Sophie and Keith Hebden attended the AWE event as recruiters for AWE; dressed in smart suits with fake AWE identity badges we looked the part. Our badges read “Human Resources Dept” with our names, “Amanda Hugenkis” and “Dan Teshell”. We arrived half an hour before the event began to properly check out where the presentation was to be held.
Our intention was to intercept students going to the AWE recruitment drive by pretending to work for AWE. There is a long glass-walled lobby with sofas downstairs at Staff House; the presentation was to take place two floors above. We settled ourselves on the sofas with clipboards and fliers ready to intercept any students coming to the AWE recruitment presentation. We then asked people to sit with us to chat about ‘recruitment’, which gave us the chance to tell them the bare facts of what goes on — bomb-making — in an up-beat and ironic way. We wanted unguarded conversations with people who were considering working at AWE but were wrestling with the morality of doing so.
The first jobseeker was a bit of a red herring: he wanted to meet the AWE staff to talk about his marketing company to help them recruit. We took some information from him, thanked him and sent him home. Later we discovered that he was a ‘fake’ as well!
The next to arrive, a physicist, sat and chatted with us for a while. We saw him becoming more confused and concerned as we spoke enthusiastically about the destructive potential of nuclear bombs. It was when Keith told him about the “cultural exchanges” possible if working at AWE – “Hirsohima survivors often hang around the gate and you can wave at them as you drive into work,” – that he grinned and said, “OK, I get it.” We chatted with him for another five minutes as he admitted that he had been unsure as to whether to attend this event but had justified it to himself and wanted to hear them out. He decided not to go to the presentation and to go home. We shook hands and he thanked us.
The next man told us he was studying medical nuclear physics but was wondering about going into defence instead, “because there’s more money than in the NHS”. He spoke about the moral dilemma he faced in choosing between medical and defence. We said after AWE had dropped a bomb we would certainly need medical experts.
We chatted; he looked concerned but took our flier and went upstairs to the presentation.
A couple of girls said they were interested in working in human resources. At first they were hesitant about sitting down, partly because there were late for the presentation, but when they did they looked at us suspiciously from the start. A few minutes later one girl interrupted to ask if we were “Socialists” we said not and carried on for a minute before she interrupted again: “Excuse me, but we’re from ‘People and Planet’”. We all burst out laughing and sent them on their way to the presentation.
Finally a girl set on studying the radiation hazards of the site spoke with us for five minutes. She was very serious and intent on working at AWE; nothing we said could deter her. We listed about how AWE contravenes international treaties, how the UK is considering working on ‘useable nuclear weapons’, and how nuclear weapons target civilians because of their enormous destructive power, to name a few. She hurried off the presentation clutching our leaflet.
All in all, we felt there were some wonderful moments where we really connected with people, but perhaps the most encouraging thing was that hardly anyone came, and more protesters attended than jobseekers. Among the protesters were Gary Hall and John Hull, staff at Queen’s Foundation.