Thirty years ago I lived in a Nuclear First Strike Hotspot. Our home sat in the overlapping Soviet targets of RAF Greenham Common airbase with it’s US Cruise Missiles, Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, The Royal Ordinance Factory in Burghfield Common where the war heads for the Trident missiles are made and serviced and RAF Welford, reportedly the largest conventional arms dump in Europe. As Thatcher and Reagan ramped up the tension with the USSR and the Doomsday clock crept beyond five to midnight and towards Armageddon many of us considered our chances of survival. The government’s Protect and Survive leaflet designed to offer helpful advice to the populous in the event of a nuclear war dropped through every door. Seemingly drawn up by wildly optimistic DIY enthusiasts it contained plans for an inner shelter made from the interior doors of the house. It recommended painting the glass in the windows white and should anyone die from the effects of radiation after an attack they should be shoved outside. The sense of doom was hard to escape. My eldest son had nightmares about foreign soldiers coming to our village.
I began to rehearse my response to the future sight of the mushroom clouds on the road to home. Would I have time to get back to my family and spend those last moments together or if we were to survive, organise our shelter? If we were ever to face our adversaries it would be as an occupying force of Soviet Bloc troops… of Russians and perhaps Poles, East German, Ukrainians or Czechs… maybe even Romanians?
The years passed and a new age of youthful optimism blossomed in the East, the Berlin Wall fell and the streets of Prague sang to freedom and peace. People took to the streets and grasped at what had seemed impossible only a few years before; a united and peaceful Europe beyond the boundaries of the old Cold War battle lines. Though the growing pains have been intense with the conflicts that boiled to the surface along old ethnic lines for once we have a continent that seems less likely to rip itself apart.
And so as I witness the small minds and short memories of those who throw their arms up in anger at the prospect of more Romanian and other immigrants from the former Eastern Bloc coming here to work I am deeply dismayed. The petty prejudices and racist remarks that fill the media and the comment threads. Thirty years ago we stood on the brink of a conflict that could have incinerated us all, East and West or at best would have wiped out any vestige of the culture we call being British. Instead this is the Peace Dividend that back then we could only have hoped for. Living and working together for a better future in a united Europe. I welcome you friends from the East!