World View: US Senate’s Millennium Gesture, A culture of medals
In mid-October, the executive of US capitalism made a timely gesture to the people of the world. With the 20th century drawing to a close, when people the world over are preparing to celebrate the dawn of a new millennium and all the “hope” it entails, the US Senate voted not to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, thus consigning an intrinsic defence against the proliferation of nuclear weapons—the greatest threat to world peace—to the dustbin of history.
Since negotiations were completed in 1996, some 150 countries have signed up to the CTBT. Twenty-six of the world’s 44 nuclear capable countries have refused to sign, including India, Pakistan and North Korea. The chance now is that, the US apart¸ the remaining 17 hold-out countries will follow the US example with the world witnessing a new orgy of nuclear proliferation, forcing other states to rethink their position in the new world pecking order.
Celebrating the vote in the US Senate, Republican hawks, led by George Bush junior, son of the former President Bush, announced their intention to scupper the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which outlawed “Star Wars” missile systems that were capable of shooting down an enemy’s warheads.
The anticipated Russian response came at the end of October with Moscow warning that if the ABM treaty was amended by the US, it would be forced to deploy more nuclear weapons with more warheads and capable of overwhelming any US anti-ballistic missile system.
Russian Defence Minister, Nikolai Mikalov calculated that it would be easier and far cheaper for Russia to deploy a greater number of nuclear weapons than for the US to build the necessary defences against them. Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, at the same time announced plans to massively increase military spending next year by 57 percent to £4 billion, to counter the rising internal and external threats.
Suddenly, the 21st century doesn’t seem all that inviting. The recent Senate vote hovers above it like a black pregnostic cloud, warning us that the US, as in the preceding century, will strut the globe with all the arrogance of the schoolyard bully.
Indeed, we are entering the 21st century with a US ruling elite promising the same contempt for human rights, peace and stability as we have grown used to in the past 50 or more years. The US refused to ratify the land mines treaty and have now refused to ratify the CTBT and promised to bury the ABM treaty. Just as they declined targets aimed at reducing toxic emissions at two Earth Summits, they openly boasted of destroying any attempts to set up an International Criminal Court.
At the United Nations, the US has consistently voted (almost always alone) against measures aimed at promoting goodwill and prosperity, i.e. against negotiations on the prohibition of biological and chemical weapons (9 December 1991. For 109, against 1); against protection from products harmful to health and the environment (17 December 1982. For 146, against 1); against proper nourishment being a human right (16 December 1983. For 132, against 1). The list of such US-scuppered votes at the UN is endless.
Since 1945 the US has spent 18 trillion dollars on defence, bombing four continents and overtly or covertly orchestrating and helping out in 300 conflicts, whilst supporting every dictator you can think of.
So long as there is a global capitalist system there will be a profit-crazed US elite prepared to go to any lengths to ensure the 21st century is another “American Century”. The end of the 20 century is, therefore, not a time for complacency and celebration, but of increased vigilance for the class conscious. The US may be the most visible villain of world peace, but where markets are to be monopolised, trade routes secured and mineral wealth coveted, the executive of any nation’s capitalist class is to be mistrusted. And so we, the workers, take our battle against exploitation into another century, determined this will be the last in which one class exploits another. We have witnessed a century of complacency and its consequences as it draws to an end—800 million dying of starvation, 600 million homeless, 1.1 billion unemployed and 220 million lost in wars. It is up to us, the workers of the world, to make sure the next century is ours.
There is a serious debate doing the rounds along the length and breath of Africa. From the sidewalks to the living rooms, and now it is gaining stature along the corridors of European intellectual halls.
Suffice it to say, much lip service is being paid to this issue of reparation. Most of the time, those who advocate reparation for Africans have used as their platform the New African and West Africa magazines respectively . It is perhaps no accident that both magazines are based in London, England.
England holds a special place in the recollection of most pre-independence generation Africans. If not as a colonial giant, or for her naval superiority, then, as a sovereign that handed out medals to its subject. My late grandfather had one such medal. Before his death, he often recounted his services with the royal navy, especially during the second world war. After the war—in which his brother lost his life—and until his death, my grandfather religiously polished his medal which graced our living room, believing that his services were worthwhile.
If he and his brother and all other Africans who lost there lives in protecting the British Empire had lived today, like present-day Africans they would have confronted the realities by recognizing that these medals were nothing but a token of the British Empire in exchange of their person.
The medals do have a place in present-day capitalism. For availing its land and water facilities to the British during the Falkland war, England presented Sierra Leone with medals after her victory over Argentina. After the Gulf War, the then US Joint Chief of Staff, Colm Powell, went to Sierra Leone to present medals to soldiers who took part in operation Desert Storm. Modern day Africa is littered with forts erected by colonial masters. Each of these forts has a sad story to tell. Africa as a people and as a continent has nothing but medals to show for the scars of these forts.
Concerning the facets of history, whether you read it from the adjacent views of Christopher Columbus, the diagonal glimpses of Mongo Park, the parallel glance of Pedro De Centre or the opposite panorama of Basil Davidson, the conclusions are unanimous: colonialists are selfish. There is no line of history, not even the distorted version compiled by the colonialist, that found Africa was wanting in food or shelter, prior to their arrival.
The common ground agreed upon by history is that no sooner the Europeans arrived in Africa, out of weakness using firearms, they drew up a diabolic strategy that shifted Africa’s priorities from agriculture and self-reliance to that of mining and dependence. The arrival of the Europeans ushered in a new era. One of slave and master. One that saw an entire race being reduced to beggars. Like their government, Africans had to beg for the air they breathed. African Chiefs that were deemed helpful were presented medals as a token of their loyalty.
The argument put forward by reparationists hubs around the thesis presented by both the Germans and the Swiss. The Jews accepted reparation from institutions in both countries because sufficient and ample effort has been demonstrated by both countries to eradicate nazism. The question begs an answer, has slavery ended for Africa?
In the just-ended UN General Assembly World leaders, as have always, pretended to articulate the world’s problem, with a solution in sight. What continues to baffle the mental engineering of every sober being is that no other capitalist solution can shrive where the IMF and the World Bank with their contingent agencies like the Paris Club have failed. The ever-increasing problems of the world’s poor contrasts and contests capitalism’s much acclaimed successes this century.
The pictures beamed into our living rooms by TV stations of war across the face of the globe, coupled with the inhumane treatment meted out to blacks across Europe, plus the increasing cases of malnutrition in a world of plenty, lapped by the unfriendly conditions under which workers sell their trade, reflect a world gone amok.
The answer to our present predicament underlie that aspect of human endeavour where our capitalist masters have registered their greatest failure. Their inability to understand that we are all equal irrespective of race and that the resources of the world are to be equally apportioned for the benefit of all, has brought mankind to our present transfixed position of moral and social disequilibrum.
Never before has mankind been left so destitute, so as to be robbed of all its wit, thus failing to realize that the doctor is the angel of death in disguise. Capitalism kills, it doesn’t heal. Data speak for themselves. There are more hungry, poor, homeless and sick people in the world today than any other point in history.
Hope is not and should not be allowed to dim on us, socialism presents the only practical alternative to our present disorder. It ensures all a safe and peaceful environment. It does not operate on profit, goods are produced for the common good of all, including medical services. But , like capitalism, socialism has its drawback: there will be no medals given as a token, because they are no masters nor slaves, only companions.
DANIEL WAH (Sierra Leone)