9 August 2008

Secrets, lies and anniversaries

By Marguerite Finn

On a calm summer's evening almost exactly sixty-three years ago, boy scouts encamped above a small Welsh town heard the bells peal out joyously down in the valley. Telling his troop to get on with preparing the supper, the scoutmaster went off on a bicycle to investigate. Over two hours later, he tumbled off his bike into the camp to tell his astonished charges the war against Japan had been ended by a miraculous new weapon. Then he disappeared into his tent. He re-appeared again the next morning with a very sore head!

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, the bells in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were silent, their tongues immobilised by a thick coating of radioactive dust and debris, their bell-towers leaning out crazily from vaporised buildings, while people who might once have heard them, were reduced to shadows seared on to the pavements.

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. The public, with their human instinct for survival, know that the only hope of avoiding such a catastrophe recurring is to remind ourselves, at least once a year, of how fearful and vulnerable a place this world has become since the nuclear genie was let out of the bottle.

My partner recalled his scout camp when reading about the UK Government's secrecy and deceit over its plans for its latest new nuclear warhead. In 1945 the military secrecy over the atom bomb was necessary in order to achieve maximum effect. Such secrecy is no longer required. After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the indiscriminately destructive power of nuclear weapons was widely acknowledged, and the British Government signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, to pursue "negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."

2008 is the 40th anniversary of the signing of the NPT – but the Government's commitment to abandon nuclear weapons has quietly evaporated, leaving it in the embarrassing position of having to lie to the public (seventy-two percent of whom, in 2007, were against the replacement of our Trident nuclear submarines) about what it is now doing with our money.

Members of Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp, who for many years have kept a dedicated watch on the comings and goings at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) near Reading, report that the site is a hive of activity. Capital investment in AWE has increased from £24 million to £420 million in just seven years. New developments include the construction of the Orion laser (which can test nuclear materials in conditions replicating a nuclear explosion), the acquisition of a new super computer and the construction of an office complex to house more than 1500 new staff. In June, the Ministry of Defence revealed that they would apply in early 2009 for planning permission to build a new uranium enrichment facility at Aldermaston!

Information obtained recently under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that a senior MoD official told a meeting of arms manufacturers that the decision had already been taken to spend £3 billion to replace the UK's 160 nuclear warheads: "Our intention is to replace the entire Vanguard class submarine system – including the warhead and the missile".

Ministers continue to deny that there are plans to replace the warheads, insisting that no decision will be taken until 2010. Such deliberate dishonesty is hardly the 'good faith' necessary to move towards nuclear disarmament. Orwellian double-think enables them to claim to be reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the spirit of disarmament, while building a new generation of weapons which are more powerful, more targetable and more likely to be used. This mindset has given us a world armed to the teeth, with some countries quite prepared to countenance another Nagasaki just to get what they want.

Today, most nations have economies that are geared towards preparation for permanent war, as well as industralised infrastructures geared to meeting these – and not other – needs. Unless societies and economies are demilitarised, there will be no lasting peace. The Womens International League for Peace and Freedom (http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/) proposes that "all states should commit themselves to a thirty year Global Action Plan to Prevent War by reducing military budgets. A 5% reduction over 5 years would be a first step and would make available half a billion dollars a day".

If you are in Norwich this afternoon, why not come to the Peace Pillar in Chapelfield Gardens at 3pm where there will be a commemorative ceremony, followed by a picnic and an opportunity for discussion?