Unusually perhaps, this was not a natural decision for me. I am not instinctively a pacifist and at times I have appreciated some of the game theories associated with nuclear weapons and MAD (mutually assured destruction). Politically if one nation has a nuclear weapon then it provides a stronger bargaining position when negotiating with a nation that does not possess one. Therefore a nation would be reluctant to let go of such a position of strength.
Despite this knowledge the so-called ‘realpolitik’ is a disgusting way to conduct international relations. For one nation to dangle the threat of mass murder over another’s head, via nuclear weapons – they have no other function than genocide – in any circumstances, is appalling. This is the world we live in, where Israel threatens nuclear murder on Iran to achieve political concessions. And Iran, equally terrible, attempts to build nuclear weapons to threaten its neighbours. How can negotiations involving mass death threats represent rationality or humanity?
Not only politically but morally and instinctively, the death nuclear weapons cause means I can never envisage a situation where their use would be a viable option. Believing this I must oppose any nation holding a nuclear arsenal. The damage a nuclear weapon would cause, and did cause when used in 1945, displays such callous disregard for human life. The sheer fact of such sickening power in the hands of political leaders is a terrifying thought. The possibility that a weapon could get in the hands of terrorist groups represents further fears.
What I have explained appears rather vast and distant from lives in Britain. It is not. By holding nuclear weapons we encourage our enemies to match us in weaponry, as we use them to threaten the world. It increases the possibility of a weapon being developed or appropriated by an enemy and then used on British people. In a nuclear-free world where technology and resources are fiercely guarded, this is a virtual impossibility.
Furthermore, the cost of Trident to Britain over 30 years is put at £20 Billion by the government. It is likely to be closer to £100 Billion. I could say that due to squeezed public finances it is ridiculous, and it is, but it would be ridiculous in the richest and most profligate of times. We are building a defence system we don’t want to use. Let that one marinate in your mind for a moment. It is not strategically defensive as by nature a nuclear weapon is offensive. As political parties talk about cutting incapacity benefits by £25 they commit themselves to billions in unnecessary weaponry. This directly affects all of us because it is our money being wasted and used for death threats.
Re-reading what I have written makes me think it was a more natural decision to campaign for nuclear disarmament than I first realised. It is not impossible. The UN Security Council has recently passed a resolution to strive for total disarmament. We must keep the pressure up, restore sense and end the brinkmanship of such destructive tools.
The Peace Pledge Union has been distributing white poppies since 1934, a response to the rising international tensions and the renewed threat of war, inspired by a generation of women bereaved in the Great War (that “war to end all wars”...). White poppies commemorate the victims of all wars and are also a symbol of hope and commitment to work for a world where conflicts will be resolved without violence and with justice. Wear your white poppy and red poppy intertwined if you are anxious not to offend elderly members of the British Legion, but do take this annual opportunity to challenge the beliefs, values and institutions that make war seem an inevitable part of the human condition. (Poppies available from Joanna, 020 8543 0362.)
Regular Vigil member Jill Beauchamp is looking for temporary accommodation in Southwest London. (Please get in touch with Joanna for further details if you can help.)
Please send your annual subscriptions (which cover production and distribution costs of this Newsletter!) to Treasurer Julie Higgins, 129 Chestnut Road, London SW12 8JH, or pass payment to your Newsletter deliverer. Rates remain at £4 (or £2 unwaged) and represent fantastic value for money. Cheques payable to WDC/CND please.
Jim McCluskey of Kingston Peace Council/CND has followed his first excellent pamphlet (“The arguments against nuclear weapons”, WDC/CND Newsletter April 2008) with a second and equally valuable volume: “Accidents, misjudgements and mega foul-ups. What would nuclear war be like?”
The first section of the latest publication documents recorded nuclear accidents and near-misses and discusses nuclear technology in the context of Professor Charles Perrow’s pioneering academic study of accidents (Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies, ISBN 0-691-00412-9). It is a catalogue of unforeseen failures, misjudgements and misunderstandings, all of which had potentially dire consequences because nuclear weapons were involved. In his study of accident risk, Perrow puts nuclear weapons and their associated networks into that category of systems which are impossible to make safe and are therefore so dangerous that they should be abandoned.
The second half of the book reproduces some of the work that has been done on the reality of nuclear weapons, i.e. the effects of nuclear weapons on human beings. Increasingly this reality is being ignored by politicians and the media, with their bland talk of “the deterrent”, and a generation has grown up which is ignorant of the true and horrible facts. At most, people have a vague idea of numbers of warheads and have seen pictures of Hiroshima after the Bomb, but it all seems very abstract.
“Current designs of nuclear weapons do not just have the power with one man-sized warhead to destroy entire cities — they have the power to numb the imagination. They represent a possible future reality which is so nightmarish that our sanity feels threatened.” Get the book (copies from Joanna), read it, use it for reference and pass it on to the politicians and opinion-formers.
The International Conference on Day 1 took the form of a series of lectures by impressive speakers from all over the world. Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute, Marian Hobbs (former Minister for Disarmament, New Zealand), Judith Le Blanc (United for Peace and Justice, USA) and Caroline Lucas MEP spoke about nuclear disarmament and the global context. Speakers from Germany, France and the Stop the War Coalition joined CND Chair Kate Hudson and Jeremy Corbyn MP in discussing NATO, nuclear weapons and the cycle of war, and speakers from India, Israel, Japan and the USA completed the session with a series of papers on “global disarmament: the next steps.” It sounds heavy going listed baldly like this, but each speaker’s contribution lasted only ten minutes and there was plenty of time for discussion throughout. I found it very stimulating and encouraging to hear our campaign put into a global perspective, and CND is to be congratulated in persuading speakers of this calibre to come to Conference.
Day 2 followed a more traditional format with elections and resolutions. There were two controversial resolutions. The first was on the recent Fylingdales demonstration which Merseyside CND suggested was a ‘symbolic gesture’ wasteful of resources, which passed unnoticed by the general public. This was roundly rejected, with Conference agreeing with Kate Hudson that US military bases in Britain are “the physical manifestation of the criminal policies we oppose” and we need to identify them individually and confront them directly. The second controversial resolution was on climate change, submitted by Tony Staunton of Exeter CND, and this was eventually carried. Arguments about diluting the focus of CND, and our capacity to take on more, were overridden by the strength of the case that climate change is likely to create future territorial tensions, economic crises, conflict and war. Many speakers emphasised the importance of CND’s developing closer co-operation with leading environmental campaign groups and the Camapign Against Climate Change, and it is pleasing to note that we in Wimbledon are already in the forefront of this process with our November meeting on War, Poverty and the Environment.
Summing up at the end of Conference, Kate Hudson put it best: we had learned “what is going on in the wider world and how we can engage with it” and we had gained valuable insight into the global impact that would be generated by the decommissioning and scrapping of Trident and this must be the priority for CND in the run-up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review in New York next spring.
An unfortunate technical hitch meant that we were unable to show ‘White Light, Black Rain’ (the Japanese film about Hiroshima) on October 24th, and we apologise to those of you who made a journey in vain, but the silver lining on this occasion was the opportunity to revisit the 1960s Stanley Kubrick classic ‘Dr Strangelove’.
Starring Peter Sellers, it is a very black comedy indeed, conceived at the height of the Cold War, which manages to achieve the seemingly impossible by inviting the audience to laugh at nuclear annihilation. Satirising the concept of mutually assured destruction and exposing generals and politicians to ridicule was a chancy thing to do at the time of the Cuban missile crisis and Kennedy’s assassination, but to quote from the programme notes at a recent National Film Theatre performance, the film “has never lost its edge and still looks refreshingly irreverent in today’s world of global capitalism, nuclear proliferation and flag-waving militarism”.
Many critics were offended at the time of Dr Strangelove’s release (“a bit too contemptuous of our defense establishment for my comfort and taste”, New York Times critic, 2nd January 1964), but later the respected cultural critic Lewis Mumford came to Kubrick’s defence: “It is not this film that is sick,” he wrote. “What is sick is our supposedly moral, democratic country which allowed this policy [of nuclear warfare] to be formulated and implemented without even the pretense of open public debate... This film is the first break in the catatonic Cold War trance that has so long held our country in its rigid grip.” (New York Times, March 1964).
Dr Strangelove opens with US bombers being dispatched against Russia by the completely loony General Jack D. Ripper to save mankind from the evil designs of Communism and ends with an empty-headed cowboy pilot sitting astride a nuclear bomb as it falls to earth “riding it as happily down to destruction as if it were a bucking bronco”, after which the world blows up to the voice-over accompaniment of Vera Lynn and male chorus blithely singing ‘We’ll Meet Again’. “Between the film’s opening and its fittingly ridiculous close the audience is treated to some of the most incisive social commentary ever put on screen... comment on everything from man’s 20th century alienation, his cynicism and his self righteousness, to his distrust of his fellow man and his powerlessness to control the weapons that in his quest for power and out of the power of his intellect, he has created.” (History of the Movies, E.F. Dolan, 1983).
Compulsory viewing for modern politicians who take themselves too seriously, perhaps? (Dr Strangelove on video can be borrowed from Joanna, 8543 0362.)
UNA-UK has been awarded a ‘Special Peace Grant’ (Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust) to work on furthering multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, underlining the extent to which our anti-nuclear campaign (once seen as the preserve of the far left) is fast becoming mainstream reflection of public opinion.
“The growing consensus on the urgency of multilateral nuclear disarmament has breathed new life into efforts to secure a world free from nuclear weapons” (New World, Winter 2009).
It is very pleasing to find a long article on nuclear disarmament in this quarterly UNA journal, with a list of suggested actions including lobbying your MP to ask the government why there is no mention of Trident in its comprehensive ‘Road to 2010’ report and asking your local mayor to join Mayors for Peace (a group founded by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that aims to prevent other cities from suffering a nuclear attack).
We shall certainly be approaching Merton Council about Mayors for Peace (jointly with Merton UNA, we hope) in response to Councillor Henry Nelless’ recent claim at ‘Question Time’ in the Council Chamber that “there is nothing we in Merton can do to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”. In the past few months the Mayors of Redbridge and Tower Hamlets have signed up to Mayors for Peace — so why not Merton?
Alison Williams of Merton UNA will run a series of workshops from 7:30–9:00 pm on Monday evenings in November at Wilberforce House, 119 Worple Road, SW20 8ET (Lower Downs Road bus stop, routes 57 and 131). For details of topics covered see the Diary page. If you are planning to come, please ring: 8944 0574.