On 15th November 2021, Coventry University awarded an Honorary Doctorate to Bruce Kent – MAW’s President Emeritus, and Vice President at CND and Pax Christi EW.
Here is his inspiring speech to the students:
It is an honour, a pleasure and a complete surprise to find myself here in this position today. A big thank you to all those who organised such a great honour in a place that I know well.
Coventry and Peace have been linked together for so long. It was probably Canon Paul Oestreicher – who was based here once – who first got me involved in the work of the International Centre for Reconciliation. Thank you Paul.
The ruins of the old Cathedral are still here as a reminder of what must never happen again. Sadly it has and IS happening again. Yesterday, at the interfaith Remembrance service at my church, we remembered places where there is war today… Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ethiopia, Mexico, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, South Sudan, Somalia – and even that list is not all.
Perhaps, with the new awareness of the dangers of Climate Change, there will be some new thinking. We have a long way to go. In the official Glasgow statements from COP26 the climate effects of militarisation get no mention. Nor in many of the statements by NGOs either. So-called ‘charity’ status has financial benefits which can be lost if issues, not welcome by HMG, are taken up. Yet as a world we spend nearly 2 trillion dollars a year on war and preparations for war. War produces a lot of CO2 – and wastes a huge budget which could be spent on real human needs.
It took me a very long time to wake up. A military culture was part and parcel of my education. I was in uniform as a school cadet bugle player (not a very good one), at the age of 10. In my senior school dining room there were eight portraits of ‘old boys’ who had won the Victoria Cross in various places. Even during six years in a seminary training to be a priest, these peace and war issues did not seem to surface.
A light-bulb moment came for me when I met a Jesuit Archbishop called Thomas Roberts. He was almost on his own at that time in rejecting nuclear weaponry. He asked me once if I thought it was wrong to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people. ‘Of course,’ said I promptly. ‘But do you also think it’s wrong to be willing to do just that?’ He was asking about so-called nuclear deterrence. His question floored me but I began to think again.
Another turning point came when I saw war at first hand in Nigeria. I was invited to visit and see the humanitarian work being done during a civil war with Biafra where over 1 million Biafran civilians were starved to death as a weapon of war. I discovered that Britain was selling weapons to Nigeria. I saw enough of war to revolt me forever.
Forgive these personal anecdotes. You young people here today are at the start of your careers. Please think for yourselves. Don’t be swept along by whatever happens to be the propaganda of the day. Ask your own critical questions. Why are people risking their lives trying to cross the Channel in small boats? Why freezing in woods, facing Polish barbed wire? Why is it OK for charities to raise money for the war victims in Yemen, but not OK for them to ask why Britain is selling bombs to Saudi Arabia?
What was the UN created for in 1945? ‘To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ the Preamble to the UN Charter actually says. But I bet none of you have ever seen it! Ask yourself why that is.
You have had to listen for too long to a 92-year old rabbiting on about his past. I hope today will inspire you to work for a better world here and now. Don’t wait for an Archbishop Roberts to turn up!”
15 November 2021