When I was a child in the 1950s, I used to have a recurring nightmare. I would be standing beside someone, usually a family member, staring at the horizon. Then a huge mushroom cloud would show, first grey, then pink, then red, and my insides would melt in fear. They’d exploded the atomic bomb. The world was ending.
I thought about that nightmare again this morning as the newspapers reported the final debate at the Labour Party conference. Jeremy Corbyn set the cat among the parliamentary pigeons by saying on radio that he could not see any circumstances in which he, as British prime minister, would order the use of Trident missiles. He was promptly ticked off by his shadow secretary of defence, Maria Eagle, who said this kind of talk wasn’t helpful. A range of shadow cabinet people backed up Eagle – Andy Burnham, Lord Falconer, Heidi Alexander and (the shame of it) Hilary Benn. Sir Paul Kenny (you can tell he’s true to the Labour cause with that ‘Sir’) the general secretary of the GMB union, said Corbyn might have to resign as prime minister if he refused to authorize the use of nuclear weapons.
I have a suggestion for Corbyn: fire the lot. Not the nuclear weapons, the people in his own party, in his own shadow cabinet, who openly criticize him for not being prepared to become a mass murderer. Who would these weapons be used against – one of the eight countries who currently have such weapons themselves? In which case, retaliation would be inevitable and it’d be good-night Vienna for our planet. At one of the 187 countries that don’t have nuclear weapons? If a leak in a nuclear plant in Japan can cause a cloud of radio-active dust to tour much of the world (forgotten about that, had you?), think what exploded nuclear weapons would do, not just to the country at which they were aimed, but to adjacent countries – in fact to all of us. And these people in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet are the people who would lecture us about resolving differences peacefully, and how terrible it is that two men have met violent deaths in recent weeks. Motes and beams come to mind.
Politics is often a question pros and cons, pluses and minuses. In the case of nuclear weapons, there is no plus. They cost phenomenal amounts of money – the Trident replacement will cost £100 billion. And what’s it for? For killing people by the million. And yet people in the Labour shadow cabinet are criticizing Corbyn because he says he won’t spend the money, he wouldn’t be prepared to slaughter millions of innocent people.
Nuclear weapons are costly, obscene and useless. As Corbyn himself pointed out, all the hundreds or thousands of nuclear weapons available to the US were unable to stop 9/11 happening. Maybe being fired from their jobs isn’t enough for the likes of Burnham and Eagle. They’d be better in a prison cell for encouraging the use of murderous violence on a massive scale.