Antinuclear activists launched “Operation Hard Luck” in Spring 1982 to prove that civil defense initiatives only provided protection for a small number of government elite. “Hard Luck” exposed civil defense as propaganda intended to lure ordinary British citizens into a false sense of security by drawing on scientists, medical experts, and advances in computing technology to debunk national government estimates on the effects of nuclear war. In light of the revelation of the national government’s misleading messaging about nuclear war, dozens of local governments followed the example of the Manchester City Council and the Greater London Council in declaring their territories Nuclear Weapon Free Zones.
This paper demonstrates that civil defense initiatives generated tension between the layers of British democracy by provoking heated debates about how governments could best protect those they governed. If the national government proved derelict of its responsibility to protect British citizens, did local governments have the right to intervene? Local governments sought to expand their role in protecting British citizens by making agreements with governments outside of the United Kingdom, and by calling for greater transparency so that independent scientific and medical experts could better educate British communities about the causes and consequences of nuclear war.