‘Beating the Bomb’ is a feature length documentary that charts the history of the British Peace movement against the political backdrop of the atomic age (1941-present day). The narrative follows the now called ‘nuclear deterrent’, starting at the dawn of the nuclear age in WWII to present day.
The Manhattan Project is initiated fearing a successful bomb project in Nazi Germany. After Germany is defeated, the goalposts of the US project shift. The first successful nuclear detonation in July 1945 is quickly followed by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The effects of these bombings form the moral basis of much of the anti-nuclear movement to this day. This is put in the historic context of the remapping of global power structures at the end of WWII. The bombing and its ‘salutary effect’ (President Truman) on the Soviet Union marks the beginning of the Cold War, which supplies the political backdrop of nuclear proliferation until 1990. Thereafter the political backdrop is supplied by Free Market philosophy.
The spark that turned the British anti-nuclear movement into a broad popular campaign was the Aldermaston marches and the founding of the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in 1958. Against the changing background of world politics, the movement has always fought for an end of the British Nuclear Weapons program, which, from its inception was closely tied to the American bomb project and still is to this day.
Leading figures of the Movement take us through 50 years of struggle. In the 1980s, the film covers the Greenham Women’s struggle and the subsequent success of the outlawing of Cruise and Pershing missiles. This is followed is by new generations of nuclear weapons developed all over the globe, with the US – in collaboration with the British – leading the pack. National Missile Defense and the US’ declared aim of ‘dominating the world by land, sea, air and information’ (Vision 2020) is another expression of an arms race that shows no sign of abating.
The challenges of today’s campaign are finally framed within the wider context of resource extraction and wealth distribution. It is widely argued that the pressing issues of the day, from poverty to climate change cannot be tackled without addressing the underlying economic system, which is based on ever increasing growth, which is in turn predicated by ever increasing resource extraction.
Our film evidences the claim that the foundations of our economic system are ‘straight power concepts’. The most straightforward of these concepts being the bomb, both in its physical manifestation and also in the mindset it engenders and stems from. The film argues that global justice will never be achieved as long as vast amounts of natural, financial and intellectual resources squandered on arms proliferation, which spells good news primarily for arms contractors. This status quo did not arise due to self-regulating market forces. 50% of federal US taxes being spent on ‘National Security’. NATO countries account for 70% of the world’s military spending, consequently most of us spend some of our hard-earned money on arms and nuclear proliferation.
The film features, amongst others, interviews with Tony Benn, Mark Thomas, Walter Wolfgang, Helen John, Naomi Klein and Vivienne Westwood. It is not only a piece of revisionist history, but also a tribute to individuals who gave many years of their lives struggling for a better future. Times and times over they attack what Naomi Klein termed ‘the myth of collective impotence’ and stress the fact that it is wrong to think individuals can’t make a difference, on the contrary, it is only individuals who can make a difference. The film is an attempt to mediate their conviction and thus inspire the viewer.