On digging a great hole

They say revenge is sweet even if it comes after many years.

My happy day of revenge will come on Friday 22 January 2021. It has been a  long time coming – in fact, from 1956.

In those days I was a young National Serviceman in the infantry and with others, we had to dig very large holes on Salisbury Plain. We were on Army exercises, tasked with building a bank post position in the lovely rolling grasslands. The plot was that we were the forward position on a battlefield somewhere in Europe, and we were to expect fire from enemy nuclear weapons soon. This meant we had to be safely underground in a fire trench. From there we were to observe the nuclear strike and report back.

Hopefully we would survive, first the blinding flash, then the radiation, and finally the blast, thanks to being under two feet of freshly dug chalk. We had two days of hard labour with pick and shovel in hot weather to build this great hole.

Eventually the strike came about a mile away: a loud bang, and oil barrels exploded, giving us an impressive smoke column to look at. We dutifully reported the mock nuclear strike to HQ. Then a truck showed up and took us back to camp.

We had done our bit of National Service. Thank God this was not the real thing. The whole exercise convinced me and my aching body that nuclear weapons were a bad idea. Thereafter I became a loyal member of CND: the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

My joyful revenge came recently, with the news of the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, TPNW, which comes into force 22 January 2021. The United Nations, now celebrating its 75th birthday, responded to growing worldwide opinion that sought a peaceful world without nuclear weapons. I am glad to say that 51 nations have ratified the agreement and a further 86 have signed the Treaty: the result of years of hard work at the United Nations. The treaty bans the possession and production of nuclear weapons, and is a great achievement – a world milestone worthy of much celebration. Recalling my past labours on Salisbury Plain, I certainly celebrate that the world is a safer place now.

However, there is a problem. The UK and the other nuclear states have not signed the Treaty and are therefore not bound by it. There is no word in Westminster about the Treaty and there are no flags flying.  Our national media are also very quiet on the subject

All of which make me ask why on earth is it that the UK does not join the others and sign the Treaty, and make the world a safer place?

In 2016, MPs voted in principle to renew Trident, costing £205bn. This nuclear deterrent consists of a duty submarine carrying nuclear weapons of massive power at sea, ready to fire at any time on the command of Whitehall, with the consent of the USA, which has provided the W76 warheads. There are four UK submarines based in Scotland. Public opinion there has been strongly opposed to the submarine base for a long time, which raises the question: should Scotland become independent in the next few years, where would the Trident submarines go…?

Sad to say, Plymouth comes to mind.

I remind myself that we are no longer in the days of 1950s national service

and the world has moved on very fast indeed, with much of the change for the better. We now have the new Democratic US President Joe Biden, who has a huge task ahead of him, as we all know. I wish him and the new administration well.

One important issue to be dealt with soon is that of new warheads for Trident missiles, the W93 type: a more powerful upgrade which will cost $53m a year.

The Democrats have, until now, refused to fund this upgrading of their nuclear weapons, as there are more pressing needs before them: amongst other things, Covid-19 is making heavy demands on the US national economy.

In the UK, the Ministry of Defence is busy planning the next generation of submarines: the Dreadnoughts; four, projected to cost £31bn to start with, plus a contingency of £10bn. It is said to be good value, as this fire power gives us an important seat at the UN Security Council, even though following Brexit, we have little influence in Europe, save over Gibraltar. It is also considered important for the UK to be at the heart of world affairs, and at the Security Council despite the cost.

With the passage of time it seems that the UK will have to make up its mind soon about nuclear weapons: do we really need them…?  Can we afford them, when Covid-19 is devouring our economy and savings so rapidly?

I always love driving across Salisbury plain, which I do now and then. I usually look lovingly at the wide open hillsides beyond Stonehenge. My thoughts go way beyond the world-famous monument, to that massive hole I dug years ago. Is it still there?

I very much doubt it, because history moves on and things always change. It would be really nice if our expensive Trident submarines could quietly disappear from our land, just like my nuclear hole has.

Maybe history will do that before long, who knows…?