I became active in the anti-nuclear weapons movement when I left college in 1961. Early that year I attended my first demo, Bertrand Russell, as he then was, speaking in Trafalgar Square about the West’s Early Warning System not being able to distinguish a flock of birds over the North Pole from a Soviet missile attack. He then led the Committee of 100’s first civil disobedience demo, marching down Whitehall to the then Ministry of Defence where he pinned a notice to the door and then led a sit-down demonstration.
I went on my first Aldermaston March the following year, 1962, and joined the staff at CND head office in Carthusian Street (often called by campaigners ‘Confusion Street’) later that year. Peggy Duff was the Organizing Secretary and my overall boss. She chain-smoked non-stop while constantly rushing round in a frenzy shouting things like “Get me the Canon on the phone, the anarchists are threatening to block the March again” referring of course to Canon L. John Collins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, head of Christian Action and Chair of CND. We rarely saw the Canon — he visited the office once a year at Christmas, and we stood round sheepishly with drinks wondering what to do. Someone suggested a Christmas carol, but since half the staff were atheists, agnostics, Sikhs, Muslims or other non-Christians, we settled on one of the only songs we could sing in unison: a vigorous rendition of ‘The Red Flag’ led by the Canon.
There were many songs on the marches in those days, and many bands and singers. I remember most of them: ‘The H-Bomb’s Thunder’, ‘Ban the Bloody H-Bomb’, ‘Family of Man’ etc. Some of the less well known ones were very amusing: ‘The Bug-Eyed Martian’ about an alien who bumped into a satellite/sputnik, visited planet Earth to see what we were up to, then decided he needn’t worry as “all those great big rocket ships are loaded up with atom bombs, they’ll never make it alive.”
On the 1962 Aldermaston March some Committee of 100 supporters led a diversion from the main route between Reading and Slough up a country lane to Warren Row and the recently discovered Top Secret underground bunker, a Regional Seat of Government (RSG) in the event of nuclear war. Despite the image of my boss Peggy Duff, chain smoking as usual in her regular red cardigan, shouting through a loud-hailer “Keep straight on to the lunch stop, marchers. No lunch down there, marchers!”, I turned left and joined the Committee of 100 supporters to visit the RSG, wondering if I’d still have a job after Easter (I did). I’ve been turning left politically ever since really, though the problem is now which party to support which reflects my views. The Communists proved to be as corrupt in power as any others and are now splintered into tiny groups, New Labour has long ago abandoned Socialism, and now even the Lib-Dems have joined the Tories in government. Perhaps the Greens will have a chance with a new electoral system, though AV really only helps the three major parties. What is needed is a full PR system.
It was a very educational experience working at CND head office and being involved in those early demonstrations, and built up my self-confidence and brought me out of the shell I’d been in during my teens. I’ve supported CND ever since, and have seen a lot of successes: the 1963 Test Ban treaty banning tests in the atmosphere, the later Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty banning underground nuclear tests (the cause of many earthquakes in my opinion), the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Labour going unilateralist (twice, neither time in government unfortunately), South Africa giving up The Bomb, the scrapping of nuclear-armed Cruise missiles and their bases at Greenham Common and Molesworth, etc. Now all we have to do is scrap Trident renewal and we’ll have a non-nuclear Britain at last. On cost alone we should be persuading the three major parties to do just that. Nick Clegg before the Election was very sympathetic, he’s been very quiet since becoming Deputy PM. A big London anti-Trident demo might just stir his conscience.
Saturday 26th March sees a very important demonstration (organised by the TUC) against government cuts, and CND is working hard to emphasise the contrast between the government’s profligacy when it comes to arms spending and the meanness of its assault on the welfare state. There will be a ‘cut Trident’ contingent on the march and the Wimbledon banner will be there. Put the date in your diaries and spread the word.
A copy of the excellent new CND leaflet is enclosed with your Newsletter, and if you can distribute leaflets to friends and colleagues please let us know.
CND is planning an advert (5m × 2·6m billboard) at Westminster Station to coincide with the Budget on March 23rd. The chosen site is in the MPs’ walkway and it is intended that the names and parliamentary constituencies of all who have contributed towards the cost be included — to remind our elected representatives of the massive opposition to the appalling waste of money on nuclear weapons (currently more than £2bn per year, even before the replacement of Trident).
CND needs to receive your donation by 18th February for your name to appear on the advert. You can send a cheque to CND (162 Holloway Road, N7 8BR) or pay via the CND website http://www.cnduk.org/advertdonate or by calling the membership department on 020 7700 2393 and making a card payment over the phone.
We must not let MPs forget whose views they are supposed to be representing, while spending on useless and immoral weaponry is protected and public services are slashed.
On January 16th half a dozen of us watched this impressive new 90 minute documentary, intended as a tool for present day campaigning and organising as well as informing a new generation about our struggle. There is archive footage of the Aldermaston Marches and the Greenham Common women, and interviews with many eminent figures in the peace movement (Bruce Kent, Tony Benn, Walter Wolfgang, Pat Arrowsmith, Kate Hudson) while links with the environmental movement (George Monbiot, Vivienne Westwood, Mark Thomas), international politics and the international economy paint a wider picture of what the modern peace movement is all about.
“You can never give up on the solution of an unsolved problem. This is an unsolved problem but it is solvable, the route to solving it exists, it can be pursued, it can be done” (Walter Wolfgang, CND Vice President).
“Beating the Bomb” deserves a wider audience, so please consider whether you could host a showing at your home (a coffee morning perhaps?) or in your place of work or worship. Just get in touch if you want to borrow the DVD (020 8543 0362).
This is a new venture by CND: Reality Radio is a podcast and internet radio station that deals with the latest news and political analysis, informed by the values of peace and justice.
CND General Secretary Kate Hudson aims to conduct at least one interview with a ‘special guest’ every week. In the first broadcast Jeremy Corbyn MP discussed his recent trip to the West Bank and Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign talked about Gaza. In the second, Stop the War convenor Lindsey German and student activists Mary Robertson and Barnaby Raine talked about government cuts and the ways in which they have been rallying opposition.
All podcasts are free and available from the website http://www.realityradio.org.uk/, and we have added a link from the WDC/CND website.
Our big annual fund-raiser will be on May 7th this year. Please keep the date free, and start collecting things to sell now. If you are spring-cleaning in the next few weeks or having a clear-out, please bear the Fête in mind before you head for the nearest charity shop. We are very happy to store stuff between now and May 7th. Books, toys bric-à-brac and craft items are all welcome, but not clothes (except for small items such as scarves) or large pieces of furniture. And any unwanted Christmas presents will find a worthy home in the raffle. I have already made my 2011 marmalade and have started to sow seeds for the plant stall.
At the British Pugwash Group’s next discussion meeting, General Sir Hugh Beach (former Master-General of the Ordnance) and Dr Nick Ritchie from the Bradford Disarmament Research Centre will lead discussion on the implications of the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review for the Trident replacement programme, and what cheaper and simpler alternatives to the UK’s nuclear arsenal might be available. The meeting will run 17·30–19·30 on 23rd February, at the Garwood Lecture Theatre, UCL, Gower St WC1: admission is free.
The Internet has supplied an intriguing glimpse of the enclosed world inhabited by the military entrusted with the actual delivery of nuclear weapons. John Noonan’s article of 14th January, http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/01/death-wears-a-snuggie/† describes life in the nuclear control room buried in a steel cocoon 100 feet underground. Although the author is a loyalist and an unquestioning believer in deterrence he does reveal an unexpected degree of self-awareness.
“America and her nuclear warriors have an odd relationship. For decades missileers (as we’re known in the military) have quietly performed their duties, custodians of a dying breed of weapon. But Americans have no real connection with the shadowy operators who stand the old posts of the Cold War despite the fact that they spend up to 8 billion dollars a year to maintain our country’s nuclear deterrent.”
He provides a chillingly matter-of-fact description of the sequences leading up to a nuclear launch: the receipt of the emergency-action message, the deciphering of the encrypted text, the double-checking with his colleague that all orders are authentic and formatted properly and originate from “the appropriate command authorities”. In the absence of a “termination message” (“quick stand-down notification”) both men will place their hands on a series of launch switches, purposely designed to take four hands to launch (a built in safety mechanism against a lone lunatic, i.e. “a means of preventing unauthorised execution of missiles by a lone individual”, as the author puts it). There is then no more to do, other than watch as the control screens flash with “missile-launch notifications”: “some fly immediately, some with a delay to prevent nuclear fratricide when bombs approach their target in 20 to 30 minutes”.
Despite the capacity for unimaginable destruction contained within the nuclear arsenal under these men’s control, “being a missileer means that your worst enemy is boredom... the duty is seen today as a dull anachronism.”
But “isolation often gives way to reflection, and missile duty brings out strange conundrums.... Missile training fosters an unquestioning automaton mentality. I was trained to be a cog in a machine.... Although I never doubted that I would execute a launch order without question, other misgivings occasionally surfaced. We arrested a group of Catholic nuns staging a peaceful protest on one of our launch facilities a few years back. For a missileer who is a practising Catholic, such a situation brings up questions: if women who have committed themselves to the Word of God feel so strongly about the immorality of nuclear weapons that they’re willing to be confined for their convictions, what kind of Christian am I to sit at the launch switch?
“That a capacity for great violence sustains great peace is one of the genuine paradoxes of our time, and I wrestled with that from time to time.... But these philosophical battles were not ours to fight — even in the quiet solitude of an archaic outpost, fighting yesterday’s war.”
One wonders, of course, why the author is so convinced that “philosophical battles” are the preserve of other people and one notes the total contrast with Commander Rob Green (former operator of British nuclear weapons) who is now a powerful anti-nuclear campaigner, writing of “the brainwashing that had sustained my belief in nuclear weapons” (Security without Nuclear Deterrence, 2010 ISBN 978-9-473-16781-3)
† The ‘snuggie’ of the title is a reference to the relaxation of uniform codes within the confines of the missile silo.
Maisie and Joanna were delegates at the Conway Hall on 8th January. Kate Hudson spoke on “Campaigning against nukes in the new political context” and linked our campaign with protests against the ‘cuts agenda’ across the whole of Europe. A new generation has been radicalised and we need to get the Trident issue over to them. At the same time we must never allow anyone to forget that our anti-nuclear campaign is not just about costs (“Even if nuclear weapons were free we wouldn’t want them!”)
We attended workshops on the implications of the British-French defence agreement and “Drone wars” (the new developments in unmanned aircraft, the subject of a special UN enquiry). Walter Wolfgang outlined some of his ideas for getting the Labour party ‘back on track’: “It will be much easier to change Labour Party policy if there is a demand from the party underneath”.
For further details contact Joanna.