Today – September 4, 2016 – marks thirty-five years since women first began protesting outside RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire, England.
The British Ministry of Defence made Greenham Common available to the US Air Force in the early 1950s. Using such bases allowed Strategic Air Command to station bombers in Europe, a clear advantage as Cold War tensions rose. However, when the USSR began deploying a new generation of SS-20 nuclear missiles in 1975, NATO grew concerned for the security of Western Europe. It decided to pursue arms limitation talks aimed at reducing Intermediate Range nuclear weapons while also simultaneously deploying ground-launched Cruise missiles in Europe from 1983 (the Double-Track policy).
The decision to place more nuclear weapons in Europe drew widespread condemnation and gave rise to a new wave of antinuclear protest. In the US, Randall Forsberg rallied millions to the cause of a Nuclear Weapons Freeze, while Helen Caldicott reformed Physicians for Social Responsibility and launched Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament (now Women’s Action for New Directions, WAND).
In the UK, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) railed against the imposition of cruise. But the most visible activity occurred at RAF Greenham Common. On September 4, 1981, thirty-six women from the Welsh organization Women for Life on Earth chained themselves to the fence surrounding the air base. Their’s was the first of numerous high-profile demonstrations to occur during the 1980s and marked the beginning of what would become the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. The camp inspired similar protests around the world.