Up until a few years ago, my view on atomic weapons was that atomic warfare was a horrible possibility. I also thought that the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction - the idea that no one's going to fire a bomb because the enemy would fire one back - was a mad approach but I thought that the alternative, that we should unilaterally give up nuclear weapons, would give hostile countries a huge power advantage over us. Since our atomic weapons were safely controlled and kept secure, the benefits outweighed the dangers.
That view changed when I read about Able Archer 83, the western allies' war simulation in 1983 that almost triggered a nuclear exchange. It wasn't quite as barmy as the events in Stanley Kubrick's brilliant film 'Dr Strangelove' but it wasn't miles off. The idea of Mutually Assured Destruction doesn't protect us from such a situation. If the people with their hands on the button get confused or panicky, they will press that big red button. Also, as Stanley Milgram's infamous experiment shows, it's easier psychologically to kill somehow remotely by pressing a button than kill them up close with a weapon.
For me, then, the 'safe' and 'secure' aspect of atomic weapons was out the window. These were real people controlling these weapons of mass destruction (yes, real weapons of mass destruction, not phantom rockets in the desert) and they could make a mistake. After reading about Abel Archer, I thought about atomic weapons with a fresh eye and realised something important; I didn't want to be even partly responsible for dropping an atomic bomb on other people. That's what it boiled down to. I couldn't hide behind weak justifications. If I went along with nuclear power, I was supporting the risk of killing millions of people just because I felt scared of being attacked.
I knew the consequences of following through with this belief; I would have to take an active stand against atomic weapons. I also knew that if our country didn't have a nuclear arsenal, we would lose a powerful weapon of intimidation and threat. Such a loss of military power might even cause us to be invaded in the future. It's not a good scenario but which is worse; risking the possibility of us being invaded and subjugated or blowing up half of Europe? I'd prefer the former. Being invaded would be nasty and unfair but we could deal with it. We could form a resistance or protest or carry out other defiant acts. We would suffer but, far more importantly, we would have kept our humanity.
Many people will read this article and think my decision weak and foolish. The thing is though, in my experience, people who've tried to look strong have almost always been scared. I'm not afraid. I just want to walk the right path.