As World War Two ended the atomic age began, prompting a new, broad-based form of protest. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Aldermaston Marches of the Late 1950s and 1960s were mass demonstrations against the terror of nuclear annihilation which gripped the planet. Anti-nuclear sentiment inspired an array of artistic expression, not least Gerard Holtom’s famous tripod-in-a-circle emblem. Film clips at the exhibition include the government’s hair-raising ‘advice to householders’ (from 1964) about how to build a fallout shelter in your home, and a snippet of Peter Watkins’s The War Game, 1965, a depiction of a nuclear attack on Britain so horrific that the BBC didn’t dare broadcast it for 20 years. CND became part of a widespread movement that also embraced anti-Vietnam activism and found echoes in the Sixties counterculture. The exhibition includes a letter from folk music doyenne Joan Baez, in which she writes that ‘we must all oppose the Vietnam war, but also we must oppose all violence everywhere under whatever guise that it appears.’
In the 1980s, the spirit of CND gained a second wind in the protests against American cruise missiles stationed at Greenham Common in Berkshire. While women had always been prominent in the anti-war movement, women wholly dominated the Greenham protests, ejecting male volunteers to emphasise their determination to pursue a non-violent strategy. In the ‘Embrace the Base’ initiative in 1982, women from around the world joined hands and surrounded the entire perimeter of the Greenham site.
The exhibition’s final section, The Modern Era, reached from the Gulf War and Balkan wars of the early Nineties through wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. David Gentleman’s blood-splatter posters for the Stop the War Coalition are classics of their kind, while perhaps the most show-stopping image of the whole exhibition is Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps’s Photo-Op, 2007, a montage of a grinning Tony Blair taking a selfie in front of an enormous explosion. In 2016, the anti-Trident missile demonstration in London was said to be the biggest event of its kind in a generation, with the Labour party’s stoutly unilateralist leader Jeremy Corbyn delivering the keynote speech. Yet despite the huge turnout, the UK parliament voted to renew Trident anyway. The long protest march will doubtless continue.