Walter Roberts and 100 years of British militarism

Today is the anniversary of Walter Roberts’ death: 1895-1916.

Roberts studied architecture and was a Christian pacifist and socialist; his brother Alfred was also a conscientious objector. He refused to fight in World War One, but was not granted conscientious objector status by the British state. He was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs before being sent to a labour camp in Aberdeenshire where he was forced to work in a quarry in Dyce, breaking rocks for 10 hours a day. Camp conditions were terrible and inmates were not looked after properly: exposure to incessant rain in inadequate clothing and living under leaky canvas (probably left over from the South African War of 1899-1902) meant a cold rapidly developed into pneumonia and Roberts died within five days of arrival. The Dyce camp was closed as a result of his death; it is now a car park for Aberdeen airport.

Walter Roberts (photo via Peace Pledge Union, from the article in the Manchester Evening News - click image to read it)

Walter Roberts (photo via Peace Pledge Union, from the article in the Manchester Evening News – click image to read it)

Many courageous men and women resisted the drive to war alongside Roberts: another notable campaigner was Catherine Marshall, who developed her campaigning skills in the suffragette movement. In World War One she became the Honorary Secretary for the No-Conscription Fellowship as a result of her campaigning talents (though we might reasonably assume that she was in part also appointed to this role because the male leaders of the NCF were constantly being imprisoned by the British state). Amongst other things, Marshall successfully campaigned to save the lives of numerous conscientious objectors in France that the British state had intended to execute. She argued: ‘… all the horrors of war … do violence to the whole spirit of civilisation, the whole teaching of Christianity…’ (PPU, p4).

These conscientious objectors were tremendously courageous individuals – opposing the public mood of the time, which was overwhelmingly pro-war, would have been very difficult. The public mood in Britain has long continued to be broadly pro-war, no doubt arising from continual military engagement overseas for over 100 years. No other country in recent times has been at war for this long, and it is only possible because the public mood allows politicians to get away with pursuing continual war. In other words, the public needs to be either ignorant of what is being done in their name, or seduced into accepting militarism as a viable tool of international diplomacy (which recent British governments have all clearly believed to be the case). I was reminded of this by an article published today by Ian Cobain entitled Britain’s Secret Wars. He begins with an account of British soldiers fighting in Vietnam immediately after World War Two (26,000 men with 2,500 vehicles and air support committing horrific acts of brutality – but hardly discussed in public):

Back in the UK, parliament and the public knew next to nothing about this war, the manner in which it was being waged, or Britain’s role in it. And it appears that the cabinet and the War Office wished their state of ignorance be preserved.

Regarding Britain’s long-standing military engagement, Cobain goes on to say (my emphasis):

For more than a hundred years, not a single year has passed when Britain’s armed forces have not been engaged in military operations somewhere in the world. The British are unique in this respect: the same could not be said of the Americans, the Russians, the French or any other nation.

Only the British are perpetually at war.

It is hardly a surprise that much of Britain is completely desensitised to the militarism that the state propagates (nor is it a surprise many people argued the British state’s militarism was a key motivation in seeking Scottish independence in 2014). Britain is one of the world’s most militarily aggressive states – a rogue state, by many definitions.

We do well, therefore, to recall with gratitude the courage and commitment of those who resist this militarism, whether this be people in the past such as Walter Roberts and Catherine Marshall, or those today who resist the relentless drive to war and the state’s dedication to illegal weapons of mass destruction, such as:

The most appropriate way to honour Roberts, Marshall, and all who suffered as a result of their pacifist convictions is undoubtedly to support those opposing war today.


Postscript: a few hours after posting this blog, I read an excellent piece by Louis Allday in the Monthly Review: The Imperial War Museum in London: A Lesson in British state propaganda. I would have included this in the main text had I read it sooner. If you want to better understand how the British state encourages its militarism, this is a good place to start.

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Bombs away: anger about UK attacks on Syria

The UK bombing Syria will – according to significant senior military figures – have no strategic effect on ISIS. But the effects on civilians will be devastating: these will be yet more bombs on a country already being bombed and attacked, in particular by Bashar al-Assad, who has killed many times more people than ISIS.

Of course, the key issue here is that Assad has killed Syrians in Syria and our politicians care little about them, as evidenced by the shameful treatment of those fleeing his barrel bombs and trying to come to safety in Europe.  ISIS on the other hand, has not only killed Syrians, but killed Europeans in Europe.  Hilary Benn – supposedly a Labour politician (and I shouldn’t judge him by his father, but…!) – argued yesterday that ISIS are fascists who must be resisted, therefore a ‘fair share’ of the bombing (says David Cameron) should fall on our shoulders, even though the consequences – more dead civilians and more refugees – will by and large be prevented from coming here (according to Theresa May and most of the Westminster parliament).  This is decision-making without responsibility for Conservative, pro-attack Labour and other politicians:

Meanwhile, we can expect to hear of yet more deaths – though that will be disguised by weasel words such as ‘collateral damage’ or ‘targeted killings’ or ‘surgical strikes’ or ‘tragic accidents’ etc. – and there will be yet more parents robbed of children, children whose parents are killed, lovers whose partners are dead, friends who are left alone in the world.

I try hard not to be a vindictive person, but at a deep level my gut reaction, especially after all the catastrophic involvement of the British is conflicts over the years is to feel utter revulsion for all those who voted for these air strikes: I want their nights to be broken by visions of children orphaned by their bombs, by parents crying over the corpses of their dead children, by haunts of wailing lovers, by houses, schools, mosques, churches and hospitals destroyed.

This will, of course, become a constructive anger at the betrayal of values most of us hold dear, and I think that things will change as a result:

In broad terms, I think/hope that the situation in this country is now quite different to 2003, and that this reckless action is the undoing of Cameron and his warmongering allies in his own party, as well as in other parties.  The maps here demonstrate this transformation.

——–

This is the list of MPs who voted to attack Syria, courtesy of the Guardian, are as follows (1, 2):

Conservative MPs – 313
Nigel Adams (Selby & Ainsty), Adam Afriyie (Windsor), Peter Aldous (Waveney), Lucy Allan (Telford), Heidi Allen (Cambridgeshire South), Sir David Amess (Southend West), Stuart Andrew (Pudsey), Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne), Edward Argar (Charnwood), Victoria Atkins (Louth & Horncastle), Richard Bacon (Norfolk South), Steven Baker (Wycombe), Harriett Baldwin (Worcestershire West), Stephen Barclay (Cambridgeshire North East), Guto Bebb (Aberconwy), Henry Bellingham (Norfolk North West), Richard Benyon (Newbury), Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley), Jake Berry (Rossendale & Darwen), James Berry (Kingston & Surbiton), Andrew Bingham (High Peak), Bob Blackman (Harrow East), Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West & Abingdon), Crispin Blunt (Reigate), Nick Boles (Grantham & Stamford), Peter Bone (Wellingborough), Victoria Borwick (Kensington), Peter Bottomley (Worthing West), Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands), Graham Brady (Altrincham & Sale West), Julian Brazier (Canterbury), Andrew Bridgen (Leicestershire North West), Steve Brine (Winchester), James Brokenshire (Old Bexley & Sidcup), Fiona Bruce (Congleton), Robert Buckland (Swindon South), Conor Burns (Bournemouth West), Simon Burns (Chelmsford), David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate), Alistair Burt (Bedfordshire North East), Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan), David Cameron (Witney), Neil Carmichael (Stroud), James Cartlidge (Suffolk South), Bill Cash (Stone), Maria Caulfield (Lewes), Alex Chalk (Cheltenham), Rehman Chishti (Gillingham & Rainham), Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds), Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells), James Cleverly (Braintree), Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswolds, The), Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal), Damian Collins (Folkestone & Hythe), Oliver Colvile (Plymouth Sutton & Devonport), Alberto Costa (Leicestershire South), Geoffrey Cox (Devon West & Torridge), Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire), Tracey Crouch (Chatham & Aylesford), Byron Davies (Gower), Chris Davies (Brecon & Radnorshire), David Davies (Monmouth), Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire), James Davies (Vale of Clwyd), Mims Davies (Eastleigh), Philip Davies (Shipley), Caroline Dinenage (Gosport), Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon), Michelle Donelan (Chippenham), Nadine Dorries (Bedfordshire Mid), Stephen Double (St Austell & Newquay), Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere), Richard Drax (Dorset South), Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South), James Duddridge (Rochford & Southend East), Alan Duncan (Rutland & Melton), Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford & Woodford Green), Philip Dunne (Ludlow), Michael Ellis (Northampton North), Jane Ellison (Battersea), Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East), Charlie Elphicke (Dover), George Eustice (Camborne & Redruth), Graham Evans (Weaver Vale), Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley), David Evennett (Bexleyheath & Crayford), Michael Fabricant (Lichfield), Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks), Suella Fernandes (Fareham), Mark Field (Cities of London & Westminster), Kevin Foster (Torbay), Dr Liam Fox (Somerset North), Mark Francois (Rayleigh & Wickford), Lucy Frazer (Cambridgeshire South East), George Freeman (Norfolk Mid), Mike Freer (Finchley & Golders Green), Richard Fuller (Bedford), Marcus Fysh (Yeovil), Roger Gale (Thanet North), Edward Garnier (Harborough), Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest), David Gauke (Hertfordshire South West), Nus Ghani (Wealden), Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton), Cheryl Gillan (Chesham & Amersham), John Glen (Salisbury), Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park), Robert Goodwill (Scarborough & Whitby), Michael Gove (Surrey Heath), Richard Graham (Gloucester), Helen Grant (Maidstone & The Weald), James Gray (Wiltshire North), Chris Grayling (Epsom & Ewell), Chris Green (Bolton West), Damian Green (Ashford), Justine Greening (Putney), Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield), Andrew Griffiths (Burton), Ben Gummer (Ipswich), Sam Gyimah (Surrey East), Robert Halfon (Harlow), Luke Hall (Thornbury & Yate), Philip Hammond (Runnymede & Weybridge), Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon), Matthew Hancock (Suffolk West), Greg Hands (Chelsea & Fulham), Mark Harper (Forest of Dean), Richard Harrington (Watford), Rebecca Harris (Castle Point), Simon Hart (Carmarthen West & Pembrokeshire South), Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden), John Hayes (South Holland & The Deepings), Sir Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire North East), James Heappey (Wells), Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry), Peter Heaton-Jones (Devon North), Nick Herbert (Arundel & South Downs), Damian Hinds (Hampshire East), Simon Hoare (Dorset North), George Hollingbery (Meon Valley), Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk & Malton), Kris Hopkins (Keighley), Gerald Howarth (Aldershot), John Howell (Henley), Ben Howlett (Bath), Nigel Huddleston (Worcestershire Mid), Jeremy Hunt (Surrey South West), Nick Hurd (Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner), Stewart Jackson (Peterborough), Margot James (Stourbridge), Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove), Ranil Jayawardena (Hampshire North East), Bernard Jenkin (Harwich & Essex North), Andrea Jenkyns (Morley & Outwood), Robert Jenrick (Newark), Boris Johnson (Uxbridge & Ruislip South), Gareth Johnson (Dartford), Joseph Johnson (Orpington), Andrew Jones (Harrogate & Knaresborough), David Jones (Clwyd West), Marcus Jones (Nuneaton), Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury & Atcham), Seema Kennedy (South Ribble), Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown), Greg Knight (Yorkshire East), Julian Knight (Solihull), Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne), Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North), Pauline Latham (Derbyshire Mid), Andrea Leadsom (Northamptonshire South), Phillip Lee (Bracknell), Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford), Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West), Oliver Letwin (Dorset West), Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth), Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater & Somerset West), David Lidington (Aylesbury), Peter Lilley (Hitchin & Harpenden), Jack Lopresti (Filton & Bradley Stoke), Jonathan Lord (Woking), Tim Loughton (Worthing East & Shoreham), Karen Lumley (Redditch), Jason McCartney (Colne Valley), Karl McCartney (Lincoln), Craig Mackinlay (Thanet South), David Mackintosh (Northampton South), Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire Dales), Anne Main (St Albans), Alan Mak (Havant), Kit Malthouse (Hampshire North West), Scott Mann (Cornwall North), Tania Mathias (Twickenham), Theresa May (Maidenhead), Paul Maynard (Blackpool North & Cleveleys), Mark Menzies (Fylde), Johnny Mercer (Plymouth Moor View), Huw Merriman (Bexhill & Battle), Stephen Metcalfe (Basildon South & Thurrock East), Maria Miller (Basingstoke), Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase), Nigel Mills (Amber Valley), Anne Milton (Guildford), Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield), Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North), Nicky Morgan (Loughborough), Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot), David Morris (Morecambe & Lunesdale), James Morris (Halesowen & Rowley Regis), Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills), David Mowat (Warrington South), David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale), Sheryll Murray (Cornwall South East), Dr Andrew Murrison (Wiltshire South West), Bob Neill (Bromley & Chislehurst), Sarah Newton (Truro & Falmouth), Caroline Nokes (Romsey & Southampton North), Jesse Norman (Hereford & Herefordshire South), David Nuttall (Bury North), Matthew Offord (Hendon), Guy Opperman (Hexham), George Osborne (Tatton), Neil Parish (Tiverton & Honiton), Priti Patel (Witham), Owen Paterson (Shropshire North), Mark Pawsey (Rugby), Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead), John Penrose (Weston-Super-Mare), Andrew Percy (Brigg & Goole), Claire Perry (Devizes), Stephen Phillips (Sleaford & North Hykeham), Chris Philp (Croydon South), Eric Pickles (Brentwood & Ongar), Christopher Pincher (Tamworth), Daniel Poulter (Suffolk Central & Ipswich North), Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane), Victoria Prentis (Banbury), Mark Prisk (Hertford & Stortford), Mark Pritchard (Wrekin, The), Tom Pursglove (Corby), Jeremy Quin (Horsham), Will Quince (Colchester), Dominic Raab (Esher & Walton), Jacob Rees-Mogg (Somerset North East), Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury), Mary Robinson (Cheadle), Andrew Rosindell (Romford), Amber Rudd (Hastings & Rye), David Rutley (Macclesfield), Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury), Paul Scully (Sutton & Cheam), Andrew Selous (Bedfordshire South West), Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield), Alok Sharma (Reading West), Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet & Rothwell), Keith Simpson (Broadland), Chris Skidmore (Kingswood), Chloe Smith (Norwich North), Henry Smith (Crawley), Julian Smith (Skipton & Ripon), Royston Smith (Southampton Itchen), Nicholas Soames (Sussex Mid), Amanda Solloway (Derby North), Anna Soubry (Broxtowe), Caroline Spelman (Meriden), Mark Spencer (Sherwood), Andrew Stephenson (Pendle), John Stevenson (Carlisle), Bob Stewart (Beckenham), Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South), Rory Stewart (Penrith & The Border), Gary Streeter (Devon South West), Mel Stride (Devon Central), Graham Stuart (Beverley & Holderness), Julian Sturdy (York Outer), Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks)), Desmond Swayne (New Forest West), Hugo Swire (Devon East), Robert Syms (Poole), Derek Thomas (St Ives), Maggie Throup (Erewash), Edward Timpson (Crewe & Nantwich), Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester & Strood), Justin Tomlinson (Swindon North), Michael Tomlinson (Dorset Mid & Poole North), Craig Tracey (Warwickshire North), David Tredinnick (Bosworth), Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed), Elizabeth Truss (Norfolk South West), Thomas Tugendhat (Tonbridge & Malling), Ed Vaizey (Wantage), Shailesh Vara (Cambridgeshire North West), Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet), Charles Walker (Broxbourne), Robin Walker (Worcester), Ben Wallace (Wyre & Preston North), David Warburton (Somerton & Frome), Matt Warman (Boston & Skegness), Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch & Upminster), James Wharton (Stockton South), Helen Whately (Faversham & Kent Mid), Heather Wheeler (Derbyshire South), Chris White (Warwick & Leamington), Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley), John Whittingdale (Maldon), Bill Wiggin (Herefordshire North), Craig Williams (Cardiff North), Gavin Williamson (Staffordshire South), Rob Wilson (Reading East), Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes), Mike Wood (Dudley South), William Wragg (Hazel Grove), Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth & Southam) and Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon).

The two tellers for the ayes were also Tories: Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) and Jackie Doyle Price (Thurrock).

Labour MPs – 66
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East), Ian Austin (Dudley North), Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West), Kevin Barron (Rother Valley), Margaret Beckett (Derby South), Hilary Benn (Leeds Central), Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East), Ben Bradshaw (Exeter), Chris Bryant (Rhondda), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Jenny Chapman (Darlington), Vernon Coaker (Gedling), Ann Coffey (Stockport), Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford), Neil Coyle (Bermondsey & Old Southwark), Mary Creagh (Wakefield), Stella Creasy (Walthamstow), Simon Danczuk (Rochdale), Wayne David (Caerphilly), Gloria De Piero (Ashfield), Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth), Jim Dowd (Lewisham West & Penge), Michael Dugher (Barnsley East), Angela Eagle (Wallasey), Maria Eagle (Garston & Halewood), Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside), Frank Field (Birkenhead), Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar & Limehouse), Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East), Caroline Flint (Don Valley), Harriet Harman (Camberwell & Peckham), Margaret Hodge (Barking), George Howarth (Knowsley), Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central), Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central), Alan Johnson (Hull West & Hessle), Graham Jones (Hyndburn), Helen Jones (Warrington North), Kevan Jones (Durham North), Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South), Liz Kendall (Leicester West), Dr Peter Kyle (Hove), Chris Leslie (Nottingham East), Holly Lynch (Halifax), Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden), Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East), Conor McGinn (St Helens North), Alison McGovern (Wirral South), Bridget Phillipson (Houghton & Sunderland South), Jamie Reed (Copeland), Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East), Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West), Joan Ryan (Enfield North), Lucy Powell (Manchester Central), Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North), Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge), John Spellar (Warley), Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston), Gareth Thomas (Harrow West), Anna Turley (Redcar), Chuka Umunna (Streatham), Keith Vaz (Leicester East), Tom Watson (West Bromwich East), Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) and John Woodcock (Barrow & Furness).

Liberal Democrat MPs – 6
Six Liberal Democrats voted in favour: Tom Brake (Carshalton & Wallington), Alistair Carmichael (Orkney & Shetland), Nick Clegg (Sheffield Hallam), Tim Farron (Westmorland & Lonsdale), Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) and John Pugh (Southport).

DUP MPs – 8
There were eight Democratic Unionist Party ayes: Gregory Campbell (Londonderry East), Nigel Dodds (Belfast North), Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley), Ian Paisley (Antrim North), Gavin Robinson (Belfast East), Jim Shannon (Strangford), David Simpson (Upper Bann) and Sammy Wilson (Antrim East).

Others voting for airstrikes
The two UUP MPs voted for airstrikes: Tom Elliott (Fermanagh & South Tyrone), Danny Kinahan (Antrim South).

Also in the aye lobby were Ukip MP Douglas Carswell (Clacton) and independent Sylvia Hermon (Down North).