An interview with Dr Joseph Gerson
Dr Joseph Gerson was in Australia for a speaking tour to four cities as the guest of the Sydney Hiroshima Day Committee. Dr Gerson is president of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, vice president of the International Peace Bureau, and the author of Empire and the Bomb: How the U.S. Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World.
While he was in Australia for the annual commemorations of the 1945 atomic bombings by the USA of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Guardian took the opportunity to interview him.
Guardian: Do you see or hear much evidence that Australia is important to the US?
JG: What we mostly hear about is Pine Gap and its role in intelligence collection in the US network of over 1,000 bases worldwide.
Pine Gap is very important in its role in the militarisation of space. The US is seeking to control space. This control is essential for running its wars whether they are drone, conventional, or nuclear wars. The base provides navigation for missile guidance and Pine Gap is especially important in that regard.
We have heard about the new Marine base in Darwin. This is clearly part of the US campaign to surround China, in preparation for military conflict with China.
There is also the geopolitical situation. Australia is located in the vicinity of the South China Sea, control of the Western Pacific and up into the Indian Ocean. If you were located say where Tanzania is, then Australia would be much less important.
Guardian: Why did you accept the invitation to come to Australia?
JG: Honestly there is always the sense of curiosity but I must say that I pushed myself to do this trip after an arduous time in Japan because Australia has the potential to play a significant role in opening nuclear arms policy diplomacy.
The nuclear prohibition treaty is important step in moving towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. It has a possibility to build power from the non-nuclear weapons states against the nuclear weapons states.
The nuclear states have to fulfill their treaty obligations to campaign for the elimination of these weapons but so far they have not bothered to act on those provisions. If 50 countries like Tonga, Tanzania, Venezuela and Cuba sign the treaty, this does not bother or influence nuclear states and the US in particular.
Not that we are denigrating those countries but when or if a so called ‘umbrella state’ like Australia, South Korea, Japan or a NATO state signs that treaty this would be much more powerful and influential. This would say that these states are so worried about human survival that they are willing to break with alliances by joining the call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
This move has the possibility of exerting a strong tug on the illegitimate consensus that exists among nuclear weapons states. We need the nuclear umbrella states to have the courage to step outside and challenge the international order based on the fear of genocide and even omnicide (the elimination of all life on this planet).
If we can get Australia as a key umbrella state to reject nuclear weapons then a significant step would be taken to exert the kind of pressure we need on the nuclear weapons states and the US in particular.
Guardian: You have come to us via Japan where you spent time in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Can you comment on how well the movement for nuclear disarmament is doing in Japan?
JG: Japan is one of the very few countries where you have a social movement committed to nuclear disarmament. This grows out of the history that Japan is quite literally the only country to be attacked with nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fact that the country suffered from the effect of the Bikini tests which irradiated a number of Japanese fishermen as well their food supplies.
They know what nuclear weapons do the way most of the rest of the world don’t so their movement is fairly strong,
I was at the World Conference against Hydrogen and Atomic Bombs which brought together about 9,000 people from across Japan for a rally. It was also attended by about 100 delegates including some highly placed diplomats to exchange information and to do some joint planning.
In Japan the culture is different and a major way they organize is through petition campaigns. In 2010 and 2015, at the time of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), they brought to the United Nations about 7 million petition signatures.
None of these were collected on the internet but they were collected by people going out to workplaces, the streets and other public places with a petition calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. They shipped them to the United States and presented them to the President of the NPT review conference and to UN officials.
They are now in the process of following up on a petition modeled on the ‘Stockholm appeal’ from the 1950s during the Korean War. Their aim is not to get 7 or 10 million signatures but hundreds of millions of signatures.
One thing all Australians can do is to take this petition off the web and to promote here.
Their way of doing it is a little bit different to the way we would do it in the United States. They don’t begin by going out to the street corner to gather signatures. First they go to Governors, City Councils Mayors and they get those ‘notables’ to sign. This encourages other people down the line to do it and it also gets them some media attention.
In addition to the encouragement that the Japanese movement gives internationally it also creates a break on Japanese nuclear ambitions. The goal of having half the population signing a nuclear petition sends a powerful message to the military and Government
Guardian: As an outside observer, what similarities have you noticed about Australian and US militarism?
JG: I found similarities and differences. The similarities are the degree of militarism and culture mixing which is very dangerous.
I am struck by the exulting role and myth of ANZAC from World War 1. I wrote to friends this morning explaining that it was counter intuitive that Australians by the thousands were openly sacrificed in a war that had no meaning.
It was ostensibly in the West a ‘war to end all wars’ but in essence it was a war for greater power between the British Empire and the rising German Empire. For this thousands of Australians risked and lost their lives and now somehow this is to be honoured? It was a huge mistake and people should learn from that mistake rather than reify it.
The reality of the Australian-US alliance is that Australia plays such a junior role. It means that Australians have been involved in US wars for empire whether it be in Korea, South Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. This should be a source of shame and embarrassment for Australia.
I was in Canberra briefly and looking at the layout of the city, there is a major road that leads up to the monuments of all wars Australians have participated in. Australians need to look at the sadness and tragedy of that and consider that there are far better things that could be honored in Australian history and culture.
In the United State after the Vietnam War we had what was known as the ‘Vietnam syndrome’. Across the culture there was a perception that this war had been wrong, that young men and women had been unnecessarily sacrificed and for a period of time this served as a break on US foreign and military intervention.
This was consciously attacked by the 1991 Gulf War with President Bush saying we had ‘to create a new world order’ and certainly after 9/11 we are in position where the military in the United States is increasing reified.
The Pentagon spends millions and millions of dollars for advertising, to have military ceremonies in football matches and baseball games. So we are now in period where the military is the most highly respected institution in the United States. This is deeply concerning to us both in relation to present and future wars but also as a threat to our democracy.
It should also be deeply concerning to people around the world and especially to people in Australia who are likely to get co-opted and to those who may be at the other end of the guns.
Guardian: You travelled to four different regions of Australia. What are your impressions of the peace movement in this country from what you’ve seen?
JG: I am impressed with the spectrum of who is involved in the movement. You’ve got the left, left labour, those across the religious sector, medical professionals, and a number of scholars. That’s an impressive base to have. I have also been impressed by the movement’s ability to work with this cross section of people.
The big sign of hope is the support for the nuclear ban treaty from the Greens and at least by the pledge of many ALP members of Parliament. So one can imagine that if the Liberals are ousted from power there will be room for Australians to struggle to get the ban treaty signed.
If that happens that will move the Australian movement to the height of visibility and respect of the world’s peace and justice movement.
My guess is that if this opening appears there will be ‘push back’ from the United States on Labor and from Britain as well. This will have to be a time when the peace movement moves into a very high gear to keep the pressure on them.