Submarine Dead Ahead

Kim Goldberg (author); Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park B.C, 1991, 159 pp.

By Shirley Farlinger (reviewer) | 1992-05-01 12:00:00

The news that two submarines had collided on Feb. 11, 1992 and almost caused a nuclear disaster would not come as a big surprise to Kim Goldberg, author of Submarine Dead Ahead. Kim Goldberg has. dug up "mountains of research" showing that "for decades, nuclear submarines had been running aground, sinking, catching fire, getting tangled in fishnets or lost at sea, experiencing "minor" leaks and accidental spills of radioactive coolant and colliding with harbor tugs, fish boats and enemy subs all over the giobe." Submarine Dead Ahead is the story of ordinary people trying to prevent such calamities.

Kim Goldberg, journalist, moved to Nanaimo in 1984 to join her American mother who came to Canada to keep her brother from serving in Vietnam. She lives 15 km from Nanoose Bay, where the U.S. military tests anti-submarine warfare technology designed for a first strike against the former Soviet Union. The site is called the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Test Range (CFMTR), but 75 to 90 percent of the range time goes to U.S. tests. Keyport, 200 km southeast of Nanoose, is the nerve centre for the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station (NUWES) and from there they call the shots.

It was her reaction of despair to the Gulf War and the "anguish of being sucked through a memory hole back to the Vietnam years" that compelled Goldberg to write this book. In spite of the despair, she manages to write an account with solid information and hilarious wisecracks. About Perrin Beatty's submarine plans she quotes General Alistair Mackie describing the $8 billion sub plan as "Canada's stick-on hairy chest." Barbara McDougall's replacement of Joe Clark, she says, "demonstrates the fungibility of Tory cabinet ministers." After the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, she writes, Clark "proved once again that he could boldly go where no logic or moral decency had gone before."

Her writing style is crisp and slangy. She describes the Tories as "no pals of pax during their spin at the helm." It's a style I like but rarely find in peace books. That's a shame when there's so much to make fun of.

Each chapter begins with a verse of a Raging Granny song. As usual these are right on:

"It isn't nice to block the roadway
It isn't nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it'
But the nice ways often fail."

Goldberg's story is about the nice and not so nice ways the Nanoose people and sympathizers have been trying to change our "Star Spangled" policies. Blocking roads have led to arrests but the demonstrations have generally been peaceful.

Nanoose is also about conversion and the author gives some weird as well as wonderful examples. For $2,000 Poland is offering tourists a ride on a MiG-21. After World War II, she notes, many U.S. bases were converted to civilian enterprises with a 50% increase in jobs. The book offers many ideas for conversion of our bases too.

Not surprisingly, Goldberg is highly critical of Canada's foreign policy. She writes, "It's time Canada stopped hitchhiking its way through geo-politics, tossing in a few quarters for gas money while squeezed into the crowded backseat of America's macabre, runaway hearse." At times Goldberg seems to be overstating the case and gelieralizing but, given the gravity of the danger of nuclear contami nation of the seas, I prefer this to the wimpy caution ofmost newspapers.

The material is broken up with witty headlines such a A Tomb With A View, outlining deaths and radiation contamination, and Here's leaking at You, Kid, which describes the many leaks and new-disasters involving nuclear subs. It's this blend of wit and wisdom, this bringing together of news items we read over the years and then forget, that makes this book a great addition to your reading.

In the epilogue Goldberg leaves the journalist's and joker's style behind and writes eloquently. Of the eight women singing on Winchelsea Island before they were arrested she writes:

"Their words danced on the wind, racing the retreating surf along the rocky foreshore. The endless keening of the gulls and the percussive hiss of the breaking waves insinuated themselves into the defiant chorus, creating a symphony of resistance that was whipped and buffeted across the sea... In that moment I discovered I had been following something much larger than an eight-inch newspaper story molded to fit 'the peaceniks clash with military' formula. I had been witnessing the creation... of an alternative reality so profoundly different from the one we know that it is virtually invisible to the uninitiated."

Thank you, Susan, for helping make that reality visible.

Shirley Farlingeris a peace activist and an editor of Peace Magazine.

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1992

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1992, page 28. Some rights reserved.

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