Out in the countryside, in a small village in East Yorkshire, there is a building in the middle of a large field. It is all that is visible of a huge underground complex that is now redundant but lives on as testament to the folly of mankind. It is a monument to our baser characteristics; an epitaph to madness.
For it is truly MAD. It is a multibillion-pound remnant of our policy of Mutually Assured Destruction.
This bunker was a relic of the cold war; a time of terror, when nuclear holocaust was a real possibility and everyone knew that we each had a number of nuclear missiles aimed directly at us. All it took was a slip up, a mistake, or a moment of political brinkmanship.
How had it come to this? What drives people to set up nations, devise horrific weapons and go to war? There seems to be some basic flaw in the human psyche that creates this cycle of violence. It is beyond rational thought. As if violence can ever be an answer to anything; as if nuclear war is a sane possibility.
Dug deep into the bedrock and covered with millions of tons of soil is a complex that was once top secret and housed a small village, a contingent of civil servants and armed forces, who were carefully selected to live underground while the rest of us sizzled, fried and dissolved in a nuclear hurricane. Behind walls of concrete 15 metres thick, protected by massive steel blast doors, these people had the task of forsaking their family and friends, surviving, monitoring events, and planning. They were a regional command centre. When it was all over, and it was safe to emerge, the plan was that they would come out, organise the survivors, and re-establish government control.
For that is what was important – that the government should be in control.
All across the country there were a sinister network of these command bunkers. Probably under Whitehall there is a massive central complex capable of withstanding direct hit after direct hit.
Across continents there are similar complexes run by other regimes. Countless billions poured into unproductive stupidities all because man’s nature is so violent, so greedy and power-seeking.
Entry into the bunker is via a small room with a cheery lady who offers tea and cake. Then the journey begins; a journey back in time to not so long ago; a journey into a state of mind.
A steel blast door opens into a long corridor, lit by standard government lamps at regular intervals, painted in regulation military paint, uniformly cream, it descends steadily into the earth. It feels cold and dank, a descent into a secret world.
At the end of this long corridor is another great steel blast door.
We are now in the complex. Coming off the corridor on both sides are a series of rooms and a stairwell leading further down. There is a massive water tank holding millions of gallons of drinking water. There are storerooms full of food. There is an operation room with chilling charts showing likely blast zones and fall-out paths. It was a map that showed large areas of the country pocked with circles and cones indicating overlapping patterns of horrendous blasts with their swathes of radiation. The patterns were merely images on a map. The reality was melted flesh, horror and death. All the major cities. Millions of real lives.
There is a big whiteboard on which was to be recorded details of the actual situation outside – casualties, blast zones, fall-out levels.
There are rooms equipped with computers and telephones. Here one has to do a double take. The phones are the old black bakelite and the computers were old vintage 1970s machines. The type that ran so slow that you had to wait for them to catch up with your typing. The type which had a memory that had difficulty storing a photo.
They had been preparing to run a nuclear war using old land lines, computers with less computing power than the average washing machine and a whiteboard to record casualties (in 100s of thousands). It seemed absurd. How had they believed that this was possible? Their equipment was so rudimentary. Just forty years on and it looked so primitive. It felt like something out of the Second World War – yet this was a scenario for the third.
These people, on all sides, were actually contemplating the reality of this; were actually planning it out; had spent billions setting this up, and really thought they could control it, survive it and rebuild afterwards.
I stood in the control room and studied the scene of insanity.
I went on, past the dormitories with their rows of beds and blankets, past the offices with their important desks and arrived at the entertainment’s rooms – set up like a pub, with beer, spirits, a juke box, pinball machine and darts board. It seems that while we were outside in a blizzard of radioactive ash the personnel below would be dancing to Elvis Costello, Stranglers and Ian Dury, and downing pints; might even have a competition going on with the old darts board.
The final displays were of the Greenham Common protests. It seemed like an oasis of sanity amidst the madness of MAD.
The bunker was now a museum piece. It had become obsolete. The average schoolkid carried around more computing power and organisational possibility in their mobile phone than had been available in the whole network of regional complexes that had been set up to run a nuclear war. This place was utterly redundant.
I went back up to the surface, took a deep breath of fresh air, bought a cup of tea and a slice of cake off the genial lady in the entrance, and wondered where the next generation of bunkers were situated and what music they had on their juke boxes, and how soon their equipment might look antiquated.
What was obvious was that we were still just as mad.