This address was given at the Scots Church, in Adelaide, on the International Day of Peace event, 21-9-2014.
We are living in dangerous times: very dangerous. And I’m not talking about terrorism, or jihadis, or any of the obsessions of our current government. I’m not even talking primarily about the Middle East, fraught and alarming though that is. I mean the situation on the borders of Russia, in the Ukraine and the Baltic states, where the US government is playing chicken with the second-biggest nuclear power in the world. You don’t have to put Putin on a pedestal to recognise this (or for that matter Assad when we look at the Middle East). These are authoritarian, repressive regimes: but then so many regimes are in the world, including many US allies – such as Saudi Arabia , Egypt or Israel. And the US in hardly free of repression and authoritarianism: I only need mention Ferguson Missouri, or Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, or….. but you get the picture.
Russia is feeling surrounded, by NATO, the US and its local allies, and you don’t have to look far to understand why. However popular it now is (and our media is hardly objective) the current Ukrainian regime was put there by a coup against an elected though corrupt government, with significant outright fascist involvement – how much still isn’t clear, but Russians have very bitter memories of fascism from WW2. Russian-aligned eastern Ukrainian cities like Luhansk and Donetsk have been shelled for weeks now, and no-one knows the death-toll. The truth of the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner still isn’t clear, but there is evidence on both sides. Nevertheless, clearly the tragedy has been used to garner support for more aggressive action against Russia, such as the recent stationing of a US tank brigade in the Baltic states. Imagine the US reaction had that happened in Mexico, say?
Morality and even right and wrong aside for the moment, this is reckless and unnecessary warmongering. Russia has already stated it will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if it feels its borders are threatened: is this how far we’ve come in the 21st century, to repeat the dangers of the 1980’s when we were on the brink of nuclear war? Have we learnt nothing?
When we add the Middle East to the equation, and the tension rises even further. Israel has just conducted an enormously bloody assault on the world’s biggest concentration camp (Gaza), whilst Syria and Iraq are fracturing bloodily into the component parts the French and British cobbled together (for their own benefit) post-WW1 from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. In the process millions of people have been killed, or made homeless and destitute, the US is bombing for peace yet again, and repeating the strategy that has failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, Libya and Iran. This is a formula for endless war, and the military-industrial complex at least is welcoming it: the shares of major corporates such as Raytheon, McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics have risen 10% or more since Obama announced he would bomb ISIS.
Should we welcome it? After all, there is no doubt ISIS is a barbaric medieval fundamentalist regime, who behead people for wholly unjustified reasons and suppress women and religious minorities – wait a minute, sorry my pages are mixed up, I’m talking about US ally Saudi Arabia, who judicially beheaded dozens of people in the last few weeks, including one for sorcery and several for selling amphetamines. In fact there is clear evidence both the Saudis and Qatar, another US ally, continue to fund ISIS, who project their own brand of Sunni fundamentalism against the Shia’s and others.
And what does the Australian government do? Does it exercise its functions in the UN to call for restraint and peace? No, the Prime Minister has been rushing around the world looking for a war to join to divert attention from budget failures. The government repeats the Harold Holt mantra of “all the way with the USA”, it commits aircraft and SAS troops to the tangled conflict in Iraq (to the tune of $1/2 billion), and it conducts mass terror raids across two states. Only one person has been charged with a terrorist offence out of all that, but an unknown number have been detained without charge – for how long? Coming originally from Northern Ireland, I am very aware of the scars and divisions left across communities by detention without trial, and given what this government has done to refugees pursuing their basic human rights, what’s the bet how many people will remain in detention?
And this is only recently. For years now, under both Liberal and ALP governments, Pine Gap has been used as a key base for drone attacks from Africa to Asia, which have killed a hundred or more times as many civilians as those are supposedly terrorists. And now we have at Darwin a rapid-response base for thousands of Marines as part of the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific – aimed, as everyone knows at China. Now again I am no advocate for China’s government, but they ARE our biggest trading partner, and their rivalry with the US has been expressed primarily in economic terms. The US is responding to this in military terms, and our government is enthusiastically acquiescing. Is this responsible? Is this likely to promote stability, mutual respect & peace? Hardly.
It is in this context that the main peace coalition in Australia, the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) has formed over the last 3 years. The South Australian affiliate the Campaign Against Foreign Military Bases (CAFMB)(SA) has been in recess for the last year, but Ruth and I are relaunching it today, initially as an information exchange. I will undertake to send out a monthly newsletter with peace and war news, and further activity will depend on support. Please put your name and email on the paper here if you wish to receive it…..
Note also that we are in the middle of a build up to the centennial of Gallipoli and WW1. Is this really a commemoration, or a softening up of the Australian people for further warmongering? Note what I said earlier about the bitter memories of WW2 in Russia: however it is a fact that more war memorials were built in the USSR after than before the 1960’s, when they turned from the dangerous MAD nuclear strategy to the even more dangerous nuclear-war-fighting one, already adhered to by the US. Think about that, as we go to war once more with no parliamentary decision.