdom and military values, drone warfare, as conducted by the United States today, is a betrayal of what is right.

“Military leadership has a responsibility to advocate for a method of war-fighting consistent with military values like respect, integrity, and personal courage. Too often, I worry, our program of drone warfare falls short of these ideals.

“I resign because I refuse to support U.S. policy of preventive war, permanent military supremacy, and global power projection”.

His letter of resignation may be seen on the Portside website

 

 


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