Peace Matters index






ONLINE contents

- synergy
- peacemaking in the 20thc
- peace museums
- engineering the future
- people on war – a survey


Just a few miles north from the Millennium Dome in London, precisely on the zero meridian and up Gunpowder Lane, lie the sprawling grounds of a recently-closed British Aerospace factory. Here, from the 17th century, the gunpowder which fuelled Britain’s piratical and colonial activities around the world was made.

As time was closing in on midnight on December 31st, Tony Blair was wishing us peace and prosperity. Yet can we seriously hope for peace when one of the world’s major arms manufacturers is sponsoring the Mind Zone in the Dome and, more insidiously, is promoting itself in schools? The moves by British Aerospace (see page 20) integrate arms manufacturing even more tightly with our education system. Where once their focus for recruiting was limited to universities, it now reaches down to primary schools: BAe is preparing for a busy and successful 21st century, and that can only mean bad news.

The Gunpowder Lane factory is being converted to a heritage centre – educational, no doubt – but we’ll have to wait to see how its past is reflected. It’s unlikely that any information display will include an estimate of the number of people maimed, bereaved and killed by the black powder produced in the factory by the generations of good men and women of Waltham Abbey who worked there. No doubt there will be a good reason for this – their legions are countless.

The need to remember the suffering that war causes was heavily stressed in the closing months of 1999, particularly as the last Remembrance Day of the century approached. Yet remembering, as the British Legion hasn’t tired of saying, is not enough. But what is? In fact, for most people in Britain today there is nothing to remember as far as war is concerned. Their knowledge is entirely second-hand. There is, indeed, a lot to understand – but assisting in this isn’t the mission of those who simply want your pound. Less surprisingly, then, in the case of schools the British Legion is also indebted to British Aerospace: it too is now ‘targeting’ the classroom. Both organisations are concerned with their own survival.

While most may see such ‘sponsorship’ as no more than an unfortunate trend, viewing with a different lens we can catch sight of its more worrying aspects. What is such sponsorship ‘telling’ children and young people? It is telling them that violence and force are the way to solve problems, that violence and force are actually necessary to maintain ’peace’. It’s also telling them that the future is going to be dangerous and violent. This is a bleak vision with which to start one’s life – made all the bleaker if no vision is suggested of how to change it.

In one small patch of Cambridgeshire we can see how the tragic events of the war at the beginning of the 20th century are commemorated – and how the components of future tragedies are already in place.

The stained glass windows of the small church at Swaffham Prior, put up shortly after the First World War, carry images of what were then new weapons of war. Here the images of submarines, airship and machine gun make visitors uneasy, as if this was not the right place for such a display. The fact that such weapons were regularly blessed by churches of ‘both sides’ is rarely remarked on.

And a few miles away, almost within sight of the top light which depicts an aeroplane (the machine which made civilians the ‘legitimate’ targets in war – and large profits for BAe), some of the elements of 21st century war are situated. Here, on a United States Airforce base, is a part of the communication system of the developing US anti-missile shield – a much-reduced version of the ill-fated ‘Star Wars’ project. Deployment of such technology, prohibited by the 1972 ABM treaty, would be deeply disturbing to Russia and China even it does not work.

Remembering is not enough; and can be positively harmful. The future is brought into being not only by our knowledge of the past but, more importantly, by our present acts; acts which are also informed by our values, which play a vital part. After the Second World War the writer and philosopher Albert Camus put it this way: ‘Do you or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to be killed or assaulted? Do you, or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to kill or assault? All who say No to both these questions are automatically committed to a series of consequences which must modify their way of posing problems.’

Jan Melichar


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