NWR Issue 32

The house we live in

Doesn't matter if it's Esso,
Shell or Gulf or Texaco,
Milford Haven sold its soul for
Petro-dollars long ago.

But as the oil comes in at Tenby
And makes a sump of Angle Bay
At least we have the satisfaction
Of what the Tourist Board will say:

The truth is that it never happened
And Wales remains a paradise,
But to safeguard our reputation
We're offering deals at half the price.

The Skomer seal, the Skokholm scoter
Needn't seek a place to breed,
But if your looking for cheap petrol
Pembrokeshire has all you need.

Robert Minhinnick
"First and Last Thoughts on The Sea Empress"

Max Frisch in his classic play The Fire-Raisers satirizes the passivity of the middle classes by representing them as a man who tolerates, even abets, the burning down of his own house. Despite the clear evidence the man convinces himself that this is not his tenants' real intention. Yet, in due course, his home is burnt to the ground.

The play is an allegory on middle class attitudes towards the rise of Nazism. It also comes to mind in thinking about the three headline-dominating events of recent weeks - the environmental disaster wreaked by near-foundering of The Sea Empress oil tanker off Pembrokeshire; the massacre of 15 school-children and their teacher by a psychopath at Dunblane in Scotland; and the collapse of the British beef market, following the official admission that there may be a connection between BSE - "Mad Cow Disease" - in cattle and an increased incidence of CJD, a comparable disease in humans.

Ours is a house (the United Kingdom) which imports up to a third of its oil and petrol requirements through Milford Haven. Passively to assume that, because the port is adjacent to many of Wales's most beautiful beaches and near some of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in Europe, those in authority will ensure "they are protected, is simply naive.

We also live in a house in which lethal hand-guns are easily obtainable (and in which, as the Scott Inquiry demonstrated, government accepts no moral restraint on its efforts to maintain Britain as the world's second largest arms exporter). We shouldn't therefore be surprised if such weapons sometimes fall into evil hands. The way to prevent that happening is to ban them altogether.

We also live in a house in which the demands of the market place and of profit are placed above all considerations. We should not therefore be surprised if there are unfortunate consequences. A Royal Commission warned long ago of the dangers of feeding waste animal protein to herbivores but its advice was brushed aside by the government in 1980 as a manifestation of the 'nanny state'. It insisted on relaxing the cattle feed regulations.

We are told that "society" is to blame for these horrors. On the contrary, society has shown itself able to cope in terrible circumstances. Its main failing has been to believe "authority" knows best and always does the right thing. Such passive faith is not only unjustified, but, as we can now see, dangerous.


previous editorial: "Book of the Year" debacle
next editorial: Ken Saro-Wiwa


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