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"Peace News has compiled an exemplary record... its tasks have never been more critically important than they are today." Noam Chomsky

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PN 75: On That Day: Phil Steele

PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June 2011.

Looking back, looking forward

So Peace News was first published on 6th June 1936.  6th June was also, as it happens,  the date of  other momentous events – the D-day landings in 1944, the publication of  George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, the bombing of Haiphong during the Vietnam War in 1972.

2011 seems to be a year of  significant anniversaries: 75 years of Peace News… 50 Years of Amnesty International…  and good grief, very nearly 10 years  of our local peace group,  Bangor & Ynys Môn Peace & Justice.  Still meeting every week, still attracting new members, and most importantly still part of a lively network of independent groups campaigning across Wales for peace and justice, many of them set up during the tumultuous autumn of 2001.

On the agenda for our Bangor meeting on 6 June 2011 were plans for a poetry reading for the Shaker Aamer campaign, as well as options for a public meeting to consider the Arab Spring in relation to the situation in Palestine.  There were discussions about Bradley Manning, about the use of depleted uranium weapons and about the next Gaza flotilla.  Also discussed was an inspiring letter from Bustan Qaraaqa, a community permaculture project established in Palestine by former Bangor Students.

We are busy, then… but surely the turbulent days of Bush and Blair are long gone? Would it were so. Since his election Barack Obama has escalated the war in Afghanistan, and reneged on a promise to close Guantanamo Bay. The UN mandate on Libya has been exceeded by Britain, France and the USA in a war of ill-defined aims. Double standards still prevail: David Cameron demands regime change against dictators he dislikes (or who have oil) whilst at the same time he will sell arms to any dictatorships and dodgy monarchies who have oil but are prepared do the bidding of the USA and NATO.  Repression of dissent is common in Russia, in China and in many parts of Africa, the Middle East and Far East.  Nuclear weapons and nuclear materials proliferate around the globe. Nearer to home, the UK government complacently watches the costs of Trident replacement double, whilst cutting essential public services. The Welsh government clears the airspace around Parc Aberporth for the  development and testing of drones,  one of the most despicable developments in modern warfare.

So what is there to cheer us up in June 2011? Fortunately there are some grounds for hope. The so-called ‘Arab spring’ promises a lot, although its outcomes do remain uncertain and genuine self-determination – economic, political and cultural – is hard to secure in the age of a rampant global market and of neo-liberal interventionism. However the spirit of Tahrir Square in Cairo might just  help shift  the political  log-jams blocking progress towards peace in the Middle East and North Africa. Another cause for hope might be developments in Latin America, where the ALBA alliance of nations is pushing for self-determination and the prioritisation of social welfare, literacy and the rights of indigenous peoples.

Conflict prevention and resolution are dependent on justice, on the universal application of human rights, on transparency and on respect for international law. I was reminded of this last week during a remarkable address in London by the lawyer Gareth Peirce, who has been responsible for defending so many victims of the miscarriage of justice. Ever quietly spoken, she detailed UK governments’ complicity in torture.  Present in the audience was Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four, an innocent man sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975. He was talking of the iniquities of the Guantanamo detentions, of the continuing pattern of injustice which in turn breeds new conflict.

So the struggle goes on, of course it does –  but let us hope that its successes will be reported and celebrated at the 100th anniversary of Peace News in 2036.