Swarthmoor Hall, Cumbria. A completely random happenstance.

On Monday 29th June 2015 I had a day to myself in Barrow-in-Furness.  As I travelled further and further afield in search of something interesting to see or do, I came across Swarthmoor Hall as somewhere to visit.  I was going to give up because a coach was blocking the narrow road, but I was (unusually for me) patient, and after 15 minutes I finally got into their car park.  Where I had to move the car because of construction work.

I am glad I persevered.  I knew nothing about the place but it turns out it is relevant to my peace studies: the birthplace of Quakerism, and the Quakers are a recurring theme in the peace movement.  [Note to self: there’s a number of posts I need to write expanding on that last statement.]

I have been dragged round country houses and gardens and they bore me to tears.  However, this relatively small site kept me amused for over two hours.  It is quiet, charming, interesting, friendly, comfortable and welcoming.

Synergy and synchronicity have been recurring themes in my exploration into war prevention.  Stumbling across this building just as I am getting involved with Conscience seems strangely coincidental.  There have been so many such instances this past three years, of being in the right place at the right time.

I enjoyed my visit, and bought a copy of Preparing for Peace while I was there.  The descriptions and reviews of others will be better written than my own could be:

Online queries from an aspiring author

RJ: “I just want to open a discussion here (definitely not criticizing) but don’t you think it’s our job as a first world country to protect the innocent and defend what’s right even if it is overseas, and surely that sometimes must mean going to war? Just curious to hear another point of view on the subject.”

1. In what way does our country have the right to assume sovereignty over another country? Isn’t that the old colonial / great power attitude that we get criticised for? Perhaps we should stop making the assumption that we have the right to impose our will over other countries just because we can.

2. Does “defend what’s right even if it is overseas” mean protecting our financial interests such as access to mineral resources? Should we be allowed to replace a government of another country to suit our economic needs? Many think that was the reason for two Gulf Wars and behind the Arab Spring. These incidents have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians – if that is our fault, are you OK with that?

3. “surely that sometimes must mean going to war” I don’t think so and so do may others. Just because we can fire missiles and drop bombs on people to change the opinions of their leaders, I don’t think it is right that we should.

There is a common assumption that because there has been wars, that war is the solution to problems. If you have a dispute with a neighbour, is the solution to fight it out in the street? There are alternatives to war including education, sanctions, charity, freedom of movement, lowering trade barriers and listening.

War is easy and sexy and makes people rich. It is also ugly, random, lazy, cruel and no longer necessary. It is an anachronism.

RJ: “I see what you mean! sorry if it seems rude I’m just curious”

No, you were not rude at all and I am sorry if I came across in a way other than responding to your query.

I got to a point a few years ago of thinking “Nearly a hundred years ago we had The War to End All Wars and yet we’re still having them. Why?” And the more I thought about it, and the more I read, the more I discovered it is down to ignorance, laziness and greed.

Imagine you are a male Prime Minister. Let’s pick one at random like Tony Blair. The President of the USA calls you and says his advisers have a fool-proof plan for a quick and clean war that can be called a “liberation of oppressed people by a tyrant”. It will result in you looking like a serious statesman on the world stage, you’ll go down in history as a war-leader and there’s a promise of some valuable non-executive directorships in armaments companies plus very well-paying consultancy work that would come your way if you play along. All you have to do is get someone to “sex up” some stories about weapons of mass destruction and missiles – stuff that could never be dis-proven. Bish bosh it’ll all be over in a few days and you’ll be a rich hero.

Or, you can say “Can’t we just negotiate with this tyrant, use sanctions, make it impossible for him to travel and generally make his life a misery. If he isn’t toppled by his own government, then we’ll quietly offer him a pension to retire to Saudi Arabia (like Idi Amin).

You are an alpha-male who has got to the top by showing off and being The Man, all powerful and macho and most definitely A Man of Action. Which would you do?

I cannot stop the Tutsis being massacred by the Hutus, nor can I stop ISIS. Other people have skills and knowledge in those areas that I will never have.

But I have an idea or two for stopping artificial wars that result in 600,000 civilian deaths just to eliminate one man.

And if I come across as passionate about the subject, it’s because I am. I do not want artificial wars being started in my name, using my tax money.

RJ: “I can agree to that, but what you’ve got to understand is I am doing this because I want to be writer and although I’d like my writing to be read and enjoyed a fantasy novel is meant for enjoyment purposes. What I’m saying is my intentions in life are not to change the world, just to keep it entertained for a short while. So I’m sorry if I seem obtuse at times it’s not that I either agree or disagree I just find it interesting to hear people’s views and sometimes when doing that it’s also interesting to hear what they think of other people’s views on the same subject. Sorry if this is infuriating at times 🙂 “

define:pacifism

What is pacifism? It gets a bad press, especially in comments online. The assumptions are that pacifists are cowards, will allow evil, will permit abuse. It might be your definition, it ain’t mine. Maybe I’m not one.

A Google search for define:pacifism gives us:

the belief that any violence, including war, is unjustifiable under any circumstances, and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means.

That doesn’t work for me. A military invasion warrants a military response, hard and sharpish.

An ally being invaded warrants military defence, hard and sharpish.

What I do not like, is, specifically, our democratic government killing the civilians of another country and considering that an acceptable consequence of using an armed response.

I do not like our democratic government using an armed response as a first response. Other viable means should be explored first.

My mission is to learn what viable alternatives to war there are, and how to educate politicians and their advisers how to use them.

I do not believe pacifism = surrender.

Albert Einstein quotations

“I would absolutely refuse any direct or indirect war service and would try to persuade my friends to do the same, regardless of the reasons for the cause of a war.”
—Albert Einstein — From Die Friedensbewegung, ed., Kurt Lenz and Walter Fabian (1922)

“He who cherishes the values of culture cannot fail to be a pacifist.”
—Albert Einstein — Quoted in Die Friedensbewegung, ed. Kurt Lenz and Walter Fabian (1922) 17.

“I am not only a pacifist, but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace…  Is it not better for a man to die for a cause in which he believes, such as peace, than to suffer for a cause in which he does not believe, such as war?”
—Albert Einstein — From an interview 1931. Reprinted in Einstein on Peace, 125

“We must… dedicate our lives to drying up the source of war: ammunition factories.”
—Albert Einstein — Published in Pictoral Review, February 1933. Quoted in R.W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times

“The goal of pacifism is possible only though a supranational organization. To stand unconditionally for this cause is… the criterion of true pacifism.”
—Albert Einstein — To A. Morrisett, March 21,1952. AEA 60–595

“The more a country makes military weapons, the more insecure it becomes: if you have weapons, you become a target for attack.”
—Albert Einstein — Quoted in interview with A. Aram, January 3, 1953. AEA 59–109

The long term effect of airstrikes

When the airstrikes begin, such as they did at the start of the second Gulf War, and as is desired by US, UK and French leaders against Syria, large numbers of government buildings are attacked, resulting in the deaths of large number of civil servants in the country being attacked.

(The legality of targeting civilians is another question worth considering another day: link1, link2, link3, link4, link5, link6.)

The elimination of these civil servants has the desired effect of damaging the military organisation of the target country: supplies are not ordered, shipments are not arranged, payroll does not happen, communication is disrupted: information does not get escalated and orders do not get distributed, intelligence is not analysed.  In this way the machine of war is halted despite the troops and armour being intact because the troops have no food or bullets, the guns have no shells, the tanks have no fuel, the aircraft have no targets.  It is a seemingly ‘humane’ way of disabling an opponent or one party in a civil conflict.

The reality is, the combatants are left intact while the civilians are killed, maimed or forced to flee, adding them to the numbers of refugees.  Amongst those refugees will be the pacifists, the civil rights specialists, the conscientious objectors and the fearful who left the country during the crisis.

How very ironic is it that those who speak for our armed forces say killing civilians instead of soldiers is more humane?  That makes it quite clear where their allegiances lie.

If the external influence is effective, and the targeted government falls, then who will form the civil service of the new administration?  Certainly not the corpses and the cripples and the refugees of the deposed government.

It will be recruited mostly from the victorious liberating army, that group of ‘rebels’, ‘terrorists’, ‘insurgents’ and ‘insurrectionists’ that became redefined as ‘freedom fighters’ because their winning suited our political convenience.  An army including reactionaries, the vengeful, hot-blooded young anarchists, psychos, criminals, malcontents, sufferers of post-war stress syndrome and anyone who decided to pick up a gun and kill their police officers, armed forces members and government officials despite them being fellow citizens.  It is from these ranks the new government’s officials will be constructed.  Those who can answer the questions:

What did you do in the war, Daddy?

and

How many did you kill?

Experienced administrators from the previous government, those who left because of their conscience, the displaced – these people are least likely to get their old jobs back.

So is it any wonder that when we interfere with another country by applying airstrikes that the incoming government is itself full of turmoil with police recruits shooting their colleagues, suicide bombers, corruption, instability, ongoing car bombs and ultimately another revolution?

Perhaps if we stopped killing their filing clerks, accountants, data analysts, IT staff, secretaries, junior supervisors, PAs, human resources officers, trainers, typists, middle managers, and office cleaners then maybe their future governments might be competent, organised, capable and stable.

The outcome of using airstrikes are:

  • the deaths or injury of many fit, intelligent, taxpaying, civilians;
  • the armed forces and their matériel are left intact;
  • ongoing national incompetence for many years;
  • the need for greater external influence in maintaining stability;
  • those who may have a bias towards peace and reconciliation become personae non gratae;
  • a continuation of civil disorder and violence;
  • the likelihood of major armed conflict in the future.

So what are the real agenda when airstrikes are used?  Anyone would think it was advantageous foreign policy, commercial interests and the maintenance of the arms industry.  It certainly is not humanitarian reasons.

When did you become a pacifist?

I have been asked a few times what happened last year that made me decide to become a pacifist.  What a strange question.

Well, I do recall that about 1974, aged 9, I suggested to my little friends my brilliant idea for global world peace: that we should nuke any country that attacks another one.  If everyone agreed with this plan, nobody would start a new war.  That is, if some country invades or attacks another, everyone else nukes the first country off the face of the planet.  Completely and utterly.

It seemed like a good plan at the time… to me.  I can’t remember if it was Saul or Neil who said “But what if we want to start a war?” which rather put a spanner in the works of my plan to start a global juvenile peace movement mobilisation.  I assumed that the rule should apply to us, too.  Also, Jason objected to the killing of all the innocent civilians, but I suspect that was because he was thinking of a few countries that we needed to give a good warring to.

In college, about 1983, aged 18, the Social Sciences lecturer (I think his name was Plank – at least, that’s how we referred to him) gave us a hypothetical question: the government has declared war on some country, what are you going to do?  I said “Protest”.  Over the next few lectures he added to the scenario until, after about three weeks, we got to the point that conscription had been brought in and the Military Police were coming to collect me at mid-day.  (By this point everyone else had attended the sign-up offices as their registered letter had told them to.)  I said I’d be a conscientious objector; he said the government had made that illegal.  “Fine, I’ll go to prison.”  He said that wasn’t an option: ‘conshies’ were being put in uniform and sent to the front.  “I’m still not going.  I won’t wear the uniform.  I won’t pick up the gun.”  So he said I’d be shot as a coward.

“In that case, I still won’t fight.  I won’t kill people on behalf of a government that says they will kill me if I don’t do it.  That kind of government is not worth fighting for.

A society that kills its own people for refusing to kill other people they have never met, is exactly the kind of society we should be fighting against.

He went ballistic with me, calling me a coward and a bad citizen and that I was letting down all my peers and how I was an example of why social science teaching was essential – presumably to indoctrinate young people into cheerfully killing strangers to order.

(The expression “I voz only following orders” was still common parlance despite the Nuremberg War Crime Trials having finished 34 years earlier, and I have never quite understood the difference between shooting a civilian and shooting a conscripted civilian in an scratchy uniform.  If “I was only following orders” was not a valid defence then, why should it be now?  Since I cannot differentiate between a civilian and a conscript, I can shoot neither.)

When I was nine years old, I thought it was OK to kill innocent civilians for living under a bad government.  Then I grew up and realised it is the bad governments we should fight, not the poor souls that have to live under them.

So it’s not so much ‘when’ I became a pacifist as having changed my views on ‘how’ I should be a pacifist.