Quaker Contributions to building a Culture of Peace in an Unpeaceful world

The United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Peace has been  celebrated on September 21 each year (since 1981)to recognize the efforts of those who have worked hard to end conflict and promote peace. This year many people’s and nations marked the day with nationwide appeals to governments to see climate change as a major existential threat to humanity and as a major source of conflict  in the future.

 

When we (a group of London Based Civil Society Organisations and the UN)  were thinking about how to  make International Peace Day more than just a talk fest, we focused on the idea of personal and political ceasefires for one day,  to enable the delivery of humanitarian and medical assistance to  people living in war zones.

 

This  idea  of delivering humanitarian  and medical assistance on the 21st September   has been realised in a number of different conflicts  The reality, is, however, that there will not be lasting stable peace anywhere until we accord more weight to cultures of peace than cultures of militarism and war . This requires each  one of us working to ensure that each day of the year is a peace day. The  promotion of harmony  and non-violent resolution of conflict has to become deeply ingrained in each of us for this to happen.

 

One religious group that has made a vocational commitment to peace for over 350 years is the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers. They have something to teach us as we grapple with current global turbulence.

 

Their peace testimony as articulated by  Margaret Fell in a letter to  King Charles II  stated that

“We are a people that follow after those things that make for peace, love, and unity; it is our desire that others’ feet may walk in the same, and do deny and bear our testimony against all strife, and wars.”

This 17th century  Peace Testimony is exactly what is needed in a world  of autocratic, atavistic nationalism. The commitment to peace, love and unity   flows from the Quaker belief that there is ‘That of God in everyone’ . This simple belief generates a   need to respect and honour “the other “ irrespective of ethnicity, creed,  and divergent values and beliefs.   But more particularly it has resulted in a refusal to bear arms or  take part in military service over the years.  Many Quakers,  have  conscientiously objected to war through the years and have either been imprisoned for their beliefs or been  given permission to develop  medical and humanitarian assistance to all side of the conflict. ( e.g The Friend’s Ambulance Units of the First and Second World Wars) . This silent witness has made important contributions to  civil liberties -the right to dissent on grounds of conscience-  and has generated  an alternative to those who say that war is the only way to solve global problems.

Quakers recognise  that there are evils that need to be resisted, however, and choose to do so through non violent rather than violent action. They were early supporters , for example, of the Gandhian Independence movement in India, the Civil Rights Movements in the US and  in  non violent resistence to oppressive rule everywhere.

The peace testimony has also been harnessed to help victims of wars and conflicts  in a totally non partisan fashion.  Quakers have been deeply involved in providing relief and rehabilitation to victims of violence everywhere and have done  so systematically ever since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and in every major conflict since. They were honoured for their relief work  with a Nobel Prize in 1947.

Quakers have also realised, however the centrality of developing activities that are aimed at the prevention of conflict. During the cold war, for example, the Quaker Conferences for diplomats  brought together diplomats from across  the East -West divide for  meetings aimed at  looking at national interests in the context of international responsibilities. This track 1.5 diplomacy was enormously helpful in clarifying perceptions and for creating confidence and mutual understanding between warring parties. It  was estimated that  10% of the world’s diplomatic community met each other under Quaker-sponsored auspices in the 1970s. These off the record meetings provided  diplomats and experts with  opportunities to discuss issues, weaken stereotypes, and have their concerns heard.  The Quaker position in this work was defined as  ‘balanced partiality’. Participants in these meetings knew that Quakers would  not take sides but   seek to help everyone equally out of the impasse and the violence.

In recent years more attention has been given to peace education and to building cultures and institutions of peace, capable of providing  alternatives to cultures and institutions of war,militarism, masculinity and patriarchy. These programmes have been aimed at providing individuals and groups with strategies and techniques for the addressing aggressive and violent attitudes at the inter-personal, intergroup and international levels.

If New Zealand wishes to keep burnishing its peace credentials it is vital that  our leaders  intentionally and deliberately  promote a culture of peace at the UN and in all bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. The government also needs  to ensure that the  causes of war; inequality, exclusion, marginalisation, humiliation and nationalism are replaced with more positive values and programmes that promote  multilateralism, sustainable  and inclusive development and global order under agreed rules.  Quakers have quietly promoted these ideas over the years. It is vital that their testimonies of peace, simplicity, equality and   environmental sustainability  come into the mainstream  as viable alternatives to 21st century pathologies.

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Posted in Aid and development, Conciliation, Conflict Resolution, Conflict Transformation, Love and Mutuality, Nobel Peace prize, Nonviolence, Pacifism, Pacifist, Quakers | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Observing the International Day Against Nuclear Tests.

The International  Day Against Nuclear Tests -29th August 2020

Kevin P Clements

Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies,

University of Otago

 

 

 

 

As Albert Einstein said  “ A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought”. Its vital that every generation accepts this piece of sage advice, especially when political leaders are once again contemplating whether nuclear weapons have any tactical military utility .  Most nuclear experts agree, that we will never be totally  safe from nuclear weapons  until are all totally abolished . This is because   their presence anywhere is destabilising , deterrence theory  has been exposed  as a cpnstant danger since there is some probability that they will beused either accidentally or intentionally and the theory collapses . But more  importantly  it is now widely agreed by nuclear scientists that  any exchange of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world  would  be directly and  indirectly devastating, through the nuclear winter that would  follow.

 

This is why the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW was adopted two years ago. There is  no  nuclear safety without nuclear abolition. New Zealand played a critical role on the negotiation of this Treaty and  has both signed and ratified its provisions.

 

This Treaty  will only have an impact , however, if all nuclear powers sign it and  renounce their  arsenals. In addition  would be proliferators like Iran and Saudi Arabia  need to  be persuaded never to develop them. One small step in this direction would be for all states to  agree not to develop and certainly not to test nuclear weapons.

 

Since nuclear weapons testing began on 16 July 1945, 2,065 nuclear tests  have taken place. In the early days of nuclear testing little consideration was given to its devastating effects on human life and e dangers of nuclear fallout from atmospheric tests. We now know  the tragic consequences of  such testing especially when atmospheric conditions went wrong .  The  radiation effects  of all atmospheric tests  generated  higher incidences of cancer and genetic mutations in all places that hosted them..  New Zealanders remember well the impact of all the French, American and British Testing in the Pacific. We were able to observe the glow from larger hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific from New Zealand and   levels of caesium and   strontium 90 rose all over the country.  Our servicemen  and women who observed the British tests  have suffered the harmful consequences ever since.

On 2 December 2009, the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly declared 29 August to be the International Day against Nuclear Tests by unanimously adopting resolution 64/35. This resolution calls for increasing awareness and education “about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions and the need for their cessation as one of the means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” The resolution was initiated by the Republic of Kazakhstan, together with a large number of sponsors and cosponsors with a view to commemorating the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August 1991.

Its particularly vital that we focus some attention on this day  in 2019  as the President of the United States  is asking  whether “small tactical   nuclear weapons might be used in warfare” . In  the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review he  set aside funding for the modernisation and miniaturisation of nuclear arsenals which would require both laboratory and field testing of  such weapons.

As  we observe  this day against nuclear tests. It is important to remind ourselves that there  already exists  an international instrument to put an end to all forms of nuclear testing. It  is the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). New Zealand and many other countries spent a lot of time negotiating this treaty and put  in place rigorous verification measures to ensure that it was complied with. Unfortunately, despite NZ ( and like minded country) efforts   to get this treaty signed and ratified by the nuclear powers, this has not happened and  it  has yet to enter into force.

As the Secretary-General  of the UN recognized in his disarmament agenda “Securing our Common Future” in  24 May 2018, the norm against testing is   a measure that serves both disarmament and non-proliferation objectives. By constraining the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons, the CTBT puts a brake on the arms race. It also serves as a powerful normative barrier against potential States that might seek to develop, manufacture and subsequently acquire nuclear weapons in violation of their non-proliferation commitments. Because of this it is critical to continue pushing   all  remaining States whose ratifications are required for the CTBT   to sign the Treaty at an early date   and to accelerate the completion of their ratification processes.

We are living in dangerous times. The international arms control and disarmament agenda is unravelling. The United States  has just pulled out of the INF Treaty and has tested a new Cruise Missile. The ABM Treaty has ended and if the United States does not agree  to an extension of the New Start Treaty there will be no bilateral or multilateral  constraints on the development or deployment  of nuclear weapons. The forthcoming NPT Review Conference looks as though it might end in failure  and if the norm against proliferation weakens,  all sorts of countries might try and develop such weapons to improve their bargaining power  in the international community.

All of this means that at  minimum we need to bring the CTBT into force and at maximum  we need to shame the nuclear powers into signing on to the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons. The weapons  generate fear and have no military or political utility . We will only be truly safe when all 17,000 such weapons have been abolished and when all countries renounce their current arsenals and commit to not testing new weapons  in modernisation programmes.

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Love and Terror in the Third Reich:A Tale of Broken Integrity

I Launched Peter Matheson and Heinke Somer Matheson’s book ,

Love and Terror in the Third Reich:A Tale of broken Integrity

2019 Cascade Books Oregon

on Friday the 24th May .
Its a disarming book that documents the love, faith ,national socialism and war of two ordinary Germans during the 1930s. This is what I said about it at the launch.

Launch of Peter Matheson and Heinke Sommer-Matheson’s book

Love and terror in the Third Reich : A Tale of Broken Integrity.2019
Cascade Books, Eugene Oregon.

Kevin P Clements

• After the lovely cello music I am inclined to suggest that we stay silent. The world is in greater need of music and silence at this time than text and words. But I have been asked to say a few words about the evolution of this book and its meaning to me.
• In the first place, it is a book that has been a long time in gestation and there were many anguished conversations between Peter and Heinke about whether or not it was appropriate for them to publish such intimate letters which were never intended for public consumption. I am and you should all be deeply relieved that, in the end, they did decide to publish so my first task is to give thanks to Heinke and Peter for their labour of Love which revealed a deep love between Lilo and Ernst (Heinke’s parents) as well as insights into the meaning of life for an ordinary German family caught up in the global struggle between fascism, communism, and the western democratic project.
• Second, this box, which held Lilo and Ernst’s letters accompanied Lilo for her entire life. It was a material reminder of and the repository for her love, her marriage, and the war. The letters were the outward and visible reminder of a lively , sensual, spiritual and political relationship that gave birth to Heinke and Hartmut who were the living results of this union.
• I wish that my father had been as attentive to memory and history as Lilo. When my mother died and my father was about to remarry he went into our garden to our incinerator and burned all my mothers letters to him and his letters to her. This was a record of their war and their separation but it was also a window into their relationship and how each endured the pain of separation and death. My mother had a breakdown when her favourite brother was killed in Libya. These letters would have given me and my siblings insight into their relationship just as Lilo and Ernst’s enabled Heinke and Hartmut to understand the father that neither of them new. My father’s destruction of these letters meant that neither I nor any of my siblings would ever know anything about our parents love and care for one another, what they felt about or how they survived the war, their separation, traumas, breakdowns and eventual reunification.
• We are very fortunate that Lilo Sommer, Heinke’s mother chose differently. She preserved this extraordinary treasure trove of letters that form the basis of this book. They not only document the deep love between Lilo and her husband Ernst they help all of us understand a tumultuous moment in time from 1935-1942 .
• They do this not through the eyes of political leaders or military commanders but through the eyes of ordinary middle class well educated Germans who managed to combine their love for each other with deep religious faith and an enthusiastic and willing embrace of Hitler and Nazi ideology. Lilo saw Hitler Face to Face when dressed in the uniform of the Landjahr. Ernst was thrilled to be an infantry flag bearer at a Nuremburg rally.
• In Ernst’s case his religious faith and belief in National Socialism were mutually reinforcing. This is as it has been for millennia. God is always invoked by one side against the other in war .God, in the form of military chaplains and bishops blessed British tanks and on the other side the very same God gave succor and support to German soldiers as they occupied most of Europe. Lilo’s was also in a swoon to all that National Socialism had given them and initially had a strong belief in Hitler’s ability to ensure that past German humiliations would be redeemed in German dominance of Europe and the world. Quote from Lilo on page 16.
• But the war itself tested their love, their political commitment and their sense of all that made life decent and worthwhile. This was particularly so for Lilo but Ernst too had moments of doubt even as he declared his willingness to sacrifice himself for the country to defeat Bolshevism and the British. Ernst’s quote p44
• Heinke and Peter have blended these love letters into a political and military narrative that enables us to contextiualise the mundane , the ordinary and the everyday with the architechtonic themes of the mid 20th century. They weave discussions of fascism, and war with deep mutual concern on the part of both Lilo and Ernst for their beloved Heinke and her brother Hartmut.
• It’s a book that proceeds swiftly to its inevitable conclusion, the death of Ernst, his brother Hans and Lilo’s brother Dieter It is a book that also addresses the death of all the lofty ideals of 1930s fascism; the death of a marriage –the post death continuity of love- the survival and flourishing of two lovely children who carve out their own identities in a post war world with only the dimmest understanding of their father under the care of a mother whose life was challenged by the war that she had initially believed in.
• So what are some of the deeper themes that come through this volume.?
• In the first place, the letters which start out so hopefully are contradicted and challenged by the ultimate futility of the Second World War, or for that matter any war, to solve political, economic and social problems . War is organized slaughter.These letters are a testimony to the foolishness and destructiveness of state sponsored and legitimated , organized murder. The scars and pain that Lilo had to live with after the war were reproduced in the families of millions of others. There were 20 million Russians who suffered pain, loss, and death and more than 60 million people overall lost their lives in this conflict. The grief and anxiety so poignantly reflected in these letters and book were reproduced millions of times across the world. They weren’t often talked about but they created the traumatic base for the post war world.
• The second theme that came through was that of displacement. War displaces people, Lilo returned to her parents, Ernst was frog marched through Poland to the Russian front. But the displacement is more than physical, it is mental, emotional, familial, religious and existential. These dislocations create profound existential angst . It is displacement that enables military commanders and dictators to control the population by promising order to a totally chaotic world. These letters, therefore wer an effort to grapple with displacement by reminding Ernst and Lilo of their home and its safety and security.While there was much chaos, however, we have to pay a huge compliment to the efficiency of the German Military postal system which miraculously preserved all these letters which enable us to understand what dislocation and chaos meant to all those who were dislocated.
• The third theme which flows from the first is the way in which war displacement and separation generates an aching loneliness on the part of those who are left behind and by those who are fighting . Or in my father and mother’s case a loneliness generated by conscientious objection to war, separation, and the loneliness of dissent in patriotic environments. Whether the separation was at home ( as in my parent’s case) or abroad as in Lilo and Ernst’s the separated have to endure the tedium, alienation, estrangement, and constant danger of war alone. Lilo’s displacement to her parent’s home and anxiety about Ernst ,meant that she felt that she was “hanging between the tree and the bark” she was anxious,depressed, and felt completely incapacitated by forces beyond her control. Like some worrying illness, war confronts us all with our own mortality and reminds us that we are born into the world alone and will leave it alone. What makes this aloneness, loneliness bearable are those who assuage it by their love, presence, care and compassion. For Lilo and Ernst as for all who fight it was the love of spouses, lovers, families, comrades in arms that enabled them to deal with their loneliness. But essentially war reminds us of the fact that we are all inexorably marching to our deaths with a variety of religious and political banners ( of greater or lesser value) to sustain us.
• The fourth theme that came through the book was the power of belief (whether religious or political) to overcome rational comprehension of the parlous state that both found themselves in. It was religious faith and belief in the fatherland that sustained Ernst. I’m not so sure that this was totally sustaining to Lilo but she believed in the healing power of love, family, duty, and work. They both yearned for Christmas, for music, for walking in nature, for each other and these beliefs nurtured them through good times and bad. Their beliefs, however, are a reminder to all of us that what we believe, what we imagine, what we hope for enable us to BE in the face of all the forces challenging our being. Heinke and Hartmun’s return to the Russian battleground of their father and their search for his grave ( which was unsuccessful) gave them both a material sense of where he spent his last days. They brought back soil and apples from this place to Lilo so that she too had some material reminder of where her dreams were extinguished.
• The fifth theme that came through was the way in which ideology can blind us to what is happening around us . In the end Lilo was more skeptical of Nazi ideology than Ernst , but both were wiling to suspend their critical consciousness in pursuit of a “noble” cause which retrospectively turned out to be quite ignoble. The surprising element of the letters, however, is that both Ernst and Lilo were in their own ways decent, loving, caring and compassionate human beings trapped in a war and in a system that was exactly the opposite.
• The final theme that comes through has to do with whether or not we are currently living ( in 2019) in a world that is the equivalent of 1935 in Germany. We are confronted by some huge problems that will require the imagination of the whole world to address and resolve them. Yet people are scared and are looking for simplistic and utopian solutions. These forces of autocratic populism are generating a willingness to cede personal responsibility to leaders on metaphorical white horses. The challenge of the letters and this book is whether those of us who seek to preserve our own kith and kin in the face of life threatening forces are also willing to stand against the tide and not defer to the neo fascist equivalents of those who reigned supreme in 1935. If we remain passive by standers to autocratic impulse, hate speech, intolerance we will undoubtedly find ourselves supporting the 21st century equivalent of the Reich with all that this will mean in terms of nightmares instead of dreams , truncated love instead of love fulfilled and a disposition to violence that has even less place in the 21st century than it did in the middle of the 20th. So this is a love story for the 20th century that is also a morality tale for the 21st.
• I thank Lilo and Ernst for writing these letters and for Lilo preserving them. I want to reiterate my thanks to Heinke and Peter being “stubborn” enough to translate them and to weave them into a meaningful narrative. I hereby launch the book and urge you all to buy a copy.

Posted in # Honouring the War Dead by abolishing War, Building Peaceful Community, Costs of Violence and War, Pacifism, Patriotism, Russia, Uncategorized, Violence | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Submission to the Arms Amendment Bill Select Committee-New Zealand Parliament.

Submission to the Select Committee on the 2019 Arms Amendment Bill.

Professor Kevin P Clements,
National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago.

My name is Kevin P Clements, I am the Foundation Director and Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. I have been a strong advocate for tighter controls of Military Style Semi Automatic Weapons and Assault weapons ever since I returned to New Zealand from Australia in January 2009. Having seen how Prime Minister John Howard, after the Port Arthur Massacre, courageously and resolutely banned the ownership and use of such weapons in Australia, I have always had difficulty understanding why successive New Zealand Governments have lacked the political will to do the same. In particular,following the mass shootings at Aramoana and the extraordinarily prescient findings of Judge Thomas Thorp, (in his comprehensive review of New Zealand’s Gun Laws in 1997), it distresses me that it took the Christchurch massacre to galvanise the political will necessary to take action.
Although I deeply regret the circumstances that prompted this Amendment Bill, however, I warmly welcome the fact that, this time, Parliament has united across party divisions to back the banning of these weapons and the magazines and parts that enable lower capacity semi-automatic weapons to be turned into military style semi-automatics capable of generating mass murder. Banning this entire category of weapons is significant and will go a long way to ensuring that events such as the Christchurch massacres will not happen again. Removing the 24,584 MSSA’s and assault rifles that are owned by licensed owners, and therefore known to the Police, will be a major first step in reducing the total amount of lethal capacity in the community. Locating illegally held MSSA’s and assault rifles will be more problematic but hopefully there are enough provisions in this Bill and in existing law for the police to engage in search, discovery and retrieval of weapons held illegally by either licensed or unlicensed gun owners. It is important that this legislation reduces the exemptions for possessing such weapons.
Although the proposed legislation specifically exempts pistols ( In the Purpose of the Bill) I think that this needs to be reconsidered . Even though pistols are not likely to be used for mass murder on the Christchurch scale they are lethal and capable of killing significant numbers of people in close proximity. It is currently possible, for example to go to Gun City and buy a 50 round barrel magazine,attach it to a Glock pistol and have a weapon that is just as lethal as a semi automatic rifle. I think it is highly desirable that pistols continue to be restricted and as many as possible taken out of circulation as well.
Although it is not written into this amendment bill, if New Zealand had a Register of Weapons and who owned them the current Amnesty and Buy Back proposal would be much easier to implement and monitor. It should be relatively easy to identify owners with E category licenses but will be more problematic for A category license holders who have turned some of their current weapons into semi-automatics. In any event, because there are fewer such weapons here in NZ than there were in Australia, I do not expect that the cost of the New Zealand Buy Back programme will be anywhere near the cost of the Australian Programme. If my hunch is right it would be highly desirable for some of the savings from this programme to be expended on developing a NZ register of firearms and their owners.
It is disconcerting that those of us interested in this field are still working on Judge Thorp’s 1997 estimates of 700,000-1 million firearms . Current estimates of the total numbers of firearms in New Zealand’s civilian armoury range between 1.5 to 1.7 million or even 4 million if air rifles are included. If we are really going to get control over guns in New Zealand it is vital that we develop a comprehensive data base of the numbers and types of weapons that each licensed gun owner owns. Without this information we have no idea how many guns each licensed (or unlicensed) gun owner actually owns. With such a register the police ( or some designated independent authority) would be able to identify individuals who were amassing weapons and developing arsenals. The establishment of a comprehensive register to supplement the current firearms licencing system should also record the make, type, calibre and serial number of firearms including ownership and the transfer of ownership from point of sale.I know that this is something that is being foreshadowed as a second phase of this tightened gun control legislation but I would strongly urge the Committee and the House to couple these two agendas as soon as possible.
This tragic event also highlights the fact that we need to direct more attention to the supply side of the gun problem in New Zealand. There are very active gun retailers in New Zealand who import a wide variety of weapons to satisfy the interests and needs of the 248,000 licensed gun owners and others who are just interested in guns . There is a very thriving market for weapons in New Zealand. Gun City in Christchurch , for example, had a turnover of $20 million last year. The New Zealand Customs Service listed 69,621 shotguns and 171,787 rifles or a total of 241,408 firearms imported between 2008 to 2016. If air rifles are added, to this figure, the total number is 474,847 weapons imported during this 8 year period. If we keep importing weapons at the rate of nearly half a million every 8 years and we have an estimated 1.5 million weapons now New Zealand will have approximately 2.5 million weapons in civilian hands by 2035. This is a totally unacceptable number for a population of 4+ million and 248,000 licensed gun owners. I would hope, therefore, that there be some investigation on the Police capacity to do adequate checks on owners and dealer licenses and the appropriateness of the orders being made. I think it is also highly desirable that instead of gun licences being issued for a ten year period that they be issued for 5 years at a time and that more stringent reviews are put in place for their renewal.
For the record, I should like to add that my interest in tighter gun control is aimed at moving “easy lethality” from the hands of those who own weapons developed and intended for military use, i.e weapons that are primarily focused on homicidal capacity. I do not wish to restrict hunters, farmers or sporting rifle enthusiasts who have legitimate gun licenses and appropriate weapons for these purposes. The fact is, however, that reputable, peer-reviewed research studies show that easy access to weapons around the world does result in higher levels of homicide, suicide, hospitalisation and accidental death. New Zealand’s relatively low level of homicide by guns is because we are a small society with strong normative conventions and laws against murder. But as the Christchurch massacre demonstrated the availability of weapons is critical to those intent on mass murder. Our high suicide rates would also be reduced if guns were less readily available and accessible.
Finally, I would like to applaud the Government and Opposition Parties for finally implementing one of the central Thorp report recommendations. I hope that the amnesty and buy back is successful in eliminating these weapons from our shores . I also hope that we can make progress towards a register of all weapons in New Zealand and who owns them. This is critical to understanding what weapons are where and who might be plotting mayhem. Finally I very much hope that more attention might be directed towards the supply side of this problem with government attention being given to the stimulation of demand by gun importers and retailers with the result that we are expanding our civilian arsenal of weapons without detailed knowledge of where these weapons eventually end up.

Posted in #NZ Politics, Banning MSSA's and Assault Weapons, Christchurch Massacre, Gun Control Legislation in NZ, Gun Register, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Psychopathology and Politics: Attack Syria to divert attention at home.

Psychopathology and Politics: Attack Syria to divert attention at home.

Kevin P Clements

National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies,

University of Otago

Donald J Trump poses major problems to world order. His administration is unraveling, he has no coherent foreign or domestic policy strategy and the Mueller enquiry is beginning to expose serious criminal activity on the part of the President and his close associates. As a consequence, Trump, is showing signs of personal as well as political unraveling. He is exhibiting classic symptoms of too many stress hormones in his body which is having a major impact on his hipppocampal and frontal lobe functioning. As a result, Trump is experiencing confusion, has difficulty concentrating, trouble learning new information, and is experiencing major problems with his decision-making. This was noted first in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” and most recently in James Comey’s new book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”

Trump’s decision to launch a missile strike against Chemical Weapons’s facilities in Syria owes more to personal and cognitive stress than political or military calculation. It is a classic diversionary tactic aimed more at boosting popularity and deflecting attention from Trump’s domestic political woes rather than addressing ways of bringing the Syrian Civil War to a conclusion. It was an impulsive high risk strategy and the fig leaf of approval from Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron does little to give it either Alliance or United Nations legitimacy.

 

Without peace in Syria the prospect of dealing with Assad’s chemical weapons or his gross violations of human rights are very slim indeed. The US, UK and French interventions will impede a negotiated solution to the Syrian Civil War and they do little or nothing to deal with Bashar Assad’s gross violations of Human Rights and other mass atrocities which continue to this day. The message from yesterday’s strike against the chemical weapons plants is that Assad is free to keep killing his people by any non-chemical means.

 

President Trump   and his Secretary of Defence have said that the strike was to enforce international laws and norms regarding the use of chemical weapons. This justification seems hollow when no Trump administration officials have articulated how these strikes fit into a larger Syrian diplomatic and military strategy.

 

The risks of this military intervention remain high. The Russians, Syrians and the Iranians are now all united against the United States and its allies; we are witnessing the beginning of a new cold war and the prospects for negotiated solutions to the Civil War in Syria and peace in the Middle East seem even more remote now than before the strikes began.

 

This is a big challenge to the whole world. We are all affected by the behavior of a man who has demonstrated his singular unsuitability for any political office and whose actions have implications for global peace and stability.
How do those of us who are not American citizens, deal with   psychopathology at the heart of the US government? In the first place we must work with American individuals and organizations who are as worried about this action as we are.

 

There are some hopeful signs. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, for example, called Trump’s decision “reckless” and “illegal”, and expressed concern that the action might embolden Mr Trump to bomb Iran or North Korea. Senators Chris Murphy and Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee and Jerry Nadler, have called the attack “unconstitutional, illegal and destructive” and demanded congressional authority for any war making, and an investment in diplomacy instead of missile strikes. There was disquiet in the president’s own party, also, as Republican Congressman Thomas Massie called it “unconstitutional.”

 

Second , we need to focus on real solutions to alleviate the terrible suffering of the Syrian people. There are 3.2 million people within Syria in need of direct humanitarian assistance. There are millions more who remain as refugees in Turkey and other parts of Europe. Most importantly, we need to take the issues of chemical weapons and a negotiated peace in Syria back to the United Nations where it belongs.

 

Third, Americans and the rest of the world have to work out ways in which we can both monitor and resist the hawkish policies of Mike Pompeo ( about to be confirmed as the new Secretary of State) and John Bolton the new National Security Advisor. They will encourage Trump’s impulsiveness and desire to distract attention from domestic and personal issues with reckless foreign policy adventures that will do nothing to maintain American security or build global peace.

I hope that the American people mobilise to ensure that this illegal and unilateral decision to attack chemical weapons facilities is challenged and contained. But more importantly, I hope that more attention will be given in the US and the rest of the world to the development of rational Middle East and global foreign policy positions so that the unilateral use of force and co-ercive diplomacy is resisted .

 

I also hope that there are some wise heads in or near the White House who might suggest that the President take some time off to seek professional help for his serious personal pathology which, if left unchecked, will have negative consequences not only for his administration and the well being of America but the peace of the whole world.

Posted in Alternatives to Violence in the Middle East, Donald J Trump, Psychopathology and Politics, Syria, The UNited States | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

New Zealand evenly split

Mmm, its the morning after the election and it was not the result that I had predicted for Labour . The final result was National: 46% / 58 seats; Labour 35.8% / 45 seats; NZ First 7.5% / 9 seats; Greens 5.9% / 7 seats; ACT 0.5% / 1 seat. As you can see there is a small majority for Labour, Greens and New Zealand First which may get larger after Special Votes are counted. but the National Party will have first nibs on who they go into coalition with. I can’t believe that my compatriots were so nervous about the future that they decided to stick with a party that has failed to deliver on housing , the environment, poverty, education and health. Although I would have liked Labour to have been a tad more radical and bold they were operating within a constrained environment as well…. Oh dear, there is still a slim chance that Labour, the Greens and NZ First could stitch together a working coalition.If they don’t manage to do so Jacinda is the leader of Labour for the next 3 years and has a chance to utilise all her new team talent to begin thinking more deeply about a bright new future for the party and the country and to ensure that they are not put on the back foot by tax proposals etc. The Maori Party was decisively defeated by Labour who won all the Maori seats. The challenge will be how to satisfy all the multiple needs of the large Maori Caucus within Labour since there are few policy levers than can be pulled from the opposition benches. It was a stimulating election campaign. People were energised by politics in a way that I have not seen for a while. The polls in NZ, unlike in most other parts of the world ,were surprisingly accurate. The campaign itself was civil ,non violent and generally respectful. Bill English is a decent human being and has now committed himself to an eradication of child poverty and a new focus on the environment. So we have to keep him honest if he becomes PM. Jacinda Adern is a wonderful human being -with heaps of intelligence, social and political empathy and charisma. So all is not lost . The sun came up this morning as it always does. We are all still alive for which we can be grateful. I was shocked, yesterday, by the appalling conditions of many of the houses that I was sent to doornock at in South Dunedin. There are very deep chasms between rich and poor in Dunedin. I felt as though I was knocking on the doors of people who were living on the edge all the time. As one woman said to me” I am so overwhelmed by living that I have no energy to vote”. These are the people who will not be encouraged by last night’s election result. They are the voiceless, the impoverished, the battlers who are trapped in deep cycles of deprivation. Unless their needs are attended to the election will indeed be quite epiphenomonal.!

Posted in New Zealand, New Zealand election 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dear America

Trump

Dear America and Americans

There are only 9 days before Donald J Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the USA. This is a prospect that appalls most New Zealanders as it does millions of others all around the world.

We had no say and no vote in the election so can only watch this tragedy unfold   as mute bystanders.

Although we are separated from this event by 7,000 miles ( the distance between Wellington and Washington)   we “Kiwis “ have a deep sense of dread and foreboding about what is going to happen after the event.

I can’t remember a time when I have felt so uneasy about   a Presidential inauguration. The early signs do not augur well. Trump’s administration choices have been uniformly disastrous. The incoming President is more concerned with Celebrity Apprentice Ratings and his spat with Meryl Streep than with any policy dilemma. Like a mafia don he has surrounded himself with cronies and family rather than people who are knowledgeable about any of the big issues that are afflicting the US or the world.

He seems intent on destruction instead of construction, on chaos rather than stability, on hate politics rather than the politics of inclusion. His personal life, thin skin  and extreme narcissist personality make him temperamentally incapable for prudent, altruistic decision making.

His inauguration will confer legitimacy on someone who has forfeited the right to legitimacy. Someone who has not paid taxes in the last twenty years cannot expect others to do so. Someone who has never experienced war or been willing to listen to those who have should not be given the status of commander in chief. Someone who believes in the death penalty for political opponents and torture for the enemies of the United States should not be given any legitimacy. Someone who has to be persuaded of the benefits of intelligence has no intelligence.

So what do we do on the other side of the world? How can we sleep easy when the portents are all negative? What confidence do we have that American checks and balances will be able to check and balance this totally unpredictable maverick? What do we do when decades of nuanced diplomacy are undermined by off the cuff tweets or intemperate utterance? How do we protect those Trump wishes to make vulnerable and how do we resist all that which needs to be resisted?

We look forward to some answers so that our days are not blighted by the dark shadow of this appalling President in waiting !!

Posted in Dirty Politics, Dominatory Politics, Donald J Trump, Presidential Inauguration, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments