The battle in Britain to ban the bomb

LESLIE F. HANNON August 22 1960

The battle in Britain to ban the bomb

LESLIE F. HANNON August 22 1960

The battle in Britain to ban the bomb



London—While murmurs for disarmament are increasingly but ineffectually heard in Canada, in Britain the organized outcry a tía inst nuclear weapons may now be strong enough to change official policy.

At the annual conference of the Labor party in October, the most fateful debate is likely to centre on whether Britain should stand alone in renouncing nuclear arms. The debate will not be encouraged by the political wing of the party, led by Hugh Ciaitskell. In a summer of desperate compromise he won acceptance from the party executive for a defense policy that approves British retention of the H-bomb but places responsibility for nuclear defense on NATO. He hammered out this "eat your cake and have it too" policy only after stem-

ming strong demands from within the party that Labor should endorse unilateral nuclear disarmament.

The deeply serious proposition that Britain should turn her back on the H-bomb and refuse to allow her soil to be used for missile bases, or her men in any force to be armed with nuclear weapons, is the battlccry of one of the most unlikely groups of men and women ever to influence major policy in Britain. Its first political goal is to capture the support of the Labor party. As this was written, its leaders estimated they had a better than fifty-fifty chance.

Who are these people who want Britain to go naked in a nucleararmed world? Who supports them'.’ Where does the money come from and what have they achieved so far? CON I INUL.D ON I*AGI. 42


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A Sikh officer stood at the salute, pondering the odd ways of the English

They call themselves the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The shining figurehead is Earl Russell, one of the world’s most widely respected and bestloved eggheads. The vice-president is novelist, playwright and essayist J. B. Priestley, whose article in the New Statesman in 1957. demanding that Britain give the world a fresh lead by shunning nuclear weapons, touched off the campaign. The chairman of the executive committee and front-line strategist is Canon !.. John Collins, who makes his living by bossing everything connected with music in St. Paul's Cathedral. This athletic, cigar-smoking churchman, whose passionate devotion to the ban-the-bomb campaign can lead him into mild profanity. is supported by a corps of actors, writers, scientists, union leaders, professors of history and philosophy, publishers. parsons, sculptors, cartoonists and a handful of professional politicians. The names of Lord Boyd Orr, Sir Julian Huxley. Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Dame Edith Evans, Michael Foot. A. J. P. Taylor, E. M. Forster, Henry Moore, Sir Herbert Read. Baroness Wootton and Benjamin Britten sparkle in the roster. Locally, the campaign works through 375 committees that attempt to urge everybody to write to his local paper and MP demanding support for the cause, and to turn out for demonstrations. The campaign shuns affiliation with any other organized body, its funds come entirely from small private gifts.

While the true strength of the CND lies at the grass roots, it is men like the fiery Priestley who continue to inspire the movement. His wife, author Jacquetta Hawkes, is president of the CND’s women's committee. I met Priestley in his Albany suite, just off Piccadilly. His eyes flashed with vehemence as he insisted that Britain "should have the guts to say ■finish.’ " He did not believe the United Kingdom would be in any greater danger of nuclear attack if she scrapped the H-bomb. Any country that did attack her after she disarmed would throw away all hope of forwarding its cause in the court of world opinion. And, after all, wasn’t that the real core of the East-West cold war? "Anybody who has played poker, as 1 did in my foolish youth,” Priestley said, "knows that a time comes around three in the morning when everybody in the smoky room is longing for someone to say. Let s pack it up.’ This is exactly the kind of lead Britain can now give the world.” He believes that in their collective nuclear neurosis, the leaders of the great powers are harboring a most dangerous illusion. "They seem to believe that the weapons and bombs will just quietly rust away after serving their purpose as a deterrent. It simply doesn't work that way. The machinery is turning and the mad race for bigger rockets and faster deliveries will continue. And all the time there’ll be more and more suspicion and more and more incidents.

I think that each of the Big Four leaders really wants to get out of the nuclear arms race much more fervently than he can say politically. We can show them the way.”

Priestley’s cigar had gone out and he risked a blister to relight the stubby butt.

"If our policy were that of the British government, the government would go to the other powers and say something like

this: ‘The arms race has gone on long enough and we want out. Even if you don’t agree with us, on a date to be fixed Britain will disarm unilaterally.' I am not a pacifist ... I believe violence can be necessary in some circumstances. But the H-bomb is not only idiotic—to envisage its use in any circumstances is morally indefensible. How anyone can pretend to be defending Christian civilization . . .” He threw up his hands.

The CND’s most notable achievement so far was the public support for the fifty-mile Aldermaston march this spring. Each Good Friday since 1958. the road between Aldermaston (Britain’s nuclear-

weapon research centre) and London has borne a trudging mass of marchers who can at least show blisters as proof of their steadfast purpose. For the first two years, they were generally dismissed as fellow - travelers, cranks and ineffectual do-gooders. But this year the march swelled into what has been called the greatest British political demonstration of the century—-an obviously sincere expression of public opinion that no politician here can afford to ignore. Eight thousand marchers, led by drummers, pipers and skillle bands, set off from outside the pastel-painted buildings of Aldermaston, in Berkshire. At Reading, thousands more joined. By the time the outer suburbs of London were reached, the column stretched over seven miles and contained 40.000 people. Housewives pushed babies in their prams; fathers carried children piggyback; a few wheelchairs were seen. Doctors in cars flanked the column. The occasion attracted some of the eccentrics who are among the delights of England. A lone parson marched contentedly. handing out tracts that labeled the march blasphemous because the Hbomb was a work of God. A Sikh officer in uniform stood at the salute at a crossroads for hours, possibly pondering the strange ways of the English. In Trafalgar Square, a mighty crowd awaited the marchers. The plinth of Nelson's Column, the broad backs of Landseer's lions, the steps of the National Gallery, and every

square foot of concrete in the square itself were jammed. Police estimated the crowd at more than 100,000. While the more footsore of the marchers were let through to bathe their feet in the twin fountain pools, speaker after speaker echoed the words of Earl Russell: “I do not see how anybody, on a sober estimate of the probabilities, can expect, if present policies continue, that there will be human beings in the world at the end of the present century.”

What do the CND leaders think will happen if their doctrine does become national policy? For one thing, they believe that in the w'orst possible case it would be better for the British to live under communism than commit national suicide in nuclear war.

I discussed the CND’s chances with Canon Collins in his book-lined study, close by St. Paul’s. The roar of jets reverberated ominously in the courtyard outside his windows. Fifty feet away, holes blasted by Hitler’s bombers still gaped beside the narrow roadway. "I think the tide is flowing toward us now.” he said. "We were making great strides within the Labor party before the breakdown of the summit conference. That set us back a bit and saved Gaitskell. A lot of people got scared by Khrushchov’s tough attitude and fell back on the old deterrent policy. Deterrent? The H-bomb doesn't deter anything except sanity. During the summer we think we've made up the lost ground. Even among the Tories we have a few at the citycouncilor level who march with us. The chairman of a branch of the young Conservatives is a supporter. About half the Liberal MPs go about halfway with us. Among the Labor MPs, we hear that about sixty favor our policy but, tactically, some of them are going along with Gaitskell for the present.

In an earlier speech Collins had said: "Everybody at the top knows that there is no defense against nuclear weapons. We are being fobbed olí with an unprintable lie because we are a satellite of a nation whose people are charming but whose government is riddled with the folly of living in the past." I asked him how such opinions sat with the higher authorities of the Church of England. "They regard me with high suspicion." he replied with a twinkle.

As one of the four canons of the cathedral—in a sense they and the Dean of St. Paul’s make up a board of directors— Collins can be removed from ollicc only by seldom-used legal action. His chances of advancement in the church would, however, appear to be small. On another recent occasion he said: "Are we going to be mad, like, I regret to say, a number of fellow churchmen of mine, including bishops and even archbishops, who say it’s better to be dead than to live under communist rule?"

Already Collins and the CND are thinking about next Easter. Soon they’ll decide whether to stage another Aldermaston march, one likely to top even this year’s ellort, or to find another way to convince politicians that many Britons are willing to try anything to break the nuclear deadlock. "We don’t want the marches to become an old-school-tie affair,” Collins told me. “You know— people taking on airs because they've never missed a march. And the job of

bedding down and feeding thousands of marching people in a smallish city like Reading just about bust us. Perhaps we'll start next year’s demonstration from several points and let the smaller columns converge on Trafalgar Square on the final day.”

Whatever form of demonstration is chosen, the authorities at least can be sure no laws will be broken. The CND regards itself as a responsible democratic movement and frowns on the activities of organizations seeking nuclear disarmament by more violent methods. The Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear Warfare is an example. It pursues a Gandhi-like course of civil disobedience. In one of its recent demonstrations Mrs. Nell Sandford, granddaughter of the late Canadian multimillionaire Sir James Dunn, was among 82 persons who spent three days in jail for obstruction at the U. S. missile base at Harrington. Another Canadian, Mrs. Mildred Slater, earned a two-week sentence earlier for obstructing at the SwafTham missile base. The C'ND will have no truck either with the British Peace Committee, which sponsored a recent speech in London by the U. S. Nobel prizewinner Linus Pauling.

"It does not matter that Britain has perhaps 500 nuclear bombs for her defense when a dozen or 40 or 100 bombs could be lobbed over from Russia that would put an end to the British Isles for perhaps a thousand years,” Pauling said. "The time has come when we must all work together for peace.” The Peace Committee, which it considers Communist-dominated, can work alone as far as the CND is concerned.

While Priestley and Collins and their supporters may feel the tide is flowing in their favor, they're getting little direct comfort from Harold Macmillan and his Conservatives. Recently the prime minister referred pointedly to the "pacifists and defeatists” seeking a change of direction in British defense policy.

"What is the real purpose of the proposal that Britain should abandon the nuclear deterrent on which we have spent so much effort and great resources?" Macmillan asked. "Is it on moral grounds? I cannot understand those who believe the bomb is wicked for us but at the same time are ready to accept the protection the American bomb affords. Is it on political grounds? I cannot believe that our influence would be greater either upon American policy or world policy if we abdicated our share of the common responsibility. Is it on grounds of economy? Expensive as nuclear weapons are, men are more expensive. It is estimated that Britain will spend £1,618,000,000 on defense in 1960-61. Of this, ninety percent will be spent on conventional forces. I am persuaded that, broadly speaking, wc should continue calmly and with determination on the general line that w'e are now pursuing."

Supporters of the CND grab a small crumb of comfort from the fact that major government statements on defense now always begin with an olive-branch preamble stating Britain’s fervent hopes for peace. While this is simple good sense and good diplomacy, recent speeches have seemed to lay it on a bit thick. When preparing the House for the abandonment of the British Blue Streak missile, which had cost £ ICH),000,000 to develop, in favor of the American Skybolt, Watkinson began: "Nobody wants disarmament more than the minister of defense, and nobody wants it more than Her Majesty’s government as a whole." Then he got down to the most efficient method of delivery of nuclear warheads, -fc