Hearts and Minds: the Propaganda War Over the British Nuclear Deterrent, 1957 – 1963
The main subject of this thesis is Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent between the years 1957 and 1963 and the propaganda surrounding it. The thesis examines both the promotion of the nuclear deterrent by the Conservative governments led by Harold Macmillan in this time period, and the presentation of the case from the main opposition movement in this field, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Three research questions are posed which add new thinking, using primary archive material to illustrate the arguments. First, what was the significance of the role of Charles Hill as the government’s information co-ordinator? The thesis focuses on how Hill introduced a professional approach to government propaganda management and communicated the case for the nuclear deterrent to the press, public, academics and scientists. Second, how did the changing media and communications environment of the period shape the propaganda war, such as the emergence of television as the most popular mass medium? The BBC faced twin challenges from commercial television, and its own broadcasters wanting to scrutinise government policies such as the deterrent. Newspapers with huge circulations, which largely supported the nuclear deterrent, experienced commercial pressures to entertain which influenced their choice of what was newsworthy. Third, what were the challenges to CND in making its case, both from a hostile media and internal weaknesses? CND harnessed the talents of radical designers to make a powerful appeal for public sympathy on moral grounds, and successfully discredited the official case for civil nuclear defence. But it never resolved an internal debate about how to gain media attention. The thesis situates its argument in the ‘cultural turn’ that has recently developed in British Cold War historiography, namely the emphasis on the impact of the Cold War on the everyday lives of citizens, as opposed to a previous focus on high-level strategic and diplomatic policy. The thesis also analyses for the first time how documentary film was produced by CND and the government as an important propaganda tool. The research shows how secrecy and denying a platform to alternative views was a feature of the official handling of nuclear deterrent policy. Two case studies, on Civil Defence and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, examine the effectiveness of propaganda strategies in this debate.
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