Tuesday, 10 September 2013
Trident: Bomb or Bust - by Derek Lord
The first thing I ever had published was a short poem that appeared in my school magazine. Its subject was the atomic bomb. I can’t remember a word of it but I’m sure it wasn’t in Wordsworth’s class. However it must have struck a chord with the teacher who edited the magazine. Either that or the rest of the stuff he had to choose from that year was total rubbish. Either way my mother was delighted that her wee boy’s talent had been recognized. She kept that school magazine till her dying day. I’m not sure why I chose to write a poem about nuclear weapons at the age of 10. I suppose I must have seen newsreels of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when my mother took me to the local fleapit to see the latest Disney cartoon.
Over the years I have managed to put any fears I may have had of sharing the same fate as the denizens of those Japanese cities to the back of my mind. But thanks to the location of my present abode those fears are once more coming to the forefront of my thoughts. Perched as it is on the banks of the Firth of Clyde my house provides me with a view of the nation’s submarines as they make their way to and from their base at Faslane. They are an awesome sight with their massive conning towers – a tiny sailor or two barely visible on top of the great, grey behemoths as they glide past the Rothesay ferry carrying their weapons of mass destruction to some secret ocean lair.
When I watched the BBC documentary “Who needs Trident?” I had no idea just how many of those weapons the subs carried. At a guess I would have said two or three.
After all a nuclear missile is a pretty big piece of kit. I was amazed and alarmed to learn that each sub carries 48 of the things. And each one, we were told, carries a war head considerably more powerful than the one dropped by the Enola Gay. So each one of those sinister vessels has the power to wipe out 48 cities and destroy millions of lives at the touch of a button. The commander of one of them assured us that he would only press the said button if he was instructed by the current prime minister to do so, but, rather worryingly, he added that if all radio communications ceased he would open his safe and find out what his next step should be. Presumably it would be to target whatever country he felt was responsible for vaporising David Cameron and his cabinet. It’s at that point that even the most disciplined submarine commander would surely question the wisdom of slaughtering millions of innocent civilians in some foreign land simply as an act of revenge. It certainly wouldn’t have any strategic value. It would just be killing for killing’s sake. And how would he and his crew live with themselves after the event?
Of course, by that stage I would have no further interest in the proceedings since the submarine base and everything and everybody within a twenty mile radius of it would just be so much radioactive dust. It’s quite obvious that Faslane would be a priority target for any aggressor in the event of a nuclear war, yet the good people of Helensburgh that we saw interviewed for the programme are desperate to hold on to the base because its closure would be bad for business. Well, a nuclear strike a few miles up the road would be considerably worse for business. I get the feeling they haven’t really thought this thing through, or perhaps they are convinced that a nuclear war will never happen. If that’s so I would draw their attention to the findings of a group of scientists who, many years ago, used the services of a state-of-the-art computer to explore the possibilities of human inter-stellar travel. The computer concluded that humanity would wipe itself out long before it had acquired anything like the power needed for space travel.
And the way things are going I’ve a feeling that the computer got it right.