Many readers will echo Verhofstadt’s view on the EU: “Once we fought now we talk!”

August 3, 2017

 

Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: “On this day in 1914, Germany declared war on France. Once we fought now we talk! This is why I am proud to be European!” 

Verhofstadt was once suggested as a candidate to replace Romano Prodi as the next President of the European Commission, but his candidacy was opposed and rejected by a coalition led by Tony Blair and other leaders who had disagreed with Verhofstadt’s uncompromising criticisms of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq the previous year.”

The writer wanted to learn more about this Belgian politician after receiving this link from Felicity Arbuthnot, whose recent audio account of the past and present of Mosul some readers will have heard.

Guy Verhofstadt served as the 47th Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008. He is the Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group and has been an MEP since 2009.

At one stage, he and his party, Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD), formed a coalition with the French-speaking Flemish socialists and Greens in Brussels and Wallonia.

He has been put forward as the possible candidate for replacing José Manuel Barroso as the president of the European Commission by a coalition of Greens, Socialists and Liberals.

In 2015 he supported the European Commission’s proposal to distribute asylum requests for migrants over all countries of the European Union, opposed by UK and France. He also called on governments of France, the UK, and Hungary to stop building walls and increasing border security measures and redirect their efforts to  humanitarian assistance.

There were other subjects on which we would not agree, but his position on migrants seems just and humane. He also fosters progressive political alliances which many in this country advocate.

 

 

 

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How can we learn from history to build a peaceful future?

July 15, 2015

PVDD 5The author of ‘Learning the Lessons of War’, published recently in the SGI Quarterly magazine, a Buddhist forum for peace, culture and education, Dr Peter van den Dungen, has been at the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, UK, since 1976. A peace historian, he is founder and general coordinator of the International Network of Museums for Peace. Some extracts follow but interested readers are urged to follow the link and read the article in full.

Hegel’s “We learn from history that we do not learn from history” is a well-known saying. Given the continuing prevalence of war, it can also be said that we certainly do not seem to learn from war, such a pervasive feature of history. However, Immanuel Kant, a great German philosopher and one of the most profound thinkers on war and peace, argued in the late 18th century that humankind learns from history and war, but only the hard way.

After the Napoleonic Wars (of which Kant witnessed the beginning), the main European powers instituted a “concert” system to prevent a similar violent disruption of the established international order.

A century later, the horrors of World War I resulted in the creation of the League of Nations, the first organization of its kind, which was meant to limit the recourse to war. It also established agencies and the Permanent Court of International Justice in order to address issues that otherwise might result in war.

These new institutions proved too weak to prevent another world conflagration, which occurred a mere two decades after the first one. During World War II, plans were laid for a successor world organization. The onset of the Cold War, the antagonism between the main powers since then and inherent weaknesses have made the United Nations a rather ineffective instrument for keeping the peace. At the same time, it cannot be denied that it pioneered new techniques (not even foreseen in the Charter) to limit or prevent war, such as UN peacekeeping operations.

The end of World War II also saw the beginnings of a process of economic and social cooperation that resulted in a new political entity, the European Union. The need for this, as the surest way to abolish war and poverty, was urged by the organized peace movement in the 19th century, and similar ideas had been put forward in peace plans formulated by visionaries in earlier centuries.

Airing books containing the names of atomic bomb victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Airing books containing the names of atomic bomb victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

World War II had other profound consequences, particularly for the two countries that were widely regarded as responsible for it–Germany and Japan. Apart from the terrible loss of civilian life and destruction of their cities, Germany was divided and Japan became the victim of the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both countries adopted peace constitutions with self-denying ordinances regarding their military capabilities and intentions. But in other respects, Germany learned lessons and pursued policies with the aim of achieving peace and reconciliation with its erstwhile adversaries, which have largely been lacking in Japan. They involve elements of apology, compensation, repair and restitution–expressed in moral, material and symbolical terms. Without such a deliberate and sincere strategy on the part of Germany, the project of European unification (of which the country has been the main pillar, together with France) would have been impossible.

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If Japan has learned lessons from the atrocities and crimes committed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the same cannot be said of the world as a whole.

Arnold Toynbee writes (in his autobiography, Experiences) that he had been jolted out of the traditional accepting attitude to war by the slaughter of half of his friends in World War I. The same revulsion against war was widespread in its aftermath. He noted that such revulsion “ought [to] have been total and universal from the moment . . . the world entered the Atomic Age.” He found that the American people, victorious in two world wars, had succumbed instead to militarism. Toynbee wrote this during the Vietnam War. Since then, the trauma of that war has been overshadowed by the events of 9/11, and militarism has become even more pervasive in American society.

An appropriate, meaningful and fruitful remembrance would amount to the initiation of nothing less than a worldwide program of peace education as part of the development of a comprehensive culture of peace. That peace is possible–indeed, that it is imperative for human survival–should be taught and learned in schools and universities and through peace museums.

In the modern world, museums are preeminent institutions, widely regarded as guardians of high culture that fulfill a major role in public education. It is telling that, whereas war and military museums are widespread (with hundreds of such museums in the US and UK alone) and often well-funded, peace museums are hard to find, with the singular exception of Japan. Likewise, war monuments abound, whereas antiwar and peace monuments are far less numerous. History textbooks have traditionally been dominated by war and its pretended heroes, with opponents of war and advocates of peace at best relegated to footnotes. The “invisibility” of peace in education, institutions and public life generally is a great hindrance to learning about peace and working toward it. In particular, museums honoring peacemakers of the past and present would inspire and encourage visitors to believe in peace and recognize their role in helping bring it about.

In this way, perhaps, Hegel’s sombre maxim may yet prove to be wrong.


David Edwards of Media Lens asks disturbing ‘basic questions’

March 21, 2014

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      • Who actually shapes foreign policy?
      • What are their goals?
      • How much influence does the public really have?

He adds: “In our society, as we have noted, defence issues are barely mentioned at election time, while foreign policy options among the major parties are limited to pro-war choices”.

Turning for help to the official record – released government documents – he quotes a passage revealing the thinking behind the mid-twentieth century wars in Vietnam and Korea, Southeast Asia: 

“The UK, the US and France agreed that it was ‘important for the economy of Western Europe that Western Europe trading and business interests in Southeast Asia should be maintained’, since it was ‘rich in natural resources and certain countries in the area at present produce surplus foodstuffs’. (Quoted, Ibid, p.20).”

The Pew Research Journalism Project found last September that ‘the No.1 message’ on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera, was ‘that the U.S. should get involved in the conflict’ in Syria.

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The ruinous consequences of military action

Edwards comments: “The surprise failure to achieve that war has been a festering wound in the psyches of cruise missile liberals everywhere ever since”. One such, Michael Ignatieff, is said to portray himself as a man of peace reluctantly forced to endorse war as a last resort. In March 2003, he wrote in the Guardian:

“Bush is right when he says Iraq would be better off if Saddam were disarmed and, if necessary, replaced by force . . . The problem is not that overthrowing Saddam by force is “morally unjustified”. Who seriously believes that 25 million Iraqis would not be better off if Saddam were overthrown?” Edwards disagrees: “No rational person can doubt (that 25 million Iraqis are not better off) after one million post-invasion deaths”.

Another journalist, Paul Mason, in his Channel 4 News blog last month, ‘How the west slipped into powerlessness,’ wrote: ‘When the USA decided, last summer, it could not sell military intervention in Syria – either to its parliaments, its people or its military – it sent a signal to every dictator, torturer and autocrat in the world . . . “. Media Lens challenged Mason who failed to reply. Points made included:

      • It is simply wrong to claim that the US is not intervening in Syria.
      • What right the US has to act as world policeman?

The US case for waging war without UN approval was clear: the alleged Syrian government use of chemical weapons. Given that this claim has been seriously challenged, Media Lens asked Mason what other basis he had in mind for waging war.

Finally, they asked him if the utterly horrific death toll resulting from the US-UK wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya caused him to question his view that the obstruction of a US attack was a ‘disaster’ for Syria.

They quoted epidemiologist Les Roberts, co-author of the 2004 and 2006 Lancet studies on the Iraq death toll: ‘There are a series of surveys now implying 1/2 million deaths is a low side estimate… I think the 650,000 estimate in the second Lancet study was low…Thus, I think there is little doubt 1/2 million died violently. I suspect the direct and indirect deaths exceeded 1,000,000…’ (Email to Media Lens, Les Roberts, January 11, 2014)

Western and regional governments share responsibility for Libya imploding into chaos and violence –  and so should the media

Patrick Cockburn notes in the Independent: “’Western and regional governments share responsibility for much that has happened in Libya, but so too should the media. The Libyan uprising was reported as a simple-minded clash between good and evil”. But Edwards describes the assault on Libya as “a major war crime, a blatant abuse of UN resolution 1973 in pursuit of regime change – illegal under international law”.

Media Lens puts these issues into perspective: “Spare a thought for people struggling to survive in Afghanistan. Or people dying under drone attack in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Or people dying under the tyrannies ‘we’ arm and support in Egypt, Israel, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and so on.

Read the article here: http://medialens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=758:killing-trend-the-cruise-missile-liberals&catid=52:alerts-2014&Itemid=245