It felt like it was time to write a post about peace, there being so little of that precious commodity available, and it being such a Good Thing generally. Sometimes it feels like Peace is the Giant Panda of Life, vanishingly rare, arguably impractical, but nevertheless illogically desirable to keep around.
What particularly sparked me off though was a reminder that it has been a while since the Cold War fizzled out, and that being so, the paranoia and constant gnawing worry of living under the shadow of the Bomb is now a fading memory. Perhaps, I mused, it is something we should remind ourselves about once in a while and try to explain to the young folk who have not experienced it. This is based on the premise that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, so bear with me and prepare to be reminded or educated.
Growing up in the Sixties and Seventies had its perks, certainly. The music was exciting, there were real astronauts walking on the Moon, and a sense of excitement in the air. There were downsides too, and the testosterone-fuelled face-off across the Iron Curtain was a major issue. This was not because I was incredibly politically aware; I was a child, and my parents were not interested in politics themselves, so I only learned about such things through watching the Man from Uncle on television and seeing posters for the latest James Bond film in the cinema.
It wasn’t something you talked about particularly. It was just there, all the time, at the back of your mind, like what to get for tea, or how long it was until the weekend. It wasn’t even a thing, any more than air or water or the bus being late.
As the Seventies drew to a close and I inched towards the precipice of adulthood it became obvious that things were awry and the world seemed to be edging towards its own brink. This post is about how much it preyed on our teenage minds. This is how it felt.
We had been told that the other side of the Iron Curtain was full of bad guys. People got shot trying to escape, and their deaths peppered the news every now and then as a kind of constant background noise. Just about the time I read 1984 and started to be a little more independent of the official line, the Ayatollah Khomeini lead the overthrow of the Shah of Persia, and took control of Iran. I didn’t understand the background and had barely heard of Iran before then – O-Level geography tended to focus on learning which country exported the most timber and how ox-bow lakes were formed. After that I gave geography up as a bad job and still struggle to work out the difference between the Solway Firth and the Solent.
However, his installation seemed to cause a hysterical fluster in the media and political circles and it looked like the Nuclear Option was suddenly on the table. For real.
We had read about Armageddon and we didn’t fancy it but we were powerless to stop the button being pushed. However, we were not deterred. We were resourceful and modern young people. A few of us had recently passed driving tests and a couple of us even had access to dodgy old cars. So we laid our plans.
This is where the age gap may show. Those of you in my generation will probably nod at what we intended and understand our reasoning, even if you don’t agree with it. My children and younger folks tend to just look bemused or even slightly appalled when I talk about it.
We set up routes and a telephone tree. We agreed pick up points. Cars were to be kept fuelled up for a drive of about 20-25 miles. When the four minute warning was given, we would rendezvous at the agreed locations and drive like hell into the centre of London.
We weren’t going to sign up for a cause.
We weren’t going to protest.
We were aiming to be at the centre of the bomb fallout, because none of us wanted to survive a nuclear war. We hadn’t seen The War Game because the BBC banned it (despite having commissioned it in the first place) until 1985. Nevertheless we had read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and seen pictures.
We intended to die as quickly as possible.
And that, my dears, is what at least one group of teenagers in the late 1970s planned to do in the event of the button being pressed.
War and the means for war mess with your brain. Let’s call it out, shall we?