Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had come to power heralding a rightwards shift in our politics. Both were engaged in sabre rattling with the Soviet Union. All of this stoked real fear among young people that we could see a nuclear war in our lifetime.
A survey of college students in 1980 found most believing they were going to die in a thermo-nuclear holocaust. It seems incredible to consider this now…even allowing for North Korea. But there was a widespread anxiety that our civilisation could be wiped out by a Soviet-US conflict.
There hadn’t been this kind of anxiety about nuclear war since the 1950s and 1960s with the Aldermaston marches organised by CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). But in the first years of the 1980s – which were also the first years of Reagan and Thatcher, there were monster demonstrations in London organised by CND.
‘Jobs not Bombs’ became a very popular slogan. There was a rather blood curdling song I heard on one demo that went something like…
What shall we do with Ronald Reagan? Put him in the shuttle and take the tiles off.
That would have been around 1981. That was five years before the shuttle explosion caused by…erm…a tile coming off – and a teacher at the wheel (first civilian astronaut).
Another ditty referred to the 1981 Brixton riots and wished the Prime Minster to find herself in the middle of that upheaval.
What shall we do with Maggie Thatcher? Put her in a police van and send it to Brixton.
The sense was that Reagan and Thatcher were warmongers propelling us towards nuclear war. I’m sure in hindsight the picture was far more nuanced. We were also subject to some devious propaganda out of Moscow presented as arguments for peace but more to do with Soviet interests.
All that said, people protested and cared deeply about the future of the planet – much as they do today.