Far from rocket scientists

By Oliver Kamm (THE TIMES, 12/09/06):

THIS MONTH marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common. Supporters have paid tribute. “The Greenham women and other protesters stopped the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons in Europe,” according to Clare Short. They were “exactly the kind of people who would have formed part of a resistance against Fascism and totalitarianism”, declared Julie Christie. Even sceptics recall the campaigners much as 1066 and All That describes the Royalists.

But the Greenham women were not “wrong but wromantic”. They were wrong and wridiculous. Every one of their claims about cruise and Pershing missiles was either demonstrably false at the time or has been refuted by history.

Nato’s intermediate-range forces were not first-strike weapons intended to fight a nuclear war “limited” to Europe. They were a way of strengthening deterrence by demonstrating America’s commitment to her allies’ defence. Their deployment in Western Europe did not increase international tension: it emphasised to Soviet leaders that the Cold War could not be concluded on the Kremlin’s terms. Accommodation between the super powers was sparked not by anti-nuclear campaigns, or even by Mikhail Gorbachev, but by a deliberate turn in policy by President Reagan (his 1984 “Ivan and Anya” speech) after cruise had been deployed and while the hardliners in Moscow were still in charge.

If the Greenham women’s influence on disarmament was nil, their political effect was marginally greater. With other protesters, they tied the Labour Party to an electorally suicidal anti-nuclear policy for a decade, and debased feminism by associating it with bizarrely traditional sexual stereotypes. Whereas in 1914 the suffragettes Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst had urged a “women’s right to serve”, the Greenham campaigners emphasised women’s virtues as nurturers and listeners. Brian Walden on ITV asked one campaigner how a Soviet military assault should be countered. Her answer — “through love” — replaced what should have been ethical reflection with mawkish anti-intellectualism.

The Greenham women undoubtedly paid a personal price and endured public derision for their stand. Both were of their own making, and the second is well worth reviving.