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The Peace News log

Speakers at a London book launch describe some of the many challenges we face around race and racism and connections with other oppressions.

ImageOver 50 people gathered in London on Saturday 10 November to celebrate the launch of a new book, The Fire Now: Anti-Racist Scholarship i

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In some ways it is hard to believe it has now been over a century since the guns of the First World War fell silent. The 'war to end all wars' is so deeply engraved on our national consciousness that even now, when there is no living memory of the conflict, people gather to speak, remember and reflect on that awful, bloody war.

I observed the two minute silence at 11am in front of my television at home, unable to face the militarism (not to mention the crowds) taking place down the river at the Whitehall Cenotaph. The service in Tavistock Square, politely timed at 1pm for those who wished to attend both services in person, is far more my speed. Here there is no marching, no saluting, no talk of the glorious dead. Instead there is quiet reflection, poetry, and a deep sadness that far from ending all wars, 'The Great War' sowed the seeds for the next major conflict, and the Cold and proxy wars that followed. There was a theme this year at Tavistock Square, and a pledge – 'No More War – Let's Make Peace Happen'.

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Obituary of a great voice.

ImageThere are a lot of things I could say about Harry Leslie Smith. He was a husband, a father, and the son of a coal miner. He was a writer, activist, and defender of the working classes. He was a vocal campaigner for the rights of refugees. He was a survivor of poverty, of the Great Depression and of the Second World War. He was a link to our history; a voice from the past bringing us a warning of where the future could go if we fail to act. After striving tirelessly to make the world a better place, he passed away from pneumonia, with his son John at his side, at 3.39am this morning (Ontario time).

Harry's life is a story of love, of loss, of poverty and of triumph. His books, Harry's Last Stand, and Don't Let My Past Be Your Future are powerful reminders of what life was like for the working classes and indigent poor of Britain before the creation of the NHS and the welfare state. I won't try to tell Harry's story – he does it powerfully enough himself – but I will tell you that his early story is a sad one, one none of us would wish to see repeated. The death of his sister Marion from spinal tuberculosis affected Harry deeply, especially as his parents could not afford the treatment to even keep her comfortable. She died in a workhouse infirmary, like thousands of other desperate people. The was no funeral, no headstone – as Harry said; 'My family, like the rest of our community, was just too poor to afford the accoutrements of mourning.' Marion's sad and needless death must be remembered by us all; our overloaded and underfunded NHS is being allowed to disintegrate, our welfare state continues to be dismantled, and avoidable deaths like Marion's are once again becoming a feature of the lives of Britain's poor.

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The case of Henry Rivett Albrow, a conscientious objector.

Devils on HorsebackIt is the case of Henry Rivett Albrow that forms much of the plot of Devils on Horseback. When he is called before the tribunal he is erudite and eloquent in his impassioned defence of his conscience, calling himself a ‘dissident Christian’ – mainly because he cannot reconcile ‘love thy neighbour’ and ‘thou shalt not kill’ with the church’s acceptance of warfare. He is berated mercilessly by the members of the tribunal, with the usual nonsensical questions that are asked of pacifists; ‘what if a German raped your mother?’ Calmly and clearly Albrow states that he would not take a life to save one, but he would gladly give his own to save another – rendering moot the argument that pacifism is based in cowardice.

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The Inaugural Alternative Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture 2018

Kerry-Anne MendozaIn a tucked away corner of Rotherhithe, down a little cobbled street oozing with history, stands Sands Film Studios. Well-known amongst lefties and radicals, this unique corner of London was the perfect place to hear from a unique, leftie and often radical character, Kerry-Anne Mendoza.

Mendoza began by talking about the namesake of the lecture, Claudia Jones. Like Mendoza, Jones was a radical leftie – both women do not sit back and wait for change, they get on and make change happen. Born in Trinidad in 1915, at the height of Empire, Jones didn't keep her birth name but changed it in what she called an act of 'self-protective disinformation' - to avoid receiving judgement based purely on her race. Despite a deeply disadvantaged background, including the loss of her mother at a young age, Claudia was very able academically, and won the Theodore Roosevelt Award for Good Citizenship in high school. However, being a working-class woman of colour, she was prevented from pursuing higher education in an act of triple oppression. While she worked in a laundry, Jones wrote a column in the Harlem Journal. When the case of the Scottsboro Boys hit the news, Claudia became politically active, and joined the Young Communist League.

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31 October – 24 November, Jermyn Street Theatre

ImageBased on the memoirs of a real-life Canadian  flying ace, this play charts the rise of the eponymous Billy from under-achiever, to airman, to international celebrity. The latter for the astonishingly high number of air-to-air combat “victories” that he achieved  during the First World War. With a cast of only two, Charles Aitken playing the young Billy, and Oliver Beamish the elder, the play is a simple, but very effective, production.

The set is reminiscent of my great-grandfather’s shed, contributing to the sense that we, the audience, are simply having an intimate chat with Billy himself. The sense of intimacy continues throughout the play, with the audience  being made privy to the darkest parts of Billy’s wartime experiences, often using letters to his real-life fiancée Margaret as a narrative tool.

While the play uses a good dose of humour to convey its message, there is no evasion of the misery of war. Billy remarks on the casualties the Canadian Expeditionary Forces are experiencing in Europe, and concludes that he is ‘a casualty in training’. During his journey across the Atlantic, Billy’s war trauma begins to manifest itself in nightmares. And there is no sanitising the reality of troop transport, with seasickness featuring heavily.

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A film that uses humour to convey the absurdity of armed conflict.

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Sands Films is a unique gem; snuggled up against the south bank of the Thames, it is one of those little secrets that Londoners cherish. Not usually known for their events – it’s normally a fully functional film studio – they felt they couldn’t let the centenary of the First World War Armistice pass unmarked. I’m very glad they didn’t, and judging by the packed house, I’m not alone.

Schwejk (pronounced Sh-wei-ck) is Sands’ own project, shot with the WW1 Centenary in mind. They screen it in the same room in which it was filmed, adding an interesting, atmospheric twist. Based on the famous series of stories by the Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek, Schwejk is a satire on the absurdity of war. Many people have identified with the character of Schwejk since his first appearance in cabaret in 1912; he is just an ordinary young man, sold lies and sent to fight someone else’s war. As a play it has been performed all over the world, from Germany in the inter-war period, to Manchester and beyond, often being brought up to date to reflect contemporary events. Sands’ version is no different, containing references to Iraq, Afghanistan and the so-called ‘War on Terror’.

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Cedric Knight comments on Theo Simon's recent piece on Extinction Rebellion.

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I hope to join at least some Extinction Rebellion events. I'd like to add further cautions, though, that aren't in any way meant to reduce enthusiasm but might affect tactics as regards communication, prompted partly by the talk by Dr Gail Bradbrook on the XR website. I'm a layperson but familiar with some of the climate science (less of the general ecology), and also some of the debates in science communication. In brief, we need to reflect the science accurately but also make those dispassionate facts emotionally meaningful by expressing our own reactions and the values we have in common with our audience, and present positive political and personal options that people can be inspired by and work towards. Climate Outreach's guidance warns that many people are turned off by pictures of demonstrations as well as pictures of polar bears, although this is social science research and a lot of it is uncertain and conditional.

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Sales of white poppies are higher this year than they've ever been – since the Co-operative Women's Guild created the symbol in 1933 to remember all those killed in war.

White poppies for peace

The Peace Pledge Union – the pacifist organisation that supplies and distributes white poppies in Britain – has sold 119,555 white poppies this year, as of the end of Wednesday 7 November.

The number is bound to rise further in the remaining days until Remembrance Sunday.

The previous record was 110,000 white poppies in 2015. Until 2014, the record was around 80,000 in 1938. Last year, the figure was 101,000.

The rise comes despite a stream of abuse against white poppy wearers on social media, and attacks on white poppy wearers from public figures including Conservative MP Johnny Mercer and broadcaster Piers Morgan.

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Theo Simon responds to Gabriel Carlyle's recent article.

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Gabriel's Peace News piece, “Why I'm sceptical about the Extinction Rebellion initiative (and why I hope I'm wrong)”,  contained some really interesting and valuable insights for structuring political  campaigns, but I think it missed the point entirely about what the Extinction Rebellionrepresents.

This isn't a campaign, it's an alarm.  We’re not trying to build fire-safety awareness and improve the provision of emergency exits - we’re trying to evacuate a burning theatre.

Some of us, myself included, have perhaps been aware of the unfolding eco-crisis for so long that we’ve grown acclimatized to it. We’ve seen the window of opportunity that a growing green awareness has opened, but forgotten that it is a time-sensitive, closing window. With every hour that passes the opportunities for survival have been shrinking, and the corrective measures required have become more drastic.

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