By TERENCE McQUEEN
Why did fourteen thousand people set out on a four-day march to London last weekend from the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, in Berkshire?
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, organising body behind the March, says it was to protest in the interests of peace against policies of testing, manufacturing and storing nuclear weapons.
CATHOLIC HERALD staff reporter Terence McQueen believes there were other reasons, many of them disturbing, some desperately pitiful. He discovered this by foot-slogging the entire route with the Marchers, sharing the discomforts of the March, observing the Marchers' moments of jubilation, and noting their emotional reactions. IHAD heard many stories about it. The Aldermaston March, 1 had been told, was four days of inspiring sacrifice and hardship. suffered as an expression of protest against the armsrace and the threat of nuclear war.
Nonsense, said others. It is simply a rabble of shaggy, unkempt "weirdies", most of them hooligans, out for a good time and a bit of publicity.
After doing the March myself, I think both these judgments are wrong. I joined the March on Good Friday before the move-off. As I arrived, a Good Friday service was being conducted in the centre of the assembly field. But only a few hundred bothered to pay attention to it.
There were 14,000 milling around at that time, and all had been invited to the service by loudspeakers. Some plainly thought that it was a bit odd bringing in religion. A few tittered and murmured over it between bites of pork pies and sausage rolls.
1SA PERT 16-years-old hairdresser's apprentice from Lancashire told me: "Yoa don't have to go to church. to see that it's wrong for any country to defend itself by threatenbrg mass destruction with nuclear weapons."
Was she objecting on moral or political grounds?
"You think I'm a Red, don't you? Well, l'or not. I think the Bomb is
Did the base Ibis on the moral teaching of any Church?
It's my conscience Ilia tells me. I don't go to church. Our parson's a Tory. He doesn't understand why we think this or why we think that. I want to get a bit of fun ow of life —go to dances when I feel like it and have friends in. That sort of thing, I want to get married. I don't want to die and I don't want to see People killed. I think this March helps. '
"Well, I mean, it's helping to show that we want to live. Helps to show the politicians, makes them think. We don't want war."
? • •
-VEAR of dying and ▪ "wanting to show the politicianswas a recurrent theme among the teenagers, and they totalled probably 80 per cent of the marchers. Young and old frequently trotted out the phrase, "Better Red than dead" when questioned on the possibilities of Communist domination through Western disarmament, though they expressed dislike of the Communist system.
"Communism can't last for ever."
said one young Catholic marching with a group from Wallington and Carshalton.
"Look at history—all the empires that have fallen. If the Reds did take Over through our disarmament there's always the possibility that they could be changed."
Another young marcher declared that the West's "deterrent" hadn't frightened Russia in the Hungary crisis, nor had it averted Suez.
"That shows that it is ineffective as a deterrent. It's also a risk to possess. since booth bases are bomb targets."
He was, I'm sure, an idealist with high principles and zeal for good works. His -Ban-the-Bomb group had helped to raise funds for refugee work and also for cancer research. But the Ban-the-Bomb issue came foremost in all his activities. It filled his mind and occupied his time at the expense nf things spiritual: for instance, he had obviously started to make enquiries about the Catholic Faith, but these were taking second place to the Ban-the-Bomb debate. A channel of thought was being blocked.
YOUNG school▪ teacher, brought up as a Congregationalist, told me: "I lost faith in my religion because it did too little about social problems. Now I'm in the Ban-the-Bomb movement. Why? Because it is concerned about a social evil which threatens man's whole existence."
She had not studied the social teaching of the Catholic Church, but 1 felt she had a mind enquiring enough to lead her to such a study eventually. The persecution of the Church seemed to be one aspect which had aroused wonder and curiosity in her. In joining the March, she was identifying herself with a protest made against one form of likely persecution.
But — and this Is a big but — the nuclear threat did not seem to he in the forefront of her mind or the minds of most during the March.
There was no spirit of a pilgrimage about the March. There Will no effort to pray for the intentions which the March claimed to have.
Time and time again I thought, "What a waste. Miles and miles of just walking, walking. walking".
DISCUSSION of the issues at stake only arose when I brought up questions for answering. "We talk about it so much in our fortnightly discussion groups," was the reason offered by many. On the March the mind was cleared, freed.
For these people—and they were by far Vac majority—the March was a morale-booster. It war( like a
FR, GORDON ALBION'S column, "Think Well on It", is on page 3. rally of youth clubs sharing the same outlook affd unconcerned about the opposition of the uncomprehending."others".
The Marchers felt united among themselves, apart from the rest. Everyone felt he was sharing in a special vision; no one had to explain a viewpoint. In the rosy glow of understanding, intolerance of idiosyncrasiee in dress or accent or manner evaporated.
The second day of the March blistered my feet. Heavy rain dampened my clothes and my spirits. But the Marchers carried on, many of them limping but all in great good humour. By now, the March was a challenge to their staying-power. They were determined. they told me, to show they could hold out. This was why they
THERE were others. however, who had joined the March solely to put over political propaganda, and it Is here that a real danger lies. There were scores of marchers hawking "Leftist" publications of Trotskyist and Communist origin. They covered every section of marchers with unflagging persistence, and penetrated the vast crowds of onlookers all along the route.
Posters publicising the "Daily Worker" were nailed up on trees as the March headed across open country. "Daily Worker" vans whizzed from one end of the March to the other.
Communist groups of marchers were not content to merely carry "Peace and Socialism" banners. They sallied forth with songs of class-hatted and strike-action. Song books were sold to give everyone else something to sing about. One of these, costing a shilling, had the inspiring title of "Songs of Hope and Survival". Bought innocently enough by many of the marchers, it was one of the most naive bits of grouse-andnark propaganda in the whole March.
A warm introduction to it stated : "Whenever people have been on
the march they have sung. This is not peculiar to any one country or any one time. . . . This book is a collection of songs of the last hundred years. They are the songs of the peoples' movements. and we are proud to present them to you.
There followed a song commemorating "Socialists who went from all over the world to join the Internationale Brigade's fight in Spain against Franco and Fascism", and another "exposing a scab and a blackleg, who sided with the employers against his fellow workers". But the choicest moan in the whole book was a song entitled "The Man Who Waters the Workers' Beer".
Now when I make the workers beer, I puts in strychnine. Some methylated spirits and a drop of paraffin.
But sitter a brew so terribly strong, might make them terribly queer. I reaches me hand for the watering tap and 1 waters the workers' beer.
Oh. I'm the man, the very fat man, that waters the workers' beer, And what do I care if it makes them ill. if it makes them terribly queer? I've a ear, a yacht and an aeroplane, and I waters the workers' beer . .
This type of song, mixed with "We don't want the Tories" and "We'll all go slow until we get more dough". showed just why many marched.
It was an excuse for political and class propaganda, a medium for whipping up Party* Politica of a certain shade.
"We don't really take the words Jeriously," said a 22-year-old who was anything but a Communist, "We've got to sing something to keep as going." Nevertheless, the "message" was put across, in town and country. Some of the marchers obviously regarded a few of the marching songs as hymns. though the words were devoid of all spirituality. Did many join the march through a vague search for a crusading kind of religion? Certainly, many put soulful feeling into their singing.
THERE were many Catholics in various sections of the March, and 150 marched into London behind the banner of the Catholic Nuclear Disarmament Group. Their reasons for marching were among the roost genuine of the whole March. They expressed their opinions sincerely and clearly, which is more than can be said for the majority.
They agreed that the Church had not pronounced on the question of unilateral disarmament, but quoted Pope Pius XII : "The destructive power of nuclear weapons has become unlimited", and unlimited. they said. meant uncontrollable.
Pope Pius XI!. they pointed out, had said earlier that if nuclear warfare was completely beyond human control "its employment must he condemned as immoral".
Leaflets which they distributed on the March to state their case said :
"Self-defence it lawful if the conditions for a lust war are fulfilled. But to bomb indiscriminately is wrong, as is the threat to do so. To prepare war with such intention is to commit mortal sin."
But what of the danger of Communism? Said the leaflet: "fic we have real faith in God we shall resolve to defend Christianity only by such means as He approves. If Christians resort to evil means to defend Christianity, they have so far as concerned themselves betrayed it. • Could a Government in possession of nuclear weapons be trusted not to use them if it were involved in a war?
"We have good reason for thinking that when pressed no Government would hold back. and it would be almost impossible to use these weapons in a restrictive manner."
THESE views were in marked contrast to the negative and woolly reasoning of the majority of Marchers I questioned.
And what were my conclusions as the long columns reached the outskirts of London before Easter Monday's final march to Hyde e Few join the March to express anger or disgust against the inherent evils of the bomb.
• The majority of the Marchers see it as a sort of Bank Holiday week-end ramble offering close friendship and light relief in abundance. As a mother of two young marchers said: "They enjoy every minute of It".
• Only a small percentage support the March because they are Christians or because they hold strong religious convictions,