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Paving the Way for Peace

“What sort of Peace do we Want?”: Greenham Common and the Fight against Nuclear Armament

“De quelle paix voulons-nous ?” : Greenham Common et le combat contre l’armement nucléaire
Florence Binard

Texte intégral

1This paper analyses the articles dealing with the women’s peace movement at Greenham Common that were published in the British feminist magazine, Spare Rib, in the 1980s. It focuses on the strategic and political choices made by the peace camp women to fight against the storing of American nuclear missiles on British soil. It highlights the diversity of the women’s views and shows that their involvement against the nuclear arms race ranged from personal and local concerns to global interpretations of the politics of armament during the Cold War.

2Cet article a pour objet l’analyse des articles publiés dans le magazine féministe britannique, Spare Rib, dans les années 1980, à propos du camp des femmes pour la paix de Greenham Common. Il s’intéresse aux choix politiques et stratégiques des femmes de Greenham dans leur combat contre le stockage des missiles nucléaires américains sur le sol britannique. Il met en évidence la diversité des points de vue et montre que l’engagement des femmes du camp de Greenham contre la course aux armements nucléaires reflétait des intérêts parfois divergents. Les unes se battaient pour conserver leur confort à une échelle locale ‒ celle de la Grande-Bretagne – sans se préoccuper plus avant de ce qui se passait sur le reste de la planète tandis que d’autres s’interrogeaient sur les implications politiques, à l’échelle mondiale, de l’armement nucléaire.

  • 1 This article is an adapted and translated version of Florence Binard, “Pluralité idéologique et div (...)

3The Greenham women’s movement against nuclear armament in the 1980s developed in the context of the Cold War. The decision to deploy American Cruise and Pershing missiles on British soil and in other West European countries in 1979 was a sign of growing tensions between the Soviet and the Western Blocs, tensions which were exacerbated by the accession to power of Margaret Thatcher in Britain in 1979 and that of Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1981.1

  • 2 The 1980 Protect and Survive booklet was reprinted in March 2017 by the Imperial War Museum (IWM) “ (...)
  • 3 According to secret documents made public in 2013, a speech had been written in 1983 for the Queen (...)
  • 4 Raymond Briggs, When the Wind Blows, London: Penguin [1982], 1983. Hansard is an edited verbatim re (...)

4In Britain, the civil defence plans which included information campaigns whereby leaflets were distributed and radio or TV clips that were broadcast in order to provide practical advice in the event of an attack,2 testify to the British government’s fear that the world might be on the brink of a nuclear war.3 The measures proposed for the building of protective sheds – to unhinge the doors of the house and make them rest on a wall at an angle that would allow the family members to hide underneath and to then proceed to cover the doors with objects, such as suitcases, as thick as possible to ensure protection from radioactivity – were meant to convey the message that it would be possible to survive an attack. However, the total absurdity of these survival instructions was denounced by anti-nuclear organisations as well as by politicians on all sides. Raymond Briggs’s comic strip, When the Wind Blows (1982), whose scathing and chilling, dark humour satirised the preposterous, not to say, grotesque face of the Government’s recommendations in the event of a nuclear attack, met with great success. The back cover of the first reprints consisted of quotes, from famous MPs and Lords affiliated to the three main British political parties (Tony Benn and Eric Heffer for Labour, James Prior for the Conservatives and David Steel for the Lib-Dems), all highly recommending the reading of the comic strip. The quotes were completed by the following citation of the Parliament’s motion: “What the House Said – ‘This House welcomes the publication of When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs as a powerful contribution to the growing opposition to nuclear armament and hopes it will be widely read,’” Hansard.4

5It was in this context of worrying times, of the resurgence of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) that, in August 1981, a group of Welsh women organised a march from Cardiff to the military base of Greenham Common where American missiles were to be stored. Their initial goal was to draw the public’s attention to the dangers of stocking such weapons on British soil by making Britain a prime target in the event of war. However, the lack of media coverage incited the women to pursue their action. Remembering the Suffragettes who, to make themselves heard, had chained themselves to the railings of Parliament, the women decided to chain themselves to the fence of the military base. The event marked the start of a 19-year-long protest against nuclear armament, which lasted from 1981 to 2000, at a camp set up outside the base.5 Although men were initially welcome, the camp and the actions that were organised soon became women-only. Depending on the differing standpoints and points of view, this proved to be either the greatest strength or the weakest point of the movement.

Women’s choices of actions and strategies

6The main objective of the Greenham women was to prevent the storing of the missiles that had been scheduled for 1983. To this end they resorted to a variety of actions. First, they set up a camp of tents, tepees and caravans outside the main gates of the base so as to be able to quickly organise pacifist events and non-violent pickets to block the entrance to the base. Having to face harsh living conditions (the cold weather, the muddy environment, the lack of hot water etc.) and confronted with the silence of the media, the women decided to diversify their actions at Greenham as well as throughout the country. Their first major action in London took place on 7 June 1982 when Ronald Reagan made an official visit to the UK. It consisted of the symbolic staging of the deaths of millions of people whose lives had been abruptly ended by a nuclear bomb blast on London. A very well coordinated and organised group of about 80 women, subdivided into several small groups, lay down on five roads near the Stock-Exchange thus blocking the City traffic and causing congestion. The preparation work and the implementation of such actions were very instructive and paved the way for the meticulous organisation of large-scale events.6 On 12 and 13 December 1982, 30,000 women from across the UK, but also from abroad, held hands and encircled the 9-mile-long perimeter of the base. The women were asked to bring personal belongings – symbolic of their lives, of their joys or anger, of their fears etc. – in order to decorate the fence. All kinds of objects were attached to the fencing and barbed wire: cooking recipes, fruit, records, photos, toys, tampons, feminist magazines, posters with humanist or anti-nuclear slogans to name but a few examples. The undeniable success of the “Embrace the Base” protest had two main consequences. First, it gave a positive and strong signal of encouragement for the organisation of many other protest actions at Greenham such as “Halloween 1983”, “Dancing on the Silos”, “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” or “Bringing the Fence Down.”7 Secondly, it marked the start of national and international media coverage which also led to the setting up of numerous women peace camps in the UK but also in other Western countries between 1983 and 19878 in The United States, West Germany, Holland, Canada, Italy, France etc.9

Media Coverage

7The initiators of the Greenham movement were always aware of the importance of media coverage of their actions and, in effect, as noted previously, the lack of interest initially shown by the press was largely responsible for the setting-up of the camp (caravans but mainly tents, and makeshift shelters where women settled for a few days and nights to much long periods of time). Yet, although large scale coverage of the protest events was crucial to the success of the movement, the relations that the women enjoyed with the media varied greatly depending on the political leanings of the media. In 1984, Ruth Wallgrove summed up the situation in these terms:

  • 10 Ruth Wallgrove, “Press Coverage”, Spare Rib, Peace Not Quiet, Special Issue, no. 142, May 1984, 21.

The way the papers have treated Greenham is unsurprisingly predictable. You could use it as a pocket guide to the British Press – liberal, decent Guardian and Daily Mirror, pseudo-objective Times, snobby Telegraph and absurdly reactionary Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express.”10

  • 11 Julia Emberley and Donna Landry, “Coverage of Greenham and Greenham as ‘coverage’”, Feminist Studie (...)

8The right-wing press, and especially the tabloids, tried to discredit the movement by depicting the Greenham women as marginal, irresponsible and often masculine women: “lesbians”, “viragoes”, “amazons”, “shrews”, “harpies”, living in unhygienic conditions who, sometimes, even imposed this unhealthy environment on their little children. As underlined by Julia Emberley and Donna Landry in an article published in 1989, although media coverage was essential to the visibility of the camp, it was also used against them: “The chief paradox of Greenham, however, is that the media are crucial to the camp’s effectiveness in consciousness raising on a mass scale yet remain its worst enemies.”11 Besides, it appears that the general press did not take an interest in the feminist debates concerning the existence and the relevance of the camp. And yet, these debates reveal diverse, and even antagonist, views on anti-nuclear actions and world peace.

  • 12 Spare Rib was digitised by the British Library in 2014 and is available at: http://www.bl.uk/spare (...)
  • 13 Martin Pugh, Women and the Women’s Movement in Britain, London: Macmillan, second edition, 2000 [19 (...)
  • 14 Marsha Rowe, Spare Rib Reader, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982, 21.

9The presentation of these debates in the feminist magazine, Spare Rib12 sheds light on these divisions. Published between 1972 and 1993, Spare Rib was the most famous and long-lasting British magazine of the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM). Unlike most other feminist publications principally obtainable from feminist bookshops or Women’s Centres, Spare Rib was also distributed by newsagents and notably W.H. Smith, the biggest chain of newsagents in Britain. Martin Pugh estimated its sales at 30,000 copies per issue in 1970,13 which would have reached a reading audience of about 100,000. Also, as underlined by Marsha Rowe – one of the founding members of Spare Rib –, one of the most important objectives of the magazine was to reflect the widest range of views pertaining to the evolution of the movement, to the women’s lived experiences, to the history of women and to the diversity of feminist theories. For this purpose, it had been decided that the magazine would publish women’s testimonies rather than articles written by professional journalists.14 Between 1982 and 1987 – the period during which the Greenham women were most active –, a dozen articles and a special issue were dedicated to the Greenham movement in Spare Rib. On the whole, as for the general press, the publication dates correspond to major events; however, the way these were presented differed greatly. In keeping with its politics of proximity, the articles in Spare Rib consisted mainly of personal testimonies that highlighted the ongoing controversies surrounding the women’s camp. Among the topics that were covered, two will be discussed in this article: the controversial political decision to make the camp, women-only, and the debates surrounding the white Anglo-centric dominant stance of the movement.

The decision to make the camp women-only

  • 15 Tim Cresswell, In Place, Out of Place: Geography, Ideology, and Transgression, Minneapolis: U. of M (...)

10The march from Cardiff to Greenham Common base had been orchestrated by women and, although it had received the support of men, was made up of women. Yet, in its early days, the camp was gender-mixed even if the vast majority of its occupiers were women. However, early on the women wondered whether a women-only camp would not be better and, in February 1982, following a majority vote of the campers, the men were asked to leave the camp. The decision angered some of them who left the place with great unrest, some even destroying the shelters they had built.15 The short summary of the history of the Greenham women’s camp on the internet site of The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is quite telling regarding the patronising and sexist perception the men had of the women’s peace movement:

  • 16 The History of CND, Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, http://www.cnduk.org/about/history.

There was some opposition within CND and the wider peace movement to the fact that men were barred from the camp, but this largely melted away as the determination, imagination and energy of the Greenham Women became clear. In spite of press hostility and physical abuse including repeated, often quite brutal evictions, they stayed at the base, sometimes in their thousands, sometimes a few dozen only, but never giving up.16

  • 17 Sam Marsden, “Thatcher said Greenham Common anti-nuclear protesters were an ‘eccentricity’”, The Te (...)
  • 18 See for example, Caroline Blackwood, On the Perimeter (1984); Barbara Harford & Sarah Hopkins, eds. (...)

11It appears that the men’s hostility diminished only when the women had proven astonishingly efficient, strong and determined – in their opinion at any rate – in the face of adversity. although, CND acknowledged the importance of the impact of women’s resistance to a male dominated nuclear military world, the fact that the political strategy of a women-only movement was not discussed is telling. Besides the fact that the women reproached the men for not doing their bit towards the daily practical organisation of the camp, they were convinced that the presence of men would de facto lead to violent clashes between the demonstrators and the police whereas a women-only protest would reduce the risk of the use of violence by the police. This logic was based on the dominant belief in sex-differences – within the general public and, a fortiori, within the police institution – whereby men were naturally violent and aggressive whereas women were loving and non-violent. The choice of a pacifist women-only camp was thus the fruit of both a tactical decision and a sincere belief that men were the “enemy.” According to 1983 secret documents that were made public in 2013, the stratagem of gender non-mixity did prove problematic for the police. The then Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, and several other Ministers debated the opportunity to requisition female officers before realising the impractibility of such a scheme due to the lack of trained female officers for this kind of policing. They were also concerned by the insufficient number of prison cells for women in the event of massive arrests.17 Nevertheless, it is to be noted that, in spite of their gender, many women were victims of police violence as shown in many documents of the time.18 On another level, it also appears that the events organised by the Greenham women who used humour and derision to make themselves heard, such as managing to enter high security zones wearing fancy-dress costumes, were all the more efficient as they cast ridicule upon the army and the police force who were humiliated by their inability to secure the base and protect it from “weak” women.

12In view of the challenges posed to the government, the strategic choice of gender non-mixity was undeniably an effective one, however, for many women, it amounted to more than well-planned tactics. For many Greenham protesters, faithful to the democratic ideals of the WLM, the political stance of non-mixity was also an opportunity to show the world that it was possible to create women-only non-hierarchical micro societies: “The women-only nature of the peace camp gave women space to express their beliefs and assert their politics in their own names and traditions without the customary dominance of men.”19 To their minds, it was obvious that this project was not based on essentialist beliefs. Its aim was to show that the arms race was the outcome of the patriarchal organisation of society which encouraged men to become competitive, aggressive and violent instead of instilling in them so-called feminine qualities such as caring skills. On the other hand, women had to learn to reject the traditional roles imposed upon them and which transformed them into passive and submissive individuals. According to them, these acquired qualities explained their prominent role within the peace movement which was also an opportunity for them to learn about political actions by and for themselves. However, although a majority of feminists subscribed to this theoretical stance, the organisation of broad-based protests required the largest number of women possible. They had to reach far and wide to draw support which meant they had to make concessions on their ideals, which raised controversies. For instance, the “Embrace the Base” event gave rise to uneasiness and even tensions within the ranks of some activists who underlined the contradiction and danger of erecting women as the supreme defenders of peace on account of their femininity – albeit an acquired femininity – whilst denouncing the sexist basis of this femininity. In an article entitled “Hell No – We Won’t Glow”, Sheila Ridell, a teacher from Dorset expressed her misgivings: “Another problem which Greenham highlights for me is the difficulty of asserting the positive aspects of women’s life-giving, nurturing role, while at the same time insisting that women must no longer be defined primarily as mothers.”20 Others were concerned by the apparent earnestness of the essentialist message conveyed during some events. In a 1985 article entitled “Many Visions”, the feminist journalist, Barbara Norden reflected on her ambivalent feelings:

  • 21 Barbara Norden, “Many Visions”, Spare Rib, no 158, Sept. 1985, 6.

At the time, the ‘Embrace the Base’ action filled me with doubts even though I was also moved and impressed. Why did an event meant to empower women, involve pinning nappies and wedding photos to the fence as symbols of what would be destroyed by nuclear war? [...] didn’t this reinforce ideals of feminine virtue that were pseudo-religious?21

  • 22 “Greenham Common”, Spare Rib, no 127, Feb. 1983, 18.

13According to others, the glorification of women and so-called feminine values such as empathy, compassion etc. as an essential driving force of the peace movement was contrary to feminist ideology. The preamble to an article in which three members of the Spare Rib collective – Roisin Boyd, Jan Parker and Manny – contributed is unequivocal: “The elevation of the ‘feminine’ – mothering, nurturing, family-oriented – into a ‘natural’ force for peace appears neither historically correct nor particularly feminist.”22

  • 23 Quoted from Piecing It Together: Feminism and Nonviolence, and reproduced in Spare Rib no 132, July (...)

14Whether it was sincere or strategic, the use of motherhood was also perceived by some as a counter-productive tactic on account of its essentialising or even essentialist nature since men, – who by definition could not be mothers – were de facto excluded, which freed them from the responsibility of bettering themselves in terms of “care.” Besides, the stress laid on motherhood could be perceived as depreciating or denigrating women who were not or could not be biological mothers: “Appealing to women as ‘mothers’ relieves men of the responsibility for becoming carers, nurturers, co-operative, whilst belittling women who aren’t biological mothers, either by choice or by necessity.”23

  • 24 Jacky Bishop, et al., Breaching the Peace, a collection of radical feminist papers, London: Onlywom (...)
  • 25 Trisha Longdon, “Essay”, in Breaching the Peace, London: Onlywomen Press, 1983, 16.
  • 26 Lilian Mohin, “Essay” in ibidem, 24.

15Lastly, some feminists went as far as to accuse the Greenham women of being responsible for undermining the feminist movement which gave rise to debates in the columns of Spare Rib. In 1983, the Onlywomen Press publication of Breaching the Peace, a 44-page pamphlet which included papers written by a dozen participants at a workshop organised, that same year, by a group of radical feminists, testifies to a virulent opposition to Greenham. The theme of the workshop which was: “The Women’s Liberation Movement versus The Women’s Peace Movement or How Dare You Presume I Went to Greenham”24 set the tone. The assumption that all feminists approved of the camp and gave their support to Greenham infuriated radical feminists who, like some more moderate feminists, argued that Greenham being women-only did not de facto make it a feminist endeavour. As proof, they noted that the values presented by the Greenham women to the media were, more often than not, in keeping with essentialist views which, therefore, reinforced sexist gender stereotypes against women. Of even greater concern in the eyes of the radical feminists, was that not only did these women uphold essentialist beliefs but some were openly antifeminist and lesbophobic: “At Greenham we aren’t shrill, aggressive, short-haired, man-haters but peace-loving, idealistic givers of life.”25 For Lilian Mohin, one of the contributors to Breaching the Peace, the movement threatened the WLM: “It seems to me that the women’s peace movement is, in truth, one enormous, seductive con – a splendid method for eliminating the women’s liberation movement.”26 The compelling attractiveness of the camp made it all the more dangerous as it drove women away from their fight for women’s liberation against patriarchy in favour of a somewhat “limited” cause: peace. They conceded that such an ideal was noble; however, the radical feminists maintained that it was of lesser import because putting an end to patriarchy would necessarily bring peace whereas peace would not necessarily entail an end to patriarchy.

  • 27 Florence Binard, “The British Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s: Redefining the Personal and (...)
  • 28 Rachel Lever, “What sort of Peace do we want?”, op. cit., 22.
  • 29 Jean Freer, Raging Womyn: in Reply to Breaching the Peace: A Comment on the Women’s Liberation Move (...)
  • 30 Jean Freer spent two years at Greenham. See “About Jean Freer” <http://www.freer.org/pages/about.ht (...)
  • 31 Jean Freer quoted by Barbara Norden, in “Many Visions”, Spare Rib, no 158, Sept. 1985, 32.

16This line of argumentation gave rise to other controversies. The accusations of isolationism made by the radical feminists were reminiscent of those directed by male socialists against the WLM27. Rachel Lever remarked, not without irony, the persistence of this biased view: “This seems remarkably like the left-wing argument that we have to tackle capitalism first because it’s the cause of war, or racism, or sexism, or whatever it is that we want to fight. One organisation, the SWP [Socialist Workers Party] even tells us not to waste our efforts on CND but to build a shop steward committee instead.”28 In Raging Women29 – written as a reply to Breaching the Peace – Jean Freer,30 reproached the radical feminists for their lack of open-mindedness concerning the necessity to fight other battles to improve society: “I have recently begun to wonder if feminist politics are isolationalist. Greenham has shown me another approach – more open-handed and understanding […] (which) is clearly effective and empowering for each woman who joins us in our struggle.”31

  • 32 The Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group was created in 1976 in the wake of a conference on women’s (...)
  • 33 Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group, Piecing it Together: Feminism and Nonviolence (1983), cited i (...)

17In addition, numerous articles pointed out that even though Greenham was a just cause, it must not hide other realities and notably the fact that the struggle for peace was closely linked to other fights. For instance, The Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group (FNSG)32 maintained that resistance to wars and nuclear armament was impossible without a resistance to sexism, racism, imperialism and domestic violence which raised two fundamental questions: what kind of peace did the Greenham women want? and what kind of peace did the feminists want? 33

Greenham: A White Middle-Class Anglo-Centric Combat?

  • 34 Barbara Norden, “Many Visions”, Spare Rib, issue 158, Sept. 1985, 32.
  • 35 Amanda Hassan, “A Black Woman in the Peace Movement”, op. cit., 7.
  • 36 Ibidem, 6.
  • 37 In her book, Wilmette Brown explained that for economic reasons it was often impossible for Black w (...)
  • 38 Wilmette Brown, Black Women and the Peace Movement [1983], Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1984, 23.
  • 39 Wilmette Brown was also a member of the CND Black and Asian Working Group.
  • 40 Amanda Hassan, “A Black Woman in the Peace Movement”, Spare Rib, no 142, May 1984, 8.

18In “Many Visions”, Barbara Norden noted that after four years of existence, Greenham remained dominated by self-centred white women oblivious to racial issues. For Norden, this fact provided a partial explanation as to why relatively few Black women had joined the movement: “It is not surprising that many Black women in Britain would not wish to put their energy into the Peace movement, which is not only a mainly white movement, but which still does not acknowledge Black women as Black.”34 She reminded Spare Rib readers that Amanda Hassan had already expressed similar views in the columns of Spare Rib the year before. In an article entitled “A Black Woman in the Peace Movement”, Hassan recounted her rather revealing experience. As she was holding onto the fence of the base with other activists (all white) a police officer seized her violently and threw her in the mud. Out of her group, she was the only victim of this brutal treatment and, when she implied that the reason was that she was Black, one of the white women replied that she thought she had been targeted on account of her small size. This reaction met with indignation from Hassan who, shocked by their wilful blindness to evidence of police racism, wondered: “Couldn’t they see I was picked on because I was Black?”35 For Hassan, the incident raised the question of the definition of peace “not only as an absence of bombs, but also as an absence of violence, organised, encouraged and perpetuated first of all by the State.”36 She explained that reading Wilmette Brown’s Black Women and the Peace Movement (1983) had strongly influenced her commitment to the cause. In her book, Brown insisted on the necessity for Black women to join in the peace movement:37 “No Black woman can afford the luxury of either dismissing peace as a white issue, or allowing racism in the peace movement to go unchecked so that she has a convenient, even profitable – but self-destructive – excuse for not participating”38. It was with the purpose of fighting for peace and against racism that Hassan had decided to present herself as a candidate for the CND’s National Council in December 1983 and had taken on the charge of coordinating the Black and Asian Working Group within CND39. Her aim was to influence the politics of CND so that they would establish more links between nuclear demilitarisation and other interconnected issues. She deemed it crucial for CND to publicly declare that: “[the] CND Council recognises the importance of showing the links between nuclear disarmament and other issues in our society. Those of racism discrimination, police powers, poverty, unemployment, cuts in the health and other public services, all of which tend to disproportionately affect Black, Asian and members of other Ethnic Minorities in our society.”40

  • 41 Rachel Lever published numerous articles in Spare Rib. <http://hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk/arts-cultu (...)
  • 42 Rachel Lever, “What sort of Peace do we want?”, Spare Rib, no 142, May 1984, 22.
  • 43 It is to be noted that in a report published in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (...)
  • 44 See Michel Monteil, “Les tortues marines valent mieux que quelques Robinson… Les îles Chagos et le (...)
  • 45 Rada, “The Nuclear Question: A Third World Perspective”, Spare Rib, no 142, May 1984, 24-5.
  • 46 “Peace Link”, Spare Rib, no. 142, May 1984, 16.
  • 47 Birmingham Women Oppose the Nuclear Threat Group, “Torture pit threat to Peace”, Spare Rib, no 142, (...)

19In another article, “What sort of Peace do we want?”, Rachel Lever41 also denounced the bias of the Western perceptions of peace. She insisted on the fact that contrary to what NATO’s generals claimed in the early 1980s, it was not true that nuclear armament as a deterrent had preserved and guaranteed peace in the world as testified by the millions of civilians who had died in war zones since the Second World War.42 In the same vein, in an article entitled “The Nuclear Question: A Third World Perspective”, the author, Rada, underlined the fact that British and European peace activists often ignored the existence of military bases, similar to that of Greenham which had been established in Third World countries and where thousands of people had been victims of nuclear trials as early as the 1950s. She pointed out that the reality remained serious and even brutal in numerous islands of the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. After the Second World War entire populations were evacuated from the Marshall Islands, especially from the Bikini, Enewatak and Kwajalein atolls to enable the American Army to proceed to nuclear tests. The after-effects had been disastrous/calamitous as hundreds of people from neighbouring islands had been contaminated and had developed very serious health issues (Thyroid cancers and congenital malformations and abnormalities)43. After the American defeat in Vietnam, the inhabitants of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean were deported – without their consent or prior consultation – by the British Government to make way for the establishment of a strategic US military base.44 As underlined by Rada, super-powers needed these bases to control their economic and political interests and the choice of the location of the Chagos Islands was also clearly linked to the 1973 oil crisis. Furthermore, she noted that Third-World anti-nuclear organisations such as “The Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific Movement” or “The Campaign for the Demilitarisation of the Indian Ocean” established connections between imperialism, capitalism, totalitarianism and the rights for these peoples to independence and self-determination and argued that Western anti-nuclear movements could and should follow suit.45 These critiques were obviously justified, however, it must be noted that although international links were lacking they were not totally inexistent. In March 1984, a group of Greenham women organised a protest outside the London headquarters Rio Tinto Zinc. This same group also provided financial assistance to SWAPO Women (South West Africa People’s Organisation) because they disapproved of the British Government’s support of the South-African apartheid government – which was then occupying Namibia – in exchange for Namibian uranium.46 The Birmingham Women Oppose the Nuclear Threat Group also organised an action to draw attention to the shameful commercial practices of Hiatts’ produced and exported torture devices to South Africa: “We have publicly expressed our disgust at Hiatts’ immoral trading practices… This is part of our continuing campaign against militarism, and as part of our commitment to International Women’s Liberation.”47 These events testify to the awareness of small minority groups of the necessity to introduce a wider international dimension to a peace movement that was largely Anglo or Euro-centric.

20This survey of the articles published in Spare Rib about Greenham Common demonstrates that the movement harboured a diversity of viewpoints concerning the strategies and the politics to be adopted. In all evidence the camp developed in the wake of the 1960s and 1970s social movements, and it was especially influenced by the Women’s Liberation Movement. Like the WLM, it was both united and divided. Although there was a consensus against nuclear armament, the women did not share the same vision of the nuclear free world. Thus, the feminist stances expressed in Spare Rib reflected the varied standpoints from which emerged distinct and even sometimes divergent interests. Some were fighting at a local scale – that of Britain – to defend their personal comfort and lifestyles without considering the wider international issues whereas others were aware of the global implications involved in the peace movement. It is interesting to note that the most elaborate criticisms emanated from Black women who, because of their lived experiences, were often more likely to perceive the economic, political and imperialistic dimensions of the arms race.

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Norden Barbara, in “Many Visions”, Spare Rib, no 158, Sept. 1985, 32.

Pugh Martin, Women and the Women’s Movement in Britain, London: Macmillan, 2000 [1992].

Rada, “The Nuclear Question: A Third World Perspective”, Spare Rib, no 142, May 1984, 24-5.

Riddell Sheila, “Hell No – We Won’t Glow”, Spare Rib, no 119, June 1982, 23.

Rowe Marsha, Spare Rib Reader, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.

Wallgrove Ruth, “Press Coverage”, Spare Rib, Peace Not Quiet, Special Issue, no. 142, May 1984, 21.

Wittner Lawrence S., Toward Nuclear Abolition, A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement: 1971 to the Present, Stanford: SUP, 2003.

“Protest at Greenham (1981-1983)”, The Guardian, 3 May, 2007, <https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/-may/03/greenham.yourgreenham3>, accessed April 20, 2022.

“Greenham Common”, Spare Rib, no 127, Feb. 1983, 18.

Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group, Piecing it Together: Feminism and Nonviolence (1983), cited in “Politics without the Punch?”, Spare Rib, no. 132, July 1983, 42.

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Notes

1 This article is an adapted and translated version of Florence Binard, “Pluralité idéologique et divisions féministes sur le camp de femmes pour la paix de Greenham Common dans le magazine féministe Spare Rib dans les années 1980” in Sophie Geoffroy (dir.), Artisans de la paix et passeurs / Peacemakers and Bridgebuilders, Coll. Langues, cultures, représentations, Paris: Michel Houdiard, 2018, 253-277.

2 The 1980 Protect and Survive booklet was reprinted in March 2017 by the Imperial War Museum (IWM) “To coincide with IWM’s new major exhibition “People Power: Fighting for Peace”. Protect and Survive was a public information series on civil defence produced by the British government during the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was intended to inform British citizens on how to protect themselves during a nuclear attack, and consisted of a mixture of pamphlets, radio broadcasts, and public information films.” <http://www.iwm.org.uk/sites/default/files/press-release/Protect%20and%20Survive%20Press%20Release_0.pdf>, accessed April 30, 2022.

3 According to secret documents made public in 2013, a speech had been written in 1983 for the Queen to read in the event of a Third World War: “National Archives reveal government secrets from the 1980s”, <https://www.channel4.com/news/national-archives-secret-government-papers-1983>, accessed April 30, 2022.

4 Raymond Briggs, When the Wind Blows, London: Penguin [1982], 1983. Hansard is an edited verbatim record of what was said in Parliament. It also includes records of votes and written ministerial statements. The report is published daily covering the preceding day, and is followed by a bound final version. <https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/publications/hansard/>, accessed April 30, 2022.

5 Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp: <http://www.greenhamwpc.org.uk/>.

6 Alice Cook and Gwyn Kirk, Greenham Women Everywhere: Dreams, Ideas and Actions from the Women’s Peace Movement, London: South End Press 1983, 38-62.

7 “Your Greenham”, <http://www.yourgreenham.co.uk/#homepage>.

8 8 December 1987 was the date of the signature of the Washington Treaty. <http://data.bnf.fr/12431912/-traite_de_washington_1987/#other-ressources>, accessed April 30, 2022.

9 Lawrence S. Wittner, Toward Nuclear Abolition, A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement: 1971 to the Present, Stanford: SUP, 2003, 229.

10 Ruth Wallgrove, “Press Coverage”, Spare Rib, Peace Not Quiet, Special Issue, no. 142, May 1984, 21.

11 Julia Emberley and Donna Landry, “Coverage of Greenham and Greenham as ‘coverage’”, Feminist Studies, 15, no. 3, Feminist Reinterpretations/reinterpretations of feminism, Autumn 1989, 492.

12 Spare Rib was digitised by the British Library in 2014 and is available at: http://www.bl.uk/spare-rib. Editors of the Feminist Times (2013-2014) <http://www.feministtimes.com/> had wanted to call their magazine Spare Rib but were denied the right to use the name.

13 Martin Pugh, Women and the Women’s Movement in Britain, London: Macmillan, second edition, 2000 [1992], 322.

14 Marsha Rowe, Spare Rib Reader, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982, 21.

15 Tim Cresswell, In Place, Out of Place: Geography, Ideology, and Transgression, Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press 1996, 102.

16 The History of CND, Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, http://www.cnduk.org/about/history.

17 Sam Marsden, “Thatcher said Greenham Common anti-nuclear protesters were an ‘eccentricity’”, The Telegraph, 1 August 2013.

18 See for example, Caroline Blackwood, On the Perimeter (1984); Barbara Harford & Sarah Hopkins, eds., Greenham Common: Women at the Wire, London: The Women’s Press, 1984.

19 “Protest at Greenham (1981-1983)”, The Guardian, 3 May, 2007 <https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/-may/03/greenham.yourgreenham3>.

20 Sheila Riddell, “Hell No – We Won’t Glow”, Spare Rib, no. 119, June 1982, 23.

21 Barbara Norden, “Many Visions”, Spare Rib, no 158, Sept. 1985, 6.

22 “Greenham Common”, Spare Rib, no 127, Feb. 1983, 18.

23 Quoted from Piecing It Together: Feminism and Nonviolence, and reproduced in Spare Rib no 132, July 1983, 44.

24 Jacky Bishop, et al., Breaching the Peace, a collection of radical feminist papers, London: Onlywomen Press, 1983, 5.

25 Trisha Longdon, “Essay”, in Breaching the Peace, London: Onlywomen Press, 1983, 16.

26 Lilian Mohin, “Essay” in ibidem, 24.

27 Florence Binard, “The British Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s: Redefining the Personal and the Political” in Gilles Leydier and John Mullen (eds.), The UK and the Crisis 1970-79, RFCB, XXI-3, 2016, 61-77.

28 Rachel Lever, “What sort of Peace do we want?”, op. cit., 22.

29 Jean Freer, Raging Womyn: in Reply to Breaching the Peace: A Comment on the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Common Womyn’s Peace Camp at Greenham, Wymn’s Land Fund (1984).

30 Jean Freer spent two years at Greenham. See “About Jean Freer” <http://www.freer.org/pages/about.htm>.

31 Jean Freer quoted by Barbara Norden, in “Many Visions”, Spare Rib, no 158, Sept. 1985, 32.

32 The Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group was created in 1976 in the wake of a conference on women’s place in the pacifist movement which took place in 1976 à Les Circauds in France. Premier WRI meeting (War Resisters’ International <https://www.old.wri-irg.org/en/network/events>).

33 Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group, Piecing it Together: Feminism and Nonviolence (1983), cited in “Politics without the Punch?”, Spare Rib, no 132, July 1983, 42.

34 Barbara Norden, “Many Visions”, Spare Rib, issue 158, Sept. 1985, 32.

35 Amanda Hassan, “A Black Woman in the Peace Movement”, op. cit., 7.

36 Ibidem, 6.

37 In her book, Wilmette Brown explained that for economic reasons it was often impossible for Black women to join in at Greenham. In a box in Spare Rib 142, Elisabeth, a Black woman explained what prevented Black women from going to Greenham: “[…] there are problems I know for other black friends of mine to go to Greenham – fears of deportation as they do not hold British passports, the racism and sexism of the police there, and of course the fact that it costs money to get to Greenham! The major reason, I feel, is that Black people have so many causes to fight for, the immediate causes of fighting to survive in this world in which we still exist, fighting against racism and sexism, fascism, imperialism, unemployment, poor housing, capitalism… To these causes Greenham does seem elitist, isolationist”, Spare Rib 142, 19.

38 Wilmette Brown, Black Women and the Peace Movement [1983], Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1984, 23.

39 Wilmette Brown was also a member of the CND Black and Asian Working Group.

40 Amanda Hassan, “A Black Woman in the Peace Movement”, Spare Rib, no 142, May 1984, 8.

41 Rachel Lever published numerous articles in Spare Rib. <http://hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk/arts-culture/literature/rachel-lever-talks-to-riart-grrrls>, May 2, 2022.

42 Rachel Lever, “What sort of Peace do we want?”, Spare Rib, no 142, May 1984, 22.

43 It is to be noted that in a report published in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were advised against resettling Bikini island. See Peter Stegnar, “Assessing Radiological Conditions at Bikini Atoll and the Prospects of Resettlement”, published in 1998, <https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/publications/-magazines/bulletin/bull40-4/40405081517.pdf>.

44 See Michel Monteil, “Les tortues marines valent mieux que quelques Robinson… Les îles Chagos et le cas exemplaire de Diego Garcia”, in Michel Prum (dir.), Race et corps dans l’aire Anglophone, Paris: L’Harmattan 2008, 137-157.

45 Rada, “The Nuclear Question: A Third World Perspective”, Spare Rib, no 142, May 1984, 24-5.

46 “Peace Link”, Spare Rib, no. 142, May 1984, 16.

47 Birmingham Women Oppose the Nuclear Threat Group, “Torture pit threat to Peace”, Spare Rib, no 142, May 1984, 17.

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Florence Binard, « “What sort of Peace do we Want?”: Greenham Common and the Fight against Nuclear Armament »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. 20-n°53 | 2022, mis en ligne le 10 juin 2022, consulté le 25 juin 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/14259 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.14259

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Florence Binard

Florence Binard est professeure de civilisation britannique, spécialiste des études sur le genre et sur la diversité. Elle enseigne à l’UFR EILA (Études Interculturelles en Langues appliquées), Université Paris Cité. Elle est co-responsable de l’axe genre et diversité au sein du laboratoire ICT (Identités, Cultures, Territoires), co-directrice du GRER (Groupe de Recherche sur l’Eugénisme et le Racisme) et elle est vice-présidente de la SAGEF (Société Anglophone sur le Genre et les Femmes). Elle a co-dirigé Féminismes du XXIe siècle : une troisième vague ? (2017), Femmes, sexe, genre dans l’aire anglophone : invisibilisation, stigmatisation et combats (2017), Revisiter la Grande-Guerre (RFCB printemps 2015). Elle est l’auteure d’un ouvrage intitulé Les Mères de la nation : féminisme et eugénisme en Grande-Bretagne (2016).

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