"Moon, We hoped you were safe"

IssueJune - August 2004
Feature by David McKenzie

Walker is reflecting on the 1969 moon landing and the planting of the US flag. The magic of that silver disk, with its message that there are places still untainted by human greed and malice, had been diminished forever.

Many of us have the same feelings about the sea, although the illusion of freedom from contagion is even more difficult to maintain, given the quantity of plastic debris that litters all our coasts, to say nothing of our knowledge of the huge and terrible changes we have made in it. There is also an additional infection. For the past 25 years the deep waters of the North Atlantic have been the most likely source of global catastrophe, as the ballistic missile submarines of four nuclear weapons states maintain their endless patrols.

A greenish pallor

It's not unknown for submariners to vomit when the hatch is first opened after an underwater tour. Having breathed nothing but the recycled and over-purified air of the submarine for two or three months, the taste of real air with all its scents and nuances is just too much for them.

On the streets of Helensburgh close to the Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane in Scotland, you can spot the sailors who have just come off patrol by their distinctive greenish pallor. When they reach the upper air and dry land they are not at first permitted to drive since their vision has adjusted to the need only to see over very short distances. While on patrol they are virtually cut off from the real world and communication from home is restricted to short one-way only “familygrams” which are censored are give no opportunity to the sailors to engage with family life and all its ups and downs.

New nukes - old nukes

Of course, it is only right to bang on about “new nukes” and the fresh devilry they are brewing up at the nuclear bomb-making factory Aldermaston, with its plans for a giant laser and all. But it would be a terrible mistake to let the “old nukes” drop from the top of the agenda.

Trident may be old in years but it still has destructive capabilities on a genocidal scale. It is on active deployment every minute, all year round. It seems to have been forgotten that the British government threatened to use it just last year, in Iraq, if their troops were attacked by chemical or biological weapons. This real and terrible threat could be with us for another twenty years or more.

There is another sense in which Trident runs deep and silent. OK, its existence is acknowledged in official defence papers, like the Strategic Defence Review, and the Secretary of State for Defence unveils the menace from time to time. Otherwise it's a case of “Don't mention the bomb”. It was left to campaigners to highlight the hypocrisy in Trident-toting Tony Blair lauding Libya for abandoning its WMD - the mainstream media did not want to know.

Destroying taboos

In Trident Ploughshares we are determined to do our bit to break the taboo beyond repair. We use the clumsy, but accurate, phrase “citizens' disarmament” to describe what we do. That's got a negative side - the fact that we have to undertake the disarmament work ourselves because the government refuses to. It has a positive side too - taking responsibility is one of the key things than defines a live citizen.

Our published programme for this year begins at the dockyard at Devonport in southern England, where one of the Trident subs is currently being refitted. Our disarmament camp there is from 27 May to 1June. From 2 to 9 July we are at Aldermaston and then in Scotland at Coulport, on the Clyde, from 18 August to 1 September.

In the middle of the Coulport camp, on the 23 August, there is Carry On Up The Clyde, a big blockade of Faslane naval base, with other disruptive actions like swimming into the Trident berths and cutting into the warhead store at Coulport. And of course there are the unannounced actions, which can happen at any time, like the break-in at the British military Permanent Joint Forces HQ at Northwood that took place on 21 April, the day Mordechai Vanunu was released.

Join us if you can, at one of the camps or mass actions and, even better, give some thought to becoming a Trident Ploughshares pledger. You don't have to get your feet wet!

Topics: Nuclear weapons
See more of: Scotland