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No nukes is good news

In telling the history of the CND as it turns 60, its general secretary Kate Hudson tells Gerald Isaaman that recent events mean that the Doomsday Clock has been reset

22 March, 2018 — By Gerald Isaaman

The Aldermaston march, 1958

BIRTHDAYS are a moment for celebration. And for her 60th last month Kate Hudson had an enjoyable time. But the 60th birthday this month of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, where she holds the role as its national general secretary, has become a global disaster.

It is at the CND’s headquarters in Holloway Road that Kate has written CND At 60, a history of the mass movement born in Hampstead and Highgate and still a potent international force.

But in doing so Kate didn’t contemplate Russia’s newly re-elected president Vladimir Putin announcing a sophisticated new range of nuclear rockets he claims capable of wiping out any nation. Or that he and the UK would now be in a furious tit-for-tat toxic war over the use of a deadly nerve agent.

That follows the attempted assassination in Salisbury of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

As Kate told me: “CND have never stopped marching against nuclear weapons chemical poisons and will continue to do so until they are totally eradicated.”

She admits to being “totally shocked” by the Salisbury attack. “But it has reinforced our commitment to put an end to all weapons of mass destruction, not only nuclear weapons but also chemical and biological ones.”

Kate points out that all nuclear weapons states, the UK included, are in the process of modern­ising and upgrading their nuclear weapons.

Indeed, it is deja vu situation of the fears of annihilation that have enveloped successive generations since the Americans dropped their atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

They brought an end to war in the Far East in 1945 – a view now debunked – killing 340,000 people and maiming many more. And yet the dire threat still exists for today’s young people.

“So it seems incomprehensible that, over 70 years later, nuclear weapons still exist – and that some political leaders still contemplate their use,” writes Kate, who read history at UCL.

“Today, in the region of 15,000 nuclear weapons are stockpiled – enough to destroy human civilisation and the world as we know it many times over. The US alone has almost 7,000 nuclear warheads. Britain has over 200. This perhaps seems small in comparison, but each of Britain’s warheads has eight times th explosive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.”

The history of the CND, she points out, is the story of “those fighting for humanity against the horrors of war… the story of ordinary people’s struggles to shape a world without nuclear weapons and war based on legality and morality, to make governments responsive and accountable over our right to stay alive”.

The CND’s first president, Bertrand Russell

Yet, Kate observes: “We are back to the same level of danger as in the height of the Cold war with Russia. The Doomsday Clock is back to two minutes to midnight – the closest ever for the first time since 1953. So public opposition to the insanity of nuclear weapons is essential. There is overwhelming global opposition. Last year the UN General Assembly passed the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. But the nuclear weapon states ignore it.

“There are only nine nuclear weapon states but they wilfully disregard the will of the overwhelming global majority and could blow us all to kingdom come. They are upgrading their nuclear arsenals –including our own government spending £205billion on replacing Trident. It’s a complete disgrace.”

That’s a far cry from the explosive key article, published in the New Statesman by the novelist JB Priestley, then living in The Grove, Highgate, his warning still echoing loudly today.

“The British of these times, so frequently hiding behind masks of sour, cheap cynicism, often seem to be waiting for something better than party squabbles and appeal to their narrow self-interest, something great and noble in its intention that would make them feel good again,” Priestley pointed out then.

“And this might well be the declaration to the world that after a certain date one power able to engage in nuclear warfare will reject the evil thing for ever…”

It was the height of the Cold War with Russia. Such was the response that Kingsley Martin, the NS editor, suggested a mass movement against nuclear weapons, launched at a meeting of some 5,000 supporters at Central Hall, Westminster, an event virtually ignored by the media.

So it was that banner-waving protesters took to the streets, to make marches to the atomic weapons base at RAF Aldermaston, among them Labour MP Michael Foot, the authors Julian Huxley, Mervyn Jones, Adrian Mitchell, John Brunner plus journalist James Cameron.

The inspiring saga of the CND becoming the biggest mass mobilisation in every generation since the Second World War is told in fascinating detail by Kate, and includes the memories of bold activists, in particular CND co-founder Pat Arrowsmith, who was force fed when she went on hunger strike in prison.

Today, says Kate, we still have a problem with our political elite, as with Brexit. “They are buying into the old idea that we need nuclear weapons to enhance Britain’s global status,” she explains.

“What a ridiculous idea.

“We all need to get active, to get our heads out of the sand. We need a new vision of Britain’s role in the world that isn’t based on possession of weapons of mass destruction and a willingness to use them.”

Hope, however, is on the horizon now that President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un have agreed to meet to discuss harmony at some date to be announced.

Time will tell whether future nuclear devastation remains on the global agenda. Yet hope, as history has so often revealed, is not enough. The cry for peace will not be stifled. Now is the moment to catch up with the CND’s past, unfurl the flags of “Protest and Survive” – and put on those marching boots again.

CND At 60: Britain’s Most Enduring Mass Movement. By Kate Hudson, Public Reading Rooms, £12.95


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