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British movement escalates tactics

Bob Wilson — September 1984

Very few people in Canada are able to understand how intense the nuclear’ debate has become in Europe, or even the extent to which the American government has developed its plans for a limited nuclear war in the European theatre. This is, at least, the conclusion I reached after spending the month of July in Britain visiting some of the more prominent British and American nuclear bases and meeting with the people living in the adjoining peace camps.

Since NATO announced its twotrack deployment plans for Tomahawk Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs) and Pershing II missiles in 1979, there has been a massive resurgence of protest against nuclear armaments throughout Europe.

In Britain, this has meant the reappearance of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which had been dormant for more than fifteen years. It has also resulted in the establishment of permanent peace camps outside nuclear bases and the creation of many a peace activist. Groups with their own particular ideological perspectives, i.e., Christians, women, communists, ecologists, etc.

The first cruise missiles to be deployed in Britain arrived at the U.S. Air Force Base at Greenham Common (called ‘R.A.F. Greenham Common’ by the British Ministry of Defence to divert public attention) in November of 19R3. A second batch is expected at the U.S. Air Force at Molesworth early in 1986.

Although the British peace movement is by no means in total agreement about the most effective way to stop the continuing build-up of nuclear weaponry in their country, recently there has been a marked increase in the number of groups showing support for the use of non-violent direct action.

These non-violent actions range from traditional pressure tactics, . such as demonstrations, petitions and publicity, through acts of civil disobedience, including passive resistance and tax refusal, to nonviolent direct action, which may include blockades, fencecutting and effective damage to installations and weapons.

Although the larger popular peace groups, such as the CND and European Nuclear Disarmament (END) have contributed substantially toward the development and use of non-violent direct action.

The majority of these actions are currently being undertaken by activists living at the various peace camps, along with any support people available at the time.

One of the biggest of the more than 160 American military installations in Britain is U.S.A.F. Alconbury, home to Phantom and F5 fighter planes, and spyplanes, including SR7l Blackbirds.

Alconbury has recently been designated the control! support/maintenance for the U.S. . Air Force Base at Molesworth Although the British government has declared the base to be a ‘nonnuclear,’ low priority installation, activists from the Alconbury peace camp have spotted the familiar radiation warning signs inside the base.

Following a recent incident in which extensive damage was done to the landing lights on Alconbury’s runway, British police have launched a vicious attack on the residents of the Alconbury peace camp, staging a dawn raid, involving upwards of thirty police.

As a result of this raid, eight people have been charged with “conspiracy to commit criminal damage,’ although the police are unable to produce any concrete evidence implicating those charged.

‘Conspiracy’ is a charge that has not been used against peace campaigners since the infamous Wethersfield Six Trial of 1961-2, when six members of the ‘Committee of One Hundred’ (who organized the first non-violent direct action at the Royal Air Force Base at Wethersfield) were sentenced to several months impnsonment.

With the ‘Police Bill,’ which would give the British police extended powers over the public, before Parliament, and an increasing number of actions being staged across the country, the Thatcher government is showing signs that it may use cynical manipulation of criminal law to thwart protest.

Against this backdrop of stern opposition, peace activists in Britain are diligent in their struggle for peace in a Nuclear-Free Britain and are in need of support from all people in Canada who believe in the use of non-violent direct action against militarism.

Four of the main British peace camps can be contacted as follows: