'Readings in Nonviolence' features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
by Rob Fairmichael
Actions do sometimes speak louder than words and, for that reason, may be ignored, vilified or their significance distorted, sometimes motives being attributed to those involved which are far from the truth. It may take a long time for a more rational understanding to come about. But action can cut through official verbiage and positions and make them look ridiculous or point out the truth. Sometimes it can take a long time for the tide to turn.
Nuclear weapons are still a big and urgent issue with the focus usually being on those alleged to want them (e.g. Iran - but see PANA news piece in this issue and their pamphlet on the topic) rather than those who actually have them and want to keep others out of that deadly club. But at the start of the 1980s the risk of nuclear war between 'East' and 'West' was a very real prospect and work for nuclear disarmament had a second blooming (after the 1960s).
In December 1983, i.e. 29 years ago as this is written, two activists - Peter Emerson and Paddy McBride - broke into a nuclear bunker at 48 Mount Eden Park in South Belfast. Reports appeared in a couple of newspapers (Irish News, Irish Times) and alternative media such as 'Dawn' magazine (No.97) which reported the Mount Eden Park bunker was one of four sub-regional ones in Northern Ireland with headquarters at Gough Barracks in Armagh. So how much of a 'command' bunker it was is open to question but obviously it had some 'command' function. At the time of the break in BBC Northern Ireland reported the two activists concerned as not being available for comment.
A few of the photos taken at the time here (or go to the INNATE photo site via the INNATE home page, then to the set on 'NICND and nuclear disarmament, 1980s' and look for the four black and white photos). Material there indicated a recent exercise had taken place which included the marking of sites which were envisioned to have been attacked - "maps relating presumably to Operation Warmon in October [], an exercise on fallout patterns which anticipated several nuclear strikes in the Republic as well as in the North." (Dawn 97) There were 3 male dormitories and 1 female one - reflecting the sex ratio of the functionaries who would have tried to function there. As Dawn also reported at the time, the bunker "has nothing to do with civilian survival."
Recently BBC Northern Ireland broadcast this item about the bunker and also had a similar item on its website including the fact that the walls are 21/2 feet thick - reports from the time indicate the walls to be 41/2 feet thick above ground and 7 feet thick below ground but that "neither would stand up to a [[nuclear]] strike within 3 miles" (Dawn 97)
One point to make about nuclear weapons, nuclear war, and preparations in relation to them is that what might seem 'defensive' is actually 'offensive' or certainly dual purpose, in other words to use nuclear weapons you 'have to' have your own system set up for 'defence' against counter-attack. Put bluntly, Mount Eden and the like of Bishopscourt RAF radar base (Co Down) were not just 'defensive' mechanisms against nuclear attack, they were also a key part of the UK military's preparations for their using nuclear weapons. They therefore had a clear 'attack' function.
Myths which the visit debunk(er)ed included that Northern Ireland or Ireland as a whole could be immune from nuclear war. If it happened then we would be in the middle of it. It also debunked any idea that Northern Ireland was not part of the UK's plans for nuclear war.
Peter Emerson (interviewed for the BBC in the above) had this to say to INNATE recently:
"In 1983, remember, we broke in on the Saturday. Paddy and I stayed on site while others took away the films to be developed - an old-fashioned pre-digital word - and then issued a press release; hence the front-page coverage in the Irish News and Irish Times on the Monday morning. The former actually ran a piece on the Tuesday as well.
"Meanwhile, yes, we stayed on site. The police were calling by about every 30 minutes or so, and although we had broken the law, we nevertheless wanted to create the impression that we hadn't, at least until the press release went out. But then, on the Monday morning, we reported ourselves to the groundsman... much to his shock horror. A string of officials then came to inspect the scene of the crime, including the police who told us we had committed an offence, (trespass, breaking and entry, and disturbing the peace), to which we responded by saying we had known that already, which is why we had reported the fact. Of course, no arrests were ever made.
"The NIO then held a press conference in the bunker - so it was a bunker and not just "a store", their earlier story - so to fully vindicate our NI CND position. BBC NI put something onto their news bulletin, and I distinctly remember them saying that we (Paddy and I) "were not available". The phrase has often been a euphemism, of course, and it's probably fair to say that they did not want to interview us. In those days, the Beeb was still very pro-nuke - not showing The War Game, for example ........."
Three decades on, perhaps, the record is a bit straighter.