«University of Bristol Department of Historical Studies Best undergraduate dissertations of Rose Farrell The Civil Defence Hiatus: A Rediscovery of ...»
University of Bristol
Department of Historical Studies
Best undergraduate dissertations of
The Civil Defence Hiatus: A Rediscovery of Nuclear Civil
Defence Policy 1968-1983
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In June 2009, the Department of Historical Studies at the University of
Bristol voted to begin to publish the best of the annual dissertations
produced by the department’s 3rd year undergraduates (deemed to be those
receiving a mark of 75 or above) in recognition of the excellent research work being undertaken by our students. As a department, we are committed to the advancement of historical knowledge and understanding, and to research of the highest order. We believe that our undergraduates are part of that endeavour.
This was one of the best of this year’s 3rd year undergraduate dissertations.
Please note: this dissertation is published in the state it was submitted for examination. Thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from departmental guidelines for the presentation of dissertations (e.g. in the formatting of its footnotes and bibliography).
The author, 2009.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the prior permission in writing of the author, or as expressly permitted by law.
‘The Civil Defence Hiatus’1 A Rediscovery of Nuclear Civil Defence Policy 1968 - 1983 Candidate Number: 32694 Word Count: 12,082 A dissertation submitted in accordance with the structure of the Historical Studies BA, Bristol University, April 2009 Lawrence J. Vale, The Limits of Civil Defence in the USA, Switzerland, Britain, and the Soviet Union, (Hampshire, 1987), p. 138 Contents Introduction 3 Part One Civil Defence after 1968 11 Chapter One The Paradox: Did Civil Defence after 1968 Abandon Civilians? 11 Chapter Two The Alternative: Was Civil Defence a Method of Political Control after 1968? 19 Part Two Civil Defence after 1983 29
The Anomalous Decade: Did Civil Defence from 1983 Reflect a PreEthos? 29 Conclusion 37 Bibliography 39 Introduction
The Cold War left behind a world which was so littered with apocalyptic weapons that even the most powerful man in today’s politics cannot make an immediate change. President Barack Obama’s reaction to the recent launch of a nuclear missile from North Korea has once again opened up debate on nuclear weapons. Obama pledged his commitment to proliferation, but he admitted that this process would be so slow that it would be impossible during his lifetime. The most worrying consequence of this continued threat is terrorism. “One terrorist with a nuclear weapon could unleash massive destruction”.3 Research into the Cold War is important for two reasons. Firstly, the decisions made during the Cold War are still resounding in society today. An understanding of the reasoning behind previous government’s policies has the potential to equip us for the long path towards solving the nuclear problem. Secondly, research so far has been considerably stunted by the amount of information that is available to historians. Secrecy was the “potent weapon” of the Cold War; the mystery of the enemy’s political prowess formed the crux of political tension.4 This has lead to a mix-match of complex, and often very conflicting, ideas on the exact nature of government plans during this enigmatic period. As time passes after the end of the Cold War in 1991, new information is reaching the public. It is important that this new information should be applied to these tangled debates in the hope of eventually finding resolution.
Britain’s role in the Cold War was peripheral; the two main proprietors were the capitalist USA and the communist Soviet Union. This did not mean that Britain was safe from nuclear attack; its geographical proximity to the Soviet East meant that it was used as a storage base for American nuclear weapons,5 making it a likely fighting Webb, J. ‘Obama Promotes Nuclear Free World’, Sunday 5th April 2009.
Nick McCamley, Cold War Secret Nuclear Bunkers: The Passive Defence of the Western World during the Cold War, (Barnsley, 2007), p. 279 Bob Clarke, Four Minute Warning: Britain’s Cold War, (Gloucestershire, 2005), p. 9 ground should warfare have begun. There were two government policies aimed at defending the British population from nuclear attack. The first was nuclear deterrent, which was a product of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). “Deterrence means transmitting a basically simple message: if you attack me, I will resist”.6 This meant that each country fought the other through scientific potential alone. The destructive capability that this policy produced reached such high levels that if one side attacked, it was likely to have caused Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). 7 It is this legacy that is still affecting world politics. The second policy was civil defence;
this was “precaution other than combat taken to protect the civilian population”.8 The relationship between the two policies is ambiguous; some argue that civil defence undermines the policy of deterrence, as deterrence is based on building enough weapons that Britain was no longer vulnerable to attack.9 Others say that civil defence can work together with deterrence, in order to enhance Britain’s ‘invulnerability’.10 This study will focus on the latter protection policy: civil defence plans. Although, because both the defence policies are linked so ambiguously, the policy of deterrence will inevitably feature in some of the debates.
Civil Defence played a crucial role during the Blitz. The main asset of this policy was the Civil Defence Corps, which was governed by a philosophy of ‘rescue and succour’. They were a trained group of volunteers who laboured long hours to dig survivors out of blast destruction.11 In the jubilation of victory, the CDC was disbanded at the end of the war. However, it was reinstated again as part of the Civil Defence Act of 1948, when tensions arose between the USSR and the USA.12 It soon became clear that a nuclear war would be very different to a conventional war; this was forcefully demonstrated to the western powers when the USSR tested their first
M. Quinlan (Ministry of Nuclear Deterrence Theorist), quoted in Gwyn Prins, Defended to Death:
Study of the Nuclear Arms Race from the Cambridge Nuclear Disarmament Seminar, (London, 1983), p. 172
Suzanne Wood, ‘The Illusion of Protection’, in Dorothy Thompson (ed.), Over our Dead Bodies:
Women Against the Bomb, (London, 1983), p. 50 Greville Rumble, The Politics of Nuclear Defence: A Comprehensive Introduction, (Oxford, 1985), p.
Prins, Defended to Death, p. 255 Vale, The Limits of Civil Defence, p. 146 Clarke, Four Minute Warning, p. 156 W. Cocroft and R. Thomas, Cold War: Building for Nuclear Confrontation 1946 – 1989, (Swindon, 2003), p. 229 thermonuclear powers in 1953.13 ‘Fallout’ was discovered in the same decade. The blast of a nuclear bomb would be so powerful that it would create a cloud of toxic radioactive dust.14 This made the concept of rescue difficult – people would not be able to help after an attack without endangering themselves in the process. The Defence White Paper in 1957 admitted that conventional civil defence would be useless against nuclear weapons,15 and then the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 demonstrated that a nuclear war could be possible within a very short space of time.16 Civil defence as it had been during the war was no longer adequate, and the last dregs of the World War Two system disappeared after the abandonment of the CDC in
1968.17 Civil Defence spending costs also plummeted from £22 million per year to just £7 million.18 The outdated policy was replaced with a new cheaper concept if civil defence, driven by a ‘state rationale’ philosophy. Rather than focusing on rescue, the policy now turned to making the structure of regional government stronger after an attack. The new system split the country into core compartments, so that each individual region would be able to function without the help of central government.
The country was sectioned into eleven Home Defence Regions (controlled by a Regional Commissioner), and each of these was split into twenty-three Sub-Regional Headquarters, which would include County Controls and District Controls. 20 It was thought that the public would be safer in their own homes during an attack, so they were told to ‘Stay At Home’ for fourteen days.21 They would be given advice on how to build a fallout shelter inside their homes, and that they should not move districts otherwise their county would not help them.
There are two documents that have recently been released on the topic of Cold War civil defence. These sources are particularly valuable, given that the area is so devoid of documented source material. The first source is a Home Office document containing the details of the Protect and Survive ‘Mass Information Campaign’ Clarke, Four Minute Warning, p. 157 Peter Hennesy, The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War, (London, 2002), p. 131 Campbell, War Plan UK, p. 121 Hennesy, The Secret State, p. 154 Clarke, Four Minute Warning, P. 165 Hennesy, The Secret State, p. 139 Hennesy, The Secret State, p. 144 Rumble, The Politics of Nuclear Defence, p. 168 Clarke, Four Minute Warning, p. 73 planned and written by the government from 1973 – 1975.22 Released in 2005, the campaign was formed of television adverts and radio scripts. The campaign would have been opened to the public should international relations have deteriorated far enough. It was aimed at providing information to householders on how to protect themselves against a nuclear attack. The Protect and Survive booklet was the only part of the campaign to be released to the public, in 1980. It caused a huge amount of scepticism for the way it presented a potential nuclear situation and the advise it gave to householders. The most powerful criticism is illustrated, literally, in Raymond Briggs’ Where the Wind Blows, where an elderly couple die of radiation poisoning despite following ‘govern-mental’ advice.23 Moreover, the Protect and Survive television adverts from the campaign were aired in a BBC Panorama programme in February 1980. 24 The second source is also a Home Office document that was released earlier in 2008. It contains discussions between the government and the BBC from 1973 – 1975 regarding radio procedure after an attack.25 The BBC had a minibroadcasting studio in every regional government bunker; therefore they would be on the front line of maintaining communication after an attack.26 Because this document has been released very recently, it has not been included in any research so far.
McCamley was the last to publish research into this area in 2007, before the release of this document. Peter Hennesy claims that these Home Office documents are the “crown jewels of genuine official secrecy”.27 However, it must be remembered that these sources shed light on only a tiny part of government policy during this period.
The government retains strict control over what is released to the public. Most information is “almost without exception closed for at least a hundred years” under the Official Secrets Act.28 It is clear that a full analysis of government policies during the Cold War is something that will only be possible for historians in the future.
Despite this, they might help us begin to challenge historiography.
London, Public Record Office, HO 322/776 Raymond Briggs, When the Wind Blows, (London, 1986), p. 38 John Minnion & P. Bolsover, The CND Story: The First 25 Years in the Words of the People Involved, (London, 1983), p. 35 London, Public Record Office, HO 322/775 Peter Laurie, Beneath City Streets: A Private Enquiry into the Nuclear Preoccupations of Government, (London, 1970), p. 113 Peter Hennesy, quoted in ‘’Nuclear Secrets of 1975 Revealed’, 29th December 2005.