On Monday (July 18th, 2016), the UK Parliament voted to renew Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system, on which around 6% of the annual defence budget is currently spent.
The hours of debate in Parliament revolved mainly around jobs and the fragile state of global security, but outside in Parliament square members of the Health Through Peace movement gathered at the CND protest to highlight what a nuclear strike would actually mean.
While our new prime minister Theresa May confirmed in the course of the debate that she would be willing to authorise a nuclear strike killing 100,000 men, women and children; outside a pile of ‘dead’ bodies in surgical gowns and scrubs drew attention to the horror of such an admission.
Jeremy Corbyn questioned the frequently thrown-around language of deterrence, asking ‘What is the threat we are facing that one million people’s deaths would actually deter?’ – when it did not deter ISIS, Saddam Hussein, war crimes in the Balkans or genocide in Rwanda. He questioned May’s willingness to take “a decision that kills millions of innocent people”, continuing “I do not believe the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to deal with international relations.’
I do not believe the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to deal with international relations.
Our choice of a ‘die-in’ protest against Trident renewal was motivated by the need to ensure that discussions about weapons of mass destruction do not take place in a moral vacuum where the value of human life is given a cursory and superficial glance. As a health movement, we represent the doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and other health workers who must deal with the fall-out of our politicians’ decisions. But we would not be capable of dealing with the fall-out were Theresa May to follow through on her commitment to engage in nuclear warfare. The International Committee of the Red Cross has made very clear that there could be no effective humanitarian response to the detonation of a nuclear weapon.
On Monday, while we remembered how 90% of our medical colleagues in Hiroshima were killed, Medact Trustee Frank Boulton spoke about the impact a nuclear explosion would have on us here, in London. His speech was brutal and horrifying. It rang out in painful contrast to the irony of our politicians coolly debating whether or not threatening genocide on an unprecedented scale is the best way forward for national security.
Frank told us:
‘ Were a bomb the size of Hiroshima to be dropped on Big Ben, over there, there would be an immediate flash of intense radiation and heat, and hurricane force winds to be followed by the deposition of highly radioactive fall-out. All of us in this square would be instantly incinerated: St Thomas’s Hospital, on the opposite bank of the Thames from Parliament – and where I trained – would be obliterated, and the ring of destruction would spread out to Marble Arch.
Tens of thousands would be killed, and outside that ring many more tens of thousands would survive in the short term but suffer severe burns and physical injuries as well as the radiation damage, and would die in agony over the next hours or days. They would envy the dead because the dead would have avoided the dreadful suffering. Although some of the severely injured might survive if they had access to modern medical services, the sheer numbers of the injured would be overwhelming.’
They would envy the dead because the dead would have avoided the dreadful suffering.
Medact members also took part in demonstrations in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Peebles and Cromarty, and were interviewed for newspapers and radio channels.
Although politicians have now voted to renew Trident, it is our hope that the return of nuclear weapons into public debate will encourage more of us to get behind the call for an international ban treaty. Momentum for such a ban is growing, and a mandate to begin negotiations is expected to be agreed on at the UN in October.
Medact’s partner in the Health Through Peace movement, ICAN UK, are organizing a series of public meetings around the UK in the coming months about the transportation of nuclear warheads near and through our towns and cities. We need more members of the health community to stand with us and warn both the public and our politicians about the consequences of weapons of mass destruction. We must insist on a global ban treaty, now. If you would like to help us build this movement, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
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