1960s >> 1962 >> no-697-september-1962
News in Review: Nuclear Shelters
This bit in the Observer it slays us all, it’s so funny. Listen, it’s about a retired army general and he’s living in East Devon, so you know that something real humorous is coming up.
This general, he’s got the bug about nuclear war. He’s even written a book about survival after they’ve dropped the H-bomb. Written it for the people of East Devon. Doesn’t that make you laugh?
Listen, there’s more. He wants us to keep water in vinegar bottles. Non-returnable ones, of course—there’s nothing dishonest about the general. Then he says we should fill up bits of furniture with earth. Yes, furniture. Fill them up and make a dug-out from them.
By now we’re rolling on the floor.
Then we stop rolling because we’ve suddenly asked ourselves why. And this bit in the Observer it says the general’s written this book because he knows that most people can’t afford an expensive shelter against nuclear bombs.
So we stop laughing. And we wonder.
We wonder at a world which has built itself bombs which are powerful enough to wipe out whole cities—even whole countries. A world where most people can’t even afford to get themselves a decent shelter against fall-out.
So maybe that general guy’s nuts, filling his sideboard with earth. So maybe he’s only a little bit of a world that’s so crazy it’s got its priorities and its motives right upside down.
So maybe the people of the world are crazy. They accept all this and they keep the whole show running, don’t they? And aren’t they the ones to stop it all?
Hey there, Napoleon. Shake hands with the general.
The short-lived West Indies Federation was regarded by some people as a great advance for the West Indian worker. They ignored the fact that capitalism would work on the Federation just as it works on the world outside.
Sure enough, it was a dispute over which territory should hold the economic and political reins which broke the Federation. When that happened it seemed fairly obvious that the richer and more powerful islands would go for their independence alone.
Now Jamaica is an independent state, born with all the barney of bands and festivals and speeches. Inevitably, God has been recruited to the side of capitalist independence. There was a thanksgiving service to mark the occasion in Westminster Abbey.
So Jamaica is free now to make her own way in capitalism’s dangerous seas. All the familiar problems of property society will harass her government. They must struggle to safeguard her markets for bauxite, tobacco, rum, sugar and bananas. They must build up the island’s armed forces, in case some other power threatens Jamaica’s economic interests.
And they must sell all this to the Jamaican worker, who will vote them in and out of power under their new constitution. The island is notorious for its poverty, its slums and its diseases of malnutrition. That is why so many of its people come to seek what they hope will be a better life as a wage-slave in Britain —although this did not prevent them celebrating the independence of the island which gave them so miserable an existence.
Up to now the nationalists could easily blame the troubles of the Jamaican workers upon the shortcomings of British rule. It should soon become obvious that this was worth no more than any other vote-catching nonsense and that the problems cannot be cured by replacing British masters with Jamaican.
This will be a moment of truth for Jamaica.
If the new government is anything like the other capitalist administrations all over the world they will face it with lies, evasion and sometimes suppression.
It is not enough merely to say that the thalidomide babies are an awful tragedy. It is not enough, even, to help these tragic mites with artificial limbs and patient training.
We should be asking ourselves why so harmful a drug was so freely administered; why so many sedatives, stimulates, tranquilisers and the like are dished out in such quantities.
Pregnant women, like many sick people, often have trouble with their sleep. Sometimes this is a straightforward inability to drop off and in such cases there is a case for using a sedative. But in many cases it is only a difficulty in sleeping at the same time as the rest of us, whose sleeping and waking times are geared to the requirements of working class existence.
This difficulty need not be serious enough to need a sedative. The expectant mother can simply sleep during the day, or whenever else she feels the need.
But what if she, too, is tied to the regularity of working class life? What if she has to go out to work to help keep up the payments on a mortgage or on a hire-purchase buy? What if she has other children and, like all working class wives, cannot afford a nurse to look after them?
This is where the sedatives come in.
It is easier to give the patient a dose of something than to get to the root of her trouble. The handier to use, the easier to administer, the briefer its side-effects, the more popular the sedative becomes and the more freely it is given.
And that is where thalidomide came in.
Is there a lesson in this for us?
Whatever the truth of the controversy over drugs and medicines, of one thing we can be sure. The question should be settled in terms of human interests. But as long as capitalism lasts this will never happen.