Pine Gap and the Nobel prize the Oz government ignores

p2220-Russell-GoldflamCOMMENT by RUSSELL GOLDFLAM

 

I am on a plane to Perth, to visit my father. He turned 89 the other day. That in itself is something of a miracle given that when he was still a child almost his entire extended family was murdered: my dad, his parents and his little sister got out of Germany in the nick of time and somehow made it by boat to Western Australia.

 

Consequently, I grew up in the shadow of annihilation, not that we talked about it much. But still. When I got to my teens the Australian Government started a grotesque lottery, the 19 year old winners of which got shipped off to kill foreign Communists.

 

The reason we needed to kill these foreign Communists eluded me. Moreover, having been forced to join the cadets at school and lug a .303 around the footy field had been bad enough, and the prospect of crawling through a jungle while being shot at by an unseen enemy scared the shit out of me.

 

When I studied history and politics at university in Perth, I discovered that the Vietnam War wasn’t merely unnecessary, unjust and unwinnable: it was also criminal and insane. I decided that even if my number came up, I was not going. Fortunately, however, a few months before my 19th birthday it was time, and Gough got in and abolished the draft.
As I take off on this flight to see my dad, Pine Gap’s nest of spider-eggs comes into view. When it was commissioned in 1969, I was in my last year at school. Over the next decade, what with the Vietnam moratorium campaign and women’s liberation and the land rights movement and the sexual revolution and various other distractions, I was only dimly aware, if at all, of Pine Gap’s existence.

 

2465 Pine Gap 1 OKBut then, in 1981, I came to live in Alice Springs. My new boss was Yami Lester, the Director of the Institute for Aboriginal Development. I’d never had a Yankunyjatjara boss before. Indeed, I’d only ever met a handful of Aboriginal people.

 

I hadn’t had a blind boss before either, not that this seemed to limit Yami. Yami opened my eyes. He took me to places of haunting beauty on his country adjacent to the lands that had been so casually contaminated by the black Maralinga mist, which he told me had cost him his sight.

 

My flight to Perth skirts the northern fringe of Yami’s country, and so joins for me the dots of Pine Gap, Maralinga and Perth, from where I’d escaped conscription and to where my father had found refuge from the holocaust.

 

The month before I arrived in Alice and met Yami Lester, a small group of locals had organised the first protest against Pine Gap, out of which was formed the Alice Springs Peace Group.

 

And so within weeks of settling into my new job and my new community, I gravitated into the peace movement. In 1983 I helped support the first mass protest against Pine Gap, the Women For Survival camp inspired by their sisters’ actions at Greenham Common. That put Pine Gap onto the national political map.

 

The Alice Springs Peace Group grew in size and influence. We were a founding member of the National Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition, which in its heyday boasted over a hundred affiliated organisations. Our most ambitious event was a protest camp-cum-conference exactly thirty years ago, in October 1987, at which we assembled activists from all over the Indian-Pacific region to share their stories of struggle. Hundreds of us got ourselves arrested climbing over the Pine Gap perimeter fence.

 

In those days an Alice Springs Peace Group rally would attract over 400 locals, a remarkable number for a town of about 20,000. But despite – or perhaps because of – our creativity and our youth and our passion, in some quarters we were loathed. Conservative politicians (and all the elected politicians in Alice Springs were conservatives back then) dismissed us as dole-bludgers and hippies and Communists and malodorous trouble-makers.

 

Their primary objective, I suppose, was to demonise and marginalise us, to prevent us from being taken seriously, to minimise the chance that people would sit up and take notice.

 

And I have to say that our opponents were largely successful. As the threat of imminent nuclear catastrophe receded following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War, popular support for the peace movement in Alice Springs, across Australia and indeed world-wide dwindled.

 

The superpowers reduced their deadly stockpiles from 60,000 nuclear warheads to a mere 15,000. (Of course, even one such weapon may have the capacity to inflict mass destruction, killing millions, and rendering entire regions uninhabitable for aeons.) The Alice Springs Peace Group Inc. wound up in the early 1990s, although various other groups have continued to carry on the good work of waging peace in Alice Springs.

 

One such group, and an indefatigable ally of the Alice Springs Peace Group in the 1980s, is the Australian Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW), which in turn is part of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).

 

Given that they are sworn to alleviate suffering, it is unsurprising that so many doctors have a deep commitment to the peace movement. In 2007, a group of Melbourne MAPW members, together with a handful of other strategically-minded and deep-thinking peace activists, including some I had got to know through their involvement in the 1980s Pine Gap protests, came up with a new approach to the core issue of nuclear disarmament.

 

The problem was that the members of the “Nuclear Club” had slowed, stymied and all but stopped the progress towards disarmament made after the Cold War. It was apparent that they were keen to keep the Club closed, but had no intention of shutting it down.

 

p2357-pine-gap-protest-2In the meantime, however, there had been great success in galvanising world opinion and diplomatic activity to abolish other abhorrent forms of warfare, namely biological weapons, chemical weapons and land mines. And so these rather modest and moderate Melbourne men and women decided to call for a new international campaign using the model of the then very recently successful movement to abolish land mines.

 

To that end they set up ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. ICAN’s premise, and its promise, are disarmingly simple: stop fiddling around with technical arguments about how many nuclear weapons it’s OK to have, and how powerful they’re allowed to be, and what delivery systems are permissible.

 

Just make them illegal. All of them: outlaw nuclear war. And, as ethical, elegant, simple ideas sometimes do, this one caught on. In July this year, ICAN’s quiet work was rewarded when the UN held a signing ceremony for the International Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 122 countries supported it.

 

It already has almost enough signatories to be ratified. Predictably, none of the members of the Nuclear Club, now numbering nine, showed up. Shamefully, neither did Australia. It seems that the realpolitik of the US/Australian military alliance and our intractable entanglement – pre-eminently by way of Pine Gap – in the US warfighting machine, dictate that our nation turn its back on the most important initiative to avert nuclear catastrophe the world has seen in a generation.

 

Not only that, but the apron-strings we’ve tied ourselves to are now being pulled by a leader who has amped up the bellicose rhetoric, and reportedly wants to ramp up the US nuclear arsenal by 10 times. Whether that’s fake news or not, there is no doubt Trump is dragging his nation – and ours – perilously closer to the abyss of the unthinkable.

 

And then, just the other day, what did little ICAN do? It won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Oh my. The Australian Government of course, given its embarrassing stand against the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, could hardly be expected to congratulate ICAN, let alone its founding heroes, that little mob in Melbourne. And the Australian Government didn’t. No keys to the city. No civic receptions. No honours. No glory. No words of praise. But I can, ICAN. You bloody beauties!

 

From the spider-eggs of Pine Gap, past the black mist of Maralinga, to my memories of Perth and all the way back to the ashes of the holocaust from which my old dad escaped, let’s join the dots, because the dots tell us a story and teach us a lesson. Lest we forget. Never again.

 

 

 

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28 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. David
    Posted October 22, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    As former President Obama said, he’s not against war, he’s just against dumb wars. Australia has been involved in too many dumb wars.

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  2. J Munster
    Posted October 21, 2017 at 5:58 am

    Thank you Russell for sharing your family history, your own personal journey, and the lessons you have learnt. You have eloquently joined the dots.

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  3. Graham Tjilpi Buckley
    Posted October 20, 2017 at 11:07 am

    Going back nearly two decades Mr Brown’s comments remind me of the succinct depiction by the long celebrated The Age cartoonist, Tandberg.
    It featured the then Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett.
    There was Jeff with a huge open mouth and one of his feet firmly planted in it.

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  4. Hal Duell
    Posted October 20, 2017 at 10:35 am

    Thank you, Russell, for sharing your family’s history. Your grandfather showed great foresight in first getting out of Germany and, later, moving to Australia.
    Back to the present, and while I repeat that the Nobel Peace Prize being given to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons came as a most welcome bolt out of the blue, I can see one big problem in trying to implement its agenda.
    Looking at the world today, the hot wars are being waged against countries without nuclear capabilities. These are mostly across the Middle East and in north and sub-saharan Africa. No one is seriously contemplating starting a hot war against countries with a nuclear deterrent, whether they be the big three of Russia, China and the USA or the second tier countries of England, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel, blustering and posturing notwithstanding.
    Looked at in this light, having nuclear weapons makes good sense. Would that it were not so, but, unfortunately, it is.

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  5. Russell Goldflam
    Posted October 20, 2017 at 8:32 am

    For the record, when Hitler was elected in 1933, my grandfather, a Jew who had migrated from his native Poland to Germany in the 1920s to make a better life for himself and his young family, immediately saw the writing on the wall.
    He packed up, leaving behind the good little business he had built up, and moved to Palestine.
    Life in Palestine was exceptionally hard. My Yiddishe grandmother had a job breaking rocks in a road gang. When a chance came to go to a land where there really was milk and honey, they grabbed it. They arrived in Fremantle in 1937.
    I’m glad my article has stirred so much discussion, but I’d prefer, for all our readers, that it was conducted, as Alex Nelson asks, without any nastiness or name-calling.

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  6. Ross Chippendale
    Posted October 20, 2017 at 4:01 am

    Dear Robert, I am totally unaware that “contemplation” of any kind can be prevented. It’s the creation of something that matters, is it not?
    And thank you for your martyrdom, someone has to do it. As long as it’s someone else.

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  7. Posted October 19, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    @ Robert Hall (Posted October 19, 2017 at 10:20 am): In October 1983 the annual Alice Art Prize was held at the Nurses Lounge at the Alice Springs Hospital. The NT Government sponsored a special category, The Golden Jubilee Award, to mark the 50th anniversary of the official renaming of the township of Stuart to Alice Springs.
    The controversial winning entry was by Dr Jenny Gray, whose work of “a nine-panel quilted piece in satin” depicted the progression of a nuclear explosion behind Mt Gillen.
    In the front page story (November 2, 1983) about this award, Dr Gray was described as “a member of a world-wide organisation of doctors, the Medical Association for the Prevention of War.
    “She said its main aim was to inform the public of the medical consequences of nuclear war, in the hope that people would urge governments towards disarmament.
    “World-wide membership stood at 35,000 with 1000 members in Australia. Eight medical practitioners in Alice Springs belonged to the association.”
    This event occurred more than a month prior to the women’s protest at Pine Gap that year and clearly shows that Robert Hall’s claim to be the sole representative of MAPW in the Northern Territory at the time appears to be incorrect.
    As it turns out, the greatest moment of danger from nuclear conflict during the entire Cold War occurred on September 26, 1983 – probably about the time Dr Gray was stitching her quilt for the Alice Art Prize – and it had nothing to do with Pine Gap or the Americans.
    A Soviet spy satellite alerted a military command centre in Moscow that the US had launched a few nuclear missiles towards the USSR. The officer on duty, Stanislav Petrov (who died a few months ago), chose to regard this warning as a false alarm thereby averting a nuclear catastrophe.
    It turned out that the offending Soviet satellite had interpreted sunlight reflecting off clouds as missiles that had just been launched from America.
    Nobody in the West knew anything about this event until after the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly a decade later.

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  8. John Bell
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 11:09 am

    @ Alex Nelson. Jewish refugees pre-WW2. I have never forgotten the story of the SS St Louis, told to me in 1955 by my grade 5 teacher at St Pius X primary school, Sister Mary Gangolfa, a Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart, recently arrived in Oz from the Black Forest to teach the sons and daughters of young WW2 veterans.
    Nearly 1000 desperate Jewish women and children sailed from Hamburg in 1939 to escape the Nazis. They headed for Cuba, where the ship was refused landing. No one wanted them. Because they were Jews. Shunned, they returned to Belgium, where many eventually died in WW2. I can understand why Russell has become a peacenik, with no disrespect using that word. It’s an admirable cause.

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  9. Robert Hall
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Back in 1983 I was the sole member of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War in the NT. I recall the women’s protest against Pine Gap well. I offered MAPW’s solidarity with the women in their efforts to remove the base. I think I was under observation, since there was a car outside my flat for that week, with someone sitting in it.
    It’s been, and continues to be, a long road. We cannot allow nuclear weapons to be contemplated, and we must find peaceful ways to resolve conflict.
    I have spent my career trying to make the world a better place for the next generations, by working for the elimination of crippling diseases like polio, measles, rubella and hepatitis B. None of this work is of any value if we are all incinerated in a nuclear war.

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  10. Posted October 18, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    @ Steve Brown and @ Hal Duell: I don’t know the personal circumstances and timing of Russell Goldflam’s family leaving Nazi Germany; however, historically Jewish people were fleeing or being expelled from Germany prior to the commencement of the Second World War in September 1939 and long before Japan’s entry into the Pacific theatre in December 1941.
    Some of those refugees made it to Australia before the war or very early in that conflict. A notable example was the British passenger ship Dunera which transported German and Italian “enemy aliens”, including Jewish refugees, sailing to Australia from July to September 1940, a period of time that saw the fall of France and the Low Countries to Nazi Germany and the onslaught of the Battle of Britain – this was more than a year before the USA and Japan entered the war.
    One person on board that ship was Doug Boerner, who came to Alice Springs during the war and made his home here (he passed away in 2000).
    Russell Goldflam has written an eloquent contribution for the Alice Springs News Online and provides a very interesting perspective which isn’t personally familiar to me. I don’t agree with all that he has written but I see no need to respond with the vicious rudeness expressed by at least one correspondent to this story.

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  11. Steve Brown
    Posted October 18, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    @ Hal: My reference is to Russell’s dad escaping the Germans and arriving in Australia.
    Given that he escaped Germany during WW2, if he then set out for Australia he would have arrived during Australia’s greatest hour of peril, facing an imminent Japanese invasion.
    Out of the frying pan almost into the fire, bar for the intervention of the USA.

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  12. Hal Duell
    Posted October 18, 2017 at 10:44 am

    @Steve Brown
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 6:28 pm
    No argument with what you say about the war in the Pacific, but try as I might, I cannot place that theatre between Japan and Germany.
    I can, however, place Mao’s Eighth Route Army there, but if we are to look at that it would mean opening a whole new chapter into who did what in WWII.
    As to stability, the Korean war waged from 1950 to the present day has not brought stability, the war in Vietnam did not bring stability, the current kerfuffle in the South China Sea is not bringing stability and the annual Talisman Sabre is not bringing stability.
    However, Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 did open a road to stability, but that was an exercise in diplomacy, not sabre rattling.

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  13. John Bell
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    @Nadine Williams. “We are the future, we are the link”. Such wonderful inspiring marching music lyrics!. Reminds me of the Good old days of peace activism and the stirring calls to arms (so to speak)…”Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” circa 1968. I can see Kim Jong un joining in….singing at the top of his voice…as today’s born again ICAN Nobel Prize peace activists march on the UN – that paragon of global justice – to demand that all countries get rid of their nuclear warheads. I always loved Puff the Magic Dragon. Ah,nostalgia. Here am I at three score years and eleven, trying to persuade that other paragon of justice -the AFL – to get rid of Collingwood Football Club. In the interests of world sanity.

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  14. Steve Brown
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    @ Hal.. My comments relate to the American efforts in the Pacific not Europe. It would behove every Australian to member those efforts, together we turned the tide against the Japanese in New Guinea and in the huge naval battle, The Battle of the Coral Sea! These Battles, strong Australians and Americans standing up, laying down their lives for what we believe. It is they who you can thank for the last 70 years of Peace! Not lefty activist hanging on fences, Australians should never forget that fact. We should not bite the hand that held so strongly to our own, in our Nations hour of peril, Love or Loath their politics, we owe them a great debt, “Yep” The good Old USA!

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  15. Nadine Williams
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    The resurgence of peace activism and the call by ICAN to have UN ban all nuclear weapons means we – the people who are not trying to re-write history or sit by in fear of brinkmanship and watch the clock ticking to midnight – applaud Russell’s writing on this site.
    We are the future and we are the link, here in Alice Springs to make our work for peace a work for reconciliation with all humanity and our first nations people.
    Thank you Russell

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  16. Posted October 17, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    It is this sort of wishy washy analysis that has gotten Australia into the mess we are in today. Australians need to toughen up quickly before Chine takes over.
    Pine Gap is our life insurance policy in an increasingly precarious global climate. Long may it continue its vital role.

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  17. Scarlett Grant
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 9:33 am

    With the planned actions or events. Cate, hope this planning also addresses the planned clean up after or will it be history repeating itself again. I am sure ALEC / ASTC could educate participants on the impact if required.

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  18. Hal Duell
    Posted October 17, 2017 at 7:53 am

    An interesting comment below that the only thing standing between Russell’s father and the Japanese was the strength and commitment of the USA.
    It might be more accurate to say that the only thing standing between Russell’s father and the Japanese was the Soviet army.
    The Wehrmacht was broken at the battle of Stalingrad (today’s Volgograd), not on the beaches of Normandy, an inconvenient truth, but the truth nonetheless.

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  19. Elliot
    Posted October 16, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    Russell, thank you. People like yourself, our late friend Yami and so many others serve as an inspiration to us all. And for future generations.

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  20. John Bell
    Posted October 16, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Russell writes a nice heartfelt article. Emotional and committed to the notion that he and his fellow self-named “peaceniks” are enlightened and inhabit a black-and-white “Us against Them” world where they have always been pitted against those hateful “conservatives” who are warmongers who refused to see the light in all the peace causes down the years.
    But my experience has been that life is shades of grey. Vietnam halted the Communist drive down through SE Asia long enough to let Malaysia and Indonesia overcome the insurgency.
    My South Vietnamese friends Tom and Than Dong will tell you of genocide cleansing throughout their old Montagnard village countryside when Hanoi took over and the oppressed people have since learned to keep their mouths shut on fear of death.
    My left wing American friends who did contract work at Pine Gap will tell you that the facility does good work to ensure world peace stability.
    And the Amerixan community in Alice has been a socially binding force for good in the Centre.
    My German friends from the Black Forest will tell you that the Wall came down because the West fought the good fight but they warn the reality of world Communism in Russia remains an ever present and constant evil.
    The best way to describe our world where the vast majority of us “progresives” and “conservatives” know the reality and we all work towards peace in our own ways – is that our daily lives and values are a good mix of “fifty shades of grey”. Not peaceniks v warmongers.

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  21. Steve Brown
    Posted October 16, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Kind of odd that your Dad didn’t note after escaping the Germans that the only thing that stood between him and the Japanese was the strength and commitment of the USA. Or perhaps he arrived after the work was done and failed, like yourself Russell, to acknowledge those who did that work.
    Those who sacrificed their lives, bringing about the “peace” that you seem think you have some claim on.
    Peace is brought about by strength, Russell, not by cringing appeasement or for that matter by dirty unemployed blow ins climbing on the fences of our nation’s defences! Acting Russell for those who would tear us down, not for peace!
    People in general across the world, including Americans, want and strive for peace, Russell. Funnily enough they actually do not like or appreciate the efforts of so called peace activists, in attempting to break down their positions of strength, because, Russell, those who read history, who understand human nature, know that only the strong find peace and hold it only while they remain strong.
    Just as we have seen with North Korea, years of cringing appeasement instead of an early strong stance has led to escalation allowing the creation of a nuclear armed rouge state! A threat to the entire world!
    The only thing that will bring North Korea to the negotiating table, Russell, is if they truly believe America is intent on attacking them.
    That makes Donald Trump the most likely person to bring about peace! Try not to choke, lunatic lefties!
    In the event Korea can’t be forced to disarm all the peace activist in the world hanging on fences all around the world will not make the slightest difference to Kim Jong-un unless of course they succeed in weakening the American position which of course would leave a laughing Kim Jong-un free to wreak havoc and mayhem upon the world. Because that, Russel, will be thee inevitable outcome.
    Look back through your history books and see how long appeasement has ever kept a bully at bay.
    Appeasement escalates!
    It is not the road to peace it is the road to war!
    Yes that’s scary, you’ve a right to be afraid, but don’t worry just as they have on every occasion before someone else will stand up for you and you better hope like hell that those Yanks you love to sling off at, are among them, or we, Russell, all of us, are in bloody big trouble!
    Wisdom tells us that its not a particularly smart idea to bite the hand that feeds you. I can absolutely assure you that neither is it a particularly smart idea to bite the hand of the only nation that stands between you and annihilation!
    America and Americans have stood beside us Aussies through thick and thin they have shed countless lives to protect us as we in turn have done for them.
    They are our brothers and sisters defenders of western democracy at all costs and they have been a great big fantastic contributor to the town of Alice Springs, a huge rewarding contributing part of our community, for some 50 years!
    A contribution that vastly exceeds the very questionable contribution of a few disaffected peace activists whose true intent was tearing our society down. Yes, the left over rejects of the failed Communist era.

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  22. Dr Who
    Posted October 16, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    Let’s close Pine Gap and all the other facilities around the world and then wait for the very naughty bad people who would do us harm to do the same. Some mothers do have ’em.

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  23. Victoria Whitelaw
    Posted October 16, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    Love heart.

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  24. Posted October 16, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    The #PineGapPilgrims will be in Alice Springs from 10th November. They are facing the Supreme Court from 13th and 16th November for trespass on the Pine Gap facility. Prosecuted under the Defence Special Undertakings Act.
    We invite you to join us – we are planning a number of events during the trial. You can also support us by spreading our message on social media

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  25. Rachel O'Leary
    Posted October 16, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    A beautifully written article, thank you!

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  26. Ka Boom
    Posted October 16, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Time to break out the 30 million plus sunscreen.

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  27. Hal Duell
    Posted October 16, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Being in my own way an optimist, when Trump was elected President of the US I had hopes that he really would get out of foreign wars, make nice with Russia and rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure. Instead he seems to be locked into waging yet more wars, demonising Russia and destroying infrastructure (and how many lives and hopes and dreams?) in other lands.
    Foolish me!
    But there may still be a silver lining to the cloud of Trump’s presidency. All over the world people are waking up to the real and present danger of anyone, let alone an unstable person, having nuclear codes at his command.
    And he is hardly alone in the unstable stakes. Can anyone really find reason to hope when looking at the antics of Kim in North Korea or Netanyahu in Israel?
    The recent Nobel Peace Prize came as a bolt out of the blue. Hopefully it will not be an isolated and forgotten moment of sanity in a world with an increasingly desperate need of sanity.

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  28. Charlie Carter
    Posted October 16, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Beautifully said Russell.
    Thank you.

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