New Internationalist

Voyage Of The Peacemaker

Issue 121

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MAKING PEACE [image, unknown] For a pacific Pacific

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Voyage of the Peacemaker
The peace movement is not confined just to Europe and North America. Cameron Forbes tells of a peace odyssey challenging the right of the US and France to use the Pacific Ocean for nuclear target practice.

Soon Pacific Peacemaker will set sail again. It is likely to be another stormy passage.

Last year the yacht, flying the nuclear disarmament flag, set off across the Pacific from Australia to protest against the development of a special port for America’s Trident nuclear-missile submarines in Western Australia. Months later it arrived at Seattle on the US west coast— home base of SS Ohio, the first Trident destined for the Pacific. There, on 12 August last year, Pacific Peacernaker found herself at the head of a flotilla of small craft blocking the submarine’s path.

During their eight-month voyage yacht and crew were also the focus of land rights and anti-nuclear demonstrations throughout the Pacific. In Mururoa Atoll, centre of the French nuclear testing programme, the yacht was rammed by a French naval vessel, dismasted, then impounded by French authorities for intruding info territorial waters. Skipper Bill Ethel was fined and the French threatened to hold the yacht for months — until three Australian maritime unions counter-attacked by ‘arresting’ the French container vessel Kangoorou in Australia’s Botany Bay.

Facing losses of $26,OOO a day as the vessel was immobilised, the French authorities relented three days later and released Pacific Peacemaker.

The yacht’s peace odyssey actually began at a ‘Nuclear Free Pacific’ conference in Hawaii. Among those attending was Bill Ethel. an Englishman who had migrated to Australia after nine years’ military service. He says he wanted to get away from it all but found there were suggestions that a Trident submarine base would be built in Western Australia, where he lived.

Ethel and other Australians and New Zealanders realised the only weapon they had against the Trident programme was publicity. The idea was born of a yacht voyage, culminating in a blockade of the American Trident base in Seattle. The group started campaigning for support and got it from church groups and trade unions. The Ethels themselves mortgaged their home. Eventually the money was raised to buy a 20-metre steel ketch and Bill’s wife, Lorraine, went to night school to learn navigation. They decided to take their four children with them and said in reply to criticism that concern for the children’s safety was the motivation for the whole exercise. ‘We have to ensure that they have a future.’

For a nuclear-free pacific. When Pacific Peacemaker arrived in the waters off Seattle the US authorities were waiting, ‘It was amazing,’ Bill Ethel says. ‘The coast guard, navy helicopters, state troopers and the whole of the local naval reserve had all been mobilised. All for 50 protestors!’

The demonstration attracted wide media coverage. Small craft were swamped by helicopter down-drafts, protestors were hosed and 26 were arrested — including Bill and Lorraine. ‘But we succeeded,’ says Bill. ‘We caught world attention at a time when the ‘Nuclear Freeze’ movement was taking off in the US.’

Having sold Pacific Peacemaker to a peace group in San Diego the Ethel family are now home from the sea. But the yacht will sail again in May, this time bound for the Marshall Islands, Palau and Japan.

The Marshalls and Palau were part of Micronesia, an area of sea and scattered islands which, according to Bill Ethel, has been used and abused by the United States in its nuclear testing programme. He hopes that by the time Pacific Peacemaker reaches the isolated islands. media and world attention will be focussed on them. Then local people, who have already conducted their own protests, will realise that they have international support.

Cameron Forbes is Foreign Editor on the Melbourne Age.

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ACROSS THE EAST-WEST DIVIDE
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From Donetsk with love
Last year city councilors from Sheffield, heart of UK steel, visited their twin city Donetsk in the Soviet Union. The leaders of the two councils signed a joint declaration condemning nuclear weapons. David Blunkett, Labour leader of the Sheffield City Council, spoke to Glen Williams.

THIS IS A UNIQUE declaration for three reasons. First, it expresses opposition, not just to the use of nuclear weapons, but to their very existence. Second, it urges the extension of nuclear weapon-free zones. And third, it advocates less military expenditure and the reallocation of resources towards peaceful objectives.’

But this is just a start. We would now like other towns and cities to build on it. There is a great deal of progress to be made, person to person, group to group, in lowering the barriers and removing the suspicions that lead people to feel that others are a threat.’

The visit also had its amusing side. ‘The Russians found our delegation a little confusing— a Labour Party leader (myself) who is visually disabled, a Conservative Lord Mayor, a Deputy Mayor who is also a vicar and a woman journalist who speaks perfect Russian. Our hosts were completely thrown!’

But the joint declaration on peace and the threat of nuclear war was no cut-and-dried affair. It followed two days of intense negotiations and involved frequent contact between Donetsk and Moscow. David Blunkett is not greatly concerned about accusations that Moscow will use the declaration for propaganda purposes.

‘There are real dangers in everything we do either being used by our own government or that of other people’s, and we ought to be aware of these dangers. But we should also have the humanity to accept people as friends and build on that friendship in a positive way.’

‘Since our return there has been an upsurge of interest in contacts with Donetsk from people like teachers, youth workers, sporting teams and members of the junior chamber of commerce.

‘These links won’t change the world overnight, but we can make a small contribution. If we don’t believe that, then we just leave everything to senior politicians who act as our mouthpiece. But democracy is not just about voting people into office. It’s also about putting on pressure. And that pressure can be person to person and city to city as well as government to government.’

On the Eastern Front
In East Germany, peace is no longer a state monopoly.
A report from Paul Oestreicher.

After losing two world wars, after the trauma of Hitler’s nightmare, after division into two antagonistic states and more than a generation of confrontation, is it any wonder that Germans want nothing to do with war? In fact, after World War II, militarism was so radically rejected by the socialist rulers of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) that even war toys were banned Now soldiering is back with a romantic vengeance. The Prussian military tradition is being rekindled, and not entirely without success.

Yet many will have none of it, opting instead for unarmed service in army construction units or even refusing to wear military uniform and facing prison sentences.

Most members of peace groups in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) are not pacifists. but simply people who believe that in a nuclear age war is no longer permissible if civilization or even life itself is to survive. Nothing is worth defending, not even socialism, if the whole world is thereby put at risk. There is no independent peace movement in the GDR comparable to Western movements with definable political programmes. But the Protestant churches are providing a forum for debating the issues and defending freedom of conscience. Synod after synod has called into question aspects of GDR militarism. Up and down the country churches have become peace workshops — places of free discussion for vast numbers of people. Thousands gather at special peace events without any printed forms of invitation. The grapevine works.

Yet this is not, definitely not, a dissident phenomenon. Some discontented people have latched onto the peace theme to embarrass the establishment but they are not typical. Peace groups in the GDR are no more in the service of the West than the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is in the service of the East.

What endangers this church-supported movement in the GDR is the attempt of a few within it to latch Onto the Western peace movement and of some in the West who are determined to create links to the East in order to increase the credibility of the Western peace movement. The situation in the GDR is far too delicate for such Western ‘help’ to be helpful. By all means let there be trust and friendship between ‘peace people’ in the East and West. But that friendship should never exclude dialogue with those who actually hold power in East and West. They must never be classed as ‘the enemy’, for on them rests the greatest burden of decision-making, Without a real measure of critical solidarity with them the prospects for peace are utterly bleak.

Canon Paul Oestreicher is Secretary of the British Council of Churches Division of International Affairs and is a frequent visitor to East Germany.


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