To us who were around at its beginning, it may be as shock to realise that CND is approaching its 50th birthday in 2008. A new review of its progress and achievements is therefore timely.
Kate Hudson, Chair of CND, took on a daunting task, and it is not surprising that more attention is given to the dramatic developments of the past 25 years than to the earlier ones - though that is no bad thing given the errors and omissions in the earlier history.
Kate does not actually mention, for example, that when a revival of the March to Aldermaston in 1972 attracted only 300 people, there was discussion within CND as to whether it should disband. The Partial Test Ban and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaties existed, world attention had shifted to Vietnam and others wars, so what was the point?
Then came NATO's cruise and Pershing missiles, the Soviet Union responded with SS-20s, and a new wave of the movement erupted into the 1980s. Not only 250,000 in Hyde Park, but new forms of campaigning - the Greenham Women, the Faslane Camp, Cruisewatch, "nuclear-free" cities and counties - are all recounted, with anecdotal but enthusiastic quotes from activists.
On the Iraq war, Kate revisits the issue she discusses in relation to Vietnam - the dilemma of a "single issue" campaign, when public attention, as well as that of a majority of members, is inevitably directed elsewhere. Should the Campaign stick to the nuclear issue regardless? Attempt, however artificially, to define the war as a nuclear issue? Or put the nuclear issue on hold and organise around the war?
CND members have tended to vote with their feet in any of these directions according to personal impulse; the leadership also has veered between the different tendencies. But the author veers too far by saying, apropos Vietnam, "In Britain the movement against the Vietnam War was eventually led by the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, with its slogan, `Victory to the NLF [National Liberation Front]'." The slogan, not anti-war, simply supported killing by the side other than the US government and its puppet in South Vietnam. Kate neglects to mention the many marchers who walked away when such slogan-shouting began, or the British Council for Peace in Vietnam, which played the more effective campaigning role.
A similar dissonance appears in the earlier history. Kate movingly describes, citing survivors' testimony, the sheer horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She also cites the sources to refute the myth that the bombs saved American troops' lives and for believing that the bombs were the first strikes of the coming Cold War. However, errors such as Eisenhower as President in 1939, are an irritant; and the suggestion that the British peace movement, after WW2, was more concerned with campaigning for world government than against the bomb is a novel one... The Peace Pledge Union's first leaflet against the bomb, barely two months after Hiroshima, is passed over in favour of a eulogy for the partisan British Peace Committee and World Peace Council Moscow-line. Peace News, seen by many as the weekly paper of the nuclear disarmament movement in the late 1950s/early 1960s [to the extent that it brought about its (amicable) break with PPU], is sadly nowhere mentioned. But then, neither is the most interesting issue of Sanity, CND's own paper. The Aldermaston March issue in 1963 was printed with the Spies for Peace revelations of a government secret bunker on the back page; before distribution, the back page was torn off; after distribution had begun, marchers were offered the page as an optional extra. Kate dismisses the Spies for Peace in a parenthetic phrase as "so called" - no bunker, no Sanity, no calling-up of blanket headlines in the national press the next day.
To correctly paraphrase Punch's curate, parts of the book, I assure the reader, are excellent, and if it enthuses people to study the nuclear issue more deeply and to become more active it will usefully serve its intended purpose.