Thursday, 1 May 2014

Matt’s Questions Part Two

3.  Is there a case, at least in terms of defence, for technology that can be used to destroy weapons but not people?  Is this a blind alley? 

This would b e a welcome development, though it is hard for me, not being a scientist, to imagine how it might be done.  At present there appears to be more interest in finding a technology that would decimate people without also destroying their homes and infrastructure.  We urgently need a different mindset, which values people above money and resources, even when some fellow-humans, both here and abroad, appear to be intent on destroying what we value. How has that come about?  What have we done that has contributed to that happening? These are questions that we avoid because the answers may require us to act differently.

4.  What is your view of sanctions as a political tool? 

I believe sanctions may have a place in politics when the chosen representatives of people who suffer gross discrimination in another nation ask this of us. But it will always be difficult to avoid causing some distress when certain products fail to reach those who will suffer without them.  This is a grey area, to my mind. When there is a strong case for refusing to export certain products to an oppressive state, basic foods should not be included in items banned.  But weapons, or materials that assist in maintaining grossly undemocratic practices, these may very well be included in a list of banned exports.  Any such programme should be selective and accompanied by a lively dialogue explaining why this action is being taken.  What is your thinking on this?

5.  Might the Syrian revolution have succeeded had it remained non-violent?

I believe the answer is yes, though it might have been only after a long drawn out and costly period of resistance, with a number of martyrs.  The history of the Parihaka opposition to land confiscation may be quoted to suggest otherwise.  The military might of a land-hungry white citizenry arrested the leaders and many male supporters.  Totally non-violent opposition had to watch the destruction of a model township, even judged by European standards.  Their lands of almost a million acres became farms for white settlers, and the survivors of those arrested returned from prison to a devastated remnant of what had been.  Their chiefs, Te Whiti and Tohu, died about 20 years later, and never saw the confiscation order reversed. Did that mean that their brave action in non-violently resisting was shown to be futile and mistaken?  On reflection, did they wish they had taken a different course of action?  There is no hint that this was so.  They had acted in response to deep convictions that we honour now, and this period of NZ’s history glows as we remember their sacrificial acceptance of pain and loss, and refusal to deny a truth that was accepted only by a very few.  Their action moved a sceptical humanity to recognise, slowly and wonderingly, that this truth was being demonstrated in a new way, and there was real power in it.

Could this have shown its power in Syria too? I believe so. But for maximum effect a period of disciplined preparation would have to precede the crisis, with inspiring leadership and active cooperation between racial groups determined to work and act non-violently even when provoked.  Martin Luther King was able to inspire this sort of commitment.  There were martyrs in USA. There would have been martyrs in Syria. But from those losses new life and hope can spring up.  By contrast, the present horror in Syria will take decades to heal, with old antagonisms gaining strength with every shipment of arms to the region.

Read Part One here


  1. Thanks Arthur, for thoughtful responses to my questions.
    I have long thought that real technological superiority would enable a kind of defense that was effective without the need for killing people. (I guess this idea arose from science fiction.) Like, if a child comes and hits you, you don't knock him flat, but perhaps do something to defuse or resolve the situation.
    So I was curious as to why the missile defense systems were seen as an escalation. Because they enable an attack without repercussions, as it turns out. So the consensus achieved is to allow the possibility of mutual destruction, and this is a deterrent to both. Perhaps defensive superiority does invite the abuse of that power, as we see in places where the weak are persecuted.

    I also used to think that sanctions were a reasonable alternative to war. But it appears that holding people hostage is not a new strategy, like the sieges of old. And both old and modern forms appear to be aimed at civilian populations, these being essential to the wealth of a nation. War itself tends towards this end and the idea that it only involves military forces is a bit like the ideal I mentioned above, where no-one gets hurt.

    As with any form of power, sanctions may have some use, but the problem is the responsible use of that power.

    I believe that Syrians could have achieved more by remaining non-violent. Essentially, a population can only be controlled if it recognises the authority. There are several examples of armies putting down their weapons when confronted by unarmed people - Phillipines, Belgrade, Indonesia. Egypt, perhaps. When it happens it seems to be spontaneous. There must be discipline but it appears that everyone disciplines himself. Otherwise it will not work. So perhaps it cannot happen until the time is right.

    And then sometimes it does not work, as with Parihaka. But the lesson is powerful. The lesson to me is that the European culture was shown not to be the more civilised. This lesson I believe is extremely important in the world today, where the superiority of military technology is taken as demonstration of cultural and moral superiority, which seems to imply the right to coerce populations, and to destroy them if they resist.

  2. Thanks for that, Matt. I do believe that initiating or responding to challenge with military force has been shown in recent years to be a disaster in human terms. Sooner or later the apparent gains are lost. Hearts and minds refuse to respond to overweening power. I think you agree. Arthur

  3. The recent results of military overthrow do not appear to have turned out well at all - Libya, Iraq, Syria. One might argue about Afghanistan and Somalia. From my perspective both have foreign backed and completely corrupt governments that do not appear to have a future. Only Tunisia seems to be on the right path and that was not a violent revolution. MS