Book Reviews

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This month we review two books on the environment - one explaining why we create so much waste and the other on how to make good use of it plus an introduction to the violent and confusing political scene in the Philippines.

Editor: Anuradha Vittachi

Rich pickings

Work from Waste: Recycling Wastes to Create Employment
by Jon Vogler
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UK: Intermediate Technology Publications Ltd & Oxfam (pbk) £6.50
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Ecology for Beginners
by Stephen Croall and William Rankin
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UK: Writers & Readers Publishing Co-op (Pbk) £1.95 (hbk £4.95)
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Photo: William Rankin

Industrialised countries not only consume vastly more than Third World countries, they also discard much more. In 1974, Oxfam decided to turn some of the rich world's waste into money to help the poor world, by setting up a city 'Waste-saver' project.

The project was initiated by Jon Vogler who subsequently spent eighteen months seeing what the Third World, often with great ingenuity, does with its waste. The result is Work from Waste, a manual specifically designed to create jobs by helping people in the Third World et up and run recycling businesses. Vogler recognizes that such people often cannot read and intends the book to be used first by people like extension workers or community leaders who could initiate recycling schemes which would then become self-supporting.

The first half of the book describes small-scale technologies for recycling paper, metals, plastics, glass, rubber, textiles, chemicals, oils, human and household waste. Suggestions range form the familiar (making a lamp from a tin can) to the exotic (tying tyres to rocks to form artificial 'coral reefs' to encourage fish).

The second half is an excellent description of how to run a waste business, illustrated by two convincing case studies. One involves the sale of household vegetable waste to pig farmers. The other is a more ambitious scheme for processing plastic waste. There is good advice about market research, safety, how to avoid cash flow difficulties or being taken for a thief - but there are some patronising lapses, as when advising people to wear Western-style suit and tie when bargaining with buyers (and what are the women whom we so often see in the illustrations supposed to wear'?).

What we need now is a companion volume for the industrialised world. Many projects are struggling into existence - turning civic amenity sites into supervised Recycling Centres, using newspapers as insulating material, bottle recovery schemes with the emphasis on refilling rather than smashing bottles in a bottle bank. These, and others like them, would benefit from the sort of direction and encouragement that Work from Waste gives the Third World.

Work from Waste is deliberately non-political, avoiding any discussion of the causes of increasing waste off the exploitative system behind the scavengers who eke out a marginal existence on an affluent minority's droppings.

Ecology for Beginners is exactly the opposite, an exuberant, all-embracing guide to the interdependence of the ecosystem 'Planet Earth', emphasising how, over the centuries, people's political decisions have shaped the environment in which we now live. There is a disturbing tale of a modern nuclear family in contemporary society somewhere in the West, whose alienated and over-consuming lifestyle is directly related to environmental destruction and the struggle for survival in the Third World. Anyone still infatuated with the 'green revolution' and the transfer of high technology' as the answer to Third World problems should begin their re-education by grasping the basic facts outlined in this book.

If the political mould is really going to be broken before we degrade the environment irretrievably and imperil our existence in the greedy pursuit of economic growth, then it will be done through an awareness of the message contained in this book, where 'capitalism is anti-ecology, but socialism is not necessarily pro-ecology'. The 'Radical Eco-Solutions' at the end, with examples of people from all parts of the world demanding control over their lives and trying to build a caring, sustainable society, is among the best sections of this entertaining and amply illustrated book. I assume it is printed on recycled paper.

Roger Elliott

(Roger Elliot is Resources Campaigner for Friends of the Earth.)

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Filipinos flight back

Philippines: Repression & Resistance
by Permanent Peoples' Tribunal Session

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KSP (pbk) £2.95. Available from Marram Books, 101 Kilburn Square, London NW6 6P5, UK.
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For the past ten years, President Ferdinand Marcos has been challenged by not one but two major revolutionary movements. The New Peoples' Army, fighting wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is now active in more than half the country's provinces. The Bangsa Moro Army, military arm of the Muslim secessionist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), is confined to the south but has overwhelming support among the Muslim communities there.

Both the Communist Party and the Muslim MNLF were founded in the turbulent late I960s. Both erupted into open warfare against the Marcos government in the early 1970s. Both identify that government and its ally, the United States, as the common enemy.

But, at least until recently, the differences between the two revolutionary movements have been greater than their shared aims. The MNLF, drawing its inspiration from the Koran and from an acute sense of the separate culture and history of the Moro people of the south, has in the past emphatically denied that it shares the Maoist ideology of the CPP. Many have a traditional suspicion of atheistic communism. In 1981 I spoke to the provincial leaders of the MNLF in Lanao del Sur, one of its main bases of support, and they were careful to stress the irreducible contradictions between their movement and the CPP.

The differences can be exaggerated - Nur Misuari, chairman and leading intellectual of the MNLF, was strongly influenced by Marxist revolutionary thought in his student days - but the differences are real.

But now there are signs that this gulf is narrowing. Publication of both pro-Muslim and pro-communist submissions to the 'Permanent Peoples Tribunal Session on the Philippines' marks an important effort from both sides to find common ground.

The Tribunal was established in 1979, following the example of the earlier Bertrand Russell War Crimes hearings on Vietnam. Its sessions on the Philippines were held in Antwerp late in 1980. Significantly, the pro-communist submission recognises the right of the MNLF to speak for the 'Moro people', while making its claim to put the case for the 'Filipino people' of the central and northern Philippines.

The question remains whether the pro-communist groups are willing to accept the MNLF demand for a completely independent Islamic Republic in the south. MNLF leaders now concede that although they are too strong to be crushed, 'unless there is unity between the MNLF and other anti-Marcos forces there is actually no hope of winning'. Aijaz Ahmad, a well-known Muslim spokesman, said 'the MNLF realised that victory will come either in the whole of the Philippines or nowhere'.

Can the two movements work out an effective alliance? This book is an essential introduction to that question, both for its documentation of the shared aims of the two movements and the implicit differences which continue to divide them.

Dennis Shoesmith


...…being the epitaph to the first victims of the atomic age

TREMBLING TOWERS of books on apartheid and on women's rights usually dominate my desk-top. As the time for the UN's Second Special Session on Disarmament drew near, the landscape changed: a cascade of anti-nuclear books and leaflets smothered every familiar inch like a heavy snowfall. Where does the poor reader begin?

I consulted a confirmed nuke-book addict 'Hershey's Hiroshima,' he said decidedly. 'Still the best thing ever written on the subject.' But Hiroshima was written 36 years ago. I remember reading it before I was old enough to qualify for acne, and it was history then. How could it still be relevant?

A re-read last week shows why. Hershey's book deliberately downplays the strategic and scientific details about nuclear war that would have dated by now; it concentrates on the human element Plenty had already been written in the West about the scientific mechanisms and the ethical/political 'justifications' for dropping an atomic bomb on a civilian population. To the dazed citizens of Hiroshima, the finer points of how their lives had been wrecked hardly mattered: the results were what they had to cope with, and those results were more dreadful than their worst imaginings.

'In a city of 245 thousand, nearly a hundred thousand had been killed or doomed at one blow,' Hershey wrote. 'A hundred thousand more were hurt.' 'Hurt' sounds tame - but it doesn't mean a cut finger.

Miss Sasaki, one of the lucky ones, 'only' had a bookcase fall on her. In the chaos her crushed leg was left untreated for days; later she spent months in hospital in agony and severe depression: her fiancé, who didn't want to marry a cripple, deserted her without a word or a visit. An unexceptional, if painful, injury distorted the young librarian's life beyond recognition.

Others were 'seriously' hurt. A group of men who had their faces upturned when the 'noiseless flash' occurred had hollow eye-sockets; the fluid from their melted eyes ran down their cheeks.

Japan's physicists and politicians, of course, understood the mechanism of destruction. In Hershey's account, they seem to live in a different world to the victims, and the two worlds barely seem to touch. One world held all the power and knowledge: the other suffered the consequences.

Once again today, governments seem to be preparing for war - this time, unashamedly, for nuclear war. Those in power have built themselves shelters. They are, once more, to be preserved from the consequences of their war games while the rest of us wait - like the people of Hiroshima - in anxious hopes of avoiding a barely-understood catastrophe.

Hershey is no Pilger. Storming, pointing fingers, piling on the agony, Pilger bombarded his readers until they responded to the atrocities in Indochina. Hershey, by contrast, plays it cool, apparently letting the survivors speak through him as a neutral go-between. But his presence is strongly, if tacitly, felt I found Children of Hiroshima, recently translated from the Japanese, more poignant; in this collection of essays, written by Hiroshima's schoolchildren, there is no mediator and the process of identification is more direct (See NI No. 101 (Classic.)

Nonetheless, Hershey's account is memorable. It caused a sensation when it was printed. The New Yorker, which had commissioned the investigation, was so impressed it ran the single article from cover to cover. That issue of the magazine was sold out within hours. Other journals, radio stations and publishers across America and the UK rushed to serialise it.

The strength of Hiroshima lies in Hershey's ability to convey the palpable humanity of the people he writes about. However exotic Japanese culture may seem to non-Japanese, however bizarre the circumstances of nuclear holocaust, some mysterious but universally recognisable quality of 'humanness' comes over. Hershey reports on Mr. Tanimoto, for instance, who is deeply ashamed of having escaped unhurt while so many thousands are horribly burned around him; he apologises to each victim as he races from one to the other, fetching water. A young woman. surrounded by suppurating bodies, carefully mends a small tear in her kimono. A mother holds her baby tightly to her, hopefully waiting for her husband to return from the war, although the baby has long been dead. Children play in the ornamental park, while the bitterly wounded gather there to die with the atavistic solace of green leaves above them.

In the midst of concentrated horror, Hershey records these quiet details which convey the strange mixture of vulnerability and tenacity, compassion and isolation, that seem to characterise human beings.

Anuradha Vittachi

by John Hershey (1946)
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Penguin (pbk) UK: £1.10/Aus: $3.50
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New Internationalist issue 113 magazine cover This article is from the July 1982 issue of New Internationalist.
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