Finger on the Button

The criminal lunacy of the Trident Deterrent can hardly be better illustrated than by one of Brown’s first acts as Prime Minister. He had to sit down and write a letter to the commanders of all four of our nuclear submarines. The letters are to be opened after a nuclear war has wiped out the British command centre.  We are told that John Major found writing these letters such a sensitive matter that he preferred to do it at home over the weekend. Sensitive indeed, since all the military/political actors left alive will realise that they had probably contributed to the destruction of the human race.

Peter Hennessy says that during the Cold War the commanders were given four choices - put yourself under US command, if it still exists; go to Australia, if it still exists; fire your nuclear missiles at the enemy, if it still exists, and use your own judgment (presumably, if you still exist). There was an article on Trident in the Sunday Times on 20th January, by Michael Bilton.  It starts off as the usual collusive stuff you would expect from an establishment newspaper – ‘Nuclear deterrence is not just a shield: it qualifies Britain for a seat at the top table of international diplomacy. With this much power to destroy at our fingertips, we cannot be ignored’ although later the article becomes a little bit more questioning. 

It also contains some enlightening quotes for the crew; for example from Commander Paul Dunn, ‘a down to earth Devonian’ who says that missile-firing is not something that he spends a lot of time worrying about.  “Obviously, it is something I think about – I have a wife and two kids at home.  But having nuclear missiles on board is why we are here: we are a delivery platform.  And if we are required by the prime minister to fire, then that is what we will do, and nobody should be in any doubt.”  Straight out of ‘Boy’s Own’, but in other quotes you can sense the underlying anguish. Commander Ferguson (retired) says  “If there was an exchange of these things, by the time you were told to fire, you could assume your home was ashes. That might sound rather melodramatic, but that was what the cold war was about. Nowadays it is rather more complex. There are people in the basement at the MoD scratching their heads going, ‘Which of the world’s trouble spots do we wish to present to the politicians [as targets]?’  As a commander of one of these platforms out there, I would not wish to know where the rockets were going, because if I did, the missile technician who was programming the computer on board would know as well. What you do not want is a bunch of disaffected people for whom the burdens of what they are doing fall very heavily on their shoulders, going into the ship’s library, picking up an atlas and looking at a spot on the map and saying, ‘That’s where it is going. I wonder if we should be doing that.’”

I can e-mail a copy to anyone who wants one.

Jim McCluskey