Entries from September 2000

Chants For Peace Brought Us Closer To War

David Frum September 10th, 2000 at 12:00 am Comments Off

On
Wednesday, three women loaded their belongings into a van and rolled away from
their encampment near Newbury, England, a town about 50 miles due west of
London.

To
the uninstructed eye, there was nothing very remarkable about them. But in
their day, they had been very remarkable. These were the last remnants of the
Greenham Common women, who had tried throughout the 1980s to paralyze one of
NATO’s most important nuclear bases by sleeping and living in tents alongside
it.

Even
in their heyday, there had been something ridiculous about the Greenham Common
protesters, from their bizarre chants ("I am a strong woman, I am a story
woman, I am a healer!") to their weird dances. By the end, they were
forthrightly absurd, characters out of Monty Python. The last nuclear weapons
were withdrawn from Greenham in 1991, pursuant to the Start II arms-control
treaty.

Greenham
Base closed in 1998 – the ground was sold for one pound to the
Newbury town council, which is redeveloping it as housing and office buildings.
But for two years after the base disappeared, the last of the Greenham Common
protesters lingered on, constantly rejiggering their demands, until they
reached the last one: They wanted Newbury to erect a statue to them.

But
it’s a great mistake to believe that silly people never can be dangerous. In
the movies of the 1940s, Nazi Fifth Columnists always could be identified by
their smoothly suave menace, by their faultless clothes, chiseled features and
impeccable manners. In real life, however, all kinds of people can do terrible
things – the foolish as well as the cunning, those who wear anoraks
as well as those who wear an enemy uniform.

The
Greenham base was a storage facility for cruise missiles. In an actual crisis,
the missiles would have had to have been driven out by truck to the launch
sites before they could be used to deter or halt a Soviet attack. The Greenham
Common women camped in front of the base with the intention of blocking those
trucks. No nuclear emergency ever arose, but even without it, those women
provided critical aid to the old Soviet Union.

The
Soviets well understood what the West too often lost sight of: the vastly
superior strength of the capitalist democracies. But the Soviets also
understood how useless strength is without self-confidence and morale, and it
was these psychological vulnerabilities that they hoped to exploit to win the
Cold War. When they deployed
SS-20 intermediate-range nuclear missiles against Western Europe in the
mid-1970s, they did so not to blow it to smithereens but to intimidate the
countries of Western Europe to squeeze money out of them.

When
the NATO countries decided to reply to the SS-20 deployment by developing
intermediate-range missiles of their own, the Soviets understood that one of
the great battles of the Cold War was about to be waged. If they could somehow
terrify the electorates of Western Europe into backing away from the
deployment, hardline leaders would be replaced by softliners, NATO would split
and the Soviet Union could hope to stave off its economic troubles with tribute
extracted by blackmail.

That
issue – could democratic governments be bullied into accepting a
permanent Soviet military advantage – undergirded the huge
anti-nuclear protests and the crucial elections of the 1980s. The British
voters who re-elected Margaret Thatcher in 1983 – like the Americans
who voted for Ronald Reagan – supported the right side in that great
divide. And the women of Greenham Common, like the millions of so-called peace
marchers allied with them, took the wrong side. Freedom won the Cold War
because the Greenham Common women lost. And it ought not to be forgotten.