Letter from London

By Shirley Farlinger | 1985-09-01 12:00:00

ONLY FIVE DAYS IN LONDON and already I'm talking in a fake accent of taking my "brolly" and catching the "tube." At the bookstall I ask, "Do you have Sanity?" What a great name for the Voice of CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), Britain's largest peace group! In the past five years Bruce Kent has been CND's General Secretary and from his pamphlet-piled office he and 40 staffers have organized the 110,000 national members and 1500 CND groups representing another 300,000.

There seems to be a CND group for everything. Christian CNDs commemorated the fortieth anniversary of Hiroshima with a four-day pilgrimage from London to (of course) Canterbury, ending at the Chapel of Modern Martyrs. Very appropriate, as they are raising money to assist members being martyred in a court case. Kent describes the new Ex-Services CND as "a very impressive group wearing their uniforms and medals." They recently laid a CND symbol wreath at Whitehall Cenotaph to mark VE Day. With about 100 members, they are lobbying their M.P.s on nuclear disarmament.

Kent was appalled that 61 Tory M.P.s signed a statement accusing CND of receiving six million pounds from Russia in 1981. "My God," he expounds in his clergyman's voice, "six million pounds! We offered a prize of 500 pounds for any evidence and that was the end of it!" His cluttered cubbyhole of an office looks as if his KGB cheque hasn't arrived. In fact, CND exists on private donations and the sale of its many publications.

Kent, a Catholic priest, believes CND is becoming more mainstream and is attracting more youth. There are 17,000 members under age 22 in Youth CND and their remembrance of Hiroshima is organized from a tent village, an International Peace Camp, with events all around London. With unemployment higher than Canada's, the slogan is "Jobs Not Bombs" and public meetings address problems such as alternative jobs for Trident employees.

Another group that Kent is trying to reach is the active service of the military. From a bulging file he pulls out a poster. "Dear Friends," it says. "This is an appeal to members of the Armed Forces of all countries and all those employed to help them in guarding, maintaining, or preparing first use nuclear weapons. These weapons are illegal... and it was established [in the Nuremberg trials] that it was no defence that the defendants were merely obeying superior orders. We urge you to refuse to obey illegal orders." It ends, "You could be liable to prosecution under international law!"

So far the law has all been on the side of the Establishment. In Britain, many more peace protesters than in Canada are being jailed. It's hard to believe, while dodging London cabs, crowding into century-old pubs or smart new Covent Garden shops, that respectable people are in jail. On April 11, Ann Francis, a clergyman's wife, was sentenced to one year for cutting through the fence at Greenham Common. About 100 others are out on bail, charged under American law with trespassing.

Jail sentences may not be the only punishment. According to Kim Besley, there is evidence the military are zapping the women at one of the gates with microwave radiation. One woman has had a miscarriage. These low frequency waves are hard to measure and the effects hard to prove. But I'm inclined to believe Kim; everything else she has told me has proven true -- even the existence of people living in cardboard boxes by Kensington Bridge! Yet it's not as bad as Turkey, where Mrs. Reha Isvan is serving eight years hard labor for belonging to the illegal Turkish Peace Association. CND is publishing her plight, as it attempts to make more connections with the underdeveloped world.

I asked Kent if Canada can really make any difference. "If Trudeau's deeds had only lived up to his words, Canada could have been a middle power influence, the Romania of NATO. [Romania has refused Warsaw Pact troops on its soil.] It would be great if we could have a commonwealth bloc," he said. We might not agree with CND's policy, though. When CND began, twenty five years ago, it was the first group to be committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament for Britain. It is still true to its charter and still hopes to stop further nuclear proliferation and motivate other powers to move to multilateral disarmament.

CND's sister group, END (European Nuclear Disarmament) agrees with this policy. END is a much smaller organization and attracted only 1000 people from 10 countries at its recent convention in Amsterdam. Allied with the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and Scientists Against Nuclear Arms, END tries to provide alternative forms of constructive East-West dialogue for a healthier détente. END's best known figure is E.P. Thompson, but his wife Dorothy and Mary Kaldor of Baroque Arsenal fame and editor of END's Journal are equally important. Thompson -- E.P., that is -- comes under constant attack for his early Communist activities. He still tries to interpret one side to the other in an effort to heal relations between the two blocs. Communists charge he is a CIA agent and "our" side color him pink, if not red.

"Whatever I do, I am fated to bring down on my head the abuse of the only-two-sidesmen of both sides," he says in his new book, Double Exposure.

Both CND and END have contacts throughout Europe. Cannock Chase CND, for example, has twinned for fourteen years with Germany, and members recently travelled to Datteln in the Ruhr to meet with German Greens. Perhaps the next twinning will be with Canada's Greens.

Small peace groups also spring up like English watercress. John Gale of Morden, Surrey, started Accountants Against the Bomb. I'm not sure it really is a group yet," he said. 'It's just fifteen people who reacted to a letter I wrote to Accountancy Age Magazine suggesting that accountants should speak out against the Trident, if for no other reason than on financial grounds. I don't see mass rallies as getting very far. I feel CND should not be seen as subversive but as quite sensible, sane people." Quite so, as we say 'ere. In spite of Gale's opinion, major demos are planned for October 26 in London to mark United Nations Year of Peace. From Hyde Park, demonstrators will form a huge circle around the Russian and American embassies and back.

Manchester CND is organizing a women's weekend for peace, justice, and disarmament called "Many Visions, Many Hands," September 13-15. Men are asked to help with family and fares. Women seem to be gaining more respect from the male-dominated peace groups and this may be because they are often on the 'front lines," as Kent describes it. Greenham women are stepping up their activities with Cruisewatch, a group who keep a road watch from their villages and then follow by car behind the convoys of cruise missiles moving to "hidden" areas. Cruisewatchers know when and where the missiles are being dispersed, part of the practice of an attack. At Greenham, 32 missiles have been deployed and 64 more are to come. Claims of harassment, tapping of telephones, opening of mail, are on the increase.

A well-known woman here is our own Sr. Rosalie Bertell. Her book, No Immediate Danger, was launched here and one of the organizers of her tour was Tony Webb. I went to Tony's back garden for tea and sat between the climbing roses and the typewriter.

Webb works for the London Food Commission investigating radiation techniques for preserving food. He is skeptical of the use of Cesium 137 because it, like radiation therapy for cancer, fits in too well with the need to find reassuring uses for the waste products of nuclear production. I asked Webb about the link between the peace movement and politics. "In 1983 only Labor supported it, but the peace movement will never depend on Labor again. Thatcher was re-elected because of the Falkland War and 1000 British and Argentinians died." The peace movement needed a much broader base. "Now," he said, "all major unions are opposed to nuclear weapons and power but we shouldn't have to ask workers to give up their livelihood. Our message now is that 80,000 jobs will be lost before 1988 if we maintain the same level of military production. If we are ever going to have a peace economy," he continued, "we must plan now to find out what we can make and sell with the same plant and skills. There are five unions working on a National Trade Union Conversion Committee, an initiative started by the Boston Conversion Conference. In other ways there's been a lack of solidarity between us and the U.S.," he explained. "They went for the freeze. When you have two silly little boys intent on beating each other over the head, the last thing they will ever agree on is to stop. That's why the Freeze wouldn't work. But they would cooperate with us on the Cruise-Pershing campaign."

As we sit in the bright sunshine, Webb finds many hopeful signs, such as nuclear free zone proposals in the Balkan and Nordic countries. He also sees the Non-proliferation Treaty, especially Article VI, as a great chance for sanctions against the "silly little boys." "The Third World could prevent the entry of ships to their ports and overflying rights by the U.S. and the USSR until they agree to disarm. Also, Canada could work with non-aligned countries through the U.N. to put more pressure on the superpowers. However," Webb warns, "Mulroney is moving in the wrong direction."

Time for London News: A racial clash outside a pub leads to convictions for whites and Asians but not for police, whom residents claim only protect the innocents when they are white. A new album, called simply "Greenpeace," is selling in the shops. A red and gold Peace Pagoda, a gift from a sect of Buddhist monks, looks as incongruous on the Thames as Westminster would in a Japanese garden-but much better than the new Westinghouse Sizewell B reactor, planned to be built eight months before the inquiry publishes its conclusions. The GLC (Greater London Council) is abolished. I talked to Jane Cholmeley at the GLC-supported Silver Moon Women's Book Shop and Cafe about the end of this layer of government.

Many women's projects were funded by the 6 million pound budget and many businesses, like this one, helped. The move, she said, was born of political vindictiveness because the GLC was seen as a radical left-wing group which "made an ass of the government and showed it to be wrong, mediocre, and mean." She predicts projects will grind to a halt as the system reverts to 32 competing boroughs.

What would London be without the theatre! For peaceniks there's Feiffer's America, a play imitating Jules Feiffer's cartoons. From Kennedy on, American presidents are caricatured and the finale is Ronnie Reagan, the movie president of movie America, looking for a Hollywood ending. Henry Kissinger, as in real life, has a bigger part to play than the presidents.

Finally, a consignment of depleted uranium, suitable for nukes, was exported to Israel from British Nuclear Fuels via Luxembourg - a breach of the NPT.

But never mind. The pound is up, the sun is out, the Iron Lady is 59 and holding, the Queen has had her Royal Garden Party, the Royal Tournament at Earls Court for £3.50 will help you relive the British Empire -- and only I can see that the statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square is shedding real tears.

Peace Magazine September 1985

Peace Magazine September 1985, page 5. Some rights reserved.

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