Last night’s BBC4 programme A British Guide To The End Of The World revealed the intense stupidity and indeed callousness of the British government at the time in the Cold War that we were living in fear of a Russian invasion followed by a nuclear holocaust. Those of a certain age will remember the largely pointless, but possibly comforting advice given in the official booklet Protect and Survive—a false promise if ever there was one. But we also heard the testimony of survivors of the Christmas Island nuclear tests back in 1957/8. The important revelation here was that the enlisted men (some conscripted doing National Service no doubt) were deliberately exposed to the nuclear explosions in order to test their physical reactions. This much was confirmed in an accidentally released MoD document. The impacts on the men did not immediately appear, and so a long battle ensued to try to prove the connection between e.g. a later cancer and the tests. That’s the sort of battle where the government hopes by means of delay and obfuscation that the victims will simply die and their cases with them.
I think the callous attitude of the military establishment to its ‘other ranks’ continued for a long time. Perhaps it still does. There could be another forgotten group of service men and women who deserve attention, that is those who took part in chemical and biological war tests at Porton Down. Back in the seventies (I was serving in the RAF at the time) circulars would come round inviting volunteers to go to Porton Down for the innocent purpose of helping 'to find a cure for the common cold'—as if that was a prime mission of a top secret military establishment. The invitation came with the inducement of something like an extra £10 a week. Having seen photographs (during our basic training) of what CBW agents do to the body, and wondering whether these were pictures of imitation effects or the real thing, I think it is safe to say they were the real thing. Just as when we were ordered, wearing gas masks to enter a windowless concrete building in the middle of the airfield where there was then a CS gas canister released. Our test was to see how long we could stay in the room after being told to remove our masks. Not very long in my case. The effect on a bloke who had some sort of respiratory issue was worse—but nobody asked any questions about that sort of thing beforehand.
These tests and experiments on unknowing and innocent people are not at the same level of callous and inhumane behaviour as practiced on victims in the Nazi death camps, but I don’t think it’s stretching a point to say it is only a matter of degree. So when I read stories of various experiments carried out by e.g. the CIA, I am inclined to believe them. I have mentioned in a previous blog about how Lyme’s disease may have emerged out of CIA trials. But there is always the cover up. It was interesting to hear that the troops sent to Christmas Island were asked to sign the Official Secrets Act prior to the event. This strikes me as a bit unusual, since I assume they had already signed the Act when they signed up—and it’s meant to cover you for life. So the cover-up preparations began even before the event.