On Saturday 27th February, Medact members and supporters joined an estimated 20,000 people on the #StopTrident march to highlight the health impact and humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.
Frank Boulton and Ben Clavey, have written this blog to share why they took to the streets, and why they are active members of Medact’s Nuclear Weapons Group.
Frank Boulton is a founding member of Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (Medact’s predecessor body) and has extensive experience of international academic and clinical medicine. Until he retired from the NHS in 2007 he chaired two UK national committees on standards of care, was President of the British Blood Transfusion Society, and was honorary clinical consultant in Blood Transfusion to HM Armed Forces.
I will never forget Saturday February 27th 2016, when I joined Medact members and staff at the Stop Trident March. I was one of around 20 000 people who took to the streets of London to protest the government’s plans to buy a new nuclear weapons system, at a cost of over £100 billion.
The last time I did anything like this was way back in 1963, at a CND march from Aldermaston to Trafalgar Square. At the time, I was a medical student at St Thomas’ Hospital – and I felt almost alone in sensing the potentially awful consequences of the ‘Cuba Crisis’ a few months previously.
When I marched in 1963, Macmillan, a Conservative Prime Minister, had just negotiated the agreement on Polaris (Trident’s predecessor) with the US, at the price of the forced eviction of thousands of people from the Chagos Islands; and the Labour Party had just elected the ‘nuclear-cool’ Harold Wilson as leader.
Today, we are faced with global concerns such as climate change, the grossly unequal distribution of resources, and the refugee crisis. Yet the UK is choosing to dispense vast amounts of money on weapons of mass destruction – money which could instead be used to address these global concerns. Moreover, today’s unprecedented advances in technology and communications will, among other things, remove any stealth from Trident’s Successor submarines.
So it was a great pleasure on Saturday to see so many concerned and informed health-care students protesting nuclear weapons, which present an enormous threat to global health and, in the UK, divert money from the grossly underfunded NHS.
Fifty years ago some of us predicted we wouldn’t still be here today. Well, we are, and being conscious of many grave threats to humanity and our planet, we continue to have global survival at our hearts. We know that the solutions to the threats we face are, with political will, achievable; and so the health community must use its voice and expertise to campaign, lobby and advocate for change.
Fifty years ago some of us predicted we wouldn’t still be here today. Well, we are, and being conscious of many grave threats to humanity and our planet, we continue to have global survival at our hearts.
Ben Clavey is a medical student at St George’s in south London, which is a career change after his previous vocation as a nurse. He joined Medact about six months ago, and the Medact Nuclear Weapons Group a short time after that. Having seen patients who have been harmed by various forms of violence in his professional life, he is committed to doing more to combat violence and its root causes.
Last Saturday, I spent the afternoon with a large group of Medact members and staff, and tens of thousands of other members of the public. We were taking part in the largest anti-trident march in a generation. The energy was infectious, and spirits were high.
Trident, and nuclear weapons in general, represent the most destructive weapons on the planet. Trident consists of four submarines with a total of up to 160 nuclear warheads between them. Each one of these warheads is eight times more powerful than the atomic bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima. This bomb caused an estimated 140 000 deaths, including 90% of all physicians and nurses in Hiroshima, along with widespread long-term health effects like cancer. I believe that the only way to protect ourselves from the enormous threat posed by these weapons of mass destruction is to pursue multilateral disarmament, and the UK should champion this by scrapping the monstrosity that is Trident.
Despite this rather gloomy reason for protesting, the day was a great deal of fun. During the week a group of us gathered to make banners for the march, putting my arts and crafts abilities to the test. At the march it was incredibly inspiring to meet the variety of people involved in the medical peace movement. People of different ages and backgrounds gathered from all around the country to have our voice heard.
it was incredibly inspiring to meet the variety of people involved in the medical peace movement.
We marched to Trafalgar Square to hear a range ofspeeches from religious leaders, politicians and activists. The most anticipated speaker was Jeremy Corbyn, who is the most senior politician to call for an end to Trident in my lifetime. He was joined by the First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and the energy both in the crowd and from these speakers to unite and commit to a campaign to finally end Trident was extremely powerful.
This was my first anti-nuclear weapons march, and I hope to continue to campaign against nuclear weapons until they are reduced to just an embarrassing part of history. Others in Medact had been on many similar marches and spoke about the past work and successes of the medical peace movement. It’s clear to me as a new member that there is a fantastic legacy to live up to.