David Fairhill, 'Common Ground: The Story of Greenham'

IssueOctober 2006
Review by Kay Tabernacle

Twenty-five years after the Greenham march, David Fairhall has contributed an enjoyable and informative history of Greenham Common.

It doesn't plod chronologically through the decades, but mixes the more interesting vignettes of the women's peace camp into the wider political and military context. As a history of a place it also includes quite detailed accounts of the complex legal manoeuvres which led to the partial restoration of the common. The women's peace camp is treated considerately and it makes entertaining reading. Inevitably the book draws mainly on familiar material from the early to mid 1980s. The usual suspects are interrogated, although Fairhall does stress the diversity and numbers involved, admitting that the individual stories he chose to tell “cannot remotely encompass a collective experience involving many thousands of people over more than a decade”.

This isn't a herstory, it's a restatement of existing mainstream mythology, albeit from a sympathetic journalist. Details about the legal wranglings, politics (ie “proper” establishment politics), the military, the missiles and almost every acronym from the last 50 years are treated with obvious care for their accuracy. By contrast, the women's concerns and priorities are treated in a more anecdotal and cursory way.

Some people may think of the Yellow Gate split from the rest of Greenham women as a well-documented situation of no small importance, but in Fairhall's book it's dealt with in two short sentences, having been vaguely alluded to in an earlier chapter. This reads as a fudge and is surprising from an author who is described in the cover blurb as specialising in political controversies.

The last chunk of this book deals more with the post-cruise history of the common, including an alarming account of an investigation into the cause of high levels of uranium-235 found in a pattern centred on the Greenham runway.

This is a book which attempts to deal with a lot in 216 pages, but it is a well-researched, genuine and readable attempt.

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