Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘CND’


In Guest Feature, Uncategorized on May 5, 2018 at 9:09 pm

by Rowan McKeever

August 6th 1945, August 9th 1945. Hiroshima, Nagasaki. Two planes, two bombs, two days. And 226,000 dead.

Thankfully, these are the only two times nuclear weapons have ever been used. It was World War Two, the USA wanted to stop the war and to try out these new bombs. A test run – a test run that killed nearly 300,000 people.

Britain has had some form of nuclear weapon for well over fifty years now and along with other catastrophes of 2016 (the election of Trump and the Brexit vote) the Commons voted on July 18th to renew Trident  and continue the nuclear weapons programme. This means that Britain will have nuclear weapons at the ready all the way into 2060. That means we would have relied on a nuclear “deterrent” for over a hundred years.


A common argument is that “we need nuclear weapons to strike back, if by any miniscule possibility Britain ever does get hit by a nuclear bomb.”  This is absurd.  Hundreds of thousands of people would be  murdered  and instead of dealing with the damage, do we really want to bomb another city into dust?  It is estimated that if a nuclear bomb hit London in 2018 around six million people would die.

This is a horrifying statistic, but is only what would happen on the first day. Thousands, if not millions of people would be injured or die long after the bomb had struck. The causes would include radiation burns, birth defects and increased cancer risk. Even after these terrible facts, many people still believe that Britain should keep Trident as a “defence”. They believe that we should keep the weapons “just in case”.

I am certain that they wouldn’t be saying this if they considered how much taxpayers’ money is being spent on maintaining Trident. One hundred million pounds. Over the last ten years, the British economy has shattered. People have lost their homes, had their benefits cut, and some people with jobs vital to our economy are being paid barely enough to survive. Food banks can’t cope with the record number of people who can’t afford basic necessities. And yet our money is being put into pointless, inhumane murder weapons about which we’re not informed.


There are lots of groups protesting around the world.  In the UK there’s CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. CND campaigns for unilateral nuclear disarmament, which means that they want Britain to get rid of their nuclear weapons regardless of what other countries choose to do.


CND holds regular protests, rallies and meetings to raise awareness of their campaign. As a member I have attended many of their events – my favourite being one to “wrap up Trident” in January 2014.  This was a powerful demonstration as people from all over the country knitted or crocheted parts to a very long scarf which was then sewn together. The scarf was then wrapped around the Ministry of Defence as a visual and unusual way to spread the message of stopping the renewal of Trident. CND has influenced many politicians including Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader who was chair of the organisation for many years, and is currently Vice President.


It is important to look at what the different political parties are saying about nuclear weapons. The Green Party is against Trident and would scrap it immediately if it came to power.  The Labour Party has said that if they win they will review their whole defence strategy, including nuclear power. However, the Conservative Party has said that it will not change anything and is happy to keep these deadly weapons. It argues that the UK would be less powerful without them – although such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Norway manage fine without them. South Africa and Belarus have scrapped their nuclear weapons.

So Britain would not be the first and may encourage others also to abandon nuclear weapons.


But many politicians wouldn’t be affected by a nuclear strike.  While they were safe and warm in their cosy bunkers we would have less than thirty seconds before our bodies, our homes, our lives were obliterated.

We all deserve to live without a shadow of fear hanging over us. These lyrics from the song “H-Bombs Thunder” – written in 1958 by John Brunner for the Aldermaston March sum it up well. We still sing the song around the fire at Woodcraft Folk camps.

“Shall we lay the world in ruin?
Only you can make the choice.
Stop and think of what you’re doing
Join the march and raise your voice.

Time is short, we must be speedy,
We can see the hungry filled,
House the homeless, help the needy,
Shall we blast or shall we build?

Men and women, stand together,
Do not heed the men of war
Make your minds up now or never,
Ban the bomb for ever more.”



MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on March 5, 2015 at 7:12 pm



G4S and the Guantanamo connection:

Did you know that our old friends at G4S had been involved in security work at the notorious US holding camp at Guantanamo Bay?

No, nor did I. It seems that it won a lucrative £70 million contract last August to service the base, where 127 inmates are still being held without charge. What we don’t know of course is whether the company’s personnel were in any way involved with any of the torture practises carried out by US guards on those held there – such as “water boarding”, sleep deprivation or force feeding.

But it seems that G4S has since disposed of  its contract. At the end of 2014 it sold on its US subsidiary – which included its Guantanamo connection.  Now the civil rights group, Reprieve, has taken up the case, and referred the matter to the police. Amnesty International has also called for a full investigation.

Of course we don’t know what role G4S fulfilled in Guantanamo. But it does seem rather – er – injudicious to get involved in this notorious holding centre in the first place.

How fares the BNP?

We hear little of the British National Party (the BNP) these days. Its halcyon days were around 2008 to 2009, when it succeeded in winning over 50 council seats around the country, a seat on the London Assembly and two MEPs (including party leader Nick Griffin).

But then it all fell apart. It failed to win any parliamentary seats in 2010, and subsequently its tally of councillors just melted away. It lost both its seats in the European Parliament, and finally last Autumn, Nick Griffin found himself expelled from the party – and that seemed to be that.

But a visit to the relevant website indicates that the rump of the party is still active. And in one constituency members have been dishing out leaflets door to door, proclaiming that the “BNP is the Labour Party your Grandad would have voted for”.

Really?? I don’t think so!

It’s grim in Gloucester:

Recent figures published on the state of the economy broken down  city by city suggests that the North has been blighted most from austerity and recession – just like it was back in the hungry ‘thirties. Places like Rochdale or Hull, for instance, have been hard hit.. Meanwhile others, like Milton Keynes, London and Brighton are doing much better, thanks.

But one blip in the statistics caught my rheumy old eye. Bottom of the league table when it came to jobs was our own city of Gloucester. Here there was a decline in available jobs of 12 percent – even worse than Rochdale, home of the Co-op Pioneers and Gracie Fields.

That’s not the kind of picture you’re given if you read the business section of The Citizen is it?  Here you’d think that the city was on a roll.

But long gone are the days when the city was an industrial hub. It turned out Cotton motorbikes, the Gloucester Wagon Company made railway rolling stock that was sold across the world – and “England’s Glory” matches were on sale throughout the country.

Off the peg:

CND has started the new year with a vigorous campaign against the renewal of our Trident nuclear missile system. It’s an off-the-peg system, where we buy the missiles from the Americans – but, what with the submarines, it still costs loadsa money.

Hardened CND veterans may remember the days when Britain attempted to go it alone. Remember the campaigns against the Blue Streak missile? Or the Polaris submarine system? Not to mention Cruise missiles? They’ve all been consigned to the dustbin of history. Isn’t it time Trident joined them?


OBITUARY: JOAN LEVINE: thinker, campaigner and activist.

In C.Spiby, Obiturary on January 30, 2015 at 1:28 pm

One of the universal symbols of peace is the white dove.

When I met Joan Levine she seemed to me an ordinary little old lady, a tiny sparrow of a woman.

But I soon realised that Joan was a formidable thinker, an immensely important local campaigner and a tireless activist. And she had for much of her adult life been active in the Communist Party.

cpb_flagThroughout her life she fought continuously for justice and human rights in the name of the voiceless and the poor of the world.


I discovered that her world view was built on the meticulous gathering of facts and evidence. File after file organised by topic – “campaign against the arms trade”, “Palestine”, “nuclear power”, “Yugoslavia”, “Trident submarines”, “Iraq”, and so on. Together they represented a register of the many concerns which shaped her life.

The files held clippings with references and notes, sections highlighted, paragraphs under-scored. There was endlesss campaign correspondence, newsletters and briefings. Most revealing were letters of frustrated replies from successive MPs. From Paul Marland and Diana Organ to our current MP, Mark Harper. How dare this little old lady from Coleford hold us to account with her endless facts and sound moral reasoning?

Joan’s husband, Maurice, fought in the Spanish Civil War. She spoke of her husband’s commitment with quiet pride, yet would only do so when invited. To her it seemed the most natural thing in the world.  To Joan a life of holding the powerful to account, of fighting for the rights of the many, was just as natural.


I remember that Joan was often the last to speak during meetings. It was then that her formidable mind revealed itself.  Her incisive views always made our wandering debate seem like mere waffling, but she was never condescending.  Instead her logic enabled the rest of us to catch up, while she moved on to propose an action. To her, all debate was pointless without action and, in her heart, Joan was all about activism.

So together we stood in the rain. We marched around US military bases under grey skies and paraded past the Houses of Parliament in the largest march in British history. Joan and the late Ralph Anstis got themselves thrown out of the Co-op collecting signatures for a petition against the invasion of Iraq. And, with the late Wendy Corum, Joan was a key part of Forest of Dean CND. She campaigned for pensioners’ rights. But more than anything she was against war.


I am sure that you all know the purpose of CND. Joan’s archives reveal that this campaign is the one she saw as the most pressing. And rightly so, in my view. While the Cold War may be over, Joan was acutely aware that the world still has more than 15,000 nuclear missiles. What could be more despicable than the targeted killing of millions of innocent civilians in nuclear war?

Joan remained an activist for as long as she was able. This little sparrow may have flown. But her legacy is the sum of all the good she did in her own time, and the new generations she inspired, of which I am proud to have been but one.

a version of this was read by Diana Gash at Joan’s funeral

LEFT INSIDE: Can you hear us? Is anyone listening?

In C.Spiby on April 1, 2014 at 11:49 am

A regular column by C. Spiby

Nationally the message is clear.

When Ed Milliband says that he will “promise that, if we win, I will scrap the Bedroom Tax. No ifs or buts: a One Nation Labour government will repeal it.” [1] There’s no doubt that this is OUR kind of Labour Party.

You can’t say the same for our Constituency Party. We need to be clearer on our message and tighter on our inner party discipline. When Bruce Hogan rightly questioned the failure of local UKIP Councillor Alan Preest to attend meetings it was instead received by some as a call to limit local democracy.

And you would have thought that the fact that UKIP act the way do would be a gift to us. What a local UKIP figure branded as ‘hags’ [2] are the ordinary people concerned about the rightwing myth-building of the right, at least on the topic of immigration. UKIP should be easy-pickings nationally and locally. But, as we saw with the New Year influx of east Europeans – which didn’t happen – the media has bought their narrative rather than report on facts and actuality. Rightwing speculation has become ‘reporting’.

We also see that narrative on ‘Benefits Street’. How easy it is to stoke the fires of blame just to sell advertising by producing controversial content.

There’s a cost of living crisis in Britain, but it’s now contained to those who don’t matter: the voiceless majority. We know this because we’re getting told by this government that we’re ‘turning the corner’ on the economy and its cuts, cuts, cuts that provided the cure. In reality we’re going through a sustained attack on the welfare state; an ideological crusade the kind of which Thatcher embarked upon in her 70’s attack on the Trade Unions. Her greatest achievement came with the defeat of the Miner’s but – in this anniversary year – it is up to us to ensure that the new breed of Conservativism doesn’t do the same with our social welfare, education and health services. Because that’s the way its heading.

I don’t think that message could be clearer. What bothers me is why we’re not the argument.

NUCLEAR POWER On other matters this government has just approved the ‘generic design’ for the huge nuclear power station that will appear soon opposite Lydney. In response, S.T.A.N.D. are conducting a range of meetings and events in Chepstow and Stroud to raise awareness of the monstrosity while also building for this years’ anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. Catch-up with the campaign on Facebook or

[1] Labour membership e-mail 21/9/2013.

[2] Recent reportage in the local press of UKIP’s Tidenham meeting where their spokesperson attacked women who expressed concern over UKIP position on immigration.

Obituary: WENDY CORUM – a free spirit

In Obiturary on March 13, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Alison Rennie remembers an old friend

I only knew Wendy for the last third of her eventful life, but she often told me of earlier times. Her family were strong supporters of the co-operative movement and were Communists. Wendy joined the Communist Party early in her life, but when the party split she changed her allegiance to the Ecology Party, now the Green Party. She studied at Art College in Cambridge during the war and worked in a munitions factory. After the war she took a teachers’ training course and taught in London for many years. Her colleagues report that she was a good and enthusiastic teacher, especially in arithmetic – a subject that she had always found difficult, so she was able to understand her pupils’ problems!

She also studied music at evening class and joined the Workers’ Music Association. She attended their summer schools at Wortley Hall in Yorkshire every year. When she retired she decided to devote her time to composing music, but she had many other interests.

She joined CND and Friends of the Earth whilst in London and when she moved to the Forest of Dean she joined the local groups and took an active part in marches and demonstrations, painted posters, wrote letters to the papers and collected signatures for petitions. I first met her when she was collecting signatures for a CND petition to stop cruise missiles. While we were talking, I mentioned that I had just started learning Esperanto. Wendy was immediately interested. During the First World War her father had been in prison for being a conscientious objector, and two of his fellow prisoners were Fenner Brockway and Bertrand Russell. Fenner Brockway was an enthusiastic Esperantist, and told Alfred Corum about the principals and purpose of the language. So Wendy was quite keen to learn it – and we agreed that she would learn Esperanto and I would join CND.

As soon as she had learned enough, Wendy undertook a tour of Europe, staying with Esperantists who welcomed her into their homes. Several of them later came to stay with her in Ruspidge. She also put up some of my Esperanto pen-friends when I was living in a mobile home with no room for visitors.

We went to many esperanto functions, and Wendy was also able to join the Esperanto Choir. In the Forest she joined LETS (Local Exchange Trading Scheme), earning her currency by giving piano and singing lessons, and for about a year she was on the Ruspidge and Soudley Parish Council. She also supported many charities such as the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Compassion in World Farming, the RSPB and the Woodland Trust. And for the sake of the birds in her garden, she gave up keeping cats. She did her own washing and cooking to the very end, and went foraging in the woods for edible fungi, showing me where to find St. George’s mushrooms in the Spring.

She joined “Forest of Dean Against the Cuts” at its second meeting, but failing health soon prevented her from attending meetings. As she approached her 89th birthday she became ill, but the doctor would not send her to hospital because he suspected she had a virus. Hospitals do not like to admit people with viruses. But the day after her birthday she was rushed to Cheltenham General Hospital’s emergency surgery unit with a blockage in her intestine. She was by now too frail for them to operate, and she died in hospital with her family around her to the end.

A well-filled and useful life has drawn to a close. I feel sure that her last wishes would be that we play her music and look after the planet and the people and creatures who live on it – as she always tried to do.

As Safe as Houses?

In C.Spiby on May 25, 2011 at 9:32 am

The Nuclear Fallout of the Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami

While the reactors at the Japanese Fukushima nuclear plant were being dowsed in sea water in hope of cooling their highly-radioactive contents, Oldbury on the other side of the Severn let off a worryingly tall plume of steam which could be seen from miles around.

Here’s one witness – a mr. Jonathan Bailey: “I live on the edge of Thornbury (top of Butt Lane )… from this view the clouds of steam were as wide as the power station and there was a loud roaring noise – and I am 3 miles away as the crow flies.”

There’s been a lot of concern and calls for a re-examination of the ‘lessons to be learned’ – but no abandonment or even stalling of the new generation of privately-owned nuclear power stations in the UK, including along our Severn.

This is based on the premise that the Japanese geological uniqueness makes a similar tsunami impossible here. Right? There was one in 1607. Then it killed 2,000 people and flooded areas as far inland as Glastonbury.  In fact, Dr Haslett of Bath Spa University College and Dr Bryant conducted a geological survey of the estuary in 2004 and concluded that “two large chunks of farmland… were simply washed away, one where the foundation of the Second Severn Crossing is and the other is now the reservoir for the Oldbury Nuclear Power Station”.

A spokesperson from SANE (Shepperdine Against Nuclear Energy) said: “A possible cause of the 1607 tsunami is not yet known, but the possibilities include a submarine landslide off the continental shelf between Ireland and Cornwall , or an earthquake along an active fault system in the sea south of Ireland . This fault system has apparently experienced an earthquake greater than magnitude 4 on the Richter scale within the last 20 years, so the chance of a bigger tsunami earthquake is a possibility.”

Farfetched? Alarmist? I’ll let you decide, but I guess – on the plus side – it is probably right to say that another event like that is unlikely, if not entirely impossible. I mean it’s not as if we’re building these things along the second fastest tidal river in the world, right? Oh, we are. I guess it’s a good job then we’re not prone to a lot of flooding either. July 2007 anyone? I guess at least we’re not planning on storing the radioactive waste on site with the new builds. We are! And the site is three times the size of the existing one? Blimey.

At least there’s no case of international terrorists mad enough to hijack civil aircraft as a fuel-filled missile in a co-ordinated attack. Like, um, 9/11. Or a car loaded with explosives like at Glasgow airport; what about 7/7 or the audacious IRA mortar attack on the MI6 headquarters in London? These plants seem pretty vulnerable when you put it like that.

But none of that has happened to us. Yet.

I mean it’s not as if Oldbury is regularly shut-down for safety reasons, is it? Oh, hang on – that’s how we started this – with the shutdown and steam plumes of 17th March 2011, the very same week Japan’s reactors of approximately the same age were at near-meltdown.

This event turned out to be benign. Failing to find out anything on their website I turned to the South Gloucestershire County Council’s Emergency Planning who, seemingly unaware of the event, merely passed on my questions to Magnox, the current operators at Oldbury. They said the issue was “Due to an electrical problem within equipment, housed in the turbine hall, an automatic safety process caused the shutting down of the turbines and the associated Reactor Two at the site.   The turbine hall is outside of the reactor building and is on the non nuclear side of the plants operation.  The steam which was released as part of this process is used to drive the turbines on the non nuclear side and is at no point in contact with radioactive material.

The automatic shutting down of the reactor is again a safety measure and stops the generation of heat used to produce steam to drive the turbines. 

Whilst I can fully understand your concerns in light of events in Japan, this event does not represent any safety issue at the site and is simply a standard safety process.”

Sounds fine. But consider the Oldbury fire of 2007, which also triggered a shut down. Imagine if that had got out of hand?

It’s all very well that these malfunctions occur in the non-nuclear parts of the plant and that their automatic shutdown is purely precautionary.

But if precautions of that magnitude are that necessary then the risk can’t be entirely benign. And let’s not forget, it wasn’t the tsunami or earthquake which released the radiation in Japan or (at the time of writing) could potentially expose their rods – putting the disaster at Chernobyl level – but the consequence of these things damaging the non-nuclear parts of the plant.

Following Japan, some countries have delayed decisions on new nuclear power; others like China cancelled them for now. No such move here. No delay – just observation which, one suspects, is mindful of the cost of delay since we’re dealing with the likes of commercial giants E-on and the leading French provider of nuclear power (Horizon their partnership is called). And yet this week I’ve heard the most sense from Walt Patterson of the London-based think tank, Chatham House when he said of nuclear power[i]:  “Why turn to the slowest, the most expensive, the narrowest, the most inflexible, and the riskiest in financial terms? Nuclear power needs climate change more than climate change needs nuclear power.”

You can see photos of the 17th March 2011 steam plumes and the 2007 fire at Oldbury on the local Facebook group page for ‘NO to new NUCLEAR POWER at Oldbury‘.

[i] Cited in BBC News online ‘Nuclear power: Energy solution or evil curse?’ by James Melik Reporter, Business Daily, BBC World Service, 14 March 2011 Last updated at 23:46 (

Not the time to go nuclear !

In Dinosaur on April 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Do you sometimes suffer from one of those days when somehow your timing seems all wrong? When the odd remark that could have been perfectly innocent in a different context goes down like a lead balloon? Or worse?

So, what about this one for bad timing. On March 12, the Citizen came out with a front page headline, “Nuclear Hope for Thousands”. Jobs could be secured for generations to come, it declared.

The nub of the news item was that Gloucestershire could become a major centre for the nuclear industry, with thousands of “high quality” jobs being created. “If there is a certainty for the nuclear industry then there will be people needed to work in this sector,” the Tory MP for Stroud, Neil Carmichael, was quoted as saying.

Good news perhaps for those who liked that kind of thing! Of course, it goes without saying that we don’t. But on the same day, the news broke of the tragic earthquake and consequent tsunami in Japan. And, to make things worse, a few days later we heard that a nuclear power complex had been destabilised and was in danger of going critical. With radiation levels rising, the battle commenced to prevent the Fukushima plant from becoming another Chernobyl.

Now we on the Clarion have never believed that we should go down the nuclear road – and we’ve printed numerous articles pointing to the dangers and difficulties involved. Now surely is the time to stop flannelling and think again?

{click here for the Forest-side anti-nuclear presence on Facebook}

Making the most of our post…

There’s probably not many folk around these days who can remember the halcyon days when a letter cost a few pence (in old money) to post – let alone the time when if you popped it in the pillar box early enough it would be delivered the same day.

Back then the GPO was a government department, headed by a Minister called the Postmaster General. Not only did it handle the mail, but also pioneered the telephone system, routing our calls through a network of telephone exchanges who could connect you with places throughout the world. And you could have telegrams delivered, if you lacked a phone and had urgent news to send. And it was never afraid to embrace the latest technology when it came along.

Ah, those were the days! The rot set in, when MacMillan’s Government first allowed the GPO to distribute “junk mail” with our post. Later, the whole system was hived off, to become a public corporation.

Since then it’s been a sitting target for the circling vultures. It’s already faced the debilitating impact of “competition” – and now the Government wants to sell it off to the highest bidder – as the Tories under Thatcher did with the telephone system.

It’s no wonder that postal workers are campaigning to save the service and keep it in public hands. If we value our post, we should give them our backing.

Time for some cautious celebration?

Since our last issue, folk in the Dean have been celebrating victory in the campaign to save the Forest from the Government’s plans to snatch it from us – and then sell it back again. And we’ve every right to make a bit of whoopee.

But of course it ain’t necessarily over yet – and Jan Royall who led the campaign from the front was right to suggest we should stay vigilant. Whilst the Government has scrapped its plans for a wholesale sell off, they’ve appointing a panel to look at future plans and report back. I’m sure many folk will be waiting for its conclusions with bated breath.

Of course, this didn’t stop campaigners throughout the country from taking to the woods for a day of celebration on Sunday, March 20. Here in the Dean it was held at Wenchford. It was good to see so many people around the barbecues, strolling amongst the trees, and generally relaxing. One campaigner said to me, “it’s so good to be able to celebrate a victory, for a change!”

I agree. But there are so many more battles to be fought – and, who knows, there may be more victories to come, and times for more celebration!

A cold deadly longing

In C.Spiby, Reviews on December 16, 2010 at 10:48 am

‘A Nuclear Family Vacation (Travels in the World of Nuclear Weaponry)’

By N. Hodge & S. Weinberger

There were tests on living creatures as well. Because pigskin is remarkably similar to human flesh, the U.S. government experimented on live pigs. Tests in 1957 exposed some twelve hundred pigs to atomic detonation.

This is a strange book. Much like the Missile Defence Programme itself, it is presented as one thing but is, in fact, something else. Whereas Missile Defence was sold to the world as a defensive measure, in reality it was an offensive means of getting one’s enemy to believe you could withstand a first strike and thus break the M.A.D. doctrine which guaranteed mutual destruction to your advantage. And therein lay the end of deterrence.

Here, I detect the heavy hand of the Bloomsbury marketing office: ‘A Nuclear Family Vacation’ has no family about it and as such is a rather lazy play on words, and it is hardly a travelogue as the sub-title and ironic cover of my edition would have you believe. Instead what we get is an extended journalistic foray into the development of the United States nuclear defence programme. And it reads like the kind of article one might expect in the Sunday supplements, albeit stretched over some 285 fairly laborious pages.

The most despicable line these Cold War enthusiasts reveal is the deadly lamenting of the end of the Cold War itself. Engineers, scientists and contractors seem to openly regret the end of so-called hostilities between the US and the Soviet regime. With funding removed there was, before 9/11, no role for development in a world where mutually-assured destruction guaranteed jobs for what seem like unashamedly candid hotheads who believe in the myth of the great American dream.

Initially, nuclear weapons were delivered by bombers lumbering through the skies and, like any aircraft, could be shot down. The advent of the ballistic missile changed the entire calculus: A nuclear attack with intercontinental ballistic missiles was nearly unstoppable. The ABM Treaty, adopted in 1972, helped preserve the Cold War’s nuclear balance of terror by ensuring that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union would (with certain exceptions) deploy active defences against ICBM’s, thus guaranteeing mutual assured destruction. The treaty was seen as a landmark of arms control, limiting the need for new offensive nuclear weapons and reinforcing a key point of nuclear deterrence: the only defence against nuclear attack was massive retaliation.

Following 9/11 the Bush Presidency quit Anti- Ballistic Missile Treaty and the military got the renewed funding it had been searching for since the end of the Cold War. Now missile defence had a new role with Iran and North Korea. Though, as the authors point out in a rare moment of rightful scepticism, not a single missile has been halted by Missile Defence Programme in realistic test conditions – the above passage suggests an acceptance of M.A.D. as a legitimate tool for peace (as opposed to eradication of nuclear weapons, which simply isn’t entertained throughout the book).

Look at the anger Bush’s policy has awoken in Russia. Even if, as the book claims, Russia missiles wouldn’t be the target of the Missile Defence in Poland and the Czech republic (as they are convinced their missiles would fly north across the Pole as the shortest route to the USA), the political message cannot be ignored. In kind, long-range Russian nuclear bombers have re-started their run-up against UK airspace (as – let’s face it – with Fylingdales, we’re little more than a radar outpost for the US military and it’s NORAD).

Hodge writes for Jane’s Defence Weekly and has also featured in the FT and Foreign Policy magazine. His wife, Weinberger, writes for Wired’s national security blog ‘Danger Room’ and has also appeared in the Washington Post. But their journalistic qualities need to be held into account. These people are definitely nuclear tourists and while they clearly know their subjects well and write on the history with authority, they seem to portray an ugly fascination with their topic and, like the military hotheads they interview, metaphorically rubs their hands with glee at the thought of a new generation of nuclear R&D. Not quite the un-biased, scientific view they should have presented. Perhaps Bloomsbury’s editorial team have themselves been nuked. To be fair, they rightly raise an eyebrow at the survivability argument of the US side and also point out that post-‘duck and cover’ the general consensus appears to be that protecting the civil population wasn’t really on their agenda. But these points paradoxically run counter to their implied view that the presence and continuity of nuclear weapons is not to be questioned, whereas the jobs of its committed servants re-appears in almost every chapter. If only they cared so much about humankind.

But I have to ask myself why did I buy and read this book? And why did I continue to read it when the repulsive lamenting of the good old days of Reagan and Star Wars became clear? What then is the appeal of nuclear weapons? The answer is simple: war fascinates. Its history and its depiction of the worst of human kind. From All Quiet on the Western Front and the poetry of Sassoon or Owen to movies like Kubrick’s Paths of Glory or Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. From the War Game to Threads. Only by recognising the worst in human nature can we hope to change. This book is a despicable reminder that, despite what the history books tell us about a period of time we’ve called ‘the Cold War’, US military staff sit round-the-clock, trigger-ready and morally bereft in their underground missile silos with 10,000 warheads at their disposal (with 400 more in Europe, many in the UK). Or humming around the oceans, waiting for politicians to fail, British sailors maintain Trident and its capability to leash death unto millions of innocent civilians.

The authors end by stating that ‘It took a trip around the world for us to question the rationale behind the nuclear arsenal,’ – frankly they appear to be lacking in imagination. They sleep-walked around the world just as many people sleep-walked out of the Cold War not realising the nightmare was still a reality.

What’s missing here and in the wider Trident debate is the child’s question – ‘Why?’ to which the response could be left to Albert Einstein when already too late he commented on the destructive power of the atom: ‘If only I had known, I would have been a watch-maker.’

Gloucestershire CC: “Law will be rough and ready”

In C.Spiby on June 24, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I spent a day last week trawling through the County Archives for research into a project I’m slowly working on called ‘Man Made Sun’. In it I look into why, in the 1980’s, Gloucestershire was the top-ranking rural county likely to be targeted by nuclear weapons in a Soviet attack. I qualify that observation in the parent work, but for now I wanted to share with you some of the terrible and terribly banal plans our County Council had in line for us during any such attack.

Aside from unearthing the 1984 War Book (that’s the Local Authority plan for dealing with a nuclear attack), which in itself is an eerie experience – handling two folders used by staff to cope with the detailed bureaucracy of Armageddon – I found what I presume is the Chief Executive’s response to the Grass Seeds exercise conducted in 1966 (with the response dating from around the start of the following year). While that original Civil Defence document details a predicted nuclear attack on Britain and its impact on our County – horrific enough both in detail and bewilderingly naïve optimism – it is the council response to the problems uncovered by that exercise which makes for the most chilling reading.

Bearing in mind the context being discussed is the post-nuclear attack stage and breaking the law could mean searching for loved ones after curfew, trying to get home or get  away through a restricted road, searching for food or demanding medical or food assistance – here I quote verbatim.

…it will be essential to have Army and Police patrols…it will be essential to have a curfew in operation and one of the Assistant Town Clerks would be appointed personally responsible for reading the Riot Act…this officer would also take prosecutions for offences in the local Magistrates’ Court, which it is imagined would be boosted by the addition of legally qualified members to the Bench and with much wider powers. Justice would be very rough and ready.

The use of the Prison (Gloucester) would be impracticable and involve the use of scarce manpower for supervision and what is wanted is a barbed wire compound into which offenders will be placed. This could be by the side of the river, which would provide sanitation. The Police and Army guarding the compound would have to be armed. There would be no time or manpower available to look after the prisoners who would be left to fight it out between themselves in the compound…

It will be necessary to take drastic action and after curfew, presumably, the Army will be shooting on sight. One would expect the Information Officer to try and boost morale and one could consider putting up notices warning the public of what will happen if they do commit offences, although this tactically might be a bad move.

Of course, none of this is anything new to anyone who’s watched either ‘The War Game’ or ‘Threads’, but to see these things written down in local government documents for our own county is quite literally an astounding reminder of the fragility of life under the Bomb.

Designated Area for Protest

In C.Spiby on June 18, 2010 at 1:42 pm

AWE Aldermaston

{CLICK HERE for the photo-essay}

It was still dark on that late October morning when our coach came to a polite halt outside the main gates of Britain’s atomic bomb factory, the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston.

At about the same time – a pre-dawn 6.30am – other coaches and minibus vans pulled up at their pre-planned positions around AWE’s numerous high security gates. Wrapped in layer upon layer of warm clothing, activists piled quickly out and set to work blockading the entire base, despite the awaiting police.

For our part, we, the main gate contingent comprising of about a dozen misfits of varying age and dress, disembarked quietly but were met instantaneously by a squad of approaching and eager police. Dispensing with any formalities they immediately requested we move directly to the acutely ridiculous ‘designated area for protest’.

I felt like I was in a Woody Allen movie. I mean, have you ever heard of anything as pointless as an approved area reserved for safe and inoffensive civil disobedience? A middle-aged man standing at my side and dressed as Death was equally bemused.

‘Um, no thanks, we’ll go this way.’ Pointing to the main gate where the largest gathering of police stood ready to welcome us in more traditional fashion.

‘No, Sir.’ And gently motioning his patronising arms as if he were directing traffic added, ‘If you’d kindly step this way – to the designated area for protest – over here in the car park.’

And he finished his repeated request with that ‘Thank you,’ police officers tend to add just to let you know that they’ve already decided you will obey their order – why would you possibly consider doing otherwise?

‘And under what law do you think you have the authority to direct us anywhere? This is a public pathway.’ I objected.

He looked at me quizzically. This wasn’t the way it normally went when patrolling B-roads, ASBO-ridden estates and during the weekend rumble down the local pub. ‘Ministry of Defence Land Byelaws!’ He blurted, unbelieving my incredulous reply.

That was all we needed to hear: it meant they had nothing.

Unless he cited a Section 14 Public Order Act, which he didn’t, and, I am guessing, invoked it with some kind of paperwork, they couldn’t force us anywhere. Thus I had an impromptu but abject lesson in how to use the law to the letter against the police, who, it seems, will try and get you to do whatever they want just because they think they can and ought. In reality they can do very little unless one is breaking a specific law. It is in knowing which law applies and when to call them into play wherein the power really lays.

In the meantime the message had got about that this wasn’t going to be some tin-pot demo with a couple of hippies, a few songs and some scraggy banners: numerous coaches and vans were dropping off tens of activists at each gate – way more protestors than the chap in front of us could see. He capitulated, leaving the designated area for protest as impotent as actually using it would be. He rejoined the ranks of his high-vis’-clad compatriots probably thinking to himself ‘Worth a try.’ and who could blame him?

A second contingent of blockaders arrived having been diverted from the construction gate by the police along the way. Since things weren’t really happening at the main gate yet and by the fact we overwhelmingly outnumbered here, many of us elected to make off to the next gate instead. Only the horse-mounted police followed.

The point of this blockade was to halt the construction work going on at AWE Aldermaston but we weren’t going to be picky and aimed to stop all traffic going in and it was this which necessitated the early start. In March 2007, parliament voted to replace Trident – our submarine-launched nuclear weapon system. But despite only voting for only the replacement of the subs and missiles – and not the actual warheads – a massive construction programme is steaming ahead at AWE Aldermaston, creating extra facilities to design, test and construct the next generation of deadly nuclear warheads, in advance of any parliamentary decision. In July 2007, the CND obtains documents that proved the decision to press on regardless had already been made by Government.

Couple this renewal, expansion and investment with the US Missile Defence system planned for Eastern Europe and no wonder Russia is re-aiming some of its arsenal of nuclear missiles this way.

Worse, this is public money being spent as The Morning Star newspaper reported the day following our blockade: ‘The government has pledged to spend £76 billion – handing over much of it to private weapons firms – to upgrade the weapons of mass destruction during the next few years.’

Since we have signed up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, why not consider Trident Ploughshares’ alternative proposal for AWE making it fit for use as an international centre of expertise on warhead decommissioning and verification as part of a global nuclear weapons convention?

Meanwhile, a mix of local, Thames Valley and MOD police were mostly professional, although I spotted one very over-zealous PC violently drag a protestor spread over the road across a kerb with way too much force. He did this with one arm free while the other clutched a police camera there to record evidence and add to their profiles of us. Perhaps it was his over ambitious nature that landed him the photographer role that day. Then I noted his lapels where his police id number ought to be clearly visible was not shown at all. It lay beneath his high-vis vest and stab-jacket.

Someone else commented that is a police requirement but when I questioned him on it he said ‘You don’t need to worry who I am.’

He was still visibly enraged and shaking with a glimmer of violence in his pursed lips, furrowed brow and piercing glare. Unlike the other constables there, this heavily-built copper looked to me like he was out for a good old-fashioned rumble and nothing more. I too had my camera and decided it was his turn to be snapped. Having done that, I decided to shadow him, letting him know clearly that whatever he did, I’d catch it on camera. It didn’t take long before he turned on me.

‘Have you got some kinda fixation on me or something?’ he snapped. Clearly the police aren’t so keen to have someone constantly taking their photo and surveying them quite so closely.

‘No.’ I replied, ‘I simply think, like the three other witnesses there, you man-handle people. You’re unnecessarily rough and…’ – but he interrupted with a booming ‘That’s my job!’
‘What, man-handling people?’
‘If necessary.’
‘Uh, I don’t think so. But I’ll watch just in case, eh?’

And he promptly pushed me roughly back to the pavement for ‘my own safety’ as a colleague of his put it, noticing the situation was rising and could get quickly and unnecessarily out of control.

For her part, the veteran campaigner Pat Arrowsmith, now 78, lay repeatedly in the road but was not arrested whereas a number of younger activists were led away. The first that I saw were three angels from our gate: three young female students dressed in white with kitsch home-made fairy wings. The police raised some screening, thereby inadvertently actually helping close even more of the road and assisting in our blockade, and prised them apart. There was a mix of superglueing each others’ hands together and the use of tubes to link hands so the police cannot use the usual 3 on 1 tactic to prise protestors apart from linking on to each other (the latter requiring specialist cutting teams instead, all taking more time and therefore prolonging the blockade).

The problem with non-violent direct action is that it is still pretty hardcore stuff. I don’t mind being arrested or having a record, but the fine for the most likely conviction – Obstruction of the Highway – carried a fine of anywhere between £80 to £500 with court costs. I simply don’t have that kind of money lying readily around what with two very young children, a mortgage which has increased over £150 per month in the last two months and the credit crunch to contend with.

On the other hand, what price should we put on the future of these very children? I felt utterly deflated with the moral quandary at hand. I needed to act responsibly as a parent but what did that mean when the state and rule of law was removing my ability to act practically against it? A selfless sacrifice can also be selfish I learned with knotted stomach. Before parenting children I would have been in there, in the very thick of it, but now, with children – even though it was FOR them I was here – I just couldn’t. A support role (legal and photographic witness) and my very presence was the best I could offer Trident Ploughshares while all about me pensioners, Quakers and students were being arrested and carried off to police vans.

Kate Hudson, Chair of the CND said the blockade had “…been a great success. We have effectively obstructed work at the site for many hours, closing gates and blocking roads. This is the largest blockade of Aldermaston for many years and signals an increased public concern about Britain’s weapons of mass destruction. At a time of economic crisis, our government is prioritising nuclear bombs over healthcare, job creation and investment in sustainable energy production. The majority of British taxpayers do not want their money sent on Trident replacement and the new generation of nuclear weapons that will be made here at Aldermaston.”

Paradoxically, the Big Blockade 2008 was also at times life-affirming. In Reading we raised the ghosts of the original March to Aldermaston with strangers coming together snoring and reading in a community hall attached to a church. And then there was the free hot supper, ginger cake and tea, jazz and folk music, brightly-costumed people and, more than anything, camaraderie across the faiths, years and ideologies.

Like most nuclear sites, the sheer size of the AWE is breathtaking, the magnitude for destruction terrifying. But the appearance of the size of the privately-run AWE doesn’t stop incompetence creeping in. In the July 2007 flooding that so affected our own area, AWE itself barely got by with one of the main bunkers where the nuclear warheads are maintained was almost ‘overwhelmed’. 84 buildings were flooded, some up to two feet and all live nuclear work had to be stopped for nine months.

Worse still, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that both essential radiation safety alarms and criticality alarms were out of action for up to 10 days. Although heavily censored, the FOI request revealed that AWE’s own review said ‘Several key facilities experienced Near Miss events…’ This mostly overlooked piece of news (Channel 4 being the exception) was not missed by protestors and more than one banner referred to it directly. But did we raise the profile of our concerns on this day?

For sure all gates or roads to them were peacefully blocked at one point or another, many for a number of hours. Of the hundreds present at the blockade (estimates vary – as ever – from 150 to 400 or more), there were 33 arrests, the greatest number at the site in a decade. That would be the largest number since the end of the Cold War. But the press coverage was, as ever, minimal with most reports making pedestrian remarks at best as to the reasons behind the blockade.

Perhaps, though, this number will also be the largest number to beat at the start of a ‘New Cold War’? For sure it will be if ministers like our very own Mark Harper MP get their way.

Not content with supporting the renewal and replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system, the Forest of Dean MP now backs the dangerously destabilising and controversial American Missile Defence System to be sited in Eastern Europe, as I mentioned earlier.

Although supposedly aimed at ‘rogue states’ – those, we presume, being Iran and North Korea (favourites in Bush’s axis of evil), the Missile Defence System is planned to be built in what was previously the other side of the cold war eastern bloc. It doesn’t, therefore, take a genius to deduce that this would rightly wind the Russians up somewhat.

At least on this occasion Mr. Harper is consistent. His argument for supporting Trident was that the future threat would primarily be a resurgent and aggressive Russia as we had seen in the Cold War. I couldn’t agree at the time of that argument but that was before the Litvinyenko case and the fall-out (ahem) that has since followed from events in Georgia. Now we’ve stoked the old fires in the great Russian bear and Putin’s puppet successor looks to continue the hard line. Indeed, it seems as if we WANT a second Cold War. After all, the war on terror seems to be going the same way as Vietnam.

On a final note and on the other side of things nuclear I caught an intriguing headline on the cover of the 12th June edition of the Municipal Journal [1]: ‘Councils set to be offered ‘carrot’ for nuclear waste’. The carrot this time being some vague form of virtual bargaining termed ‘community benefits packages’. How dumping nuclear waste constitutes a benefit to any community is such incredible spin as to be frankly beyond my logic.

[1] The Municipal Journal, Thursday 12th June 2008 edition, news article by Sally Guyoncourt.