BOOK REVIEW: 'REWRITING THE RECORD'
By Julian Lewis
Salisbury Review – March 1993
Peace Movements – International Protest and World Politics since 1945, by April Carter, Longman, 1992, £26.00 hdbk, £9.99 pbk.
Whenever the Left fails at the ballot box, its friends in academia use a fall-back technique: if you cannot make history, you can at least rewrite it. This new study of 'Peace Movements' – the propaganda name for disarmament campaigns – falls squarely into this category.
April Carter and I were college friends in the mid-1970s. That was when I first heard of her role as a former chairman of the CND. If this had been mentioned in the book's note on the author, it would have given a better idea of her perspective; but her bibliographical essay gives the game away, just the same. No books hostile to the anti-nuclear cause are listed, though weighty ones exist, and a passing sentence dismisses
"polemical pamphlets by organizations set up to campaign against peace movements",
without naming any nor indicating how to obtain them.
Exaggerations and inaccuracies, exposed at the time, continually resurface in this narrative. A turnout of "300,000–400,000" is wrongly claimed for the CND's largest London rally in
"December 1983, just before cruise deployment".
In reality, deployment began in November; the rally was in October; and the total present was shown by an aerial photographic survey to have been just under 100,000.
The so-called "Generals for Peace", whose intimate links with the Soviet-controlled World Peace Council were proven publicly in 1984, are blandly described as
"a select international group ... of former generals and admirals".
The Times is accused of criticising another pro-Soviet tool – the "International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War" –
"without seriously documenting this claim".
The co-founder of the IPPNW – Brezhnev's doctor, no less – is defended as having
"a reputation for personal independence".
This is careless as well as risible: it was The Times which published a detailed critique, revealing the man's role in the persecution of Andrei Sakharov, when the leaders of this unsavoury outfit were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to a chorus of Western disapproval in 1985.
A similar gloss is applied to Labour's crushing defeat in the 1983 "Nuclear Election" – as it was dubbed by the CND. This is excused by reference to the activities of
"the Ministry of Defence, MI5, well-funded right-wing groups and a predominantly Conservative press".
These engaged in (unspecified) "disinformation and character assassination", according to "one of those involved". And who, pray, was he? None other than a proven mole in Conservative Central Office, who spent his time there spying for Left-wing journalists and who played no part in the successful exposure of Leftists in the CND during the election campaign.
Despite this apologia, the author feels bound to concede that successive election defeats finally forced Labour to drop CND's policies, as
"Unilateralism had been damagingly equated with the left-wing of the Labour Party and was widely regarded as incompatible with winning an election."
Yet, there is no proper account of the arguments which prevailed over the CND so decisively in the battle for public support.
On the contrary, episodes damaging to the anti-nuclear cause are excluded in the hope, one suspects, that they will fade with time. Thus, no mention is made of Michael Randle and Patrick Pottle – leading unilateralists both – who smuggled MI6 traitor George Blake back to the KGB after his escape from Wormwood Scrubs. The reader is informed, instead, that
"opposing the Pentagon without becoming apologists for the Kremlin required a difficult balancing act".
Comment on this is superfluous. In contrast to such omissions, each irrelevant Appeal, each ineffective Declaration, each inconsequential Initiative for "peace", is painstakingly recorded.
Does this matter? Was not public opposition to the CND as great at the end of the 1980s as at the beginning? Were not NATO's missile deployments vindicated by Soviet acceptance of the 'Zero Option' offer, which the unilateralists had denounced when Reagan proposed it? Is not our Trident deterrent moving safely towards completion?
We may give a positive answer to all these questions, but that is no reason for letting the academic Left snatch a bogus victory from the jaws of the CND's defeat. Today's history students may be tomorrow's decision-makers. They deserve better than this defective, selective and introspective account.