Without doubt there was genuine idealism among the “Aldermaston generation”, as Geoffrey Wheatcroft describes it (Lament for the disarmer , Guardian, February 6). The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in its early years, was inextricably linked to the social radicalisation of the time.
The first Aldermaston marches articulated both popular dissent and social rebellion. And there were many youths like Wheatcroft on those early protests, very welcome even if their “motives were mixed”. Youth culture was emerging as a distinct social and cultural phenomenon, and many made their first radical protest on a CND march.
But I don’t recognise much of Wheatcroft’s account of our movement over the decades. He states that “CND was compromised logically by pacifism and morally by communism”. In fact CND has never been a pacifist organisation; nor has it ever been communist, pro-communist or pro-Soviet. CND is a broad church – and this has been its greatest strength. Within our ranks we embrace pacifists, but I suspect the majority of our members are inclined towards the “just war” theory that underpins international law. Our policy has always been for both unilateral and multilateral nuclear disarmament. We oppose all nuclear weapons, whichever country of whatever ideology they belong to.
Wheatcroft also suggests that CND has only had two active moments – the early years, and the 1980s with the campaign against what he wrongly describes as “the deployment of cruise missiles in Germany”. Yes, Germany was one of the many places in Europe that the US wanted to put the missiles, but in fact CND was campaigning against the siting of cruise missiles in Britain at Greenham Common and Molesworth. These were particularly active moments, but between the 1960s and the 1980s there were campaigns against Polaris, against the neutron bomb and much more.
Wheatcroft is particularly damning about CND’s latter years: “If anything calls into question the good faith of the anti-nuclear cause, it’s the way that it faded away with the end of the cold war.” It is true that our membership declined in the 1990s: that was because many people felt they were no longer under threat after the cold war was over. Perhaps some believed a new world order of peace and harmony had been ushered in. But I can assure Wheatcroft that CND continued to campaign: against Trident, introduced in 1994; against French and Chinese nuclear tests in 1993 and 1995; and against the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998. CND realised nuclear weapons were still a massive issue, even if we had a less receptive audience.
Of course that has now changed. Since the late 1990s we have had renewed and growing membership and support: first with the US revival of the “Star Wars” project, then over the illegal war on Iraq, and most significantly over Trident replacement. A majority in Britain now opposes Trident replacement – CND has played a role in that shift in public opinion, and we will continue campaigning until all nuclear weapons are abolished.
(Originally published in The Guardian)