SARAH COOTE is a Quaker, whose beliefs have influenced her to
protest against warfare and injustice in all forms. She has participated in different anti-war and anti-violence campaigns across many decades, starting with visits to Greenham Common in the mid 1980s (see below) right through to anti-war protests in the 21st century.
Sarah has found that not all protesters take advantage of the available resources at rallies.
THE COLD WAR
In 1981 the world was controlled by the two superpowers of the United States of America and the Soviet Union, both of whom had stockpiles of nuclear warheads and both of whom were funding increased nuclear capability and diversity (the Cold War).
In that year Ronald Reagan, previously a film star and Governor of the state of California, became President of the United States of America. The following year Leonid Brezhnev, [Леони́д Ильи́ч Бре́жнев] the Leader of the Soviet Union, died. This heralded a period of global instability.
Faced with a post-WW2 nuclear standoff, in which a number of nation states possessed nuclear warheads large enough to wipe out entire cities, military strategists were looking for proposals that would break the global obliteration deadlock scenarios. At that time, any nuclear missile launch by any nation would result in mass launches from all nuclear nations (known as MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction). The superpower military wanted weapons that could be used which would result in “winner” and “loser” scenarios – and therefore a new idea of a “war in Europe” – fought with battlefield tactical nuclear weapons – was proposed.
Under these updated military scenarios, a conventional attack in Europe could result in a limited nuclear exchange that would be confined to a relatively small battlefield area and would allow winnable scenarios – the two superpowers fighting out an exchange of small nuclear warheads without having their homelands attacked directly.
Understandably the European nations involved were not happy at being cast in the role of expendable territory and a series of demonstrations against both nuclear weapons in general and the deployment of superpower tactical battlefield nuclear weapons in European countries took place.
GREENHAM COMMON PEACE CAMP
The most famous Peace Camp in the UK was the Women’s Camp at RAF Greenham Common just outside of Newbury. Originally a WWII airfield, shared by both the RAF and the USAF, the base became host to the USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC) 7th Air Division during the Cold War.
In September 1981, a group of Welsh women, known as the Women for Life on Earth, arrived at the air base to protest against the deployment of cruise missiles, whose nuclear warheads had been moved into Greenham and were being stored in reinforced nuclear bunkers on the airfield. These mobile missiles were driven around the countryside late at night on deployment exercises and the women did as much as possible to peacefully disrupt this process.
Here is a video shot in the 1980s showing CRUISE WATCH, one of the main protest groups, in action.
The Peace Camp was active from 1981 to 2000 and many women from the Portsmouth area were involved, sometimes attending en masse in coaches.
ROSY BREMER travelled to the Peace Camp at Greenham Common on a number of occasions, the first being when she was eighteen. Her second visit to the camp coincided with a tragic accident and she explains how this affected her and what the camp achieved over the years.
NICKY SKINNER, who founded South Coast Against Nuclear Navies [SCANN] with her husband Jim Skinner, told us that it was the proximity of Portsmouth harbour and the transport of US nuclear missiles up to Greenham Common that led to her activism
Nicky was one of many Portsmouth women who took part in the Embrace the Base action of December 12th and 13th 1982, when 30,000 women joined hands around the base.
Another encircling of the base took place in 1983 with 50,000 women attending. Sections of the fence were cut in both actions and there were hundreds of arrests.
One of those arrested for cutting the perimeter fence with bolt cutters was JANE STAFFIERI, who had travelled up from Gosport to join the non-violent protest.
At a hearing at Newbury Crown Court Jane was found guilty of criminal damage but refused to pay a fine of £30. She made a powerful speech in the dock before being taken away for a week in Holloway prison leaving behind her three-year-old daughter.
“I wish to clarify my position regarding the charge brought against me. On moral grounds I abhor the maintenance of nuclear arms wherever they may be. The bomb over Hiroshima had the power of 12.5 thousand tons of TNT.
Now we have so many bigger bombs that we measure in megatons; one megaton has the power to inflict eighty Hiroshimas.
For any government to threaten such mass destruction is morally unacceptable to me but also illegal according to international law. British law also upholds the right of the citizen to prevent a greater imminent danger to human life. If I see children in a burning house, I will break down the door in order to reach them.
Here the sanctity of human life is above that of property and that is the state of mind which I held at Greenham on the day of my arrest.”