Horrified by what had happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I joined CND as a teenager on Merseyside. My dad didn't approve. Some of my friends were in the Committee of 100, which he definitely didn't approve of. I had to sneak out of the house in the early morning to meet my best friend Ann before joining a coachload of CND people in Liverpool, off to demonstrate outside the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool. The Scouse sculptor, Arthur Dooley, was on his hands and knees with a hammer and nails in the coach, making placards for us to wave. We assembled on the beach in Blackpool, where Canon Collins and others spoke from a flatbed truck until the incoming tide threatened to wash them away. My father had got wind of my plans and forbade me to go, hence the early departure. He'd have locked me in my room if the lock wasn't stuck open with several layers of paint. I was spared a row when I got home because Mum and Dad had visitors, and didn't want a scene.
Ann and I continued to demonstrate. In the Easter holiday of 1960 we pretended to go youth hostelling in North Wales but went on the Aldermaston march instead, with me dodging the news cameras so my dad wouldn't see me in the Daily Mail, his newspaper of choice. We leafleted patrons leaving the local cinema after Dr Strangelove, Stanley Kupbrik's black comedy about nuclear weapons.
By 1962 I'd left home to work as a farm labourer. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 I was living on a small dairy farm outside Flint, in North Wales. My boss's wife, a primary school teacher, was convinced that we'd all perish in a nuclear holocaust at any minute and her paranoia was contagious. She'd stocked up with whitewash and brown paper to protect the windows against a nuclear blast, and rehearsed our survival strategy. The eldest two children were away at boarding school, and she fretted about bringing them home. As we were having breakfast one morning, their youngest son strolled into the kitchen in his pyjamas and asked, "Mummy, what's that big red glow in the sky?" Terrified that it was a bomb over Liverpool, my boss's wife rushed to look through the landing window. To everyone's relief, it was only the sunrise.
53 years later, I wouldn't have expected to be discussing the same issue again, but Jeremy Corbyn's statement that he wouldn't press the nuclear button has prompted a hoo-ha. It's absurd. One pro-nuclear advocate on Twitter told me that the nuclear deterrent has kept the peace for the last 70 years. Apart from the fact that a nuclear "deterrent" wasn't part of anyone's arsenal until the 1950s and was mainly connected to the Cold War, there's no evidence that it's a deterrence now, since the formation of the European Union, the demise of the USSR, and the increase in terrorism. What good would a nuclear bomb have been post-9/11? Former Tory Defence Secretary Michael Portillo called for our nuclear arsenal to be scrapped ten years ago. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian wrote,
I can recall no head of the army and no serious academic strategist with any time for the Trident missile. It was a great hunk of useless weaponry. It was merely a token of support for an American nuclear response, though one that made Britain vulnerable to a nuclear exchange. No modern danger, such as from terrorism, is deterred by Trident (any more than Galtieri had been in the Falklands or Saddam in Iraq). But the money was spent and the rest of the defence budget had to suffer constant cuts – and soldiers left ill-equipped – to pay for it.So why Corbyn's Defence Secretary Maria Eagle should say that his remarks were "unhelpful" beats me. When it comes to nuclear weapons, Corbyn's a realist. Those Labour Party people who regard his stance as unhelpful need their heads testing.