Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Nuclear Bunkum

This article was published in The Nation on Sunday, 11 March 2012

 

 

Delusion

Delusions are particularly scary when they take over whole nations. Growing up in the 1950s, I often heard the phrase “living under the shadow of the bomb”. It was used to excuse all kinds of irresponsible individual behaviour, hedonism and mass hooliganism.

Much satirical fun was had with the British government’s ludicrous public information campaigns. In the satirical revue Beyond the Fringe in 1960, Dudley Moore, from the audience, asks a panel, “Following the nuclear holocaust, could you tell me when normal public services would be restored?” Another question casts doubt upon the value of the four-minute warning. Peter Cook responds: “Let me tell you that in this great country of ours, some people can run a mile in four minutes”. Cook advises, in the event of a nuclear attack, to crawl under the kitchen table and place a brown-paper bag over the head.

Alan Bennett fields another question thus: “Now I can see one or two of you are thinking, now look here, what if one of our American friends makes a boo-boo, presses the wrong button, and sends up one of their missiles by mistake? It could not happen. You see, before they press that button they’ve got to get on the telephone to number 10 Downing Street, and say, ‘Now look, Mr. Macmillan, Sir, can I press this button?’ And Mr. Macmillan will say ‘yes’ — or ‘no’ — as the mood takes him.”

Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent

In Beyond the Fringe, Peter Cook announced: “That is not to say that we do not have our own Nuclear Striking Force — we do, we have the Blue Steel; a very effective missile, as it has a range of 150 miles, which means that we can just about get Paris — and, by God, we will.”

Today, 52 years later, British governments are still wasting taxpayers’ money on that kind of delusion. During the Cold War, we had MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Because Britain and the USA had the bomb, the USSR would not dare to use theirs. Who will be deterred today, now that the Soviet Union is no more?

 
A secret review into the future of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent is underway. Trident is British in the sense that it cost the taxpayer in 1994 £14.9 billion and costs another £2 billion a year to run. The submarines carrying the missiles were only designed to last 25 years and so will have to be replaced by 2020 at a probable cost of £25 billion. One critic of Trident has called it the UK’s “stick-on hairy chest”. What folly in these belt-tightening times!

 
The 58 Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles are operated by the Royal Navy (from four Vanguard-class submarines) but the Americans make them, maintain them and provide the satellite intelligence to target them. According to a US diplomatic telegram released by WikiLeaks last year, President Obama handed over the unique serial numbers of the UK’s missiles to the Russians as part of an arms-reduction deal.

 
One wonders what kind of ally the US would be for Britain in a nuclear war. In April 1982, they even refused their poodle permission to use the US operated airfield on Ascension Island (a British Crown Colony) to refuel RAF aircraft. In 2012, the US does not recognise Britain’s claim to the Falkland Islands, which Hillary insolently refer to as ‘Las Malvinas’.
NGO mafia

A vast collection of think-tanks, charitable foundations, academic courses and government departments are supposedly dedicated to the noble aim of non-proliferation. In reality, this means objecting to the likes of Iran and North Korea having nuclear weapons, but not the USA, the UK, France and Israel.

 
One of the reasons Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 was “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. The committee highlighted his efforts to promote nuclear disarmament. When the New Start Treaty between Russia and the US was ratified in 2010, William Perry, a defence secretary under President Clinton and one of the chief advocates of non-proliferation, remarked that even though the treaty was “small, it was vital, because … we are serious about bringing our own nuclear stockpiles down.” Perry must have known that the Obama administration had recently announced that it was committing $85 billion to the modernisation of the US nuclear arsenal over the next ten years.

 
Perry was silent and, there was no protest from the non-proliferation mafia. Their main business is not actually working towards abolition, but managing junkets associated with the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Every five years, delegates from member states meet to discuss ‘progress’. The reality is that there is merely much fractious debate over minor rewordings to produce ‘final documents’, which everyone ignores.

 

Nuclear Alarmism

 

The task of discouraging states like South Africa, Brazil and Argentina from going nuclear, felt worthy, but was irrelevant. In Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to al-Qaida, John Mueller argues that the non-proliferation regime was responsible for the disaster that is Iraq. The non-proliferation mafia kept quiet about the invasion of Iraq but continue to put together costly but unthreatening programmes to keep themselves in work – programmes like the Global Zero project, which consists of “300 political, military, business, faith and civic leaders, and 400,000 citizens worldwide working for the phased, verified elimination of all nuclear weapons”. The mafia has institutionalised a bogus solution, which allows leaders to avoid reality and has cultivated the false belief that nuclear peace can be accomplished without the need for political action, and without any sacrifice.

 
Sri Lankans have to make sacrifices because the US wants to prevent us buying Iranian oil until Iran stops its nuclear programme.

 

There is no forgetting in the Blogosphere

This article was published in The Nation on Sunday, 04 March 2012

 

Post-modernist theory suggests the past is unknowable. There is no objective fact that we can call ‘history’. There is no way of deciding whether one representation of the past or another is true. Up to a point. Much of what we know is a garbled version of what historians have written. We might make mistakes in our search for the truth about the past, and new discoveries are always being made. That does not mean that the concept of truth itself is relative.

 

The narrative of what ‘happened’ can attract layers of interpretation and develop into nationalist myths, which are exploited by demagogues. This happened in my own country where the true story of oppression gained accretions of myth, leading to further suffering and violence.

 

Fortunately, Irish historians are questioning the foundation myths of Irish nationalism. For example, Roy Foster: “The construction of ‘advanced’ Irish nationalism at home relied on buttressing from abroad, and so did the creation of Irish identity.” The Irish diaspora kept alive the fairy tales. Sinister men rattled collection boxes in north London pubs ‘for the boys’.

 

Nationalists in Ceylon such as AE Goonesinha were stimulated by accounts of Parnell, Davitt and the Irish freedom movement and closely followed Irish events in the late 19th and early 20th century. Sinhalese Buddhist thinkers such as Ratmalane Sri Dharmarama Thero and the Tamil disciple of William Morris, Ananda Coomaraswamy, wrote of an ancient, highly developed Lankan civilisation. Another Sinhalese, Anagarika Dharmapala, wistfully dreamed of a dazzling past: “We must wake from our slumber… We were a great people”. The Tamil political leader, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, wrote in his diary: “Thought much of the unhappy conditions of our country and what a glorious thing it would be for Ceylon to emulate and excel her great past.”

 

 

When I was still living in Ireland, I was relentlessly spammed by Sihala Urumaya. Some of the terminology carried disturbing echoes of Nazi propaganda. Phrases like ‘race extinction’ ‘dark conspiracy’; words like ‘motherland’; calls for public executions.

 

Someone calling himself Thanga wrote this recently on the Colombo Telegraph: “The question whether Prabhakaran is alive or dead is immaterial. Prabhakaran is part of Tamil history and part of Tamil psyche. He will be remembered by generations and generations to come. And liberation movements never die with their founders… Prabhakaran was a brave, self-less and dedicated leader who lived by example. A leader who never slept on a mat or used a pillow!”

 

Another blogger wrote: “While you are at the praying mood also pray that the Transnational Tamils will be merciful on the Sinhalese when they are done with the ground work for a bigger and more deadlier struggle against you, your racist Sinhalese sisters and brothers led by your majesty the King Mahinda”.

 
From the Sinhalese side, someone made this comment about one of my articles for Le Monde diplomatique: “Tamils have not faced any ‘discrimination’ in Sri Lanka. Wanting colonial era privileges to be maintained for them, in the home of the Sinhalese into which they were brought like slaves, which they achieved through unwavering servitude and sucking up to their colonial white masters, is UNACCEPTABLE! Do some research before regurgitating terrorist propaganda.”

 

 
Is the politics of memory a good thing? We are warned that we will repeat past mistakes if we ignore history. Forgetfulness brings impunity, which is both morally outrageous and politically dangerous. Recollections that are shaped from the trauma of war and suffering, may be remembered in radically different ways by people who experienced similar events. The selectivity may also serve a political purpose, for example to justify the claims of one group over a competing group.

 

 

“Revenge doesn’t know how to choose between the guilty and the innocent”. Slavko Goldstein wrote that in his book, 1941: The Year That Keeps Returning. Goldstein is a Croatian Jew and describes the ethnic tensions during the Second World War in former Yugoslavia. Reviewing the book, the Serbo-American poet, Charles Simic relates it to the insane fight for a Greater Serbia in the 1990s: “Once more, the culprit was nationalism, that madness of identifying with a single ethnic group to a point where one recognises no other duty other than furthering its interests even if it means placing its actions beyond good and evil.”.

 

There comes a time when reconciliation has to take the place of endlessly rehearsing grievances from centuries back, as the Irish were prone to do. In Sri Lanka, the grievances are still present and sharp and will take skilful and sensitive action to manage.

 

 
Kamaya Jayatissa wrote recently in The Island about the need to: “define a common identity, one that will incorporate our socio-economic differences but also our religious, political, cultural and geographical similarities and differences, one that will ultimately give us a stronger sense of solidarity and tolerance through multi-ethnicity… to build an inclusive and homogenous identity, one that will include our diversity – both as individuals and as a nation.”

 

 

That will be difficult if the deafening and soul-numbing volume of hate-speak is not turned down.

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