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Our God is better than yours: BAE & the god of thunder

Yesterday,  my old Catholic Worker friend Ciaron O’Reilly and I undertook a protest vigil at BAE Warton.    Both of us had been to BAE Warton many times in the past and indeed, both of us have a life-time injunction to keep off all British Aerospace (the former name of BAE Systems) property.   Nevertheless we made an eight-hour round trip by car up to Preston as BAE systems were calling people to gaze upon their new unmanned combat drone, Taranis, as it was being launched.  

Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, is  the newest unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone which is just the latest in a long line of weapons used in erroneous belief that they will provide a clean and tidy solution to a conflict – time and again history has proved that this is a myth.  

The reality is that bigger and deadlier weapons will not bring peace or security- infact the reverse is true.   “Integrity will bring peace, justice give everlasting security” says  Isaiah 32:17 

 For more on drones and the protest see http://dronewarsuk.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/taranis-new-drone-same-old-protesters/

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Of Afghanistan, Bethlehem and Essex

Yesterday I took part in day two of the five day Trail of Tears for Afghanistan walk organised by the wonderful Justice not Vengeance. The walk started at the Ministry of Defence in Central London to Colchester Garrison where soldier Joe Glenton is currently serving a nine-month sentence for refusing to return to Afghanistan. Yesterday we started at the Ilford army recruiting office and finished at the Brentwood Territorial Army Depot – a stretch of thirteen miles which is the longest I’ve walked for many, many years (and it was v. hot!)

Along the thirteen mile stage from Ilford to Brentwood via Romford, we had a lot more support than I really expected. Of course there was the occasion hurled bit of abuse, but it was far outweighed by the supportive comments and thumbs-up from many people we passed. The war in Afghanistan is deeply unpopular  with a large cross section of our society.
The walk was an opportunity to catch up with some old friends but also a chance to make new ones. At one point I fell into conversation with a young Scottish women who I discovered had just returned from doing an internship at Wi’am, the Palestinian Nonviolence Centrer, set-up by my old friend Zoughbi Zoughbi in Bethlehem.

In the evening I spoke about the growing use of armed drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan at a public meeting organised by the walk’s organisers, JNV and then drove back to Oxford along with Ann, the newly elected Chair of Pax Christi. What I call a good day!

Peace Pentecost

Some people will know that I am stepping down as Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) in a few weeks to begin a new adventure – Fig Tree.   Fig Tree is the umbrella under which I will undertake work for peace and nonviolence and to challenge the culture of violence and militarism.   In many senses this is a continuation of the work that I have been doing for the last seven years at FoR (and, indeed for twenty years or more under different hats).  Its hard therefore in some senses  to say ‘this is when Fig Tree starts’.  But a few weeks back I realised that Pentecost was on the horizon and decided that Fig Tree starts at Pentecost.

Putting posters on MoD wall with Susan

I’d mentioned Pentecost as a possible day for action to my friends in London Catholic Worker and we agreed to undertake a Pentecost action against the war in Afghanistan at the MoD building in Whitehall.  Writing a leaflet for the event, I came across the following in a homily by Fr. John Dear  

Pentecost marks the beginning of the Christian community’s public speaking about the nonviolent Jesus. It is the day when they were empowered to speak out boldly, come what may.  Out they go into the streets, speaking out. They gather crowds about them and tell of the nonviolent Jesus, of his love and peace, of his death and resurrection, of his new realm of nonviolence. And as always, preaching “for” bears a stand “against” — against empire, against its violence and wars, against executions and laws. Soon the Sanhedrin and other authorities get the gist of the message implied against them, and the disciples find themselves in trouble. Some land in jail, some go off to martyrdom. All enter God’s reign of peace

At the MoD four of us put up posters on the building in English and Afghan calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan, whilst others prayed, held banners and leafleted passersby.  Whilst our ‘speaking out for peace’ did not receive the same attention as long ago in Jerusalem – indeed our posters were soon torn down by the police and our leaflets went mostly unread, our prayers for peace, we know, do not go unnoticed.  As we sat at the foot of the massive stones of the MoD main building, we were comforted in the knowledge that they will one day fall, and everyone will,  one day,  live in peace ‘under their own vine and fig tree’.  Amen Continue reading

Liam Fox appointed 'Defence' Secretary

The newly appointed Defence Secretary Liam Fox has been pretty busy.  Not only has he had to get his feet under the table at the office and prepare for the strategic defence review, but he also found time to take part in the very first meeting of the brand new National Security Council and to send a message to all defence staff.  Not for him the quiet settling in period.  In his message  Liam Fox repeated the tired line that British forces are not in Afghanistan “out of choice”, but out of ” necessity”.  This tired  nonsense does not bode well for the coming defence review under Liam Fox’s leadership.

And still it goes on …

Sickened by the coverage of the ‘glorious dead’ recently. Came across this in the library this afternoon with the kids…

“Let him who thinks War is a glorious, golden thing, who loves to roll forth stirring words of exhortation, invoking Honour and Praise and Valour and Love of Country … let him but look at a little pile of sodden grey rags that cover half a skull and a shin-bone and what might have been its ribs, or at this skeleton lying on its side, resting half crouching as it fell, perfect but that it is headless, and with the tattered clothing still draped round it; and let him realise how grand and glorious a thing it is to have distilled all Youth and Joy and Life into a foetid heap of hideous putrescence! Who is there who has known and seen who can say that Victory is worth the death of even one of these?”

Roland Leighton serving on the Western Front, to his Sweetheart, Vera Brittain. (Roland Leighton was killed in action in December 1915).

HMS Cant and Poppycock

“It is easy to lose sight of the fact that one of the core businesses of Government is the defence of the country and of national interests, and that is every bit as true during difficult financial times as during more settled ones. The thinking of easier times (when public spending on health, education and social security was increased by much more than that on defence) must not be allowed to continue into these troubled times. The defence of our country must be maintained whatever the circumstances”. Defence Select Committee, 4th report, 10 Feb 2010

Strong words from the Defence Select Committee yesterday. Except time and again,(most recently in the Defence Green Paper published just last week), the government has acknowledged that “there is no external direct threat to the territorial integrity of the UK”

So all this huff and puff about “defence of our country” is poppycock. By all means try to make the argument that we need to have sufficient armed force to invade other countries to enforce regime change so that the West’s economic and political interests are served, but please do not dress this up as “defence of our country”.

I think we are all going to need strong stomachs over the the next few months as there will be a lot of cant spoken about ‘defence’ as the strategic defence review gears up.

Tory Defence Review? We'll see


Dr Fox (no, not the DJ, the Tory Shadow Defence Secretary) laid out the Tories thinking on the proposed defence review yesterday at RUSI. Whilst paying lip service to the idea of needing to make cuts, he made an absolute commitment to maintaining Trident and dismissed the idea of any merger between the three armed ‘services’.

The primary focus of the Tory review would appear not to be on how best to maintain and develop national and global security for the people of Britain, nor how to bring ‘freedom and democracy to those suffering under oppression and dictatorship’ (the current in vogue reasons for war in Iraq and Afghanistan) but to keep the UK as a “first division” global power. “We are at a tipping point in Britain” said the former DJ (oops! sorry, Tory leader) “We need to decide if we want to stay in the first division or slide into the second division,” “I choose the former.”