12 ways in which we resisted militarism in the UK in 2020
12 ways in which we resisted militarism in the UK in 2020
It's been a tough year. But whenever arms dealers and militarists have sought to wage war and increase their power, they have faced resistance.
In many parts of the world, arms dealers and armed forces have taken advantage of the pandemic and instability to increase their own power. In the UK, Boris Johnson's government offered the armed forces a massive increase in funding while leaving an underfunded NHS and underpaid healthcare workers to deal with the pandemic.
But despite this, people have stood up for justice – and often won. The peace movement is part of that resistance. We could list many, many examples of the way in which pacifists and other peace campaigners have taken action, but here are just twelve of them.
Of course, the peace movement in the UK is only a small part of the global peace movement. The Peace Pledge Union is one part of the peace movement, and we have tried to include campaigns led by other groups in the selection below. You can read more about peace campaigns around the world from War Resisters' International and Waging Nonviolence. The examples below are largely UK-based.
So let's take a moment to remember what we have achieved – and what we still have to do.
January: Arms dealers' swanky dinner disrupted.
Members of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), the Peace Pledge Union and several other groups demonstrated outside the Grosvenor House Hotel in London as arms dealers and their allies scuttled into a £470-per-head networking dinner. Sports presenter Clare Balding had earlier pulled out of speaking there.
Some took nonviolent direct action, with one entrance blocked for the whole evening by two PPU members who lay down on the cold pavement and superglued themselves together while covered with a banner reading "Stop Arming Saudi". The PPU said that the action was a further reminder that pacifists are not passive.
March: The pandemic reveals the hollowness of military “security”.
As the UK lockdown began, 19 charities and NGOs signed an open letter calling for military resources to be diverted to tackling the Covid 19 pandemic and related threats. They included the Peace Pledge Union, Medact, CND, Veterans for Peace and Scientists for Global Responsibility. “Covid 19 is a deadly reminder that armed force cannot make us safe,” they wrote. “We urgently need to stop accepting 'defence' and 'security' as euphemisms for war and militarism”. In April, hundreds of people joined an online day of action to back the call, under the banner “Healthcare, Not Warfare”.
Epidemiologist Ceri Dare was one of the first to back the call. She pointed out that the government's own reviews had been listing a pandemic as a likely security threat for at least 12 years – but that successive governments had chosen to ignore this reality and equate security with preparations for war. “The government could have put time, money, resources into making society better prepared,” she explained. “We could have had a properly funded NHS, adequate social care, key workers could be valued – a society that's resilient for everyone. Instead of that we have weapons of war, which are no use to anyone now.”
May: VE Day leads to calls for real remembrance.
With the government, armed forces and arms companies using the 75th anniversary of VE Day to whip up militaristic feeling, the Peace Pledge Union and other groups called for remembrance for all victims of World War Two. The PPU exposed the news of street party organisers planning to sound air raid sirens, despite older people saying that they would lead to traumatic memories for them. The call to remember all victims of war was reiterated when VJ Day was marked in August, when the UK government failed to mention the victims of the nuclear massacres at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The following week, the PPU hosted an online event for International Conscientious Objectors' Day in solidarity with people around the world upholding the right to refuse to kill.
Niat Chefena Hailemariam, an Eritrean conscientious objector, told the ceremony, “Today and on many other days we remember conscientious objectors all over the world. We remember them and fight for their freedom.”
June: Black Lives Matter movement exposes close links between racism and militarism.
As the Trump regime suppressed largely nonviolent protests against structural racism, peace and human rights groups in the UK called for an end to the export of tear gas and other anti-protest equipment to the USA. When people in Bristol took nonviolent direct action to remove the statue of slave trader Edward Colston, they triggered debate over how we remember people linked with slavery, colonialism and war – which are so often linked. In response to questions from the media, the PPU reiterated calls for the removal of the statue of Arthur “Bomber” Harris in London.
Meanwhile, many peace groups (including the PPU) acknowledged the need to recognise their own failures to resist structural racism and to address related issues in their own campaigns. Speaking at an online PPU event in September, Black Lives Matter campaigner Azariah France-Williams urged peace campaigners to see the links between racism, militarism and poverty. He said, "One of my worries with militarism and racism is that there's a recruitment drive to those who are poorer in society, and that often includes black and brown people, who are seen to be worth less."
August: A British soldier refuses to fight in protest over the war in Yemen.
Ahmed Al-Babati, a member of the Royal Signals, was arrested outside Downing Street while peacefully protesting against the UK's involvement in the war in Yemen, through arms sales and military support to Saudi Arabia. Despite the claim that the armed forces fight for freedom, personnel are not allowed to express anti-war views in public.
“I'd rather sleep peacefully in a cell than stay silent for a pay cheque,” said Ahmed, in a video recorded before the event. We await news of a likely court-martial.
August: Welsh pacifists defeat plans for a new RAF training site.
The RAF withdrew plans to develop a new military training site at Llanbedr airfield after opposition from local people, supported by Cymdeithas y Cymod and the Peace Pledge Union. There had been particular outrage over the likelihood that Saudi pilots would be trained there, as they have been at nearby RAF Valley.
“This is a pause and it is not a time to relax in our campaigning but to be vigilant in a world where the arms industry is growing and war victims increasing,” said local pacifist activist Pryderi Llwyd Jones.
September: Liverpool residents chase an arms fair out of their city.
After months of campaigning, it was announced in September that Electronic Warfare Europe, scheduled for November, had been postponed and relocated to Spain. While owners Clarion Events attributed the decision to Covid, it followed the growth of opposition amongst the public and local councillors in Liverpool. Following the decision, local authorities agreed to adopt an Ethical Charter in relation to the sort of events that the city would host in future.
Liverpool campaigners are now liaising with people in Saville in Spain, where the Electronic Warfare conference is scheduled to be held in May 2021.
September: War Crimes Immunity Bill faces widespread opposition.
The Overseas Operations Bill will introduce a “presumption against prosecution” for UK armed forces personnel accused of war-related crimes after five years have passed. It will also introduce a six-year limit on legal action by veterans against the Ministry of Defence. Nicknamed the War Crimes Immunity Bill by the PPU, it has faced widespread opposition both inside and outside Parliament since MPs first debated it in September, with critics including retired armed forces officers and the Royal British Legion.
The PPU repeatedly pointed out that British veterans are almost never prosecuted for war-related crimes. They promised to work alongside other groups, MPs and peers as the bill was passed by the Commons in November and sent to the House of Lords. In December, the International Criminal Court reported that there is a "reasonable basis to believe" that UK troops committed war crimes in Iraq.
October: Government faces a new legal challenge over arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The UK government had been forced to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia in 2019, after a court told them that they had to review whether such sales conformed to their own criteria regarding the use of weapons for aggression and repression. The review they conducted was a whitewash, and after they resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia this year, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) launched a new legal challenge, highlighting the killing of civilians by Saudi forces in Yemen.
CAAT's Andrew Smith slammed "the widespread destruction of schools, hospitals and homes" in Yemen. "These arms sales are immoral, and we are confident that the court will confirm the decision to renew them was illegal," he said.
October: Nuclear Ban Treaty comes into effect
In an historic moment, Honduras became the fiftieth state to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, meaning that it will come into effect on 22 January 2021. This puts the world's nuclear-armed states on the wrong side of international law.
This is of course a success for peace and human rights campaigners around the world: British peace campaigners are only a small part of an international movement. Nonetheless, British peace activists live in one of only nine nuclear-armed states, and they insisted that the UK government must not be allowed to get away with ignoring the treaty and continuing to pursue their militarist ambitions.
October-November: There is a sharp rise in schools ordering white poppies and related educational materials.
Thousands of people ordered white poppies in the run-up to Remembrance Day, to remember all victims of war and to demonstrate a commitment to peace and rejection of militarism. While lockdowns meant that many shops and places of worship were closed, there was a rise in the number of individual orders. There was a particularly sharp rise in the number of orders from schools, with hundreds of schools requesting the PPU's latest Remembrance Resource Pack.
In an apparent change of policy, the BBC announced that their presenters were allowed to wear poppies "of any colour" over the Remembrance period. Other new developments this year included the PPU making Welsh-language white poppies available for general sale for the first time. Over 300 people attended the Alternative Remembrance Sunday Ceremony online, addressed live by Yemeni-British poet Amina Atiq. Over 2,500 others watched the event afterwards.
November: Nadiya Hussain pulls out of military careers event after a campaign by pacifist teenagers.
Great British Bake Off star Nadiya Hussain was due to be the star speaker at World Skills UK, an online careers event for young people sponsored by multinational arms company BAE Systems. But Nadiya's Hussain's name was dropped from the programme after the event had already begun, after she was contacted by teenage members of the PPU who pointed out the reality of BAE's deadly business. Despite supposedly being a general careers event, 10 of the 24 sessions were about careers in the armed forces or arms industry.
“I strongly welcome Nadiya's withdrawal from World Skills UK, which is yet another example of the appalling, manipulative tactics used to militarise young people in Britain,” said Anya Nanning Ramamurthy, 19, who had written to Nadiya Hussain on behalf of the PPU Youth Network.
We know that there are many more examples! If you're involved in a campaign that you want the Peace Pledge Union to know about, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.