CHURCHILL – TOO RISKY TO ALERT THE PUBLIC TO THE REALITIES OF NUCLEAR WAR
[ 22 March 1954 ]
On 22 March 1954, the Cabinet met to discuss the growing threat of nuclear war as the possibility of world conflict over Indo-China grew. According to the minutes, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the attending ministers agreed that it was premature to make any ‘general statement on the strategic implications of the hydrogen bomb’ which ‘would certainly provoke a demand for a full debate.’ It was not considered an ‘appropriate moment’ to alert the public to ‘the full implications’ and the timing of any such disclosure should be ‘carefully judged.’
The prime concern was that any public anxiety might fuel the growth of ‘a movement in favour of an international agreement to prohibit the use of the hydrogen bomb or other nuclear weapons.’ ‘Great care’ had to be taken to ‘check’ any such development. Ministers might also find it difficult ‘to deal with a matter of this gravity within the limit of replies to Parliamentary Questions.’ At the moment, however, the government was safe from any immediate pressure because ‘disclosures (in the United States) about the effects of the hydrogen bomb had not yet excited great public anxiety in this country.’ The Cabinet therefore concluded that it was best to prolong this state of ignorance.
In the meantime, Churchill concluded that a statement could be made in parliament focusing ‘only with the extent to which the United States government had undertaken to consult with us and other Allies before using atomic weapons and need not be prefaced by any general statement on the effects of the hydrogen bomb. It would, however, be desirable that the announcement should be designed to allay public anxiety and that it should in particular deal with the American use of East Anglian bases for an atomic attack. The question of any official comments on the effects of the hydrogen bomb could be reserved for later consideration.’ A diplomatic way of suggesting that such a declaration might be postponed indefinitely.1
- Cabinet Meeting 22 March 1954, National Archives CAB 128/27/21
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