1980s >> 1982 >> no-933-may-1982

Running Commentary: Peace in our time

Violence, mayhem and murder are essential features of today’s social structure. Yet, we are frequently encouraged to believe that we live in a generally peaceful society which is only spoilt from time to time by erratic outbursts of barbarity. So, while the number of people who perish from starvation is equivalent to one Hiroshima every three days, the picture of the world we receive from, for instance, the newspapers is one in which things are all right except for a “Policeman Killed in Bolton’’ or “Street Disorders in Toxteth”.

By the same token, the propaganda of a groups like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is deceptive because it tries to concentrate anxiety and horror of violence solely against particular instruments of violence rather than the reasons for organised violence being used. Even without Pershing missiles, the SS 20’s, Trident and Polaris, society organised on the basis of private property would still be torn with aggression.

Last month the number of people around the world who were involved in wars of the old-fashioned death-producing kind came to about 701,600,000. (Sunday Times, 21/3/82.) This figure represents about one person in six across the face of the globe and embraces forces not all that short of those taking part in the Second World War.

But we are assured by smiling politicians, priests and teachers that we are now enjoying “peacetime”. The figure of over 700 million who are involved in wars is most probably an underestimate, as the Foreign Editor of the Sunday Times observed, “. . . when the battleground is effectively sealed off, as in East Timor, there is always a risk of losing a few tens of thousands through unreported genocide”.

Across the world people are taking part in organised brutality: in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Philippines, Angola, Iraq and Iran, the Spanish Sahara, Kampuchea and Chad. And now, spokesmen for British capitalism like John Nott and Michael Foot (who one Tory MP described as truly “speaking for England” in a recent parliamentary debate on the crisis of the Falkland Islands) are busy stirring up nationalistic sentiments in preparation for the possibility of members of the working class in Britain being ordered to go and murder our counterparts from the Argentine.

For the havoc of war to continue, a majority of people must remain gullible to the fallacious ideas that we are naturally aggressive and that we better our condition by fighting the battles of our rulers. Socialists reject these fallacious beliefs and organise for a society of human cooperation.

A place of his own

Good news for the homeless is that there is a desirable property down in Kent going for a bargain price. It would suit the larger family, whose children are doing fine arts or history at school. Plenty of space for outdoor activities and for leisure time socialising. Sounds good.

Hever Castle, in the lush countryside around Edenbridge, includes 3,145 acres of farms, houses, a pub and woodlands. The Castle itself has an abundance of priceless works of art and historical knick-knacks like a Milanese suit of armour made for Henry II of France, worth about £600,000.

The owner of this lot, Lord Astor of Hever, shrinks from the prospect of developing the “commercial” side of the estate in order to remain solvent. Since 1963 he has graciously allowed workers to pay to shuffle round and admire bits of the estate, which was anyway built from their exploitation. Farther than that he was not prepared to go.

Aristocrats are, after all, supposed to be above such sordid worldly preoccupations as making money. “Here 64 years ago I learned to walk. Here too I learned my ABC. Here too are buried my father and mother” lamented Astor to the reporters who hurried down to Hever when the plans for the sale were leaked to the press.

But the Lord is in even worse plight. When Hever is sold he must take refuge at his other home in Scotland. With over 14,000 acres this is even bigger than Hever but the house has dry rot and in April it was still snowing there.

Workers who are thinking about making a mortgage application to buy Hever had better check on the price. So had those who feel sorry for the homeless Lord Astor. Including the contents, the place is likely to go for about £14 million. And that’s a bargain price. The estate agents have not evaluated the misery and stress of the exploitation which went into every square inch of it.

Cleric’s tale
Who noticed that Billy Graham—who prefers to be known as Doctor Billy—has recently been over here on another crusade to convert us all to religion? Gone are the days of overkill publicity and mass hysteria in his meetings. Now our Billy is just another god-banger trying to smooth over the inconsistencies in his propaganda.

Interviewed on the Radio 4 programme Sunday a couple of days before the start of this latest campaign, Graham tried sweatily to unhitch himself from the “Moral Majority” movement, saying that it is not a religious organisation but a political one. He also said that “Moral Majority” accepts people who are not necessarily Christians—some Jews, even atheists.

Well most of the spokesmen for “Moral Majority” claim to be Christians—Born Again Christians, no less—and in 1980 were strong supporters of Ronald Reagan (who also thinks he’s born again, which must be nice for everyone). Perhaps this association with an increasingly unpopular president is what Graham is really trying to separate himself from.

Graham gloomily forecast a nuclear catastrophe in as little as five years, unless the nations of capitalism (which is not how he put it) lay down their nuclear weapons. During his thirty-odd years as an evangelist nuclear weapons have increased vastly in number and power of destruction. Yet Graham has been silent on the matter, except to hint that American nuclear weapons were not too bad because they kept at bay the evils of “communism”—by which he means the Russian bloc of capitalist powers. Has born-again-Billy had a change of heart, then? We’ve got five years to find out

On the same day that Graham was being interviewed, another—but rather different—cleric was having his say on television. Don Cupitt, author of Taking Leave of God, is no pulpit-pounding believer in the divinity of Christ, the infallibility of the bible or of life after death. That doesn’t leave much for him to believe in; Cupitt manages it by accepting most of the advances of scientific knowledge into areas formerly explained in religious terms and then re-organising his faith to fit in with what’s left. And that amounts to little more than an indwelling concept of god and a selection of quotes attributed to Jesus as “a guide for living”.

Clearly, Cupitt and Graham have a theological difference, which shows up as a choice between stubbornly holding fast to discredited ideas—and so becoming even more alienated from people at the intellectual sharp end of capitalist society—or of altering basic religious concepts to the point at which they virtually disappear. And that shows up that religion, whether of the conservative-born-again, or the swinging age of technology, variety is a denial of reality and a hindrance to anyone concerned with building a better world out of that reality.