New Internationalist

Dr Strangelove And Mr Geldof

Issue 163

new internationalist
issue 163 - September 1986

Dr Strangelove and Mr Geldof
'Westerners only care about peace when their own backyard is threatened
- they don't bother about war and injustice if it's a long way away.' Ameen
Akhalwaya offers a view of the arms race from inside South Africa.
He wrote under the restrictions of the State of Emergency
and so could not refer to the war raging around him.

DR STRANGELOVE versus Bob Geldof. and it is Dr Strangelove who is winning the battle hands down. That is the impression many people in this part of Africa have of the industrial world.

Geldof is, quite rightly, seen as the benign face of the North and the Irish humanitarian deserves every honour bestowed on him. But look closely at the Northern face, and we see the hideous aspect of the industrialised world, Dr Strangelove, grinning ominously from his control room, finger on the nuclear button.

Strangelove is the US, the Soviet Union, Britain and the other superpowers; manufacturers of ever more lethal weapons for their own use and for export. While millions of people starve, billions of dollars are spent on perfecting ways to blow up the world many times over.

And when we try to find the real face of the ordinary people in rich countries, we can't help but see a bizarre mixture of Strangelove and Geldof.

Occasionally we read in our newspapers of angry protest against the arms race. We hear of demonstrations becoming more frequent and the rise of more anti-nuclear movements.

The key here is 'anti-nuclear'. Not pro-peace, not pro the human race, not universal anti-suffering. And that is why those anti-nuke protests are remote events.

They are disconnected from the realities of the battle for daily survival in South Africa, in the Third World - to find a job, to find food, to find shelter, to find some dignity, to find some relief from living in a state of perpetual unpeace.

And that is the real problem. While much of the rest of the world is battling for daily survival, the rich nations worry only about their own material comforts. Ordinary people in the industrialized world shrug their shoulders and say: 'What can we do?' They ease their consciences by helping out a little when a catastrophe such as the African famine is brought home to them. But as many people, including Geldof, have pointed out, giving foodstuffs and medicines to Africa is only a temporary solution to a problem that is just as serious on a global scale.

'What can we do?' There is much that people in the rich world can do. Their votes, can, after all, chuck out their governments come election time. But while their countries are reasonably stable and they are protected from poverty - real poverty - through their social security and welfare programmes, they don't see world peace as important.

In how many Western countries, for example, has the question of world peace with justice ever been an election issue? In how many elections does the question of redistribution of wealth to the poor countries come up?

Governments have, of course, been voted out of office when their countries have been involved in war. But that is usually for selfish reasons, to bring normality back to their own countries, not for the sake of universal peace, In the US, for example, people stopped supporting the Vietnam war not because of the large number of Vietnamese being killed or because of the devastation being caused to the South-East Asian nation, but because of the number of American fatalities.

And, not having learnt their lesson, the superpowers are still hell-bent on playing their war games against each other in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. So it is that when the Cubans are assisting the Angolan government, the Americans must find a way to help the Unita rebel forces. In the theory and practice of war games, if one superpower is involved, the other must be too - and to hell with the question of morality.

But then again, these things happen in remote countries, and people in the industrialized world don't really care what happens unless their own backyard is threatened. The stockpile of nuclear armaments in their countries does threaten them, so it becomes an issue and anti-nuclear movements spring up, confined to their own areas of interest. The thinking seems to be:

'Let our lads fight them on someone else's territory. Let's keep ours safe.'

They do not see the nuclear arms race as being an integral part of a global crisis, that the money spent on perfecting more lethal weapons could be spent on tackling poverty throughout the world. Dr Strangelove must be opposed if he threatens you. Bob Geldof must be supported if you feel uneasy about your own material comforts.

But the real peace issue is different. Take this part of the world. South Africa, it has often been speculated, may have a nuclear bomb. Whether it has doesn't really matter. What matters is that its citizens, its neighbours, have had first-hand experience of its conventional weapons - and the reality of those is more important than an abstract discussion of what else the Government might have in store.

Countries in the Third World have the nuclear bomb, too - or at least the capability. But do their people care? Do they have the time to care as they strive to survive economically?

Who cares? While the rich give most of their money to Strangelove, Geldof has to beg and plead for international sanity. And, as he found to his disgust when he visited the United Nations recently, even representatives of countries which face human disaster caused by poverty don't care.

No wonder Strangelove is winning.

Ameen Akhalwaya is the editor of The Indicator, a campaigning newspaper based in the 'Indian' townshIp of Lenasia, near Johannesburg.

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