As on old man who just sneaked in as a baby-boomer during its final year, I am no stranger to the threat of nuclear war. We were brought up on the myth that the Americans dropping A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually saved human lives. Imagine that! The mass destruction of two of the most developed cities in the world with populations of over 400,000 and 250,000 respectively was promulgated as an act of kindness. God bless America, that most humane of all the nations.
Similarly, MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), whereby a simple slip by one side would be matched by the other and the entire world would disappear in one single conflagration, was sold as the most certain way of ensuring it – the end of the world – would never happen. You have to admit, there is a certain kind of sanity in such a calculation; the sanity of a madman who believes that by killing everyone in the world he will never be caught or held accountable.
Such were the imbecilic beliefs the authorities tried inculcating within us.
My hometown of High Wycombe had the dubious distinction in the nineteen-eighties of being the foremost UK target for annihilation by the Soviet Union. First Dusseldorf in West Germany, where NATO housed an early warning system, followed by the USAF base up on Marlow Hill (near my secondary school) where I used to play in five-a-side football tournaments, since NATO had its secondary European communications nerve centre implanted there. Note that Washington DC in America was over three-and-half thousand miles away. The Americans always were cowards, as may be seen by every military campaign they have ever conducted since the inception of their country.
Actually, growing up in the sixties, us boys seriously believed we were still at war with Germany – wanted to believe we were at war with Germany, an attitude encouraged by the adult men around us who always wanted to be regarded as heroes of some kind, whereas in reality they were simply factory-workers being exploited in the newly-built local industrial estates. Some heroes! Still, you gotta look up to someone, aintcha? Might as well be those guys.
In the village we moved to in my mid-teenage, just five miles from where I was born, the UK government under Thatcher decided to build an underground nuclear bunker to shelter them when the Soviets fired their nuclear warheads at us (assuming the immediate destruction of Dusseldorf). SS-22s, were the missiles to which they were attached. See, our Government were just as cowardly as their American counterparts; they would only initiate a nuclear conflagration if they knew that they were personally safe and would not be hurt by it all. While the rest of the nation was being burnt to a frazzle, they’d be safe and sound half-a-mile underground sipping their PG Tips and munching on cheese and pickle sandwiches. The site they opted for was the Bomber Command base used by Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris while conducting the RAF’s fire-bombing campaign of Dresden (not to be confused with Dusseldorf) forty years earlier, in nineteen-forty-four. Which was another bombing operation that we were supposed to believe saved human lives. I know, incredible, isn’t it? Yet another act of kindness, on this occasion carried out by the British.
Some people weren’t too happy with the proposal for the military bunker – saw it as an act more likely to make nuclear war happen – and as such began a campaign of their own, to stop the bunker’s construction. A peace camp was established and protests held on a daily basis, to which the local constabulary responded with harassment and arrests. Until the site had been sold at great personal financial gain to the RAF by a local landholder with – surprise, surprise – previous connections to the military, there had been only woods and meadows. By now the land was occupied by a massive military complex known as Strike Command, surrounded by vast housing estates inhabited by the squaddies who worked there, along with a compound of imposing residences taken up by the officers. A straight ridge road linking our village with the next village two miles away was the only access, making any obstruction of the lorries and earth-moving plant required for the bunker’s construction a straightforward process, the activities of the constabulary notwithstanding. To offset this, a new access lane was built off the valley road running parallel to the ridge road a few miles west. This access route was far more difficult to block and the construction of the bunker carried on apace, as the diminishing group of disillusioned protestors either abandoned their posts or were dragged off to court and turned into criminals by the law enforcers in their blue serge suits and helmets, aided and abetted by the county judges.
All the while, we were being assailed by propaganda concerning the malfeasant intentions of a trio of nations later christened the ‘Axis of Evil’ by George W. Bush, with one of them being singled out as the main protagonist within an ‘Evil Empire’ according to the incumbent old Hollywood has-been and soon-to-be dementia-addled President of the United States of America. The names of those nations are all too familiar: North Korea, Iran and Russia. The first was bombed flat by the United States military using conventional weapons shortly after they – the USA – had dropped their humane A-bombs on Japan, to the extent that when no more military targets remained the Americans turned to destroying the country’s entire infrastructure instead, starting with the hydro-electric dams and moving on from there, committing a whole string of war crimes for which they were never prosecuted, in the process; the second contains a culture so ancient that it pre-dates written records; while the third straddles a land mass stretching from Asia to Europe and has been the only bulwark to contain US hegemony since the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allies. Also, films were issued by the UK government about how we good people should protect ourselves in the event of a nuclear conflagration by hiding under tables and such like (while they would be comfortably ensconced in their underground bunker drinking PG Tips…) and the media made us feel even less safe with their daily reports of imminent war and destruction.
And all for what? To make us feel happy that we were living in the free world. To distract us from the neoliberal agenda that was patently undermining our well-being with its promises of a drip-drip down effect of wealth creation, as though the rich wouldn’t be getting richer and the poor getting poorer and us apathetic morons having all the hard-won rights of the past hundred-and-fifty years or more stripped away as the government waged war upon those whom the country’s wealth had been built: the miners and steel-workers and all those other hard-pressed types who had left the fields to go and work in the factories and foundries and who stupidly believed they were regarded as heroes. Just as the country’s police force had been set upon those individuals whose only aim was to halt the likelihood of nuclear war and create a peaceful world where societies of people sharing different backgrounds could live alongside each other both locally and supra-nationally (the ultimate horror of any ruling elite group), so were the bastions of law and order in all their blue-serge glory deployed to intimidate and if called to beat up their fellow workers – so degraded had we become.
So, no, to an end-of-an-era baby-boomer like myself of nearly sixty years standing, the threat of nuclear war and the way it is used to demonise ‘the other’ and cower the population while distracting us from the real social issues confronting the nation, comes as no surprise.
It ain’t nothing new. The surprise is – it still works..!