Friday, 8 February 2013

Surrounded by a Culture of War

Did you read much as a child? If so, what did you enjoy reading?                            

I used to love books about war and soldiers; Romans, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, King Arthur, King Alfred, books by Rosemary Sutcliffe, Geoffrey Trease, Henry Treece and many others. I enjoyed books about criminals like Robin Hood and Hereward the Wake, too! If they lived today that's what we'd call them.

What I'm not normally interested in are books about modern warfare, perhaps because it's too close to reality, perhaps also because the boundaries are blurred and for me there is no more idealism, no clear right and wrong. Although some years ago I did read about the peninsular war in the Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell.

As a child I was always on the side of the underling Celts and Anglo-Saxons, but most of all I was on the side of what I perceived to be 'good' and 'right'. It all seemed so straightforward then. Even reading 'Kidnapped' by Robert Louis Stevenson I was on the side of the Highland hero, not the wicked English, but then my parentage did leave me somewhat ambiguous about 'the English'.

It was my father who taught me in no uncertain terms that war is not glorious, and perhaps that was because he hadn't been on the winning side, but I think it had a lot more to do with him being a person who thought deeply about things and who had seen what war can do. He'd seen the results of war from many sides: the starving French at the fence of his prisoner of war camp begging the German POWs for food, his own family bombed out and emaciated when he returned home after the war, and as well as his comrades dying around him at the front, his best friend from school days didn't return. Hamburg, the town he was born in was practically flattened.

Yet inspite of the experiences of my parents' generation, so many of whom came face to face with the consequences of war, we continue to feed our children the myth of the glorious soldiers and, it seems, we adults lap it up ourselves. We must have close on 400 books about war in my local library, yet a handful or so books on peaceful living, and novels about war prove very popular, too.

I consider myself to have lived through a time of peace, yet I was surprised to learn that Britain has been at war for most of the half century or so I have been alive. I've been vaguely aware I suppose, but unless you live in a town with a strong military presence, it's easy to put these things to the back of your mind.

Our young men may not be practising with long bows on the village green in our full sight, but we are still surrounded by a culture that promotes war, it's just more subtle than before. As a result of which, people like me who have no time for war, can pretend it isn't really happening, if we choose to, some of the time at least.

I'm lucky to live in a prosperous part of Britain and that conscription is a thing of the past. As things stand it seems very unlikely that either of my children will need to go to war and neither find the prospect attractive, but in some parts of the country it is very different. I recently came across this video by ex-soldier, Joe Glenton, that is quite an eye-opener into the practices of the modern day recruiting officers. It seems the Ministry of Defence is targeting our children and persuading 16-year-olds to join the army. While they cannot be sent into conflict zones at that tender age, they can be trained and their young minds can be moulded to prepare them to become the killing machines the army needs so much. Yet we all get indignant about African war lords etc using child soldiers.

You may think all this doesn't matter too much at present as British soldiers are out of Iraq and troops in Afghanistan are due to be withdrawn next year, but recently our government sent soldiers, i.e. young men and possibly women, to Libya, Britain is also involved in the conflict in Syria and just recently our government has sent British troops to Mali.

John Pilger wrote an article recently that suggests our government's motives for the war in Mali may have less to do with fighting terrorists than it is letting on and it seems a fairly widespread view that Britain's involvement in wars in the Middle East has been about oil as much as anything else.

It seems our armed forces' are constantly at war, whether to justify there own existence or to bolster government interests I don't know. Meanwhile young British men, and sometimes young women, are being killed and maimed and traumatised. If it were happening here amongst us I'm sure we'd all be up in arms, but the unheroic corpses and broken people return quietly to be seen by  few of us other than their families and friends.

This recent article in the Independent, also by Joe Glenton, tells how there are likely to be far more cases of combat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the MoD recognises and that this may account for the high number of soldiers who have taken their lives since the Falklands War, more than the number who died fighting in it. He thinks, not unreasonably, that we could be sitting on a time bomb where those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are concerned.

It's not just suicides we have to worry about, but men already brutalised by training for war can be dangerous to their families and the people around them. I'm not suggesting for a minute that we need to worry about hoards of soldiers around the country going on mad rampages, but some people suffering from combat PTSD do turn to drink and that alone can have very negative effects on families. There doesn't even need to be physical violence, it could be verbal abuse or just a cloud of depression hanging over the house, all of these things can have an effect on children growing up with them and partners often suffer, too. In some areas this sort of thing may affect a large number of families and so the whole community may well feel the repercussions.

The kind of training soldiers receive, described in the second part of Joe Glenton's documentary, 'The Soldier Myth', can cause soldiers a problem settling back into civilian life at the best of times. If you google 'soldiers in prison' you'll see that there is a high number of ex-soldiers in prison. This article in the Independent suggests that as many as one in ten prisoners could be military veterans.

War is a waste of so many precious lives and so much human potential.

So what should we do? What can we do? You might have your own ideas, and I should be pleased to hear what they are if you wish to post a comment. As for me, I think the most important thing we can do might be to challenge the culture of war whenever we come across it. When people say war is a good thing, ask them why they think that. An outright argument might not get us very far, but if we can ask probing questions, some people might start to rethink their own position. Arguing with someone who has swallowed all the propaganda about the need for war is more likely to have their views entrenched by simple argument.

If you know someone who is thinking of joining the army, especially a young person who may not be acquainted with all the facts, then unless you know a better resource the first part of Joe Glenton's documentary, 'The Soldier Myth' should help them to make a more informed choice.

You might want to support an organisation such as the Peace Pledge Union or the Stop the War Coalition. Then again you might want to donate to a charity that helps soldiers damaged by war, such as PTSD Resolution that tries to breach the gap left by the lack of help given to sufferers by the MoD.

If you have further suggestions, feel free to use the comments box to make them.

Here is another website, which helps to inform people considering a career in the armed forces, Before You Sign Up.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Considering Contradictions on Gay Marriage

People are so full of contradictions, aren't they? Have you noticed that? Have you ever spotted it in yourself? I know I have, and recently there's been a particular contradiction on my mind.

I believe passionately in justice and equality, but I had a very conservative upbringing and something in me still feels uneasy about the idea of gay marriage. Yet I have no problem with the idea of gay people having fulfilling sex lives and I feel strongly that gay people in loving, faithful relationships need all the support they can get. So, I was very pleased when the last government introduced civil partnerships.

I know what it is like to be told that God disapproves of your relationship and for people to try to undermine it. When I was at university I went to a church with very extreme beliefs. The pastor was a Welshmen who preached that Catholics were not proper Christians, which shocked me. Once I was engaged this pastor told me in no uncertain terms that God didn't want me to marry someone who wasn't a Christian, however much I loved him. He even found at least one verse in the Bible to 'prove' his point. It can be pretty devastating to be told that you should not marry the person you love deeply or, therefore, continue in a relationship with them. To be told that this is because God forbids your relationship can be even more devastating if God has become an important factor in your life.  Needless to say, I started to realise that this pastor had rather unusual and extreme views so I left that church shortly after that meeting and married the man I loved anyway, but the idea that God disapproved of our relationship niggled in my mind for a very long time. I often felt torn between God and my husband.

For a gay person it's not just about being told you can't marry the person you love, it's about being told you can't marry anyone you are ever likely to want sexual intimacy with.  If the gay person is also a Christian it must be even worse to be told the God you love and/or fear doesn't only disapprove of your choice of mate, but of what is an essential part of who you are.

Now, I am familiar with most of the verses in the Bible, which are given as reasons why God disapproves of gay sex, but personally I'm not convinced that there is any proof that God does disapprove of loving, faithful relationships between two people of the same sex.

The writers of the Old Testament lived in a patriarchal society where women were deemed to be the inferiors of men and wives were considered to be their husbands' property. The Jews had strict laws about what was proper and what was not proper, too and they attributed these ideas to God. So, to 'lie with another man as with a woman' would have been thought of as demeaning the other man by treating him as a woman. It would have also upset people's ideas about the social order and it would not have produced the children necessary to work the land nor produced any heirs to inherit the land as it was a rare thing in ancient Israel for daughters to inherit property.  So, it is safe to say that references in the Old Testament to sex between men have no relevance to modern British society.

It is important to note that Jesus said nothing at all either about sex between two men or between two women, or if he did, no one bothered to record what he said. This suggests it wasn't an important issue to Jesus.

Later in the New Testament, the Letter to the Romans sees sex between two men or between two women as unnatural, wicked and degrading and a sign that God had abandoned them, despairing that they could ever be saved. Modern Science, especially Psychology, has now shown that if people are lesbian or gay then it is far more natural for them to have a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex than with someone of the opposite sex, although it seems some people can find both natural. So these verses, based on ignorance and misunderstanding, are no longer proof that God disapproves of gay people having sexual relationships and cannot be seen as a divine prohibition of gay marriage.

Yet these small parts of the Bible are still being used to encourage prejudice against gay people and to tell gay people themselves that God disapproves of who they fundamentally are. This way of thinking encourages abuse and violence against gay people, whether it means to or not, and can result in gay people feeling so ashamed or rejected that hundreds of them, especially teenagers, end up taking their own lives every year. That such things are said and done in the name of the God Jesus taught us to imagine as being like the most loving father makes me very angry.

As a result I left the Baptist church I belonged to when the new pastor appeared to have trouble accepting gay relationships as worthy of validation and, more than that, thought that I should believe whatever he told me to because he was my pastor. I wonder if he would have said that to me if I had been a man. Perhaps he would have, but I have no respect for anyone who is not open to reason and debate about areas of disagreement. It usually means they aren't all that sure of having good reasons for what they believe.

Later I left the Church altogether,  among other reasons, because I was tired of what I heard and read in the news about the in-fighting in the Church of England about what gay people could and couldn't do, not to mention the out-dated attitudes some clergy have to women. (Update: At the end of February I decided to go back to the last church I was a member of, which is a small, Inclusive, Anglican church in walking distance from where I live. I've been missing the people recently and just now I am feeling a lot less tired than I have in recent years. For the minute both my father's and mother-in-law's conditions seem fairly stable as well, so I shall see how it goes.)

Even now that civil partnerships are legal in Britain ministers of the Church of England cannot risk people knowing that they love someone of the same sex as themselves, especially if they hope for any kind of promotion. There is no justice or compassion in a situation like that. It's certainly not what I think Jesus would have done. However, this is a matter for the Church and not the state. It would give the Church more credibility with the general population if it caught up with modern ideas of how people should be treated equally, though.

Although civil partnership gives gay people similar rights to married straight people with regard to British law, it seems their legal status is not even recognised in parts of Europe where gay unions are accepted.

So what, really, is my problem with gay people being allowed to be legally joined in marriage? Gay people are fully human after all, and have as much right to marry as anyone. I don't have any inkling that the marriage of gay people will undermine the institution of marriage in general, on the contrary it can only uphold it.

No, I think my problem is something I absorbed as a child, something that wasn't really even spoken about, which I have never really questioned or properly challenged. Growing up is about questioning the things we absorbed as children and seeing if those ideas are still valid and if they fit what we believe now. If they don't it's time to consign those ideas to the rubbish bin along with the worn out clothes we wore then, which no longer fit us. They certainly don't warrant recycling. So, it's time for those uneasy feelings I have to be acknowledged for what they are, the worn out vestiges of something I have now outgrown completely. If we don't do this then, like clothes we have outgrown, these ideas will constrict our growth and limit our potential.

Update: Strangely, after writing this post, my feelings of slight discomfort at the thought of gay people being allowed to marry have dispersed entirely.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Will the Hungry Always Be With Us?

Oxfam, Cafod, Christian Aid are among over 100 organisations who have got together to launch the IF campaign. It's very much along the lines of Make Poverty History which, if you aren't sure, did not make poverty history. In fact they say the gap between rich and poor in the world has become wider not smaller since.

However, if we didn't make poverty history, these people now think that we can make hunger history throughout the world,  just by signing up to their website and maybe wearing an armband. Do they really think that this will make all those who are out to line their pockets while others starve to death turn over a new leaf and the people who shot and killed Cicero Guedes a leader of the MST (Landless Workers' Movement in Brazil) over the weekend become deeply repentant and give the people of Brazil all the land they need to feed their families? I really don't think so. I wish I could believe it, but it will take more than everyone in Britain signing up to this campaign, I'm afraid.

War on Want has not signed up to this campaign, although it did take part in the Make Poverty History campaign, and gives its reasons here. The World Development Movement are not taking part either, and they have discussed their reasons in the Guardian.

Not that I want to stop you signing up, I just don't think we should become complacent, but see what else we can do. It will need a remarkable idea and some remarkable people to bring an end to the power structures that keep people hungry throughout the world.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Let's Reduce Plastic Bag Use in England in 2013

Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett propose three easy environmental resolutions to aim for in 2013: 20mph speed limits, a levy on plastic bags and reducing night lighting would cost little but deliver significant benefits.

You can't change the speed limit or even introduce a levy on plastic bags on your own, and unless you own a shop with neon lighting you can't do anything about that yourself, although you can find like-mined people and lobby your local council to do something about these things and that would be a good idea.

Plastic bags can be a real eyesore
One thing you can do something about, though, is decide not to use any more free, flimsy, single-use plastic bags. It seems the use of these bags rose by around 5% to 6.75bn in the past year in England alone. Of 8 billion carrier bags given out by supermarkets in the UK, 6.75 billion were given out in England.  In other parts of the UK, as well as in China and much of Europe, there is already a levy on plastic bags. In fact even Mauritania has just banned them because many cattle and sheep that die in the capital, Nouakchott, have been killed by eating plastic bags.

If you wonder why you should find an alternative to these flimsy plastic bags this slide show gives you a number of reasons. In fact sending them to be recycled isn't really the answer, either as it costs a lot more to recycle bags than to produce new ones.

Even worse, plastic bags can kill
Reducing your own use of these bags may only be a small step but it cuts the pointless use of  resources. If they were not freely available it would also help to clean up our towns, cities, countryside rivers and seas, reducing the harm to all kinds of birds and animals, even in our seas.

Even in landfill they may take 1,000 years or more to break down into ever smaller particles that continue to pollute the soil and water.

Finally, producing plastic bags requires millions of gallons of petroleum that could be used for transportation or heating.

To reduce your own plastic bag use you need to invest in a few reusable bags and get into a new routine. Keep one or two lightweight bags with you in your coat pocket or main bag so that you are prepared for most small purchases. If you like to do a big shop by car invest in enough reusable, strong, plastic or jute bags to accommodate your shopping and keep those in the boot. You'll find you can fold two or three and store them in one jute bag.

To try and get something done about reducing plastic bags in general why not sign this e-petition.  If enough of us sign this petition, the government might actually do something about it.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Misty St Martha's

Hubby and I decided we'd go for a walk to St Martha's church today in spite of the heavy mist. There were some very 'atmospheric' views.

The church looked very different today, shrouded in mist as it was . . .

. . . than it did almost exactly a year ago, when the sun was shining. We thought our last visit was some time in the late Spring or early Summer last year, but I've just seen that it was 7th January.

We loved how the lichen made this tree look.

I loved the mixture of moss and fungus on this tree stump. An artist couldn't better it, in my view.

There were some lovely lichens, too. I've yet to identify this one, though.

This is probably reindeer lichen (cladonia portentosa)

This is an auricula-judae fungus, otherwise known as Jew's Ear or if you want a more pc name, Jelly Ear (thanks for that, Chris).

We wondered what had made these holes. There were a few fairly close together.

The moist, misty atmosphere made me feel I was in a cool rainforest while also giving everything a somewhat eerie quality. In fact we saw this ghost ahead of us:

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Wind Turbines Kill Less Birds Than Cats Do.

Graceful wind turbines on Kefalonia

One reason some people give for being against wind turbines is that they kill large numbers of birds. You might think that this is a good reason, until you hear that cats, road traffic, windows and over head power cables kill far birds more as this article explains.

Should we not allow any more cats, cars or cables, either?

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Off on the Right Foot

Well, it wasn't raining and in spite of not being used to waking up at half past six over the holiday, today I managed to get up in time to make my sandwiches and walk to work. Hubby was working from home today, so I didn't have to worry about carrying shopping home as he was able to fetch me and the shopping in the car.

So, I suppose walking today didn't cut my carbon footprint too much, but it's a step towards becoming fitter and once I'm fitter I'll be able to walk more often when I don't need a lot of shopping. As I wasn't so well over Christmas and therefore didn't feel like going out for walks too much, I really enjoyed being able to walk to work today and proving that I could do it today has given my morale a boost.

However, I was about five minutes late for work and fear of being late has sometimes stopped me from trying to walk to work on other days, but if it becomes normal I should be able to be better organised and therefore less likely to be late. As it happens my manager thought I was having a day's leave today and wasn't even expecting me to be there. It just goes to show what can happen when you don't let fear stop you doing something good.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Starting Well

Janus, Roman god of beginnings and transitions,
who gives his name to the month of January

So, a new year has begun with all its promise and uncertainty. I do hope 2013 will be a good year for you, but then none of us know what it will hold for us.

Like Janus we may be looking back to the old year, while also looking forward to 2013. I hope you can look back with satisfaction on what you have achieved last year and are not filled with regret. If you do have regrets, perhaps you can do something to put them right, either by doing this year what you regret not doing last year, or by making amends for things you wish you hadn't said or done. If neither is possible, then it is important to forgive yourself for your human failings and learn the lessons from your mistakes that will help you do better this year. Things like regret and guilt are good when they alert us to what might be wrong, but once we've put things right or gone past the point where we can put things right, we must move on. All we can hope for after that is to do things better next time

Equally we could approach this new year cautiously, afraid of what it might bring, or we can embrace it with joy and the thought of a new beginning and all that might entail.

Being generous has to start with ourselves. We need to have self-respect and be able to have compassion for ourselves if we want to be able to respect and have compassion for others. Sometimes life doesn't deal us what we want and then it will help to learn to accept our situation, but if we each want to be the best person each of us can be, then it will help us if we can make our lives as close to the way we want them to be as is possible.

What do you wish for in 2013? However impossible your dream, ask yourself what is the first step to making it come true? If we are to be generous to others we need a certain amount of fulfilment and joy in our lives otherwise we risk becoming filled with fear and resentment. In fact learning to love ourselves, to enjoy life and above all to be true to ourselves, our hopes, our dreams and the principles we hold dear is a good way to become more generous to others. If we are fearful of new experiences we are likely to be fearful of new and different people. If we don't think we deserve to enjoy life we are likely to be resentful of others' enjoyment.

Each human being is a wonderful creature, including you. Every person deserves to be treated with respect, dignity and compassion, including you, and the best person to practise on is yourself. So, have respect for the person you are and think of all that you have going for you, including your health, your ability to walk, all the things you can do with your hands, you skills in sport or sewing, writing or woodwork. Never mind if you aren't the world's best singer or a great footballer, think of all the things you can do. Learn to value what you can do even if it isn't 'sexy' or likely to earn you a lot of money. Everyone is useful to someone. Think of what you do for others and what they would do if you didn't do those things. Perhaps someone else could do them, but would they care in the way you do, would they have your warmth or your smile? You are unique and no one else can give the world exactly what you do.

So getting back to those hopes and dreams you have, you see you do deserve that they come true as much as anyone else does. Rather than make a New Year's resolution why not decide to start the year right and take the first step to being the new you and to making your dream come true?

Amongst other things I'm hoping to grow more and better vegetables this year. We didn't quite get around to sowing and planting everything we had planned and then the weather didn't help everything to flourish. I can't do much about the weather, but I can try to get fitter so that I have more energy for all that gardening involves. Now I know that I still have to keep an eye on my iron levels I'm hoping that I will have the energy to walk more and be more active so that I can lose some weight and get fitter this year as I didn't make much progress with that last year.

As usual for New Year's Day I've been for a walk and the sunshine meant it was good to get outdoors, although hubby and I did feel the need to spend the morning cleaning and tidying as our daughter's boyfriend has come to visit today and we'd let things slip a bit over Christmas. Now I need to try and walk more for the rest of the week and generally be more active with each passing day.

What would you like to achieve, and what steps towards doing that can you take in 2013?

"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, nor to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly." - The Buddha