Peter Sedgwick


(April 1961)

From Socialist Review, April 1961, p.6.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Mr John Strachey has now expanded the full-page-plus of nuclear apologia that he wrote in the Observer on the Sunday before the Scarborough defence debate. The result is hardly worth the astronomic (two-and-sevenpence) difference in cost between this full-scale strategic chunk of ideological hardware and the original tactical version. The fall-out from Mr Strachey’s paper bomb is, as ever, distinctly dirty.

The unique nature of the Hydrogen Bomb enables its devotees to combine the thrill of sadism with the pretensions of pacifism. The average Englishman will tell you proudly, “If they drop one on us, we will drop one on them”, and then, with the next breath, “Of course it will never be used ...” The Bomb is at once the jingoist’s super-weapon, latest in the line of succession from the Gatling gun, Dreadnought and V-2, and the statesman-peacemaker’s Non-weapon (since it is intended never to be used) or even Anti-weapon (since it supposedly abolishes the possibility of war).

Both these attitudes are evident in Strachey’s pamphlet. A non-nuclear Britain is described as a “weak Britain without weapons or allies”. Any armament short of the Bomb is implied (in a rebuke to Cousins) to be as out-of-date, today as the machine-gun era. In a remarkable piece of hysterical fantasy, hardly paralleled out-side the American gutter-press, Strachey envisages the Russian General Staff detonating an H-Bomb a day over British cities in order to bring a unilateralist Britain to her knees. (Amazingly he nowhere advocates a nuclear alliance with Russia to deter the equally likely, or unlikely, possibility of similar bombardment from America or France.) “Surrender” is sprinkled as a synonym for ‘unilateralism’ no less than 49 times in 21 pages.

On the other hand, we are treated to some eleven pages of propaganda for Peace Through Deterrence. War, it appears, is getting less and less likely as ‘invulnerable’ weapons like Polaris come into play on either side; it is assumed that neither side will be tempted to strike first if its opponent’s Bomb-capacity cannot be obliterated at first blow. Strachey does not stop to consider the fact that a large proportion of military research is devoted precisely to the task of upsetting the enemy’s invulnerability. Devices for the detection and destruction of fast submarines are now a top priority. Nevertheless, Strachey declares that armaments “should not only be made as mutually invulnerable, and as equal as possible, but should also be reduced to the maximum practicable extent”.

This demand for a reduction in armaments would be, if Strachey were right in the rest of his argument, an inconsistent hangover from pre-nuclear days: a few Sundays before Scarborough, a Hydrogen Don (or Atomic Academic – an increasingly common species in the USA) wrote in the Observer to the effect that ‘disarmament’ did not necessarily mean reducing armaments – its proper meaning nowadays lay in making bigger and better detection systems (and conversely we may suppose, anti-detection-system systems), even if this meant increasing armament expenditure. Disarmament is Armament. War is Peace. Strachey cannot eat his nuclear cake and have it.

Strachey’s final paragraphs out-line his hopes for the future of mankind. The best he can offer us is ‘a world kept in order by the joint will of Russia and America, acting, no doubt, in the name of the United Nations’, a gradual accommodation of the wills of the two great conservative super-powers “to keep the world in order”. Strachey’s role in the Popular Front days was largely that of an apologist for Moscow. During the Labour Government’s terms of office, he served, as Under-Secretary for War, the military strategy of American capitalism. In his dependence for the future on both Washington and Moscow, he has telescoped his political career very neatly. Now, as then, he has seen where naked power predominates, and knelt before it.

Paradoxically, this display of sophisticated abjection appears in a Fabian series entitled Socialism In The Sixties. The dangers of war by accident, and war by ‘escalation’ from tactical to strategic weapons, seems to enter Mr Strachey’s consciousness scarcely at all. He talks of the ‘not necessarily high risk of nuclear war in the immediate years ahead’; he never tells us whether, if it came (literally) to the push, he would set Polaris off or not, or in what circumstances. With all Strachey’s cool calculation of ‘first strikes’, second strikes’ and so on, it is perhaps fortunate that the Fabian tortoise on the front cover does not appear carrying its customary motto. This is quite baldly: WHEN I STRIKE, I STRIKE.


Last updated on 25.11.2004