Bruce Kent

IssueApril 2005
News by Bruce Kent, PN staff

You've been in the peace movement a long time - what got you started?

In the 1950s I became a chaplain for Pax Christi - the first priest to take an interest apparently! I was rather bored for the first year, until I heard about conscientious objection in Spain and Portugal and became active in CO issues.

Later I got involved in CND - it never stopped! There's not just one issue - they all interconnect.

You are the current Chair of the Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW), how did that organisation come about?

MAW was a result of the 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace and was perhaps also the inspiration of Joseph Rotblat who commented that it is not enough to be just against individual weapons systems, but we need to be against war itself. It was a confirmation of the idea that war is not inevitable and that resisting it is not confined to a narrow group within the entirely nonviolent scene.

Most people believe war is ghastly but don't know what to do to change things. MAW is about changing hearts and minds. We visit schools and talk to kids about it - the idea that war is inevitable and just part of our history needs to be challenged. Antimilitarism for us is about working with the military and not in confrontation with them.

Right now you are on the “Abolition Tour” around Britain organised by CND. How's it going?

The tour is aimed at raising awareness about the Non Proliferation Treaty on the-run up to the Review Conference in May. I think it is a major opportunity to put the issues forward into the open and at local level.

I am enjoying it a lot - it's been very encouraging and it helps local groups to feel part if a wider movement. I was in the centre of Hereford recently for a few hours, standing there with my sandwich board reading “sign up and get rid of nuclear weapons”. I hadn't realised how much this kind of “traditional” campaigning wasn't normal any more, but it is about trying to win people over. It used to be very common in Britain in the past - all you have to lose is your dignity!

I like to see it all as the “orchestra” approach - that we are all working as a team together but in our different ways. It is not about trying to persuade people to move from campaign A to campaign B. We have to look at tactics and learn from other experiences. Our main aim is to change people's minds, but sometimes we are more anxious to state our own positions.

Sixty years ago I was a Daily Telegraph reader, anxious to get into the army - but something happened to me. And that is our job: to make “something happen” to other people too. In the past you have commented that street demonstrations can be fairly pointless and that chanting repetitive slogans becomes meaningless. Any comments on that now?

Well, it depends what you are shouting and what you are doing. We need to be inventive not just repetitive! For example, by the time I got involved with CND the Aldermaston to London march was being done practically by rote, but I persuaded them to try all kinds of other things. The peace movement can become as ritualistic as churches!

I think you have to start where people are, not where you would like them to be, and then take them forward. At a recent meeting someone said “you can't get rid of nukes until you smash capitalism”, but I don't want to lose the audience before I even begin.

It is always about changing minds. Which to some degree we have actually done. The International Criminal Court is a good example. It is not perfect but at least it is actually there now. And the fact that we got the ICJ ruling on nuclear weapons - a brilliant campaign that used the machinery of the UN and which enables us to now say that the law is clearly on our side. I do think the tide is on our direction.

And what about the future - what would you like to see change and what will you be doing yourself?

I'd like to see a more democratic United Nations, more communities taking power over their own lives, education for change not just information, more awareness of the interconnectedness of the threats that face all of us on earth, the development of the idea of global citizenship and - finally - the consigning to history of war.

As for myself, people often ask me “what will you do now that you have retired?” as if I will put on a pastoral blue suit and just “retire”. I think people should go on full blast until they pop off! How can you “retire” from social justice or peace issues? I have so many memories of all the incredible people I have met over the years.

Topics: Radical lives
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