Air Commodore Alastair Mackie, CBE, DFC and Bar, RAF pilot and CND campaigner: an appreciation

June 26, 2018

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In the 1980s Alistair Mackie signed the Just Defence Charter and, after reaffirming support by email on 15/01/2009, agreed to be placed on the C3000 mailing list. The editor now regrets that his e-messages were not saved, most being a few appreciative words whenever CND’s work was mentioned.

Appointed acting pilot officer in 1941, he was staying at The Royal Empire Society, now the Royal Commonwealth Society, near St James’s Palace. Unable to sleep, he made his way to the roof, saw the capital ablaze from an air raid and vowed to hit back.

In June 1944, during the Normandy landings, Mackie dropped soldiers and supplies from his Dakota aircraft, avoiding intense anti-aircraft fire. Other incidents of bravery and initiative are described in the Telegraph obituary (paywall, see text in link to Bruce Kent’s post).

In the 1950s, when Alastair Mackie was commanding a Royal Air Force squadron of nuclear-armed Vulcan bombers, the Times obituary reports, he realised that the degree of target accuracy in the radar assisted Vulcan was irrelevant – with nuclear weapons the area of destruction would be vast.

After moving to a senior role at the Ministry of Defence and seeing political machinations at close quarters, Mackie became a staunch critic of the government’s nuclear policy and vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). He felt that nuclear weapons were incompatible with his Christian faith and resigned from RAF at the age of 45, (see Bruce Kent’s CND post which includes the Telegraph obituary).

Mackie remained convinced that Britain’s nuclear strategy was ineffective, immoral and wasteful. In a 2009 letter to The Times he called Trident a “stick-on hairy chest virility symbol”.

His first book was Some of the People all the Time (Book Guild Publishing in 2006) and this post ends with a reflection in the memoirs of his service with the RAF, Flying Scot: An Airman’s Story.(2012):

“Man’s inhumanity to man has given place to man’s suicidal inhumanity to the planet . . . My shame at having been part of it as a Vulcan pilot is mitigated only by decades of membership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.”

Alistair Mackie: born on August 3, 1922, died on May 19, 2018

 

 

 

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The Myanmar peace process

June 20, 2018

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Welcoming our first reader from Burma/Myanmar in May, prompted an attempt to find out more about the search for peace in that country.

This picture of a stilt village in Myanmar is the only reference made on this site to several descriptions of social and environmental diversity found online.

Having only received news of the plight of the Rohingya refugees and the condemnation of Aung Suu Kyi’s lack of support for this minority, the writer’s search unveiled a far more complex situation than ongoing news bulletins have indicated.

The Panglong conference of 1947 between the Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic minority leaders and Aung San, head of the interim Burmese government led to an agreement to join in a union government that would give equal status to all citizens and press for independence.

The term ‘federalism’ was construed by many in Burma as being anti-national, anti-unity and pro-disintegration.

When the non-Burman ethnic groups pressed for autonomy or federalism, as incorporated in the 1947 Constitution, at a time when there was a weak civilian government, the military leadership staged a coup d’état in 1962, moving towards democracy gradually in the 90s.

Following the democratic election of the Thein Sein government in 2010, the government embarked on a series of reforms to direct the country towards liberal democracy, a mixed economy, and reconciliation, includes the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission, the granting of general amnesties for more than 200 political prisoners, new labour laws that permit labour unions and strikes, a relaxation of press censorship, and the regulation of currency practices.

By 2011, the government accepted the concept of federalism, one of the core principles of the ongoing peace process with the country’s ethnic armed groups.

            Map of Myanmar and its divisions, including Shan State, Kachin State, Rakhine State and Karen State.

The government allowed the use and discussion of federalism and the drafting of a Constitution by individual states and regions and international approval included:

• ASEAN’s approval of Myanmar’s bid for the position of ASEAN chair in 2014;
• a visit by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2011 – the first in more than fifty years,
• and the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the 2012 by-elections.

However, there were ongoing conflicts in Myanmar:

• The Kachin conflict between the Pro-Christian Kachin Independence Army and the government;
• a civil war between the Rohingya Muslims, and the government and non-government groups in Rakhine State;
• Armed conflict between ethnic Chinese rebels and the Myanmar Armed Forces have resulted in the Kokang offensive in February 2015. The conflict had forced 40,000 to 50,000 civilians to flee their homes and seek shelter on the Chinese side of the border
• a conflict between the Shan, Lahu, and Karen minority groups, and the government in the eastern half of the country.
• A widely publicised Burmese conflict was the 2012 Rakhine State riots, a series of conflicts that primarily involved the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist people and the Rohingya Muslim people in the northern Rakhine State—an estimated 90,000 people were displaced as a result of the riots.

The recent violence in Kachin State, where thousands have been forced from their homes because of renewed fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) that was reached under former president and retired army General Thein Sein. And despite this agreement, even groups that signed the deal are regularly having to fend off incursions by government soldiers into their areas.

Armed conflict between ethnic Chinese rebels and the Myanmar Armed Forces led to the Kokang offensive in February 2015. The conflict forced 40,000 to 50,000 civilians to flee their homes and seek shelter on the Chinese side of the border.

The army has stepped up its campaign while global attention focuses on the Rohingya crisis, which has seen some 700,000 people flee to Bangladesh.

General elections in November 2015 gave the National League for Democracy (NLD) an absolute majority in both chambers of the national parliament and Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed that peace with the ethnic minority groups would be her top priority. However, she has not continued with the talks initiated under the previous administration and it is reported that some negotiators who had championed her cause have been sidelined. Ethnic groups now say that the government team charged with finding peace rarely travels to their part of the country to see or hear at first-hand what the issues are.

The Myanmar Government does not include the Rohingya as a Burmese minority group

They are classified as stateless Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh since 1982—on the government’s list of more than 130 ethnic races and, therefore, the government states, they have no claim to Myanmar citizenship.

Wayne Hay reports that in 2012, there was a series of Rakhine State riots, conflicts that involved the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist people and the Rohingya Muslim people in the northern Rakhine State, displacing an estimated 90,000 people.
The Myanmar government’s Nationwide Ceasefire now has eight ethnic armed groups as signatories which could participate in the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference. The third meeting of the conference in the second week of July will discuss fundamental principles on federalism in Myanmar.

The Diplomat reports that the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) continues to insist that there should be a single army under the new federal arrangement. The ethnic armed groups, however, prefer having a federal army, which could allow them to keep their respective armed forces:

“Essentially, the Tatmadaw deems that the ethnic armed groups will be a threat to territorial integrity if they are to retain their weapons and personnel. It is also concerned that the union government would have little authority or control over the regional governments if there is a federal army.

“On the other hand, the ethnic armed groups argue that their forces have to be retained to serve either as a deterring factor or as a counter in the event of unexpected or unprovoked attacks from the Tatmadaw. Any conflict settlement arising from the process will not be sustainable if there is an element of mistrust between the negotiating parties.

“Trust cannot be built if attacks by the Tatmadaw continue alongside the civilian government’s efforts to conduct the peace process. Early this year, the Tatmadaw launched attacks on the Kachin and northern Shan States, triggering renewed clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). The Tatmadaw’s actions also strengthen the case for retaining the ethnic armed forces”.

Serving in the Kachin Independence Army

However, preservation of the union has been a longstanding belief of the Tatmadaw and its uncompromising stance could trigger the ethnic armed groups to maintain arms and continue the fight, providing justification for maintaining military operations against these armed groups.

Eugene Mark, a Senior Analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, ends:
“Immense challenges lie ahead for the peace process in Myanmar. However, if the peace process is to have any chance of succeeding, one should look at building trust between the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed groups as the starting point. Perhaps the best solution is for the two sides to listen to each other’s concerns and be ready to compromise in the larger interest of the country.

“Conflicts that are political in nature require political consensus”.

Those who want to read more about Burma’s complex and eventful history during these years, with one ference to CIA/USA intervention, can do on these sites:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panglong_Agreement
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panglong_Conference 47-62
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1962_Burmese_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat 
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-43933332
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-06/20/c_137267461.htm
https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/myanmars-challenging-path-to-peace/
https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2018/05/struggles-myanmar-peace-process-180502064233955.html

 

 

 

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The late John Roberts and Jeremy Corbyn: pragmatic idealists?

April 13, 2018

The late John Roberts would have welcomed the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Having recently revisited his work – ‘ahead of its time’ – the opening words in one essay come to mind:

“Since 7th August 1945 I have believed – and felt – that only by abolishing war would the sort of world that I wanted be possible. I have devoted more or less the whole of my life to pursuing ways that seemed to offer the possibility and hope of that being achieved or, at the least, of preventing a third world war”.

Greatly though I valued John Roberts as a person, at the time I thought his advocacy of World Citizenship, which will be published in due course on this site, was unrealistic, utopian. But it was visionary, in the positive sense of that word.

Now damage to the living, their infrastructure and above all, their environment, have deteriorated so much – and I see no other acceptable option offered by the great and the good.

Sienna Rodgers quotes Jeremy Corbyn:

“More bombing, more killing, more war will not save life, it will take lives and spawn the war elsewhere”.

He points out that even US defence secretary James Mattis – nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’ – has warned further military action could “escalate out of control”.

Sienna comments, “There appears to be an unspoken agreement, driven by a laddish culture, that those urging caution are being ‘soft’. But the Labour leader’s stance reflects the view held by the British public, 43% of which oppose missile strikes in Syria according to the latest YouGov research, though the majority of Britons (61%) believe that the Syrian government or their allies probably did carry out a chemical attack”.

 

Corbyn’s statement concludes: “The need to restart genuine negotiations for peace and an inclusive political settlement of the Syrian conflict, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces, could not be more urgent. We must do everything we can, no matter how challenging, to bring that about.”

 

 

 

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FT reader suggests ‘NATO – just STOP’!

February 4, 2018

 Anti-Russian propaganda escalates

Just one example: there were warnings about “huge” Russian wargames in September, raising alarm among the credulous. A briefing by Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, warned that Russia “has used big military exercises as a disguise or a precursor for aggressive military actions against their neighbours”, citing Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014.  The British Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, said the exercise was “designed to provoke us” and appeared to accept the estimate of 100,000 troops.

But Zapad-17 offered nothing more alarming than footage of Vladimir Putin observing the exercises through binoculars and a report that three people had been injured when a Russian helicopter accidentally fired on spectators.

The numbers forecast as 100,000 were put by all observers at between 10,000 and 17,000. Russia pointed out that their given numbers had been accurate and international borders had been respected.

Is this briefing done to strengthen the case for NATO expenditure and expansion?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. When that was dissolved in 1991, NATO decided to expand eastwards, though newly declassified documents confirm that – as Rodric Braithwaite, former British Ambassador to the Soviet Union, recounted in March 5, 1991 – British foreign minister Douglas Hurd and British PM John Major assured the Soviet leader that NATO would not expand eastwards.

Despite this assurance, expansion continued, with Albania, Croatia, Montenegro as the latest recruits. Roger Boyes, Berlin correspondent to The Times, warns that NATO’s expansion eastward needlessly provokes Russia and must stop growing if it wants to survive. Sardonically, Small People Against Big Government published this map:

He sees Turkey’s plans to buy a Russian-made S-400 missile defence system that cannot be integrated into NATO’s radar network – and the consequent training of Turks by Russia – as a serious problem for the alliance. Boyes believes that the Turkish president should observe its membership conditions or leave the alliance, losing nuclear weapons from the Incirlik base, new F-35 jets, training of Turkish soldiers and intelligence sharing.

Take seriously Putin’s fear of encirclement and end the process of NATO enlargement

Boyes concludes: “The correct response to Putin, then, is a paradoxical one. It doesn’t mean shelving rigorous sanctions policies against Putin, and it doesn’t mean we should recognise his illegal annexation of Crimea.  It is to take seriously his fear of encirclement and end the process of Nato enlargement . . . to stay credible a defence alliance has to live within its means, stay alert and regain the will to act. That has to be better than the present enfeebled ambiguity”.

Dr Harlan Ullman, described as the principal creator of “shock and awe”, fears that Vladimir Putin is turning this concept against NATO and “understands well how to rattle us” but adds that “Mr Putin has no intent of starting a war or invading any NATO member”.

In the Financial Times he deplores “relatively tiny deployments of military forces to central and eastern Europe that will still not be complete for months” adding that “While these token forces may reassure Nato allies, it is unlikely that Mr Putin is impressed”.

He prescribes a variant of shock and awe to defend ”the easternmost allies”: providing large numbers of anti-aircraft and anti-armoured-vehicle shoulder-fired missiles and local forces that would make any incursion very costly. Ullman also believes that assigning a US or UK Trident or French ballistic missile submarine to NATO would be a significant signal, as Russia has a ‘shorter-range nuclear numerical advantage’.

Though both conclude that Russia has no aggressive intentions towards NATO they could go further and heed the advice of an FT reader to STOP:How about just stopping to provoke the Russians? Stop your ‘colour’ revolutions in Russia’s backyard, stop trying to roll NATO’s (Washington’s occupation forces for Europe) tanks on Russia’s doorstep and stop any economic warfare”.

 

 

 

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Ireland protests: the EU Talking Peace – Preparing for War

January 26, 2018

As noted on this website, Ireland has a traditional policy of military neutrality defined as non-membership of mutual defence alliances, but in the midst of the ongoing controversy regarding Brexit and the fate of the Irish border, a very significant move by the Cabinet has gone almost unnoticed. This is the decision to give the go-ahead for Ireland to take part in EU plans for closer cooperation on ‘security and defence’ matters.

This plan, to establish permanent structured cooperation, is known as PESCO:

“Article 42 (6) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) according to which those “Member States whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a “view to the most demanding missions” shall establish permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) within the Union framework” – read more here.

The Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA), and the Peoples’ Movement are organising a Conference on PESCO in Dublin on Saturday 17th February 2018, 12pm-5pm.

PESCO is justified under the catch-all excuse of combating the growing threat of terrorism, and comes with the ritual assurance that this poses no threat to Ireland’s traditional and highly-regarded policy of neutrality.

One of the consequences of joining PESCO is that Ireland would be asked to increase spending on weapons and military affairs, requiring a leap in defence spending from the currently planned €946 million for 2018 to an estimated €3 billion+ annually by 2020, constituting a further abandonment of our traditional non-aggressive foreign policy.

The single greatest action that Ireland can take to combat terrorism is to withdraw the facilities of Shannon airport from the US military for use in their wars of aggression, wars which have played a major part in increasing the global terrorist threat in the first place. Read more here.

Demonstrators have held regular marches to protest the use of Shannon Airport by the US military: read more here.

Rather than joining military structures which proclaim the efficacy of military ‘solutions’ to complex political problems the experience of Ireland’s history should be used to offer solutions to such problems through dialogue and negotiation.

With the ever-increasing numbers of homeless people on Irish streets – and unprecedented numbers of refugees seeking safety on European shores, many forced from shattered homes as a result of Western-backed wars and weaponry – it is scandalous that the government plans to spend more money on militarism, further destabilising an already impoverished and war-weary world.

Opening address:
Ardmhéara Mícheál MacDonncha

Contributions from:
Lynn Boylan MEP, Lave K. Brock, People’s Movement, Denmark, Dr. Karen Devine, Luke Ming Flanagan MEP, Seamus Healy TD, Senator Alice Mary Higgins, Gino Kenny TD, Eamon Ryan TD

The Mansion House, Dawson Street, Dublin 2
Conference on PESCO

Saturday 17th February 2018, 12pm – 5pm

 

 

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In Great Russell Street, Blooms­bury: a plaque for Joseph Rotblat, the scientist who worked to avert the threat of nuclear war

November 11, 2017

Photograph by Valerie Flessati, who designed two peace trails, one through central London and one from Tavistock Square to the Imperial War Museum

This news came from Peter van den Dungen, who attended the unveiling of a plaque for Joseph Rotblat, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist who worked to avert the threat of nuclear war.

It was placed on the large building in Museum Mansions, Great Russell Street, Blooms­bury  where the Pugwash organisation – of which he was a founder – has an office, in which Professor Rotblat worked for many years. About 90 people were there and afterwards attended a reception in the Polish embassy.

The embassy’s website:

“The plaque is the result of a collaboration between the Polish Heritage Society UK (PHS), a charity dedicated to celebrating the achievements of Poles in the UK and their contribution to British life, the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in the United Kingdom and the British Pugwash”.

The Camden New Journal adds that the plaque was funded by money given to residents and civic groups to thank them for ‘accommodating’ the shooting of part of the film Wonder Woman in Bloomsbury, which – appropriately – had an anti-war message.

Joseph Rotblat, who described himself as “a Pole with a British passport”, was born in Warsaw on 4th November, 1908, and carried out his initial research into nuclear fission there, moving to Britain just before the outbreak of Second World War.  Read on here.

In 1944, he joined the Los Alamos Laboratory in the US as part of the Manhattan Project, which ultimately led to the development of nuclear weapons.

Shocked by the use of nuclear weapons against Japan, Rotblat was determined that his research should serve only peaceful ends and devoted himself to studying the medical and biological uses of radiation. In 1949, he became Professor of Physics at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. 

Rotblat became one of the most prominent critics of the nuclear arms race. In 1957, he chaired the first of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international organisation that brought together scholars and public figures from both sides of the Iron Curtain and around the world to work towards reducing the danger of armed conflict and to seek solutions to global security threats, particularly those related to nuclear warfare.

The Nobel Peace Prize 1995 was awarded jointly to Joseph Rotblat and Pugwash Conferences “for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms”

From our archives:

  • Professor Joseph Rotblat (CBE) was one of 32 signatories of the CHARTER FOR ‘JUST DEFENCE’.
  • In 1998 Peter van den Dungen met Professor Rotblat in London and had a long discussion about the peace museum, which Rotblat wished to support – but based in London, initially perhaps in the Dome. . .
  • Rotblat’s voice may be heard briefly in this podcast and in the powerful video War No More, with Bruce Kent, Martin Bell, Caroline Lucas, and Desmond Tutu, who spoke about the defensive defence policies of Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and New Zealand.

And the latest word this year comes from his close friend and colleague Bruce Kent:

“Let’s return to Joseph Rotblat, who years ago took us back to fundamentals. In his ‘A World without War’ speech in 2002 he said: ‘getting rid of nuclear weapons is not enough. To safeguard the future of humanity we have to eliminate not only the instruments of waging war, but war itself.’

“Time to write to your local paper explaining what a lot of dangerous nonsense is today passing for defence”.

 

 

 

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The overriding moral imperative: to avoid war

August 20, 2017

In the Financial Times recently Dr Jenny Clegg wrote: “The overriding moral imperative has to be to avoid war. The preservation of the international multilateral system requires it”.

She added, “Britain is in a position to exercise some influence here . . . At the moment, other world leaders are calling for calm, with German chancellor Angela Merkel saying clearly that she sees no military solution to the conflict, but we hear nothing from UK prime minister Theresa May”.

Dr Clegg points out that Russia and China have called for North Korea to put its nuclear and missile programmes on hold, while the US and South Korea cease their joint military exercises. The aim is to create an atmosphere more conducive to the resumption of the six-party talks, in line once again with the latest UN resolution.

Two days later, on August 17th, Brian Eno, Bruce Kent, Mark Rylance, Emma Dent Coad and Michael Rosen were among the signatories to a letter calling for Theresa May to exert diplomatic pressure on Donald Trump to de-escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Last November, RAF Mildenhall announced that the Royal Air Force took part for the first time in military exercises on the Korean peninsula alongside the US and South Korean military.

Royal Air Force Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, the RAF chief of air staff; Lt. Gen. Won, In-Choul, the South Korean Air Force Operations Command commander; and Lt. Gen Thomas W. Bergeson, 7th Air Force commander, participated in a media event for Invincible Shield at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Nov. 8, 2016

The civilised echo Dr Clegg’s call: “Will Theresa May now take the step to support the “freeze for freeze” by ruling out committing any armed forces, including for joint exercises, in the region?”

Dr Jenny Clegg (Chorlton, Manchester, UK) is a senior lecturer in Asia Pacific Studies at the University of Central Lancashire. She first visited China in the 1970s and has followed developments there closely ever since. Her published work includes ‘China’s Global Strategy: towards a multipolar world’ (Pluto Press, 2009), and ‘Fu Manchu and the ‘Yellow Peril’: the making of a racist myth’ (Trentham Books, 1994). She has produced a number of publications on China’s rural reforms as well as foreign relations.

 

 

 

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