Protect and Survive short documentary on the BBC

There is a short (10 mins) radio documentary about Protect and Survive at the BBC originally broadcast on the World Service: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p018bp3k/Witness_Protect_and_Survive/

It has some interesting little factoids in it from when the booklet was originally published in May 1980; they interview Mike Granatt, one of the Home Office’s press officers involved with its publication and Bruce Kent, a CND campaigner at the time.

Granatt notes the difficulties in bringing the booklet out to an incredulous public, Kent remembers it being a spectacular own goal for the the government and there is a 1980 piece by a very young Jeremy Paxman interviewing the public about what they thought of the measures at the time.

Update (8 June 2013):

This episode is available to download from the BBC here.

Update 13 April 2014:

In previous versions I had misspelled Mike Granatt’s surname as Granite – apologies to readers and especially to Mr. Granatt!

Chernobyl: The Final Warning

In 1991 a dramatised version of the Chernobyl disaster was made called “Chernobyl: The Final Warning” that had a cast of well established stars such as Jon Voight and Jason Robards (Robards was also the lead character in the 1983 nuclear war film The Day After).

The film centres itself primarily on the effects of the disaster on the Ukrainian housewife Yelena Mashenko (Sammi Davis) and her firefighter husband, Alexandr (Steven Hartley) and the rest of the Chernobyl firefighters – six died from the immediate effects of the accident. The other part of the story if the involvement of Dr. Robert Gale, a specialist in leukemia from California and the philanthropist Dr. Armand Hammer.

What sets this drama apart is that it tells the story of Chernobyl from an intimate perspective of those trying to cope in the aftermath; there have been many documentaries and films that speculate on the causes and wider aftermath such as The Battle of Chernobyl or the BBC “Horizon” documentary Inside Chernobyl’s Sarcophagus broadcast the same year as The Final Warning.

I found the film really quite good – the production is a bit dated but in telling the story of how devastating the world’s worst nuclear accident played out in the lives of individuals is a powerful and haunting experience. It demonstrated how this silent killer haunted the lives of utter innocents, from firemen, old people, children; people who had no responsibility for causing the accident were the primary victims of its effects.

The repeated message in the is the one from which it’s title is derived: that Chernobyl could be our final warning; that the accident was by no means unique or could not happen again.

The Peace Game – 1982

One of the more interesting bits of UK government propaganda came in the form of a film called “The Peace Game” from 1982. I think it’s worth setting out a proper historical context for this film; by 1982 the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was very active with anything up to 100,000 members1 and the opposition to Cruise and Pershing missiles being based on Europe had gained significant momentum. Arguments over disarmament and unilateralism had also gained traction.

This became a major headache to the government of the day and was well documented in Duncan Campbell’s Secret Society in 1987 in the episode “The Secret Constitution: Secret Cabinet Committees” and how the government sought to advance its own arguments over the value of deterrence.

From my own point of view this film is an attempt to startle the viewer into accepting deterrence, and all the baggage that goes with it, by portraying the USSR as a vast military-industrial complex which was numerically superior to in nearly every respect to the West. Reinforcing this, is the portrayal of the USSR as an expansionist power, swallowing up numerous Balkan and Central European satellite states. It never presented an alternative view that the USSRs motivation could have been seen as defensive; with no natural border between itself and Europe the USSR had reason to create buffers between itself and the West. It had been invaded numerous times, spanning the time from Napoleon to Hitler and had suffered catastrophically at every occasion.

The none-too-subtle subtext of The Peace Game is of suggested defeatism by selective interviews of the public concerning neutrality, unilateral disarmament and our NATO membership. They never actually confront the core counter-argument that Britain’s nuclear weapons and her decision to allow the United States to base them on her soil directly imperiled Britain to a far greater degree than any political movement. The USSR had warned repeatedly they would treat an attack on their territory by a US weapon as coming from the continental United States regardless of the geographical origin of the weapon.

The film can be seen in short form on both the UK National Archives site and YouTube and in long form on JISC Media Hub for those with an appropriate login as part of the Imperial War Museum archives.

Footnotes

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campaign_for_Nuclear_Disarmament#The_second_wave_1980-89