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Even as a kid, you can hear adults talk and can pick up things. For me, it was hard to be an American kid in 1980’s Britain and not know what nuclear weapons were. My understanding was thus: they were terrible weapons that could destroy the world, and America not only had them, but they had brought them to the United Kingdom. Of course, for a seven year old, it’s hard to really understand geo-political politics at the time, and even if a grown up had tried to explain it all to me, I probably didn’t get it all. Still, even at a young age, I knew it was more than simple “USA Good — Russians bad” issue.

No, as a child, I wasn’t gifted in spotting nuance, as at the time, I was more concerned with running around in my back yard, waving a plastic sword, and claiming I was “Sir Richard of Buckinghamshire.” At the time, I had this huge King Arthur fantasy going, which meant hours of daydreaming both at home and in school. Still, I knew. It’s hard to grow up in a military community without knowing who the perceived enemy was. Yet, I also knew that many people in United Kingdom didn’t like American military policy. In fact, I thought that they not only hated Americans, but I thought they hated me, personally.

England had a very strong anti-nuke protest movement going. Greenham Common Air Base was the epicenter, as hordes of peace campers lived along the fence line. They engaged in a variety of civil disobient acts, from singing protest songs to waving placards, blocking access to the installation, and shouting at the passing Americans. This was not confined to Greenham Common, although the majority of the activity centered there. Peace campers picketed many military installations across the United Kingdom, and that included RAF Daws Lea, which, on the side of a hill, stood between High Wycombe and the village of Flackwell Heath.

My father always snidely remarked about what he termed as “The stupidity of those punks.” RAF Daws Lea housed no nuclear missiles, but, as I learned later in life, it actually housed a NORAD-like underground complex. Sure, on the surface, the base looked tiny, with a few houses, a rec center, a bank, a theater, and a few other amenities. London Central High School, with it’s two gender specific dorms, also stood on the base. The real action, however, went deep below, kind of like a reverse high-rise building. I still don’t know what the military objective of the base was — I’m thinking a mixture of administrative work and secret squirrel shit.

Still, the base had it’s own small, dedicated peace camp. Many times, with my mother, we either walked or drove onto the base. I often heard the chants of “Yankee, Go Home.” Every time, it felt like each of the protesters, mohawk, shaved head, or neon colored hair, stared at me directly. My mom told me on many occasions that they were “just bad people” who needed to be ignored. But I couldn’t ignore them. That, like the Iranian hostage crisis, shattered what “being an American” meant. It wasn’t something that you advertised, because obviously something about my country had irritated a lot of people. Plus, if the USA and it’s military was a force for good, I didn’t understand why so many people went out of their way to yell. It kind of hurt, a little. After all, I was brought up to understand that the Brits were our good friends and allies.

It’s not that simple. That’s what the whole experience taught me. It took me many years later to understand. Until then, and even after, it was obvious, even to a daydreaming kid with an American accent, that you shouldn’t go parading your nationality around. But, here was my problem: I was a Yankee born in Germany. I had never lived on American soil more than a casual summer visit. As much as the peace campers pleaded, I had no “home” to retreat to.


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