Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Letters of the very Last Resort

On the way home from work tonight I listened to “The Human Button” on Radio 4. It was a fascinating programme.

It was not necessarily a report into the pros or cons of the British Nuclear deterrent but a short history of those who job was (and still is) to carry out nuclear Armageddon if ordered and the politicians who would have had to make the final decision.

One of the first tasks that Gordon Brown would have carried out when he became Prime Minister would have been to have written in long hand letters to the commanders of the 4 British nuclear armed submarines.

In these letters (called "last resort")he would have ordered them what to do if he was dead and the country had been destroyed by an enemy nuclear strike. These letters are secret and destroyed when a new Prime Minister is appointed.

The programme carried interviews the only two British politicians who have indicated how they would have responded. Denis Healey made it clear that he would have not had ordered nuclear retaliation since deterrence had obviously failed and the deaths of 20 million Russians would have changed nothing. While Jim Callaghan indicated he would have probably done it but never forgive himself for doing so.

You might have thought that the famously aggressively minded Healey would have been the one to support retribution rather than “Sunny Jim”. Maybe we also ought to be cautious about politician's memoirs? But I suspect that with Denis it was always bluster and that he would not have done it. Jim would have because he would have thought it was his duty to have done so? Who really knows? I do wonder what Gordon Brown has written?

The modern day Royal Navy Commander of HMS Vanguard the Trident armed submarine on patrol in the North Sea as we blog made it perfectly clear that he would follow orders and launch an immediate strike if properly ordered to do so.

Here is also a visual slide show with excerpts from the programme. The programme is repeated on Sunday and available on the “listen again” facility for the next 7 days.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article about nuclear stuff, epecially how the decision the PM made if UK is attacked. Well I like Denis Healey's idea. I wonder what Gordon Brown wrote to his commanders?

My nickname is Aphivadth(Development) from Cambodia. I like your idea John about politics, welfare of society and world issues.


John Gray said...

Hi Aphivadth
Thank you for your kind comments.

What about a guest post on the current trials in Cambodia? Email me it via my “profile”?

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

Tell me how can I do it?


John Gray said...

Just click on “view my complete profile” on the left hand side under “About me”. Then on the left hand side again – click on Email. So just email me a story about life in Cambodia which will interest people! I will post it on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Oh I miss you John and I am sorry for not able to quick reply to you, my friend. I am in a quadran 1 if you may know about time management stuff, busy with work, study, love, family and etc :-). Two reasons I could not make the post. 1. The internet connection is really slow with my GPRS I connected through mobile phone. So I can not use it often at home as it toke me some good quality of time. 2. Little knowledge of internet stuff, like posting the KR trial as a good example. But I will of course improve it, like my nickname always. This time I come to say sorry again as I only can gather some information about the trial on the radio, no time to put it in essay yet. It lacks on fund for the staffs salary. But the Japanese step in wiht some two hundred thousand or something. But, my friend, would you like to make some document searching and post it by yourself? I would hate to ask you back like this, but I hope you could understand my situation. I have a question John, what is centre-left politics that you are in? I am more than eager to make more connaissance(in french) with you. With joy and peace. Aphivadth

PS: Learn more about me at www.kiosano.multiply.com. Do leave me some lines, if you would.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder what Gordon Brown wrote to his commanders?"

"Kill 'em all, and let God sort 'em out."

Words to that effect. No matter the political persuasion, British PMs have endorsed "the Empire always strikes back" policy.

John Gray said...

Hi anon

Not sure that a "son of the manse" would see things like this.

David Legg said...

Strangely enough, I just stumbled across 'Letters of last resort' on Wikipedia and through google, found your blog.

These orders, which I have never heard of before, bring back memories of the Cold War and my own worries as a child growing up with 'Air Raid' drills during school in 1980's America.

Whether our foes are countries or groups, I'm not sure how close we are to annhilation nowadays. However, as an idea I find it fascinating. What would be Britain's last words? Revenge? Acceptance?

Its a shame such documents are destroyed as I would love to know the minds of men who have to question their own morality as well as their own responsibility. Can you have either? I don't know.

What would you do?


sagesource said...

It's an excellent idea in a way, not so much to make sure that the nuclear deterrent stays under government command even if the government has been destroyed, but in the way it reminds the PM of what his responsibilities are. It must be an odd feeling writing those letters. And I concur that it's a pity they're destroyed.

And there would be no point at all in such a measure if the reflexive action in all cases was to return the attack.

John Gray said...

Hi David and Sagesource
Apologies for not replying sooner to your comments. I really don’t know what I would do? My rational side insists that I would ignore any order to retaliate but I expect in war time conditions when your family and friends are all dead that you would simply seek revenge and call it duty.