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Peace News log archive: January 2011

Articles from the Peace News log.
For archive articles from the whole site, look here

Rai Ko Ris, a punk band from Nepal, toured Europe last autumn. Frontwoman Sareena Rai describes how the anarchist scene surprised her.

ImageRao Ko Ris in Paris


“WHITE MAN DESTROYS CULTURE” is printed in big letters on a sticker at a venue in West Germany where we played. This phrase became my “theme” as we continued to tour throughout Europe. I realized how just reading about stuff or about people’s lives is simply not enough. There’s nothing more important than meeting people from different worlds. I talked a lot about how white man may have destroyed something in the past, but right now I felt that white people can give something back by teaching folks like us the tricks of parallel existence in new capitals because you’ve gone through it and we’re just entering it, and we need hints or tools on how to cope with the shocks.

Also, people are inspired by song. I was amazed when a big long-haired metal head in denim who organised one of the shows came to hug me afterwards, with tears in his eyes, saying how much my words about having sympathy for people living in the fortress and having to fight moved him. Just days before his city had come to a standstill when the National Bank was occupied by workers’ resistance. I was amazed and humbled when I saw the anarchist booklet we managed to translate into Nepali displayed at an infoshop in Amsterdam. I was amazed that someone who lived in his truck in Europe would want to drive us around Europe for two out of the six weeks for free because he totally supports what we were doing. And what were we doing? Meeting, talking, singing, eating, dancing. These are important elements that inspire resistance.

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Rai Ko Ris, a punk band from Nepal, toured Europe last autumn. Frontwoman Sareena Rai describes how the anarchist scene surprised her.

ImageRai Ko Ris in Paris


One of the most amazing things that struck me was that 95% of all the shows were organized by people who were just hitting 40 or were beyond it. We were amazed to see such necessary collaboration between ages and sexes. I was sure we were going to be the only oldies (+37) at each show but in fact it is mainly “the oldies” keeping many underground venues and squats going.

I was totally inspired by that.

In one city in France I met three women who all played music or sang in at least three different bands, all above 40-years-old. They were politically active, loosely associated with different solidarity groups – one of them is also apparently a history teacher.

There was such a variety of people from different backgrounds and experiences that were pretty much doing the same thing, but not together.

People in more organized anarchist circles commented how having tattoos and wearing anti-fa badges and “beating up” nazi skinheads was just a macho load of shnoof. However we talked to folks from East Germany who said their lives depended on their display of violence. When you’ve got nazi skinheads walking down your street who are out to attack any liberal-minded punk or queer, you have to be ready. For both men and women, the tatooes and spikes were their armor to defend themselves.

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Rai Ko Ris, A punk band from Nepal, toured Europe last autumn. Frontwoman Sareena Rai describes how the anarchist scene surprised her.

ImageRai Ko Ris in Paris


Much of my time in Europe was spent drinking… drinking tons of their best herbal teas and not-so-good chalky hot water. It was not until I got back to Nepal that I thought, maybe that chalky stuff all boiled up and hot probably didn’t help my voice recover one bit.

Drinking alcohol is big in Europe, I decided. There is no party without a drink. And there is no gig without drink. There are band names about drink; there are band names named after beer, or drinking, or about being drunk, or having a hangover.

If I listed them that would be my 2000-word article for ‘Pissed News’ right there. And show organizers make more money from selling beer than selling tickets at the entrance to a show, so I can’t argue.

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Jill Gibbon on the "factory of the future"

PN's Wales editor reflects on the UK climate change movement

Next month the Camp for Climate Action meets to discuss how we organise. Actually, the agenda will be much broader than process. At issue is not just how we do things but what we do. CCA is, of course, not unique in asking this question. Ever since the farce of COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 environmentalism – radical and reformist – has been virtually rudderless. Observing that ‘the process is dead’, George Monbiot asked the question directly: So, what do we do now? We do not have a proposal for how to proceed. With the exception of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, emanating from World People’s Conference on Climate Change in Bolivia, the environmental movement – if such a unity exists – has been losing ground fast. And, while the symbolism of the Declaration is significant, politically it hardly registered beyond a narrow margin.

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

Zimbardo suggests that just as the trial of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann demonstrated the ‘banality of evil’, so a survey of known good actions demonstrated the ‘banality of heroism’. He suggests that most people seem to be capable of heroism, which includes a willingness to risk social sacrifices (in terms of ridicule or ostracism or harm to one’s career) as well as physical danger, and long-term, enduring, considered action as well as spontaneous responses to unforeseen events.

What people committed to the abolition of war need to do, as well as dismantling military policies and institutions, is to increase the capacity of people both inside and outside the military to stand up for their values even in the face of ridicule, disapproval, ostracism, and damage to one’s career. What many of us find most difficult is that taking a stand on serious matters can involve status and economic losses not only for ourselves, but for our families and loved ones.

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

This violation of conscience may occur as much in the pacifist society as in the munitions factory or the research laboratory.

Having said this, different institutions and different social frameworks make different kinds of behaviour more or less likely. In professor Philip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment, college students were randomly allocated the roles of guard or prisoner in a mock prison. Zimbardo wrote later: ‘We selected only those judged to be emotionally stable, physically healthy, mature, law-abiding citizens.’ The two-week experiment was terminated after six days and nights because of the escalating abuse of the prisoners, and the evidence of unbearable psychological distress. Zimbardo wrote in his book The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil (2007) that the Stanford Prison Experiment was ‘a powerful illustration of the potentially toxic impact of bad systems and bad situations in making good people behave in pathological ways that are contrary to their nature.’

An extremely important study into war was carried out by anthropologist Douglas P Fry, in his book Beyond War: The Human Potential For Peace (2007). Fry investigated the historical evidence for war, finding that though anatomically modern humans have existed for 200,000 years or so, the earliest possible evidence for war came only 14,000 years ago. (Evidence could consist of unambiguous fortifications, specialized weapons such as clubs and daggers not used in hunting, depictions of martial scenes in art work, substantial number of burials with projectile points either embedded in bones or lying within the frames of skeletons, massive fires followed by change in cultural artefacts, reduced number of male remains in cemeteries, suggesting significant male death elsewhere.)

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

It turns out that it is quite hard to train soldiers to kill.

Former US army ranger, and later professor of military science at Arkansas State University, lieutenant colonel Dave Grossman has written two books dealing with the psychology of inflicting lethal violence: On Killing – The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (1995); and (with Loren Christensen) On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace (2004).

Grossman started with a startling historical fact. US brigadier general SLA Marshall, a US Army historian during World War II, found through interviews with thousands of soldiers immediately after they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops that, of every hundred men along the line of fire during a period of encounter, an average of only 15 to 20 soldiers “would take any part” with their weapon. The others would not fire at the enemy; they would not run or hide, and many would take great risks to rescue comrades, get ammunition, or to run messages.

Though Marshall’s work has come under sustained attack, Grossman found a wide range of other studies that confirmed this finding, pointing to something that he later termed ‘the universal human phobia’ against killing another person. (Grossman also found evidence that the phobia had declined over the decades among US soldiers, as the rate of solders shooting to kill increased to 90% during the Vietnam war; Grossman also believes that violent video games – which he calls ‘murder simulators’ – also erode the phobia against killing.)

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

The argument of this paper is that for a long time we in the peace movement have been looking in the wrong places when we’ve been looking for the deepest roots of war. This has led to misdirection in creating strategies for abolishing war.

The common argument against the effort to get rid of war is that violence is innate in human nature, and that therefore there will always be war.

I would like to suggest that arguing against this position is the wrong move.

If we as abolitionists allow ourselves to be trapped arguing about violence-as-part-of-human-nature, it will be very difficult to move forward.

The first thing we need to do, I suggest, is separate ‘violence’ from ‘war’.

The most constructive way of responding to the argument that ‘violence is inherent in human nature’, I suggest, is to point out that: ‘War is not primarily about violence.’

Our starting point should be that, whether or not violence is inherent in human nature, war can and should be abolished. To put it in stronger terms, even if we are ‘inherently violent as a species’, that is not the reason wars happen, and it does not pose an obstacle to the abolition of war.

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Milan Rai reports from the WRI Triennial in India

One of the most poignant moments of the conference so far was Samarendra Das’s cry to the audience: “We do not want your research! It is not useful to us. We have simple questions, such as: what should the price of bauxite be?”

The interesting things here are “useful research” and “we – you”. What is that polarity?

Before talking about that, I should explain about the pricing question.

Bauxite is often found on mountain tops; it’s the raw material for aluminium. In India, these mountains are for some reason often in tribal areas, and are sacred mountains. The bauxite has the capacity to retain water and release it gradually (Samarendra told us), so that there are perennial streams even in the hot season. After the bauxite has been mined, this capacity is lost, and whatever water does run in the streams is polluted (I think he mentioned arsenic).

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