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‘War is Peace’

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At the podium: Organiser Johnny Gaunt

At the podium: Organiser Johnny Gaunt

STOP THE WAR Aberystwyth and Ceredigion, a new grouping in the local peace and justice movement, organised a seminar entitled ‘War is Peace – the meaning of imperialism today’.

On Saturday (Sept 22), the seminar took place in the Round Theatre of Aberystwyth Arts Centre. The expression ‘War is Peace’ originates in George Orwell’s novel 1984 as one of the core ‘newspeak’ slogans of the totalitarian party that rules Oceania. That party’s concept of ‘doublethink’ demands that people simultaneously believe both the truth and the falsity of statements without being troubled by the contradiction. And, indeed, perhaps there is none for Imperialism when geography is considered.

Because the argument might be made that war ‘over there’ ensures peace ‘at home’. Conversely, waging wars against distant others may increase the danger to our nearest and dearest. Again, doublethink allows us to believe both of these propositions simultaneously without disquieting ourselves.

In the introduction to the seminar, organiser Johnny Gaunt noted that it is 15 years since the ‘War on Terror’ was launched in retaliation for the devastating 9/11 attacks:

“This war, we were told, was to make us safe. A decade and a half later, and the world is much less safe than it ever was before the attacks in New York. Each country that has been privy to ‘Western intervention’ is in turmoil: Afghanistan; Iraq; Libya; Syria. The repercussions, the rise of ISIS and the sharp increase in global terrorism have become incalculable.”

‘EVIL’ AND WHAT LIES AHEAD

The more than 50 people who attended the seminar heard Professor Ken Booth, senior academic researcher and author on international diplomacy at Aberystwyth University, explore the use of the word ‘evil’ in politics.

John Rees, activist, writer and national officer of Stop the War Coalition, gave his account of UK foreign policy and an analysis of what lies ahead after the US presidency election. Ayla Gol, originally from Turkey, Reader and Director of Graduate School at the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University, had been due to talk about Syrian Refugees and Turkey but, unfortunately, had to cancel at the last minute.

BLAIR ‘A POST-TRUTH POLITICIAN’

Ken Booth described the root of war as ‘violent clashes of interests beyond diplomacy’. He noted that many wars do not happen because people disagree on the way they see the situation, rather ‘they agree completely, both parties want the same thing – but for themselves and not for the other!’ Booth’s research shows that there are many reasons for war, with language being one important factor.

He explained how war is justified by the heavy use of words like ‘national interest’, ‘nation state’, ‘independence’, ‘democracy’ and the use of words like ‘inhuman’ and ‘evil’ to describe the ‘enemy’. Calling Blair ‘the first example of a post-truth politician’, Booth explained how Bush and Blair used the words ‘evil’, ‘monster’ and ‘inhuman’ in describing Saddam Hussein, thus effectively barring any possibility of diplomatic resolutions to the situation and justifying their attack upon him because he was not a human being.

Booth views ‘evil’ as a lazy, sensationalist word, used in place of nuanced analysis with accurate words describing a situation. In 1984, Orwell wrote: “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” In the response to those who clamour for military action, currently focussing on Syria, Ken Booth advocated less military and more diplomatic action and quietly noted that ‘sometimes the best we can do is to help alleviate suffering and apply humanitarian help’.

FAILURE OF THE WAR ON TERROR

John Rees looked at UK foreign policy, condemning the lack of learning from previous experience and the continuous rolling out of the same arguments that caused the problem in the first place.

“We live in the era of failure of the war on terror! We further live in a competitive system with a competitive arms industry, favouring engagement in actions of war rather than diplomacy. Conflict from smaller countries increasingly escalates to larger countries, as can be seen in Syria, with risks of conflict between the US and Russia, both wanting the same thing: access to a friendly base in the area and instability is growing.”

Rees also lamented the lack of accountability and noted the ‘coincidence’ that David Cameron resigned two days before the report on the Syrian intervention. As for future military engagement by the US, Rees believed that Hilary Clinton’s record was consistently hawkish, from her endorsement of the regime change in Libya in 2011, her intervention in the Syrian war from 2012 onwards, and her public glee at the deaths of Gadhafi and Bin Laden.

Her election to the presidency, he suggested, would herald an escalation of intervention in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. “If Trump is elected, nobody knows! He is totally unpredictable on these questions!”

ACTIVISM FOR OPTIMISM

Rees, like Booth, was not overly optimistic about the prospects of a world at peace.

He did, however, propose that the ‘third big global power’ was international public opinion. Public opinion was, he claimed, immensely influential. Despite what many consider a failure of public opinion to stop Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq, Rees believed the huge anti-war marches of the time had changed the politics of military intervention.

On February 15, 2003, across the world, an estimated 36 million people marched in around 3,000 protests against the Iraq war. ‘Legitimised’ by the collusion of then Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, of course, Bush and Blair pressed ahead with their war plans.

A lifelong activist, Rees described the dilemma that we all face every day: “When I get up in the morning, do I engage or do I ignore?” He concluded that ‘if you fight against war, you may not win, but if you don’t, you certainly won’t!’ Returning again to 1984, Orwell wrote: “It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same – everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same – people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.”

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Newtown: Online threat to ‘use of firearms at a school’ lead to swift police action

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE was made aware this morning, the force said, of “utterly irresponsible and scaremongering posts” on Facebook, suggesting that the authors of the posts were going to use firearms at a school in the Newtown area.

The posts were by individuals local to Newtown, and police acted swiftly to address this, which resulted in the arrest of three local men, aged 20, 21 and 27 on suspicion of malicious communications and public order. As part of the initial response schools were also given advice to be vigilant.

A spokesman said: “Understandably the posts caused serious concern in the area, and unfortunately the subsequent rumours led to misunderstandings. This is turn led to calls to the police alleging there was a man with a firearm seen outside Newtown High School.

“Police had to respond appropriately to these calls based on the threat allegedly posed, and a firearms unit was sent to the school. We can confirm that there was no man at the school, and when we have delved further into the detail of the calls, it has transpired that they were as a result of the rumours circulating, and not based on first-hand accounts.

“Police have also carried out thorough searches as a result of the arrests, and no weapons have been recovered. The local Neighbourhood Policing Team will also be present at the school at home time to reassure and inform parents, pupils and staff.

“We hope this clarification will reassure the community of Newtown that there is no threat to schools in the area, and the matter was dealt with seriously and swiftly. We would also appeal to everyone to stop sharing the posts and any associated rumours, in order to prevent any further unsubstantiated fear and alarm in the area.”

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The latest increase in coronavirus in Wales is ‘sobering’ says First Minister

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THE FIRST MINISTER, Mark Drakeford has criticised the lack of communication with the UK government as he gave a briefing on what he described as the “sobering” increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalisation in Wales.

The infection rate in Wales has risen to 23.6 infections for every 100k people as cases have spiked in areas including Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Newport.

Hospitalisations remain low but are rising, with five people currently in intensive care with Covid-19 and and 53 Covid patients on all hospital wards, according to the latest data from Public Health Wales from Sunday, September 13.

Mr Drakeford said that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus had risen to 41 with four people in intensive care.

He also said that the R number in Wales was almost certainly now above one – meaning the virus is spreading exponentially again. The latest estimate, he said, was between 0.7 and 1.2.

Mr Drakeford said: “In this most difficult week, there has been no meeting offered to First Ministers of any sort. Since the 28 May, there has been just one brief telephone call from the Prime Minister.

“This is simply unacceptable to anyone who believes that we ought to be facing the coronavirus crisis together.

“We need a regular, reliable, rhythm of engagement: a reliable meeting even once a week would be a start. I make this argument not because we should all do the same things, but because being round the same table allows each of us to make the best decisions for the nations we represent.

“There is a vacancy at the heart of the United Kingdom, and it needs urgently to be filled, so we can talk to each other, share information, pool ideas and demonstrate a determination that the whole of the country can face these challenges together at this most difficult time.”

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WASPI unaffected by appeal’s failure

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A CAMPAIGN group for women born in the 1950s, whose state pension age has increased from 60-65, lost an appeal against a decision to deny them compensation for lost pension income.
Backto60 brought two test cases to the High Court last year when those cases were lost the group appealed. The Court of Appeal released its judgement rejecting the appeal on Monday, September 14.
The group’s campaign calls for a reinstatement of the age of 60 for women’s state pensions and compensation of the pension women have missed out on.
The Court found making the state pension age the same for men and women did not constitute unlawful discrimination.

WASPI CAMPAIGN UNCHANGED

The case’s failure will not affect the far better known and more widely-supported Women Against State Pensions Injustice (WASPI) campaign.
WASPI has long campaigned on the issues regarding the increase in the state pension age for women. They argue that setting aside any claim of discrimination, the UK Government failed in its duty to inform affected women adequately of the changes to the state pension age and the effect those changes would have on their pensions.
A statement issued by WASPI after the Backto60 legal challenge failed said: “Many women will be disappointed today at the judgement from the High Court.
“Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) will continue to campaign for what we believe is achievable and affordable. Compensation for women who have been unfairly disadvantaged with a rapid increase to their State Pension age (SPa).
“WASPI is not opposed to the equalisation of the SPa with men but it was done without adequate notice, leaving no time to make alternative arrangements. Women were informed directly some 14 years after the SPa was first changed, many only given 18 months’ notice, of up to a six-year increase, many others were not informed at all. This left their retirement plans shattered.
“The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is currently considering six sample cases of maladministration out of the thousands of complaints made to the DWP by WASPI women.”
Former Conservative Pensions Minister, Baroness Roz Altmann, said: “When Pensions Minister, I saw copies of letters written by the Government to millions of these women in 2003 and 2004 about their State Pension, which failed to highlight that their pension would not be paid at age 60. These official letters failed to highlight that these women’s pension would not start being paid at age 60. It merely informed them what State Pension they might receive when they reached State Pension Age, but they did not tell them what that age would be!
“Receiving a letter from the Pensions Department about their State Pension, which did not urge them to check what their State Pension Age would be, may have lulled them into a false sense of security that they would receive it from age 60.
“This looks like maladministration.”
During the election campaign last year, Boris Johnson pledged to place ‘fresh eyes’ on the issue and said he felt sympathetic to the WASPI campaigners. Asked on Tuesday about the progress of those promised considerations, he failed to answer.

THE APPEAL ISSUE

The main issue in the appeal was whether the changes to the state pension age brought in by Parliament from 1995 onwards, unlawfully discriminated against women. Backto60 argued, amongst other things, women born in the 1950s were less likely to have contributed to the state pension scheme or were disproportionately in lower-paid jobs than men.
The Pensions Act 1995 provided that a woman born before 6 April 1950 would still receive her state pension at age 60 but a woman born after that date would receive her pension on a specified date when she was aged between 60 and 65, depending on her date of birth. The Pensions Acts 2007, 2011 and 2014 then accelerated the move to age 65 as the state pension age for women and raised the state pension age for some men and women to 66, 67 or 68 depending on their date of birth.
Successive UK Governments made changes to address the massively-rising cost of state pensions.
When the state pension age was originally set, both pension ages were fixed at 65. When revised in 1940, women’s pension age was dropped to 60. At the time those ages were fixed, life expectancy meant the state pension was likely to be paid out for only a few years after retirement age. The lower age was fixed at 60 for women to reflect their then-dependence on a single male breadwinner in the family and the prevailing age difference between married couples.
In the post-war period, life expectancy increased, first gradually and then with increasing speed.
The boom in average life expectancy means the state pension is the largest single drain on the welfare budget – taking £111bn of it in the year 2018-19 (DWP figures). In comparison, payments for unemployment benefits totalled £2bn.
The UK Defence budget is around £28bn
In normal circumstances, the claims brought to the Court would have been barred due to the delay in bringing them. Time was extended to bring the claims. The question of the delay was, however, relevant only to the discretion whether to grant relief if unlawful discrimination was proved.
The long delay in bringing the claims made it impossible to fashion any practical remedy. The Court noted unchallenged expert evidence that the cost of reinstating pensions would exceed £200bn – more than seven times the total defence budget and around the same as the whole of the health and education budgets combined (Figures Office of Budget Responsibility).

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