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Why Marching in an Anti-Nuclear Rally Is Both Logical and Completely Futile

It feels stupid to have to set out the case against Trident, Britain's massive "nuclear deterrent"—mostly, let's not kill ourselves and everyone we love.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

On Saturday, I went along to what's been described as the largest anti-nuclear demonstration in a generation, ahead of this year's expected vote to renew the Trident weapons system. Tens of thousands of us drifted in dregs and clumps from Marble Arch to Trafalgar Square in London, and the message throughout was clear: instead of spending vast sums of money to turn the seas to ash and the skies to radioactive fire, we should put that money towards the NHS, public transport, and education instead.


This is a fairly sensible suggestion, and at the same time deeply weird. Because Trident is not, as was claimed, just another example of Tory hypocrisy, or an enormous vanity project, or a hidden subsidy to the arms industry. Trident is the end of the fucking world. The more of these weapons there are, and the longer they're kept around, the less chance any of us have of making it out alive. Say Russia decides to invade a Britain that doesn't have a nuclear deterrent: the worst-case scenario is a lifetime under the brutal and crushing rule of someone called Boris, but not the one we'd expected all those years ago. If they try to invade a Britain with its missiles intact, we'll all be killed.

The rockets contain the potential death of every single person on the planet, packed tight into metal tubes and sent off to prowl through the oceans. Usually, in films and fairytales, when the heroes come across some ancient sarcophagus housing an evil power that could destroy the entire world, they take what should be the obvious step of immediately destroying it. They don't have to draw up a risks-benefits analysis and present it to a parliamentary committee. They don't have to explain, in a measured and sensible tone, why wiping out all life would probably, on balance, be a bad thing.

But the world we live in is often stupider than fiction: keeping the deadly relic lying around isn't just an honestly expressed opinion—it's the dominant political orthodoxy. Saturday's protesters had to come up with the pragmatic case against nuclear winter. So this is what they ended up with: please don't kill us and everyone we love; it'll be too expensive.


But what can ordinary people do when faced with the sheer terror of the nuclear bomb? The bomb stands outside history or society—it's the condition of our extinction, a power too monstrous to fully comprehend, and has been put in the hands of a few preening public schoolboys. Who would win in a fight between tens of thousands of normal, fragile bodies, and one Trident missile? If it came down to it, all the people packed in to Trafalgar Square, with their hopeful banners and their shouts of "wanker!" whenever anyone mentioned George Osborne, would be turned into a few wispy trails of radioactive smoke in the flash of an instant. What about a hundred thousand people? A million?

The thing about the atomic bomb is that the more of you there are to fight it, the more crushingly you lose. How do you organize a march against the violent death of every living thing? The answer is, of course, that you can't. There's a fury and a madness that comes over people who are really fighting for their lives and the lives of their families. That fury was not on display this Saturday; death has been hanging over us for too long. A few speakers made a game attempt to give some sense of the stakes: the sheer carnage that would come out of even one nuclear explosion, the bodies, the famine, the living envying the dead. But really, it was just another slow, strolling demonstration through central London on a Saturday afternoon.


We gathered around Nelson's Column, a monumental middle finger of British imperialism, the intercontinental ballistic missile of the nineteenth century, and clapped for Jeremy Corbyn. Some people shouted for free education or council houses or for the entire Tory cabinet to resign. (When the right wing assembles to protest, there's usually one thing in particular they want to change, and they usually get it. The left, standing for all the abandoned innocents of history, has to oppose everything.)

There were big creepy puppets and "v for vendetta" masks, whistles and bongos, men dressed like Gandalf riding around on heavily customized bicycles, Trotskyites with messenger bags hawking the Socialist Worker, and halfway down Park Lane we stopped briefly to watch an impromptu folk gig, as if acoustic guitars and sincerity could fight back against the primordial evil of nuclear fission.

The Black Bloc contingent, the hooded anarchists who can usually be relied upon to inject some sense of urgency into the proceedings, were mostly up in Liverpool, trying to fight back a group of right-wing extremists calling themselves the North-West Infidels. Saving the world from total annihilation might seem to be a more important cause than throwing bricks at some wretched, pug-faced Nazis, but at least the fascists have a reasonable chance of being defeated. The nuclear bomb, not so much.

Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP (in red) and Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton, smiling beside her

The demonstration was vast, and it hosted the leaders of three major political parties and the sitting MP for another. Nicola Sturgeon, the head of government of the UK's second-largest constituent country, marched at the head of the protest. This was not, as all the assembled worthies kept pointing out, a fringe movement. But as much hope as they might have had for victory, everyone seemed to know that the cause was lost. If Trident renewal comes to a Parliamentary vote, it'll pass. The Conservatives have an absolute majority, and a big chunk of Corbyn's Labour party are in love with easeful death, to the extent that they reacted with horror when he said that as Prime Minister he'd refuse to push the big red button marked 'exterminate the brutes.'


Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addressing the crowd in Trafalgar Square

This is mad, but the atomic bomb is madness itself, and we're living in the world that the atomic bomb built. So we tried to be sensible: we gathered in our thousands to make the pragmatic case against being murdered as we sleep, even though being sensible in the face of the catastrophe has never done much good. As Corbyn spoke, clouds pulled away from the sky and it gleamed with the approaching dusk. And then everyone went home.

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