Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Slow Bleed. Fukushima Five Years On

Fukushima, Reactors 3 and 4
The melt down of three nuclear reactors at Fukushima in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami of 11th March 2011 seems to have quietly slipped out of our collective awareness - as quietly as the cauldrons of radioactive elements that were once within the active cores of the reactors invisibly bleed into the groundwaters and seawaters of the region. This event has become yet another minor detail in the distorted mosaic of ruin that mirrors the latter days of a civilisation in free-fall.

Arnie Gundersen is looking a little weathered these days. He has just returned from a five-week long speaking tour of Japan. He spent much of that time in the company of many whose lives have been indelibly seared by the Fukushima catastrophe. What he reports is unlikely to appear in the mainstream media, but such has ever been the case when it comes to the hidden machinations of big government and big business.

What Gundersen has to say is worth closely attending to. As a nuclear engineer, he has been deeply involved in the American nuclear industry for over four decades. He has a special interest in the design and safety of containment structures and holds a patent for a nuclear safety device. He has also managed and coordinated nuclear projects at 70 nuclear power plants in the US and is a former nuclear industry senior vice-president. He knows the industry well, particularly its toxic underbelly.

Arnie Gundersen served as an expert witness in the investigation of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, and found that releases of radioactivity from that particular event were 15 times higher than the figures published subsequently in a government report. He is no stranger to the prevarication and deceit that have too often accompanied statements made by the nuclear industry and its government supporters.

Gundersen has been an active critic of the nuclear industry for over two decades. More recently, he has co-authored a Greenpeace International report on Fukushima. He was among the first North American commentators to speak publicly and forcefully on the implications of Fukushima in the days and weeks after the meltdowns. And since that time, he has been tireless in his efforts to provide an informed narrative of developments at Fukushima and their consequences for both the inhabitants of Japan and on the global community.

Arnie Gunderson reports that the Japanese Government continues to put the interests of Japanese banks and power companies ahead of the safety of its people. Within a short time of the Fukushima meltdowns in 2011, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) who were in power at that time arbitrarily raised the "acceptable" limits of radiation exposure twenty-fold: from 1 millisievert (mSv)/year - the maximum dose recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection - to 20 mSv/year. In 1998, over a decade beforehand, Rosalie Bertell presented the findings of a number of independent studies published in peer-reviewed journals, including the British Medical Journal and the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed unequivocally that radiation doses as low as 2.5 mSv/year were associated with significant increases in the incidence of leukaemias and myelomas, and cancers of the pancreas, lungs and female reproductive organs in nuclear industry workers.

As Japanese medical practitioners begin to  encounter the effects of radiation exposure in their patients - particularly children - the government now refuses to pay doctors who record a diagnosis of radiation-induced sickness in their patients. This will come as no surprise to those who followed the actions of the Soviet government and later, the Russian, Ukraine and Belarus governments in their concerted suppression of medical reports dealing with the consequences of radiation exposure on the lives of their citizens after the Chernobyl meltdown.

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

Temporary housing for Fukushima evacuees
Over 100,000 people are still not able to return to their homes in Fukushima prefecture since the meltdowns. In a disturbing disclosure, Gundersen reveals that many of the evacuees have received virtually no information regarding the issue of radiation exposure either from the Japanese government or from TEPCO, the operators of the Fukushima power plant. The subsistence stipend that they have received since being evacuated will cease in March 2017. Considerable pressure is being put on former residents by the government that they now return to Fukushima and tough it out regardless of the ongoing contamination. Many have grave concerns regarding the effects of such a move on the future health of their families.

Endless Acres of Radioactive Waste
Another remarkable aspect of the present situation concerns the manner in which highly contaminated materials - which include radioactive soil, leaves and other debris - have been dealt with. Thirty million tons of such debris has so far been gathered from throughout the Fukushima prefecture. Much of this is now stored in over 9 million large plastic bags scattered throughout the affected areas. Three years after being filled, the bags have started to disintegrate and nobody seems to know what to do next since their contents need to be kept isolated for at least another 30 years. One favoured option is to incinerate them. This would certainly decrease their number, but would inevitably result in the further dispersion of radioactive elements in aerosol form around Japan.

There are clearly some who still hold to the old but ultimately banal adage that, the solution to pollution is dilution.

Contaminated Water Storage Tanks at Fukushima
Dwarfing the problem of solid wastes is the ongoing leaching of radioactive elements from the melted reactor cores into groundwater and seawater. For the past five years, between 200 and 500 tons of groundwater flow through the reactors every day as a result of multiple cracks in the containment structures. Some of this water has recently been diverted away from the reactors, but an estimated 150 tons of groundwater continue to flow through the reactors daily. This irradiated water inexorably flows on, steadily bleeding into the northern Pacific. Furthermore, 700,000 tons of highly radioactive water salvaged from cooling operations since the meltdown is presently stored in massive tanks that now pepper the reactor site. More are being built as contaminated water continues to accumulate.

The Tragic Absurdity

It is common knowledge that engineers will be busy for the next 30 to 40 years in their efforts to put the lid on the cauldron of radioactivity that seethes in the reactor basements at Fukushima. Meanwhile, the Pacific tectonic plate continues its own inexorable movement beneath the continental Okhotsk plate on which Japan sits creating the conditions for future mega-thrust events like that which shook the region on 11th March 2011. The unspoken terror is that it could all turn again in the blink of an eye.

Despite what has happened at Fukushima, the Abe Government is determined to restart Japan's nuclear reactors that were all shut down after the 2011 earthquake. Widespread anti-nuclear protests throughout Japan have been ignored and three nuclear power plants - two at the Sendai nuclear complex in seismic-sensitive Kagoshima prefecture and another in Fukui prefecture - have been restarted since August 2015. Over the next year, a further six to twelve reactors are slated to resume operations. Business reigns as usual.

There are many who proudly insist on riding the nuclear beast regardless of the human and environmental consequences. They trumpet that this is the way of the future and a "necessary" solution to the problems of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and an ever-accelerating movement towards numerous tipping points which include ocean acidification, loss of polar albedo effects due to melting of polar ice, and the bubbling up of vast new wells of methane gas from the melting of northern permafrost and sea-floor deposits. In the immortal words of the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson, what folly is here that has not yet a name?

Arnie Gundersen's Report

The video clip below ( presents an interview between Arnie Gundersen and Margaret Harrington recorded soon after he returned from a recent speaking tour of Japan. The first 25 minutes of the interview offers deep insight into how the worst industrial accident in the history of humanity has affected the people of Japan, and how the Japanese government increasingly serves the interests of power companies and their financial backers rather than those of its own people. Arnie Gundersen is unambiguously clear regarding the nature of what has gone down in Fukushima in this presentation. And the moral abandonment of both the Japanese government and TEPCO in the downplaying of the present and future consequences of the meltdown are not lost on him.

The second half of this clip offers a detailed review by Gundersen of the developments at Fukushima over the past five years. A separate high-definition version of the second segment can be accessed here.

Vincent Di Stefano D.O., N.D., M.H.Sc.
Inverloch, April 2016

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Blood on the Sand, Blood in the Sea. Of Courage and Treachery on Libya's Shores

"One incurs no blame in giving up one's life that the good and the right may prevail.
There are things that are more important than life."
(Hexagram 28, Line 6, Preponderance of the Great. I Ching, Wilhelm/Baynes translation)

I am no stranger to Libya. I spent most of the third year of my life travelling with my parents between Tripoli and Benghazi. And long before I had entered this world, my father, together with many other young Italian men, had come to know Libya's towns and deserts very well. Most of them had taken leave of their families because there was no work to be had in their towns and villages. The wages they earned helped to sustain the lives of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters back home.

The world in which those young men lived is virtually inconceivable for most who live in the so-called developed world today with its fully charged and fully wired ways. The spaces in which we live are now awash in a chaos of invisible energies beamed by over 1,100 communications satellites orbiting the earth. They endlessly transmit our voices, our images, our texts, our financial transactions. They direct the movements of fighter jets and devastatingly lethal missiles.

Yet even in the midst of the technological power and control that dominates the times, there are some things that have barely changed. Among them is the deep poverty in which many continue to live despite the good times and fast living that the western world distractedly pursues. Over three billion people - nearly half of the world's population - live on less than $2.50 a day. This would not even cover the cost of a morning coffee. 

Many decades after the time that my father worked on construction sites in and around Benghazi, Libya remains a place where both young men and older men from impoverished families continue to look for work. Egyptian men in particular. But Libya has become a far more dangerous place than ever it was before, as we so graphically learned in mid-February 2015.

Because a Few, by Fate's Economy shall Seem to Move the World the Way it Goes

Long before the attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001, the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the Shock and Awe attack that preceded the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, and the ruinous dismembering of Syria that has been steadily progressing since March 2011, the game plan for the Middle East had already been drawn up.

The Project for the New American Century was formed in 1997. It gathered together many of the militarist hawks who would soon after form the inner circle of George W. Bush's presidency. It included such shadowy luminaries as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and John Bolton. Within months of its formation, an open letter was sent to President Bill Clinton. The letter was signed by the core members of the group as well as carrying the signatures of an additional 30 political and military heavy-weights. The letter unambiguously called for the removal of Saddam Hussein from power: "What is needed now is a comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime."

Its first formal declaration Rebuilding America's Defences was published in September 2000. The following comment appeared in that report: "[T]he process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic event like a new Pearl Harbour." The report also urged that the methods to be used to maintain US global hegemony should include the right to launch pre-emptive military strikes and the freedom to overthrow regimes deemed "hostile" to US interests.

Ground Zero, New York
The desired "new Pearl Harbour" event dramatically materialised within 12 months of releasing the report when the Twin Towers were brought down by two passenger planes that had been hijacked by 10 young men. Seven of the men were from Saudi Arabia, two were from the United Arab Emirates, and one was from Egypt. Within 24 hours of the 9/11 attack, both Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz had called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Their moment had come and these men were determined to whip the horse as hard as they could.

The first stage of the program was enacted through the saturation bombing of Taliban positions in Afghanistan a month later. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and their inner circle patiently waited a further 18 months until Afghanistan had been sufficiently "subdued" and the American people sufficiently "persuaded" that Sadam Hussein was somehow behind the attack on the Twin Towers.

A torrent of missiles was unleashed upon Iraq on the night of March 19th 2003 in a spectacle that was broadcast and viewed as live "entertainment" throughout the western world.

By Dint of Slaughter, Toil and Theft

The invasion of Iraq was built on two lies. The first was that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The second was that Iraq had been a haven for al-Qaeda and that Saddam Hussein was in league with Osama Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was non-existent in Iraq when the US-led attack commenced in March 2003. But within a few months, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a former Jordanian lone-wolf militant had sufficiently exploited the chaos in Iraqi society to gather around him a sizeable group of former Iraqi military commanders and assorted Sunni Jihadists. In April 2004, he formally pledged his allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and declared himself head of the newly-formed al-Qaeda in Iraq. Soon after, he released a video depicting an act of breath-taking cruelty which set a precedent that has been ritually re-enacted throughout the Middle East on numerous occasions since.

American telecommunications contractor Nick Berg was abducted in Baghdad by al-Zarqawi's men in April 2004. His headless body was found near a highway overpass near Baghdad on 8th May 2004. Three days later, a grisly five minute video was broadcast by an Islamic website. It showed Berg in an orange jump suit - a standard issue item for Islamic detainees in the notorious Abu Graibh prison near Baghdad. Berg was surrounded by five masked men. After identifying himself, two of the men held him down while a third - allegedly Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - beheaded him with a knife. A fourth man then read a statement that concluded with the following remark: "You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins . . . . slaughtered in this way." The sands of the desert and the shores of the Mediterranean have been awash with hand-drawn blood ever since.

Al-Zarqawi was himself killed in an air strike in June 2006. His fellow-combatant and senior aide Abu Ayyub al-Masri immediately stepped into his shoes. Within four months, al-Masri had succeeded in merging al-Qaeda in Iraq with a number of other Sunni insurgent groups and declared the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq, nominating the shadowy Iraqi nationalist scholar Abu Umar al-Baghdadi as its head. Both were killed in 2010. The reins were then taken over by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Within 3 years, The Islamic State of Iraq was fully operational in Syria. In April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi formally announced a change of name, and declared the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL (more commonly referred to as ISIS or simply IS). A year later, he proclaimed himself as Caliph of the Islamic State, a successor of Muhammad, and leader whose exercise of power is absolute.

The invasion of Iraq by the US and its "coalition of the willing" not only enabled al-Qaeda to firmly establish a presence where it had not been, but ultimately created the conditions whereby a far more lethal entity was able to sink firm serpentine roots into the wracked and bloodied soil of Iraq and thence to spread its cancerous venom throughout the Middle East.

Over the past two years, ISIS militants have taken advantage of the chaos ensuing in Libya after the "successful" NATO campaign to oust Muammar Gaddafi, who was brutally murdered in October 2011. The presence of ISIS in Libya was dramatically brought to the attention of the western world in February 2015 when it released a shockingly graphic video of the beheading of 21 Christian migrant workers on the shores of Sirte in northern Libya.

Black-Drawn Against Wild Red

On the night of December 27th, 2014, a group of Egyptian workers, all Coptic Christians, were abducted by members of ISIS from their quarters in Sirte, a coastal city situated mid-way between Tripoli and Benghazi in northern Libya. A week later, another group was similarly abducted. Their captors chose only Christian workers, releasing all Muslim fellow-workers who were staying in the same compounds. The Egyptians all knew of the dangers of working in Libya since the killing of Muammar Gaddafi. Before the Arab Spring which began in Tunisia late in 2010, two million Egyptian men were employed in Libya at any given time. For virtually all of them, such work represented a life-line for their impoverished families enabling them to have food on their tables and to provide schooling for their children. By late 2014, their numbers had dropped to 750,000.

Thirteen of the men who were abducted were from Al Aour, a village and farming community of a few thousand people situated three hours south of Cairo. For seven weeks there had been no word regarding their fate or the fate of the other men who had been captured. On Sunday 15th February 2015, ISIS released a video that confirmed the worst fears of their families. This highly produced film showed a group of 21 men being led single file along a rocky shoreline. The men were dressed in orange jump-suits similar to that worn by Nick Berg when he was beheaded by Abu Masab al-Zarqawi in Iraq 10 years beforehand. Walking behind each man was a black-robed masked ISIS militant of gigantic stature. This was all part of the grotesque theatricality that had long been favoured by ISIS in portraying itself as a ruthless super-human force to be universally feared.

As Quiet Fiends Would Lead Past Our Eyes Our Children to an Unseen Sacrifice

Mathew Ayairga and Companions
The 21 men who were led along the Wilayat Tarabulus coast in Libya went knowingly to their fate. Each of them was offered their freedom if they renounced Christianity and embraced Islam. Each of them refused. Remarkable in this story is that one of the captives, Mathew Ayairga a worker from Chad, was not a Christian but had somehow been included with the 20 Coptic men. The original video aired by ISIS shows that he was given an opportunity to save himself. When asked "Do you reject Christ?", he replied unflinchingly, "Their God is my God."

The hidden story of the 21 martyrs is documented visually in the following short video clip, which is a highly moving collage of news reports, still images, and edited excerpts from the ISIS video. It offers a rare and precious experience of human faith and courage in an age that has been overtaken by the cult of ego, the pursuit of distraction and the collapse of depth. It provides a glimpse of the hidden pain of those whose lives have been shattered by inhuman cruelty wilfully inflicted on others. It points to the ultimate transience of human life. And it reveals the peace that can be carried within a man that will, in the fullness of time, find expression in a renewed humanity.


1. "Enemy of Enemies: The Rise of ISIL" is a superbly produced documentary that carries extensive archival footage of the peculiar sequence of political and strategic mutations that led to the formation of the Islamic State in its present manifestation. A significant part of the presentation centres around discussions between highly informed and articulate commentators, each of whom has participated intimately in the movements of events from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the present impasse.

2. The headers in this essay are drawn from E.A. Robinson's perceptive and prescient poem first published in 1916, "The Man Against The Sky", which offers an early reflection on the mental character of a civilisation gone awry.

Vincent Di Stefano D.O., N.D., M.H.Sc.
Inverloch, February 2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Art of Disregard. Jaduguda and the Indian Nuclear Project

 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, 
against powers, against the rulers of darkness in this world, 
against spiritual wickedness in high places. 
                                                                   St. Paul, Ephesians 6:12

I had considered myself to be reasonably conversant with what is going down in matters nuclear. The language is no problem as physics, chemistry and mathematics were all part of my schooling. And together with many of my generation, I was drawn into political activity during the deadly '80s when over 50,000 nuclear warheads bristled in nuclear silos, on mobile launchers and in nuclear submarines silently plying the dark oceans of the world.

Like many during that time, I attended anti-nuclear conferences and rallies, participated in study groups, worked with community radio stations, and wrote papers. Sellafield, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were all part of our common lexicon, as were Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Cuban Missile Crisis. More recently, we watched as shadowy forces on both sides of Australian politics manipulated policies so as to expand uranium mining in this country. We witnessed cold pragmatism and moral treachery as a former anti-nuclear rock singer turned environment minister signed off on a deal to double the uranium output of the BHP Billiton Olympic Dam Mine in South Australia. The triple meltdowns at Fukushima in March 2011 put the brakes on that one however, and the global nuclear industry pulled back on a widely-heralded nuclear renaissance that aimed to fill the world with a new generation of nuclear reactors. At the present time, closed room discussions focus on ways to soften the people of Australia for the eventual construction of nuclear power stations and the creation of nuclear waste dumps in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Protesters at Kudankulam
I had some small knowledge of the Indian nuclear project: That it was a relative latecomer, starting in the late 1960s by which time the US, the Soviet Union, Canada, and several European countries were all in possession of nuclear reactors. That it had refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1968. That it had detonated its first nuclear bomb, quaintly named Smiling Buddha, in 1974 and conducted further nuclear tests during the 1990's. That it had highly ambitious but largely unrealised goals for fuelling its economy by a massive expansion of nuclear power plants. That not everyone in India was particularly happy about the prospect, as was shown in the protests against the Kudankulam nuclear reactor complex in southern India in 2012.

I still recall my disgust at the degree of brutality exercised by Indian police against villagers who were protesting peacefully at the time. They showed their fidelity to the cause of serving as protectors of the people by shooting into crowds of unarmed civilians, killing one 44 year old fisherman and injuring many others, destroying property, and then proceeding to spit and urinate inside the Mother of Lourdes Church in Kudankulam which had served as a base around which 8,000 to 10,000 local villagers had gathered for the protest.

I have more recently been made aware of how little, in fact, I know about the nuclearisation of India and its consequences. A recently-published article by London-based journalist Adrian Levy reveals how deeply hidden the ugly side of the Indian nuclear project has been from the very outset and how callously many communities that are out of sight of the rest of the world have been crushed and ignored in order to satisfy the Promethean aspirations of their governments.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

The village of Jaduguda is situated in the newly created state of Jharkhand in north-east India. Low-grade uranium ore was discovered there in the early 1950s and mining started in 1967. In the intervening decades, approximately 1,000 tons of uranium ore has been brought to the surface daily and processed at a mill situated adjacent to the mine. Milled uranium concentrate is then transported some 1,400 kilometres to Hyderabad where it is further processed into uranium oxide pellets that charge the fuel rods powering ten of India's nuclear reactors. Approximately 25% of the uranium used by the nuclear industry in India comes from the Jaduguda mines.

History has shown that mining is a destructive and dirty business. Over 500 years ago, the great physician Paracelsus wrote a treatise on diseases that were peculiar to miners. In the intervening centuries, we have come to know that it is not only those who spend their time in underground mines who suffer the consequences of inhaling the toxic dust produced in mining operations, but that the surrounding environment is often contaminated with the by-products of such activities. And over the past 70 years, we have come to understand the particularly noxious effects of unearthing radioactive elements on the surrounding air, land, waterways and eventually, the communities that happen to live nearby.

Jaduguda is no exception. In fact, it has become a tragic example of the prevarication, deceit and disregard that are endemic to the whole nuclear enterprise.

The Indian government was determined to pursue a nuclear future in the immediate post-war period. The Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was established in 1948, and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in 1954. Geological surveys established early that Indian uranium ores were scarce and of poor quality, but that vast amounts of thorium were available. The decision was made to exploit uranium deposits in and around Jaduguda, at that time part of Bihar state. The area was home to numerous tribal communities that had lived as autonomous and thriving cultures for many centuries until the time of British colonial rule during the middle to late nineteenth century. The cultural stability of these local indigenous communities, the Adivasis, was insidiously undermined by the entrepreneurial drive of industrialists who were eager to exploit such resources as coal, minerals, forests and water which were abundant throughout the area, a story that has been replicated many times and in many places throughout history.

Without even the semblance of a consultation process, local land was acquired by the Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL), a subsidiary of of the Department of Atomic Energy in 1962, and work commenced on the establishment of three underground mines near the villages of Jaduguda, Batin and Narwarpahar, all situated within a few kilometres of each other. Tailings dams were constructed near the Jaduguda mine in order to provide repositories for the huge quantities of liquid waste produced by the mining and milling operations.

Tailings dam situated 100 m. from Santhal village, Jaduguda
Some 20,000,000 tons of uranium ore has been brought to the surface and processed since the Jaduguda mining and milling complex commenced operations in 1967. The extraction of uranium from its ore requires immense amounts of water, corrosive acids and toxic solvents.The wastes or mill-tailings produced in this process are then converted into a liquid slurry that is carried through a series of crude pipelines (that have on a number of occasions burst and discharged their contents into the countryside) to eventually discharge into the tailings dams. All of these activities have taken place on the very margins of local villages, with some houses being situated only 30 metres from the tailings dams. Around 50,000 people live in and around 15 villages within a 5 kilometre radius of these operations.

Tailings pipeline, Jaduguda
Because of the poor quality of the uranium ore, which contains only 0.065% uranium, huge amounts of both solid and liquid wastes are generated in milling operations. It is estimated that the extraction of one kilogram of uranium concentrate from the Jaduguda mines results in the production nearly two tons of solid waste and uses up nearly three times that amount of water. Since the Jaduguda operation commenced, immense quantities of solid waste have been generated. This material carries both radioactive elements and highly toxic minerals. UCIL, the government agency in charge of the mining operations at Jaduguda and throughout India, has devised a number of novel methods for disposing some of this waste. It has been used in the building of local roads and as construction material for the walls of local houses, and more recently, as rock linings to be used in the construction of 80,000 new water wells throughout Jharkhand.

Massive amounts of liquid waste have been pumped into the poorly constructed tailings dams over the past five decades. Water from these tailings dams, together with its burden of radioactive elements and toxic chemicals, has slowly and inexorably wept into the groundwater of the region. And as if that were not enough, there is strong evidence that UCIL has used the Jaduguda mill and tailings ponds as disposal sites for nuclear wastes from other parts of India.

Dark Waters, Thickened Airs

The consequences were starkly predictable. By the 1980s, local communities began to notice an increase in general malaise, skin conditions, stillbirths, deformities in newborn babies, deformities in newborn calves, skin diseases in fish caught in local streams and rivers, and a widespread disappearance of small mammals such as monkeys, mice and rabbits from the area.

All requests for assistance and assessments made by the local communities were effectively ignored until 1993 when a series of radiological and health investigations were initiated. By that time, the Adivasis of the Jaduguda area had endured 26 years of continuous exposure to tainted air, polluted water and contaminated grazing and agricultural lands.

The survey took two years to complete and confirmed the fears of local communities. Ajitha George, who co-ordinated the study offers the following account of the findings:
"The report revealed that 47% of women suffered disruptions in their menstrual cycle, 18% said that they had suffered miscarriages or given birth to stillborn babies in the last 5 years. 30% suffered fertility problems. Nearly all women complained of fatigue, weakness and depression. Further, the survey found a high incidence of chronic skin diseases, cancer, tuberculosis, bone, brain and kidney damage, nervous system disorders, congenital deformities, nausea, blood disorders and other chronic diseases. Children were the most affected. Many were born with skeletal distortions, partially formed skulls, blood disorders and a broad range of physical deformities. Most common were missing eyes or toes, fused fingers, or limbs incapable of supporting them. Brain damage often compounded these physical disabilities."
The study also confirmed that tens of thousands of people who lived within five kilometres of the mining operations were exposed to abnormally high levels of radiation. UCIL simply refused to acknowledge these findings and continued business as usual.

Jaduguda Mine and Processing Mill
A few years later, Dr Sanghamitra Gadekar, a specialist in radiation hazards conducted further medical studies. Her findings confirmed those of the the earlier survey but did little to prompt action by UCIL. On the contrary, UCIL continued to expand its mining operations around Jaduguda. Early in 1996 while under the protective cover of local police and paramilitary units, UCIL contractors and their heavy machinery moved onto lands it had "acquired"11 years earlier and summarily demolished 30 houses. They then began to overturn and uproot agricultural fields, local graveyards and sacred groves of trees in order to create a third tailings dam.

Word travelled fast and within three days, massive protests were mobilised and many women lay down in front of bulldozers to prevent further destruction. Legal action was taken by politically active local Adivasi groups. The local courts appeared to be in collusion with UCIL and did nothing to restrain the demolitions and dam construction.

Before long, a mass protest by Adivasi communities throughout the region gathered at the dam site but they were met with organised police violence. Many were arrested and incarcerated. Two weeks later, Adivasi groups throughout Jharkhand began to mobilise and assembled in Jaduguda in great numbers. The police then backed off.

The indigenous people of Jaduguda have endured effective dispossession by their governments. Medical studies, radiological surveys, mass protests, political action and media mobilisation have done little to curb the determination of the Indian government to pursue its nuclear agenda at any cost.

The central Jaduguda mine was closed in 2014 as its reserves are close to exhausted although the processing mill continues its operations. In the meantime, three further uranium mines and another processing mill have commenced operations at Turamdih, Mohuldih, and Banduhurang, all situated nearby. Since these new mines were opened, extraction of uranium ore has increased to 5,000 tons daily.

Similar tactics were used by UCIL in the acquisition of land for the mines as occurred in Jaduguda 60 years ago. Hundred of acres of tribal lands have been summarily seized, and the mines have been built in total disregard of the wishes of the local community. Concerns continue to be expressed about the effects of these operations by many within the medical profession.

And What will be Left to Inherit?

The story of uranium mining in Jharkand mirrors that experienced by indigenous communities throughout the world: In Australia, in North America, in the former Soviet Union, in Africa, and most recently, in Tibet. The lives that have already been destroyed and irrevocably afflicted are a foretaste of what confronts future generations as long-lived radionuclides progressively spread through ecosystems everywhere. One can only hope and pray that a world-wide awakening will recognise the folly of the blind and dangerous pursuit of nuclearisation that has been driven by those within the military, by mining corporations, and by governments willing to tear the earth apart and poison the future of coming generations in order to maintain their power and a way of life that is ultimately destructive and unsustainable.

Telling it from the Inside

The story of Jaduguda was first documented visually by Indian film-maker Shri Prakash in his 1999 production, Buddha Weeps At Jaduguda. This sensitively produced low-budget film examines the activities of UCIL - the Uranium Corporation of India - on the lives of the Adivasi people of Singhbum district of Jharkhand. It offers a gentle entry into Adivasi culture through images of village life, music, dance and interviews with community members and representative elders. The film documents the gross negligence of UCIL towards the safety of both workers and of members of local communities.

Buddha Weeps at Jaduguda is an artfully understated presentation whose message is carried as much through images and music as through the thoughts and words of those who are interviewed. It is a superb example of what can be achieved by frugal means and dedicated commitment. It was written and directed by Shri Prakash and produced by a single cameraman and a single editor.

And Fifteen Years Later

The clip below was recorded at the World Uranium Symposium held in Canada in 2015. In the first section, Dr Shakeel Ur Rahman describes the findings of a study of 2,000 households living around Jaduguda that was undertaken in 2007. The study confirmed that there was an increased incidence of infertility, infant mortality, congenital deformities among children, and cancers of many types. The study also found decreased life expectancy among those who lived in the area.

The second section carries a substantive presentation by Shri Prakash, director of Buddha Weeps in Jaduguda reflecting on his visit to Jaduguda fifteen years earlier. He notes how little has changed for the local Adivasis in the time since. It is gratifying to see that Shri Prakash has maintained his advocacy for and commitment to the cause of the Jaduguda communities even into the present time.

Vincent Di Stefano D.O., N.D., M.H.Sc.
Inverloch, January 2016

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In Search of the Deeper Healing

"The healing intention has taken many forms throughout history. It has been voiced in the prayers and invocations of countless generations of priests and shamans. It has been carried by the men and women who sought out the substances present in nature and those produced by human ingenuity that help to ease the pain of sickness and hasten the return of health. It continues to find expression in the skill and precision of those dedicated surgeons who daily exercise their art."
                                                                                                   Introduction: Holism and Complementary Medicine. Origins and Principles

I have in recent days had cause to accompany a family member on a visit to a specialist clinic at Saint Vincent's Hospital, one of Melbourne's larger public hospitals. This experience has brought me into deep and intimate contact with the invisible pain that fills both the world and the lives of so many throughout the world.

Even before arriving at the hospital, the journey itself became a revelation. I had spent the previous night in one of the outer-flung suburbs of Melbourne and travelled into the city along the Eastern Freeway, a heavily trafficked tollway very different to the narrow winding roads around the Victorian coastal community where my wife and I live.

Though it had been some years since I had travelled on that particular freeway, I found myself thinking similar thoughts to those that had often arisen on previous trips. With 10 lanes of cars stretched endlessly before and behind, I imagined this scene repeated in every major city in a world that carries over one billion motor vehicles, with hundreds of millions of cars undertaking the same daily pilgrimage from home to workplace and back. Seeing smoke pouring from the exhaust of one of the numerous heavy trucks that muscled its way along the freeway, I reflected further on the inexorable thickening of an already-burdened atmosphere whose carbon dioxide levels have steadily risen over the past three years from 397 parts per million in July 2013 to over 401 parts per million in July 2015. So sad. So silly. So much for the increasingly desperate calls of James Hansen and Bill McKibben over the past 7 years.

While such notions were gently coursing through my mind, the eTag sitting on the windscreen gave an audible beep - the first in over a year - as I drove under a toll point situated above the freeway. I imagined a symphony of such beeps sounding in the cabins of every vehicle on that tollway and every other tollway operating in the world, and of the automatic siphoning of a dollar or two from bank accounts everywhere with each beep. It brought to mind the old saying, money makes the world go round - yet another of the many lies that help prop up dying empires.

It also vividly reminded me of the vast and invisible networks of humanly-made and modulated electromagnetic fields that track our motions, broadcast our voices, texts and images, guide our airliners and smart bombs, direct silent-gliding nuclear submarines with their calculated arsenals of ballistic missiles, and steer our spacecraft through the cold and empty reaches of interplanetary space.

The road then began to descend as the lines of cars on the freeway snaked towards the entrance of the Melba tunnel, a massive one and a half kilometre long marvel of engineering built in 2008. And I wondered: Is this what we came here for? To move at high speed along bitumen corridors? To pride ourselves on marvellously wrought feats of engineering? To spend our days travelling to and from the maze of towering citadels that canyon the business districts of cities throughout the world?

St. Vincent's Hospital Melbourne
Soon enough, we arrived at the end of a long queue of cars that slowly inched its way from the end of the freeway into the tangle of streets and humanity at the edge of Melbourne city. After finding a parking spot, with its own hungry meter devouring coins in exchange for an allotted time of respite from the army of eagle-eyed parking officers looking to further empty the pockets of those who didn't return to their cars on time, we made our way to the Daly Wing, one of the older sections of St. Vincent's Hospital, originally conceived through the vision of 5 nuns, Sisters of Charity who raised enough money over a four year period to purchase a large terrace house on Victoria Parade and set up a cottage hospital of 30 beds in 1893. It is now a sprawling multi-storey teaching complex of 400 beds that occupies several street blocks near the inner city.

As we passed through the hospital entrance, I noticed the presence of a cross carrying an image of the crucified Christ on the wall. I felt reassured by this powerful reminder of a love and an innocence that had endured unspeakable pain. It added a certain grace and depth to a morning that had otherwise been punctuated by the ubiquitous triumphalist monuments of a thoroughly secularised technological civilisation.

Medieval Hospital Ward
It also reminded me of the fact that a distinct lineage can be traced between the healing ministry of Jesus when he walked the streets and deserts of Palestine 2,000 years ago and the formation of the first hospitals in Europe by monastic groups and Christian communities. When the Emperor Julian took the throne and sought to re-paganise the Roman empire in 360 AD, he directed that State-funded hospitals or xenodochia be established in every city in the empire in order to counter the influence of the numerous healing ministries and houses of healing set up by early Christians. A decade later, Ephraim, Bishop of Syria set up a facility with 300 beds for those afflicted by the plague that hit Edessa in 372 AD. Most recently, the work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta has shown how fully the work of healing - even when all hope of physical survival is lost - is integral to the Christian mission.

On arrival at the reception desk, we were surprised to see so many people in the waiting area. Virtually all of the 70 or 80 seats were occupied while many other people were standing along the walls and in the corridor. A nurse with a clipboard was working her way through the room occasionally announcing in a loud voice that it was an unusually busy morning and that there could be some very long waits. Many were visibly disappointed and frustrated. It seemed that this was not the first time they had experienced such delays. One woman approached the nurse directly and was told that her appointment would probably be three to three and a half hours later than the scheduled time. The woman said she had another appointment in the afternoon that could not be put off and asked if she could book another time. The nurse informed her that the next available appointment would be in mid-October - some 8 weeks away.

I realised then how thin was the veneer of efficiency and sufficiency of the public hospital system in Melbourne - and probably most cities in the developed world. And this at a time of relative steadiness and stability. So if one is unwell or suffering from a disease, how is life to be lived out in the Sudan or the Congo? Or in Gaza, or Syria or other places afflicted by war and oppression? The certainties within which we live are all wafer thin. Yet we build our dreams and empires upon them.

Inside an MRI machine
It had been 7 years since I had last accompanied our younger daughter to St. Vincent's hospital. My remembrance of that time relates more to the technological hardware that is now integral to the biomedical project than the experience of individuals awaiting specialist medical care in the context of a public hospital. That occasion was also my first contact with nuclear medicine and the first time I had witnessed the sophisticated technical mastery embodied in a bone-scan machine. I will also never forget the late-night visit to the basement where the hospital's two MRI scanners costing between one and three million dollars apiece were operating constantly. Reaching the MRI suite through the basement corridors was a surrealistic wander through a labyrinthine network lined with large variously-coloured cables and pipes that vibrated to the sound of a constant low hum.

I began to understand how deeply the technological project had permeated virtually every aspect of biomedicine, the practice of which is now fully locked into technological civilisation beginning from the manufacture of drugs, to the analysis of blood samples, to the many visualisation technologies from fibre optiscopes to PET scanners, and the altogether extraordinary armamentaria routinely used in surgical procedures. Such a long, long way from the original vision of five prayerful women of action, the five Sisters of Charity who first opened the doors of Saint Vincent's Hospital in 1893.

Of Finer Fields and Gentler Ways

Yet there are some things that will never change.

As has been suggestively voiced so many times before, we do not live by bread alone. In the same way that the body has its sources of nourishment, so too do the soul and the spirit. This understanding would have been central to the mission of both the nuns and the small group of honorary physicians and surgeons who helped to staff St. Vincent's, the first Catholic hospital to be established in Melbourne. Apart from providing for the medical needs of patients, the hospital was also a place of prayer, a place where the transience of human life was consciously acknowledged, a place where the interpenetration of birth, life and death was experienced, a place where healing was sought not only from the administration of drugs and surgical procedures but from the power that invests the invisible world in which we live and move and have our being. We sit comfortably with the notion that the world is charged with invisible energies that connect us through our mobile phones and direct us through GPS devices. Yet there are many who would demur at the notion that intelligent, intentional energy in the form of spirit plays any part in the story of being human, that we participate in an entire nexus of influence of which the material world with all its man-made fields and man-made powers are only a small part.

Casa Sollievo Della Sofferenza
The healings performed by Jesus during the time that he walked the earth 2,000 years ago are not historical fantasies designed to placate the hopes of the credulous and the gullible. Such healing power has ever been one of the gifts of the Spirit described by Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. This has manifested historically and continues to manifest daily in such places of pilgrimage as Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy, and Medjugorje in Bosnia. There is no shortage of documentation of such phenomena for those who would care to search it out. Yet, to paraphrase Bernadette Soubirous, the seer of Lourdes whose waters have over the past one and a half centuries brought healing to tens of thousands of individuals, there are some for whom no proof is sufficient while there are others for whom no proof is necessary.

Padre Pio of Pietrelcina not only brought about numerous remarkable healings through his own charism, but in the immediate post-World War II period personally oversaw the funding and construction of a large modern hospital, La Casa Sollievo Della Sofferenza that has recently been described as "one of the best equipped hospitals in all of Europe." Despite the fact that he was intimately familiar with the reality of divinely-mediated healing, he never ceased to encourage those who would be healers to not only make use of all the material fruits of human ingenuity made available through technology and medicine, but to ceaselessly draw their inspiration from divine reality. In his Prayer for Healers, Padre Pio says:
Illuminate our intelligence in the pursuit of an understanding of the pain and difficulties caused by the numerous afflictions that can assail our bodies until, by skilfully availing ourselves of the findings of science, the causes of sickness no longer remain hidden to us. By your grace, may we be neither deceived nor mistaken regarding the nature of our patients' symptoms, but with sure judgement, select the best remedies or treatments that have been made available through your Divine Providence.
But there are times when powers other than those carried in the best remedies and treatments manifest in human reality.

Healings at Medjugorje

The video clip below offers an extraordinary personal account of two dramatic healings that have occurred at Medjugorje in Bosnia. The testimony offered by Polish priest Fr. Peter Glas challenges to the core the world-view that systematically denies the existence of divine power or of a miraculous dimension capable of acting upon human reality. It also offers considerable insight into the charism that can be made manifest when priests truly become priests. Try not be put off by the first couple of minutes with its American style talk-show introduction. A remarkable tale from which much can be drawn is told by Fr. Peter Glas in the 25 minutes that follow.

Vincent Di Stefano D.O., N.D., M.H.Sc.
Inverloch, August 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015

Seeds of Hope for a Hopeless Wasteland

On July 8th 2014, Israel launched its "Operation Protective Edge" upon Gaza. Such assaults have become a regular part of the Israeli calendar in recent years. During the seven weeks of bombardment, 2,132 inhabitants of Gaza - 500 of whom were children - were killed. A further 11,100 were injured. Following the pattern of all such recent assaults, most of the casualties were civilian non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and 5 civilians were killed, while 69 civilians were injured by rocket fire.

During the 7 weeks of bombardment, over 500,000 Palestinians - about a third of the entire population of Gaza - were driven from their homes, with most needing emergency food assistance. Over 270,000 civilians took refuge in the 90 United Nations schools in Gaza. Meanwhile, over 12,000 housing units were completely destroyed and a further 150,000 homes were damaged by bombs, mortar fire, and the actions of ground troops.

Seven months later, not a single home destroyed by the Israeli military in 2014 has been rebuilt.

Despite the apparent abandonment and near-universal silence regarding the situation in both Gaza and the West Bank, there are some voices who continue to call for justice and humanity to be exercised in the moral wasteland that Israel/Palestine has become.

For those with the Time, the Patience and the Will

A few days ago, the National Press Club in Washington posted videos of a conference examining the role of the Israel Lobby within the US in maintaining and supporting the deeply flawed policies that have riven the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis for many decades now. One of the panels featured Israeli author and activist Miko Peled, outspoken Israeli journalist Gideon Levi, and Palestinian/American lawyer Huwaida Arraf.

Miko Peled is of aristocratic Zionist lineage. His grandfather, Avraham Katsnelson was a prominent Zionist political figure and a signatory to the Israeli Declaration of Independence that established the State of Israel in 1948. His father, Mattityahu Peled was a member of the Israeli High Command and served as Major General during the 6-Day War of 1967. Immediately after the war, he urged that Israeli forces withdraw from all occupied territories. Constantly frustrated in his efforts, he resigned from the Israeli Defense Force within two years and devoted much of his energy thereafter to the cause of peace in Israel/Palestine. Mattityahu Peled was also a serious scholar who founded the Arabic Language and Literature Department at Tel Aviv University. During his latter years, Peled actively campaigned against Israeli militarism and the systematic violation of human rights by Israel in the occupied territories.

Gideon Levy needs little introduction. He has long been known and honoured as a clear-headed, courageous and deeply knowledgeable journalist for Haaretz, Israel's oldest daily newspaper. A week after the bombing of Gaza commenced in 2014 (by which time 200 people in Gaza had been killed and a further 1,000 injured), Levy wrote an article which called upon Israeli pilots to "refuse to take part in this death squadron." For this, he received many death threats. He was given the protection of bodyguards by his publisher. Gideon Levy carries a rare wisdom honed by deep familiarity with the violence that has seared the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis for decades.

Palestinian/American lawyer Huwaida Arraf was among a delegation from the U.S. National Lawyers Guild who visited Gaza in February 2009 to document the illegal excesses of the Israeli Defense Force during their Operation Cast Lead. She was also witness to the murder of 9 passengers on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara by Israeli forces in May 2010 and was the chair of the Free Gaza Movement which organised the Gaza Freedom Flotillas.

This powerful recent discussion makes clear - yet again - the degree of collusion that has taken place between the State of Israel and most western governments in their disregard for the well-being and for the freedoms of Palestinians in Israel/Palestine.

Vincent Di Stefano D.O., M.H.Sc.
April 2015

Further Sources

1. In February 2014, Miko Peled gave a powerful and broad-ranging presentation at the Institute of Public Relations in Prague. He lays to rest the fairy-tale narrative of the creation of the State of Israel that western powers cleave to in their continued support for Israeli policies. As a result of such policies, 4.3 million Palestinian continue to live in refugee camps with little food, little water, little sewerage and poor nutrition seven decades - three generations - after they were driven from their traditional lands. Video of his talk can be accessed here.

2. On the 12th April 2015, the Association of International Development Agencies issued a new paper: "Charting a New Course. Overcoming the stalemate in Gaza." This distressing report highlights the degree of prevarication that has impeded all attempts to bring even the semblance of a liveable life to the men, women and children of Gaza after the devastation caused by the 7-week long Israeli assault during July and August 2014. A pdf copy of the report is available here.

3. "Slouching Towards Gaza" is an Integral Reflections production originally posted in December 2013. It offers audio collage of poetry, music, and contemporary commentary that addresses many lesser-known aspects of the history of Israel/Palestine. It includes the voices of Tanya Reinhart, Ilan Pappe, Richard Falk, Robert Fisk, Chris Hedges and Edward Said among others.

 Slouching Towards Gaza can be streamed using the media player above, or downloaded along with a substantive accompanying essay here.

Northern Gaza, April 2015

With thanks to Binu Mathew of Countercurrents for making available Ludwig Watzal's article "The United States of Israel" which has prompted this further explication.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On Finding Other Ways

At a certain point, words become pointless. After generating the 38 treatises of his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas lay down his quill in a supremely eloquent statement of the limitations of written text. Not a few who have sought to use the written word as a way of transformation and illumination have since concurred with the angelic doctor's conclusions.

The intervening centuries since Aquinas have brought us to greater apparent freedoms where, through the ambivalent graces of technological civilisation, the oral, the aural and the visual have become more available to us as ways of knowing the nature of this world and its perturbations.

Yet all of the written words, all of the spoken words and all of the images in the world have done little to alter our perverse determination to pursue the ways of perdition disguised as gain, to stridently claim our freedom to do what we want whenever we want to, to ruinously wage war without end without thought of the destruction of humans, of households and of the institutions and infrastructures of civil society, to enslave the hungry and the desperate in distant places in order to fill further the already surfeited shelves of our retail spaces, and to voraciously acquire wealth through whatever means can be gotten away with.

So how are we to awaken from the privileged slumber that disregards the torment and lost hopes of those who are ensnared in the chaos wrought by hubristic leaders and their bloated industrial and military establishments?

Yet there may be some goodwill. Look carefully between the lines served up in the soporific tabloids that litter the world and you may find an occasional impassioned call for justice, an occasional reflection on the crookedness of the times. Yet the wheel relentless turns, often crushing those who happen to find themselves in its path. We just don't seem to get it, while both elected and autocratic rulers get away with it all the time.

There are some who would shrug and call this the inevitable fruit of fallen human nature. But the blood-soaked earth and generations of grieving mothers bear witness to the folly of war. Meanwhile, we continue to prepare for the waging of war without end. It's good for business they say. Thus the whole inglorious human history.

Small wonder, then, that we remain benumbed even in the midst of the escalating predicament within which we collectively find ourselves, where the earth's finely wrought systems that balance the concentration of gases within the atmosphere, that maintain the fertility of forests, bushlands and prairies, and that regulate the composition and flow of oceanic waters are now irretrievable damaged by the ferocity and violence of technological civilisation.

The Thickening Air

I still remember clearly the reflections of a young family member on her return from Japan a few years ago. She spoke of the vividness and the ubiquity of neon light that nightly sears and punctuates the sky scape of Japanese cities. Her recollection brought to mind my own earlier experiences of night-time descents into the airports of Melbourne and Sydney. Astronauts circling the earth in their amazing machines have similarly identified the cities of the earth as brightly glowing zones in an otherwise starkly darkened night scape.

How are we to sensitively interact with our circumstances in ways that are appropriate to our present situation? How are we to deal with the contradictions inherent in meticulously replacing all our household light bulbs with new low-energy forms while the empty but well-illuminated buildings throughout the cities of the world everywhere brighten the night sky? Are we mindful of the irony of installing solar panels on our roofs knowing that over 4 thousand million tons of coal are burned up in China every year - equivalent to three tons of coal for every Chinese man, woman and child - and that over seven hundred coal-fired power plants were built in China in the seven years between 2005-2011?

Perhaps we may get it on a personal level, but we still don't seem to get it collectively. Some of us can still recall David Suzuki's cautions delivered on his visits to Australia during the 1980s. Many of us have seen Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth produced in 2006. We even dared to hope that sanity might prevail when Ross Garnaut put out his courageous call in 2008. Then came the serial collapse of the United Nations Climate Talks beginning with Copenhagen in 2009 and ending most recently in the non-event at Lima in December 2014.

Garnaut's visionary suggestions have been effectively castrated. Never mind that Australia is the second largest exporter of coal on the planet, producing 400 million tons of coal each year - over 17 tons of coal per year for every man, woman and child in this country. Under the so-called leadership of Tony Abbott and the Australian Liberal Party, lukewarm politicians have seen fit to completely abandon the carbon tax that the Labour Party had been trying to implement since 2008. Such knowledgeable and committed commentators as James Hansen and Bill McKibben are of the view that taxing carbon is the only way to effectively rein in inexorably escalating global emissions. Meanwhile, both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have just reported that 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded.

There may be other factors at work in all of this. Seen in organic terms, we live in a senescent civilisation that has expropriated and squandered its collective reserves, needlessly vitiating its own powers in the process. The great forests of the earth have been decimated. The once-vast shoals of fish in our oceans have similarly been ruined. Mighty mountains of metal have levelled and smelted on every continent. But unlike the coming of age in nature, our civilisation appears not to be losing its appetite, but becomes increasingly voracious.

And of Tomorrow?

While President Obama plans for the next wave of space excursions that will initially aim for a manned landing on a large asteroid before a more ambitious landing on Mars, and while both Chinese and Russian scientists make plans to harvest tritium from the moon's surface to fuel the next generation of fusion reactors, we have yet to comprehend the enormity of the damage already done to the earth and the need for determined collective action if we are to retain any hope for a liveable future for our children and their generations.

It's not that we don't have the knowledge or the means of changing our present course. We just haven't grasped that the earth has her limits.

Over the past century, we have experienced two of the most destructive wars in human history. More than seventy million people, including forty seven million non-combatants, were killed in World War II alone. These are mind-numbing numbers, impossible to comprehend. The great cities of Warsaw, Dresden, Hamburg, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were all destroyed, and vast charnel grounds were created in the war fields of Europe, Russia and North Africa. Yet we somehow recovered. We rebuilt, restored, repopulated and relentlessly raced towards the next calamitous round that now confronts us.

The Cold War may have ended, but the US and Russia continue to harbour over 15,000 nuclear warheads between them. And a further 1,000 nuclear weapons are held by the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel. Does the thought of overkill come anywhere into the lexicon, let alone the imagination, of politicians and military planners?

Are our written words to be as dust, scattered in a gathering wind? Are our calls for peace ever to be understood by those who move lines on maps? Will sanity ever carry the day in the face of growing environmental and ecological calamities? Will we ever find the will to find new ways of being on the earth?

Vincent Di Stefano D.O., M.H.Sc.
January 2015

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

There Are No Good Wars

Gaza, January 2009
There is no such thing as a good war. Debates have been carried on for centuries regarding the justness or otherwise of the declaration and the prosecution of war, but every war has inevitably left devastated nations and convulsions of misery in its wake.

The notion of war is loaded and complex. It is tinged with elements of heroism and cruelty, of nobility and barbarism, of honour and depravity, of idealism and cynicism. Acts of war are always enacted upon an other, be that other an individual, a tribe or a nation. Inherent in such acts is a conviction regarding the truth and the righteousness of one’s own position and the error and worthlessness of that held by the other.

Yet no one group can ever be entirely aligned with the true and the good regardless of the delusional rhetoric that springs from all sides in justification for acts of war.

The process of civilisation has tempered the views of every nation regarding the nature and purpose of war. It has generated castes and institutions that willingly and consciously concern themselves with developing an ethos to guide those who would take on the role of warrior or protector of their people. This has been understood as necessary to ensure the safety and security of those within the community who are not in a position to protect themselves from the organised actions of hostile forces intent on destroying the peace for whatever reason.

Even as a purely pragmatic response to the historic experience of war and its consequences, the organisation of warrior castes and their associated institutions has enabled the cultivation of disciplined readiness, the capacity for skilled negotiation and, in its failure, a preparedness to engage wilful and belligerent opponents skilfully, decisively and fairly. Such institutions were developed during periods when warfare was engaged face-to-face, warrior-to-warrior, field-to-field. One acted and reacted in the field of battle and the effects of one’s skill and fortune - or lack thereof - were immediately visible and irrevocable.

Gaza, November 2012
Everything has now changed. Rules of engagement may be formulated and invoked, but acts of war as we have come to know them in the present age are planned and executed at a distance by men who have never seen the living face of war and its monstrous consequences. The clash of sabre on sabre has been muted for centuries.

The booming of artillery and the crackling of bullets have pierced and sundered the past twenty decades. The slow dance of aerial engagement that once tested the reflexes and determination of young pilots during the so-called Great War has been replaced by infernal powers that thunderously impel silicon-guided missiles to their well-mapped targets. And this is all done at a safe distance by those with the hardware and the know-how.

But who truly knows the consequences of such acts apart from those unfortunates in the line of fire, and those heroic individuals who witness and document the human reality of what is otherwise counted in the ledger of contemporary jargon as anonymous casualties and collateral damage?

The men who flew Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the sweetly named Little Boy into the lives of the people of Hiroshima, witnessed - albeit at a distance - the immensity of their action. So too did the crew of the Bockscar that delivered its terrible cargo Fat Man to the unsuspecting women and children of Nagasaki three days later.

In the present disregard of such direct witnessing, F-16 fighter jets, remotely controlled missiles, pilot-less drones and distant tanks deliver their lethal loads out of sight and often out of mind of those who direct these deadly forces.

In this new perversion of warfare that has shaken and shattered the nations of the earth over the past two centuries, it is ever the innocents who have suffered most grievously. The true warrior has always lived with the knowledge that his chosen role may cost him his life. But the great majority of lives taken in contemporary acts of war are those of innocents.

The largely forgotten millions who were herded into the killing camps of the Nazis, the hundreds of thousands who were flayed and ashed in the fire-bombings of Dresden and Tokyo and in the atomic sackings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the 500,000 children of Iraq whose young lives were taken by the silent and covert consequences of twelve years of crippling sanctions that kept a despot in power and a people exhausted, the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been squandered in the Iraqi misadventure driven by George Bush and Tony Blair, the thousands of families in Afghanistan and Pakistan who continue to grieve the loss of their loved ones from past volleys of air-strikes, and the thousands of women and children blown apart in Gaza from Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009 to Operation Protective Edge at the present time are all tragic witnesses to the fact that it has all gone horribly wrong.

Gaza, July 2014
Rule by force can never succeed. People can never be bludgeoned into peace. How long does it take to learn that no one is entirely right, that no one is entirely wrong? How long will it take before the cultivation of wisdom and sensitivity to the needs of those one aspires to represent become high values in those who would lead their people? How long must we wait before the principles of fairness, compassionate advocacy, reasoned and reasonable negotiation and the acceptance of difference become the keystones of political office and enlightened governance?

The times ahead will require precisely these attributes. 

The work has barely begun in the task of saving what yet can be saved and of putting aside those entrenched practices that darken further an already darkening future. The earth and her people have for too long now been lashed by cruel assaults of increasing violence, power and destructiveness. Where will it end?

Vincent Di Stefano D.O., M.H.Sc.
July 2014