Below is the badge I'm wearing on the photograph (and as I type this.) If it looks frivolous to you; when you were engaging with the reality of a nuclear war that was apparently considered possible by the governments of the US and Britain, you had to laugh often, or go crazy. At that small, and rather lovely, patch of Berkshire, which is now a nature reserve, DOGS NOT BOMBS has come true, for it's a favourite dog walking area. (Ironically, the residents, some of whom hated the Greenham women for reducing the value of their houses, now have reason to be grateful to those who stayed to the last and fought for the Common to be restored, which must add hundreds of thousands to the value of those houses now.)
The narrative which was given to us then was that with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the collapse of the Soviet bloc, nuclear weapons were no longer a problem. Many people asserted that protest had been foolish and pointless, since what had driven the last Soviet Secretary General, Mikhail Gorbachev, to the negotiating table, was the build up of arms which had bankrupted Communist Russia in their attempts to keep up. I have my reasons for disagreeing with this; firstly because (and I may have said this before, but it's worth repeating, I feel) on at least one occasion nuclear war almost broke out due to a false alarm, when the Russians thought they saw Cruise missiles coming at them and were on the point of releasing the SS 20 missiles at Europe when they realised their mistake. I also wonder about the wisdom of bringing another country to its economic knees; and I will say two words in support of this. Vladimir Putin. Finally, I am convinced that our protests did play a role. We made it impossible for anyone to believe that nuclear war could be survived by building the ridiculous shelters the government blueprinted in their Protect and Survive leaflets, and Greenham women told Gorbachev that no progress would be made on arms reduction unless Russia made concessions. There was a great deal of work going on during this period, which went far beyond demonstrations or even direct action at Greenham Common, the tracking of the Cruise missiles when they left the base, and the actions at Salisbury Plain.
|Greenham women's action.( Geograph.org.uk)|
Now there is a new nuclear threat, and once again an American president, one just as amateurishly belligerent as B-movie actor Ronald Reagan, is suggesting that nuclear weapons could be used, even in Europe. It's been largely forgotten due to the situation with North Korea, but Trump has said 'Europe is large.' Meanwhile, the largest Russian manoevres since the end of the Cold War are about to take place in Belarus, on the edge of NATO territory, and the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has said that the situation of the world is more dangerous than it has been for a generation.
|Photo Lt Stuart Antrobus, MOD|
Most people haven't noticed, but recently the UN voted to outlaw nuclear weapons. The abstainers were the nuclear-armed states, of course, and their argument was that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty made such a measure unnecessary.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ', adopted in 1968, aimed 'to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to foster the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of disarmament. The Treaty establishes a safeguards system under the responsibility of the IAEA, which also plays a central role under the Treaty in areas of technology transfer for peaceful purposes. I have lifted this wording from the International Atomic Energy Agency site'. However, at that period and afterwards, and certainly since 1989, the nuclear armed nations have been updating and 'improving' their weaponry. The last disarmament conference ended fruitlessly in 2015.
From the outset, when I was a child (and I am now old enough to count as an antique, being well over 50 years old), anti-nuclear campaigners have been regarded as impractical, woolly-headed (well, we were often woolly-hatted, but that was serious pragmatism if you were doing things in the depth of winter)
|Bertrand Russell and others. Photo: Tony French.|
The narrative we have been fed about our own nuclear weapons (as opposed to irresponsible 'rogue states' is that we are historically right, democracies who defeated Hitler, and that we therefore have a right to possess them, because we will always use them responsibly, only if there is extreme provocation. Perhaps you have been wondering how far this blog is about history. It is. That narrative is the Mutually Assured Destruction story (MAD), and it does have a certain crazed logic, as long as it's adhered to. The trouble is, once you start talking about pre-emptive strikes on any nation, that's the end of MAD, and perhaps the beginning of terminal madness; the 'end of history,' but not as envisioned by Francis Fukuyama.
A generation ago, we learned about what the Greenham women called 'the links.' Nuclear weapons have never existed on their own. They are part of a system of world domination, which has been played out in trade ever since human beings started to colonise. There's a chain of links between the Roman Empire and Trident, between the British theft of India and destruction of its industry to favour Britain (which began even before India was a colony); between post-colonial exploitation of the developing world (as it's called), and the wars and dictatorships that send refugees to our shores; the impoverishment that sends the much-vilified economic migrants. And the wrecking of the environment in the name of 'business'. There's a powerful link between Japan's rewriting of its history books to play down its crimes in World War 2 (which began way before 1939, really, when Japan invaded China in 1931), and the Korean situation. Now Japan is saying it wants nuclear weapons. I was in Hong Kong when the rewriting of the history books started, in the early 80s, and I saw how worried the Hong Kong Chinese were. Many of them remembered what had happened when the Japanese arrived there. 'People died very easily then,' a minicab driver told me.
So what do we do about that? It all seems out of reach, in the hands of Donald Trump and his advisers, the equally scary hands of Kim Jong Un, of Putin, and the super-rich who control international trade.
Well, for a start - as historians and historical novelists, we can tell it how it was in the light of current research, and many History Girls, past and present, have done just that. We can reimagine the past, without respect for pieties or comfortable national and cultural myths. Tanya Landman's BEYOND THE WALL is a shining example, exposing the Roman Empire as the nightmare it was to many subjugated people. And when we've reimagined the past, which is too often used to justify current oppression (think of those who want to glory in the British Empire), we can reimagine the present and the future.
The CND symbol was devised as a gesture of despair, but I think history hasn't ended yet, and it's too soon to despair. Throughout the twentieth century there were 'crazy' people who dared reimagine the world. We wouldn't have the NHS without them, nor would I be able to vote. I was at the launch of Sally Nicholls's marvellous novel of the Suffragette movement THINGS A BRIGHT GIRL CAN DO, in Oxford this month, and Sally spoke movingly of the things the Suffragettes imagined which seemed crazy pipe-dreams, but have come to pass.
Friends, to use the Quaker form of address, let us reimagine the world. Because the end of history, in any shape, is not what we want.
Kate Hudson on the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty