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You say warshow, I say airshow…or…just how does this peace thing work anyway? June 26, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Greens, Iraq, Irish Politics.

The mayor and deputy mayor of Galway, a Green Party and a Labour Party member respectively, boycotted the Salthill Airshow which was held on Sunday (here). They attended an event organised by the Galway Alliance Against War in the Claddagh where the GAAW had asked people to bring along "kites and other peaceful airborne objects". Now in a truly farcical note the Gardai were deployed to destroy, with 'weapons resembling hairpins' 97 red balloons (presumably on foot of the GAAW requesting those supporting their protests to ring in to radio stations requesting Nena's "99 Red Balloons", a cruel and unusual punishment in itself for those of us who remember it first time round). Such policing of the protest was arguably overly zealous, particularly when one learns that balloons were used at a march in favour of cancer research in the same area.

Now I'm in two minds about this. The basis of the dispute is that the presence of military aircraft, particularly those used in the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, 'glorifies' war and 'ignores the 'role such machinery plays in the deaths of innocent civilians in these countries'. Worse again (from the perspective of the GAAW, the organisers of Salthill Airshow have invited four British servicemen who served in Iraq to take part in the show. According to the GAAW the Mayor and Deputy Mayor and: “Their refusal to officiate at the war show indicates that there is widespread unease at allowing warplanes and British servicemen involved in the illegal war in Iraq to fly over Galway Bay. We have consistently argued the airshow is glorifying war. By inviting four British servicemen who fought in the illegal Iraq war, the organisers have proved our point. It has been further underlined in the way these people have been presented as celebrities. These men are no heroes; they were part of a criminal invasion of another country, an invasion that cost the lives of over 200,000 people.”. Indeed, and greater minds than mine might just point to a certain incongruity in such a statement in the context of…what's the name of the place? Just up the road, sixty, no seventy miles…ah, can't remember the name at all, think it's got Ireland in it…

Putting those points aside for a moment, I wonder if in this instance those involved in the 'peaceful' event really thought through their protest. Kites have been weapons of war since the Chinese invented them. Balloons have been used as aerial reconnaissance platforms. To depict them as 'peaceful airborne objects' is perhaps overstating the case. I'll entirely accept that there were specifically military aircraft on display at the airshow but few are single usage military aircraft, having either a training role, or a support role (such as the Merlin helicopter used by the RAF which can transport both personnel, munitions and supplies) In fact looking through the list of aircraft in attendance only the Royal Airforce British Aerospace Hawk, used by the RAF as a trainer aircraft, part of the Red Arrows display qualified as serious offensive military hardware. And to be honest while excellent for display, they're hardly the last word in fast-jet technology being produced in the 1970s. But again it comes back to the kites. All these are dual usage. They can fulfill many roles including peace-keeping, offensive military operations, humanitarian operations and so on.

Now, there were two F-15 aircraft from the USAF, which made a surprise appearance. But, in the absence of specific international sanctions against the US, it's difficult to see what basis might be made for shunning them. In any event what is the core gripe? That these machines are weapons of death? Then logically one would presume that all military hardware would be subject to equal sanction – including that used by the Irish Defense Forces – and scale being irrelevant to the principle that would have to include all weapons from hand-guns up. That's not a dishonourable point of view, although perhaps somewhat utopian, and if that is the rationale behind those protesting then I would entirely respect it, although respectfully disagree with them.

Or is it the linkage with the Iraq war? Now, as I recall the Afghan invasion was fairly well supported, even by Green and social democratic parties. And the current occupation of Iraq, while entirely regrettable for the form it has taken, is sanctioned by the United Nations – and therefore whatever our opinions of the merits of the invasion, perhaps it's best to hope that it will play out reasonably well, and perhaps regrettably that means we have to hope the US military will soon be in a position to leave and hand-over to the internationally recognised Iraqi government (indeed I shared joemomma's sentiments regarding the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, that it was no time for glee in the midst of a pretty awful mess). But that, again, is a different issue from the aircraft involved. Once more I come back to dual use. Indeed, there are good arguments that this state should have fast-jets in order to police our airspace and our seas. These have nothing to do with military matters, and everything to do with interdicting drugs or smuggling.

Do such events glorify war? I'd argue they probably don't. Certainly the general tone of the air show was that of civil defence, interdiction and entertainment and aerial display. Look at the aircraft involved, transports, rescue vehicles and so on. No weapons were fired, there were no mock engagements (unlike, I might add, a supremely dodgy public display I was at in GAA grounds in Newbridge in the mid-1970s where various elements of the Defense Forces 'stormed' a fake house facade. Exciting stuff when you're eight or so…trust me). But sheer speed alone is not a glorification of war…

And that leads me to the point that there was "widespread unease". The figures attending the Salthill Airshow have been consistently high over the past number of years. According to ireland.com 100,000 people are thought to have turned up yesterday. People aren't forced to go and the protests were minimal. That's not to dispute that there is legitimate unease over the actions of the US. But the public are generally fairly nuanced about such matters and they can make distinctions for themselves between the political administration of a state such as the US, and those who are asked to carry out the orders of that administration such as the military – often as we have seen over the past four or five years, unwillingly and with considerable reluctance (and let's be honest, assume they refused, would it really be better for the world to have a military coup inside the US against a civilian elected government, however misguided, as long as that government had constitutional support for it's actions – actually that's an interesting question we might return to one day).

And that's why I'm in two minds about the protest. It smacks too much of gestural politics – whatever the sincere intentions of those involved, it goes against the grain of public opinion – which while being no bad thing necessarily appears overly contrarian in this instance, and finally it exaggerates and conflates too many conflicting issues which on any serious analysis don't really link sufficiently well to one another to provide a clear message to a public which has already made it's own mind up and voted with it's feet.

And, to my mind, if there's one thing worse than gestural politics, it's pointless gestural politics.


1. Jackie - December 30, 2006

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2. WorldbyStorm - December 31, 2006

It’s weird, I doubt that, I really do.


3. Pidge - December 31, 2006

Ah no, I think you’ve gibven him quite a bit of material.


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