Talk: Russian-Ukrainian conflict: An ‘unexpected’ crisis

Today I attended a presentation at Liverpool Hope University’s Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies entitled ‘Russian-Ukrainian conflict: An ‘unexpected’ crisis‘.  One guest and two staff speakers for about an hour then 20 minutes of Q&As.

The main talk was by guest Dr Vsevolod Samokhvalov (university lecturer, research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, policy analyst and journalist).  He told us about the two main narratives: the Russians invaded or it was the West’s fault.  Both are reductionist; he said the real situation is messier than messy.  He went on to explain the cultural history, how the Ukraine, Belorussia and Russia are closely related – “One nation divided by history” to use Putin’s words.  Sevastopol is culturally important to Russia as part of the Black Sea Region going back to ancient Greek times.  The region is ethnoculturally nationalistic Russki.  What the Russians really want is recognition by Western Europe.  The revolution in Ukraine was inevitable; the invasion of Crimea was an opportunity albeit “worse than a crime – a political mistake“.  Vsevolod gave us reasons for why this occurred, but this is a summary, not an essay.  Buy his book.

Next was Dr Natalia Vibla (Lecturer in Criminology at Liverpool Hope University).  She spoke of the human rights tragedies: over 10,000 killed (a quarter of them civilians) and 25,000 injured since 2014.  Some 25,000 people have been displaced.  There are hundreds in captivity and torture is being used by both sides.  Potential objectors are being accused of terrorist plots and typically get 20-year sentences.

Finally was Dr Taras Khomych (Lecturer in Theology at Liverpool Hope University).  He gave us the history and structure of the Orthodox church in Ukraine and the reaction of the various sections: unity, with the exception of the Orthodox Russian Church.  It has been a strongly religious country since post-Stalin.  The churches supported the protesters, as did the Jewish and Moslem leadership.  Protesting was seen as a pilgrimage from Russian fear to Christian dignity.  Many Russian Orthodox Church members left, and a number of Russian Orthodox Church parishes changed to other sections of the Eastern church.  Tartar Moslems offered the use of their mosque to Orthodox Christians, which was accepted.

Much of the following Q&A was about Russian fears and intentions.  Also questions about whether this was a new or continuing Cold War.  I think the consensus was Putin saw the opportunity to re-unite Russkis as part of his right wing ethnocultural nationalistic agenda and no further expansion was likely.

This morning there was a report on the radio about the armed forces needing more money to face the Russian threat.  BBC: “Army chief calls for investment to keep up with Russia“.  Telegraph: “Britain cannot keep up with Russian military advances, head of Army to warn as he makes case for more funding“.  In the context of today’s talk, that seems to me either the armed forces or NATO asking for funding for themselves.  Scaremongering to supplement the arms industry and their own ends.

The Guardian seems to agree in their analysis: “Does the UK really need to increase its defence spending?” – no.

Personality profiling tests

I am not a fan of personality profiling tests.  For anyone who says they are: go and do five minutes research on them.

Are you back?  Yes, sorry, you fell for the marketing, didn’t you?  Never mind, many do.

Anyway, I don’t think they like me either:

Dear Simon
SJT Test feedback
Thank you for completing the Situational Judgment.
You scored better than 0% of people who previously completed the test.

I don’t think I’ll be getting an interview!

I have a problem with Max Weber

Max Weber, an influential German sociologist, said in 1918:

the state is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.

This statement is used as the argument for policing, criminal justice, prisons, war and all manner of violent acts initiated by the state that cause harm to its people.

Note that he said ‘territory’ not ‘people’, and that he said it immediately after Germany lost the Great War.

Weber, a Prussian by birth, was raised by a strict pro-Bismark politician and a strict puritan Protestant and grew up in Berlin surrounded by the political elite that were promoting the development and growth of a united Germany on the world stage.  He was a strong proponent of liberal imperialism: imperial expansionism that would allow Germany to compete with France and Britain.

He had identified a strong correlation between capitalist success in Germany and Protestantism.  This he attributed to predestination associated with protestant puritanism that was elsewhere suppressed by the Catholic Church.

During the Great War, Weber argued for strength and unity for Germany.  In 1916 he said the conquered nations of Europe should, in Germany’s long-term interests, remain as independent political countries within the greater German economy.  In 1917 he was one of those advocating ceasing the war, when Germany put the proposition to the Allies to leave the boundaries at their new positions based on the front line, that is, accept Germany had won.  This would allow the extended Germany to keep Belgium and other territories gained in the war to that point.  Unfortunately for Germany, the Allies decided to fight on.

During the Great War, Germany had committed ‘the Rape of Belgium’.  This was the taking from Catholic Belgium – at that time one of the world’s largest and most modern industrialised economies – of its machines and resources.  Its male population was transported to Germany to provide forced labour for the German war industry.  Belgium was stripped of its factories and experience and has never recovered from what Germany did.

After the Great War, discussions took place in Paris about what reparations Germany should be making for what it did in Northern France and Belgium.  It was during these discussions that Max Weber, pro-German, anti-Catholic, pro-capitalist gave his speech about the state being entitled to use violence within its territory.  That is, that Germany was perfectly entitled to do what it like to Belgium as it was German conquered territory.

That his quote “the state is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” is still used today as an excuse for police brutality, the death penalty and genocide is beyond my comprehension.  Max Weber was an apologist for this worst atrocities Germany committed in the Great War and his defence of Germany in the context of a horrific war in which war crimes and genocide occurred is being used today in modern democracies to excuse immense social harms committed by states upon their citizens.

And yet he is considered a founding father of modern social science and this quote appears in text books as an essential foundation for functioning societies.

Some more of his statements from that period of the post-war German revolution:

The decisive means for politics is violence.

and

the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true.

and

Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation…lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence.

Punishing people of conscience

Governments say we are not allowed to kill people.

Then the government of Country A decides it wants some people killed in Country B to achieve regime change / combat terror / deal with a drugs problem / whatever.  The nation is merely an intangible social construct with no means to do anything meaning it requires people to do its work.  So the government orders its people to kill some people in Country B.  But some people who agree with the government that killing is wrong refuse to go and they get punished by their government, sometimes by killing them.

So the government is run by people in power who say killing is wrong and these people in power are ordering its citizens to kill other people – meaning the people in power have the power of life and death over the citizens of other countries and also the power to decide when killing is illegal or killing is a good thing and in the national interests.

Meanwhile the government and people of Country B who also say killing is wrong, including their own citizens being killed by another country.  So the people in power in Country B respond by telling their people to go and kill people from Country A.

So now both countries’ citizens – whose governments claim they are there to represent, protect and nurture their people – are killing one another on the orders of the people in power.

But the citizens of both countries are not allowed to kill anyone when they want to, merely when they are told to.

And yet those who stick to the original principle of killing being wrong are themselves made to suffer harm because they won’t participate in the killing.

This does not make any sense.

Cultural imperialism and Christmas

Last Tuesday, on the 17th of December, we went to Lidl’s for some bits and hot cross buns were for sale.

Every year for the past decade or so I have this moan about supermarkets selling ‘traditional’ hot cross buns at Christmas.  That (and calling every kind of cheese in existence ‘Cheddar’) really pisses me off about supermarkets beyond any normal level of annoyance.

Although raised in a Christian tradition, I’m not a believer so I’m probably not entitled to care, but it feels like cultural vandalism.

– – – – – – –

Good Friday comes this month: the old woman runs.
With one a penny, two a penny “hot cross buns”.
Whose virtue is, if you believe what’s said,
They’ll not grow mouldy like the common bread.

Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1733.

– – – – – – –

It is a centuries old tradition to have hot cross buns at Easter.  Not Christmas.  As you can see from the above quote, older than some references claim:

– – – – – – –

Throughout England, special buns, marked with a cross, were made on Good Friday and eaten toasted for breakfast; they were referred to as ‘Cross buns’ or ‘Good Friday buns’.  There are references to the custom early in the 19th century, so phrased as to imply that it had been current for several generations (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 177).  The modern unvarying phrase ‘hot cross buns’ derives from the 18th-century street vendors’ cry:

Hot Cross Buns! Hot Cross Buns!
Give them to your daughters, give them to your sons!
One a penny, two a penny, Hot Cross Buns!

A Dictionary of English Folklore, 2003.

– – – – – – – –

It does leave me wondering why I am so annoyed about it if it is not my problem.  But it does give me some empathy for those who don’t want soul-less and capitalist cultural imperialism thrust upon them, telling them their values, beliefs, traditions and way of life are wrong because some foreigner or rich corporation says so.  If I am so grumpy about this, what must it be like when your entire way of life is being challenged?

I have no faith, I am not religious, but I don’t think commercialism should be allowed to steal my Christmas, nor other people’s traditions.

Fight fire with fire

On the 11th November, yesterday, an angry man said: “you have to fight fire with fire“.  That would be news to the fire brigade.  Anyone who has done their workplace e-learning about fire will know you put out fires by breaking the fire triangle: starve it of fuel, heat or oxygen.

To starve a conflict of heat, you do so by fairer distribution of resources, by not imposing cultural imperialism, by combating corruption, by not unfairly stripping countries of their resources and by not funding proxy wars.

To starve a conflict of fuel you do so by not retaliating, by not escalating, by not creating widows and orphans, by not training civilians to be militia, by not providing the arms for proxy wars.

To starve a conflict of oxygen, you go for the oxygen of publicity and stop copy-cat behaviour and slow expansion.  But the media do like to show what bombs work best and where to put them, how to decapitate, how to drive  a vehicle through a crowd.

No, you don’t fight fire with fire.  You usually use cold water.  Hopefully that angry man will remember that, this Remembrance Sunday, when the rest of us are trying to remember:

never again.

Scientists for Global Responsibility

At some time in 2016, for rather convoluted reasons to do with supporting the Peace Tax Seven,  I started getting emails from a Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) mailing list.  Today’s was a job ad for them.  I can’t apply because I don’t have the essentials in the person spec., but their web site is interesting.

The ethics around the technology developments required of modern warfare are a major part of their raison d’etre, and they were formed from peace groups merging.  They are affiliated with a number of peace organisations, each of which I need to investigate as both sources of information and as potential employers.  They are concerned about the military influence on science and technology research.  They have information booklets on ethical careers.  They have a list of potential ethical employers in the peace sector.  They have resources on security and disarmament.  They produce reports and briefings including security.  They have dozens of newsletters I need to go through.

I have joined their mailing list proper.  I have joined their LinkedIn group.  Today I post my membership off to them.

Their Wikipedia page is a bit thin.  Here’s someone else’s words about them.

They do get articles published like this one in the Guardian.

I firmly expect a bunch of committed scientists can provide me with loads of data for evidence-based peace.

I had not heard of SGR before – this highlights the problem I found at the start in 2012: where is the peace industry? The arms industry has a fantastically high profile, the peace industry is barely mentioned other than to criticise white poppies.

A quick reflection on where I’m at so far, and generic advice to others

In 2012 I decided to change career from large scale IT project management to war prevention.  I have made progress in doing so.

  • I’ve nearly finished my ‘Peace Studies’ Open Degree.  In the next few months I’ll be putting in applications for doing a Peace Studies Masters Degree starting in 2018.
  • I’ve a few years experience at volunteering in the sector, giving me work experience to talk about.  I also have and have had director-level voluntary posts in the sector, giving me kudos and credibility.
  • I read everything I can so can hold meaningful conversations with interested people about peace work.  I think I can just about cover a stand at a conference or exhibition on my own (having just done so under tuition and supervision of an expert) although I need more practice.
  • I am working for an employer who advertises roles I would like.

That is in accordance with the plan I had in 2012.  I have not done everything in the plan as some has not worked out – I was too optimistic about being able to change the world quickly.  But I am getting there.

My ‘how to change career’ plan came from books I read about 5 years ago, and the generic advice boils down to this:

You need three things: relevant qualifications (to get your CV through the tick-box checklist); work experience (nobody wants to give training or risk taking on someone who may be unable to do the job); to know the culture (so you can get through the interview).

To get these three things:

1. Volunteer for anything in the same sector or doing the same kind of work. This gives you knowledge of the culture and starts your people networking. Volunteering is way to get work experience.
2. Make sure your study is appropriate for what you want to do. I am doing an Open Degree because the OU doesn’t do a Peace Studies degree. Check the careers information on government and academic resources for what qualifications are expected and decide if you need anything else. Sometimes free courses through MOOCs can be a good enough substitute
depending on what you want to do.
3. Read everything you can about your desired role / sector. Wikipedia, text books, online articles, journals, e-journals, blogs. Get to know how things are done, what is the jargon, who are the big names.

Also, networking is essential these days.  See who is doing the job you want on LinkedIn and try to join the same groups as them to see what is being discussed and what is important. Also, try to make connections with them.

Getting a job doing what you do now in an organisation which also does the job you want, and then moving sideways, can be much easier than trying to get the job you want straight away.

I would also suggest self-advertising.  Blog about what you are doing and how you are getting on. Create a web site about it. Have business cards describing you in your new role. Give them out and tell people what you are doing: strangers like to help and offer advice and there can be gems in that free advice.

That is what I have been doing, so I do follow my own advice.  🙂

Michael Mears’ play “This Evil Thing”

I already know the history of the absolutist conscientious objectors fairly well and Michael Mears’ play This Evil Thing is very accurate.

It covers the story of one of those conscientious objectors who was sent to France and there sentenced to death by court martial, Bert Brocklesby, with those around him and those, such as philosopher Bertrand Russell and suffragist Catherine Marshall, who campaigned for better treatment for the COs.

Where possible he uses the actual words of the people involved and where not he makes it clear it is conjecture.  “I can just imagine the conversation…” and his conjecture is plausible and historically valid.

He plays some 52 people on stage with an energy that is almost exhausting to watch.  Michael is an incredibly athletic and energetic performer and seeing him play the part of an emaciated prisoner is haunting.  I had no idea a one person show could give such breadth of characterisation, but then I have not seen a one person show performed by an experienced professional actor before, let alone one with passion about the subject.

It is accurate, informative and thought-provoking.

He even followed the 80 minute performance with a Q&A discussion which, on this occasion, lasted at least 40 minutes.

That was a wonderful evening and if you can attend one I thoroughly recommend it.

Information on the writer and performer Michael Mears: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0575223/

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thisevilthing

Work experience request

I have asked the lobbying organisation Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War if I may do a couple of weeks work experience next summer.

This is my formal request:

Dear Mr Dolan,

I am seeking the opportunity to gain work experience in the peace sector next summer and hope Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War would be able to provide that for me.

By 11th June 2018 I will have finished my undergraduate degree which covers social science, history, philosophy and psychology aspects regarding peace and war. I hope to start a post-graduate Master’s Degree in Peace Studies in October 2018. My academic experience to date has covered the ethics of war, 20th century European political history, how society is controlled by the state, the use of violence by states as a management tool and why people act and think how they do even when it is illogical. This has included use of online databases, independent research and producing reports and analyses of existing academic writing.

I can offer a week full-time on site and should appreciate the opportunity to shadow you as Campaigns and Communications Manager and/or your experienced peace worker volunteers. Although I should like to invest longer than a week on site, personal finances, accommodation requirements and my wife’s leave constraints will prevent that. So, if you can think of a specific project, possibly research, possibly writing something up, that could take another week or so that I could subsequently do at home, that would be excellent for me.

If I could end the summer having done a work experience ‘project’ with something tangible to show for it, it would be good for my CV and future study. If that would be of benefit to Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War, so much the better!

I should appreciate it if you would consider my application and identify a useful project I could undertake for you.

I look forward to hearing your decision.

Simon.

I’m feeling optimistic!