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Citizen op ed on WarShow, please write letter
>Here is the op ed about the War/Air Show that appeared in the Ottawa
>Citizen on May 29. It would really help our efforts if people wrote
>letters expressing their views about some of the many issues raised here.
>Before we get to the op ed piece however, the author (Bill Skidmore)
>describes the changes which the Citizen made to his original article.
>First, the title was changed to "Air show celebrates tools of oppression."
>The last sentence (regarding Mike) of the fifth paragraph was not printed.
>In the sixth paragraph they removed: "much as the play by play announcer in
>hockey calls the game." In paragraph eight, "a day of fun, excitement, and
>good times: was dropped. In the second last paragraph the word "terrorized"
>was deleted, as was the entire last sentence. In the final paragraph, the
>first two sentences were rearranged to read: "The refugees in Lusaka were
>attacked for daring to resist an oppressive regime in South Africa that
>wished and had the means to preserve economic and political power for a
>Oddly enough in the Citizen version, they incorrectly said that a second
>private dwelling was attacked (only one was), apparently home to several
>refugees seeking asylum. Not true - only one private dwelling was hit, and I
>believe the people there already had asylum. Interestingly, this shows how
>easily and innocently the historical record can be distorted.
>So feel free to distribute the article as you wish Richard. By the way, I've
>told you of changes made, so that people won't comment on some item in the
>piece that wasn't actually included in the Citizen's version. I wouldn't
>want people complaining to the Citizen about how they edited (ie. deletions
>or additions) the original text.
Air Show or War Show
On the morning of May 19, 1986, two South African fighter
planes entered Zambian airspace. Flying just over the
treetops, to escape radar detection, they headed towards the
capital, Lusaka. On the city's southern outskirts they
attacked two targets. First, they bombed a United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) transit centre, a
temporary residence for refugees seeking asylum. Seconds
later they hit a private dwelling, home to several refugees
from Namibia, a country then occupied by South Africa.
Although several buildings at the transit centre were
damaged, no one was wounded. Fortunately, most of the those
staying there had left earlier that morning for the city. It
was a different story at the second target. There, the
attack came as a Namibian family gathered, along with some
friends, to discuss a family problem. One man was killed,
while several adults and children were wounded.
I knew some of the wounded, since I was then working for
UNHCR in Lusaka. Our immediate task following the attack was
to find shelter for residents of the transit centre. Not
only was their housing damaged, but we feared the centre
might be targeted a second time. So tents were found,
belongings gathered, transport arranged, and a camp
established on a farm near the city.
Upon arriving at the site (which we hoped was secret except
to the Zambian government) we met in a field to plan the
camp setup. I was in the middle of a group of more than
fifty people when, without warning, conversation abruptly
stopped and everyone scattered. Everyone but me, who
remained where I was, completely perplexed by this
behaviour. Then I heard the jet. Terror swept through me. I
had no time to think, no time to plan my escape. I just
raced for the trees, hoping I wasn't running into the path
of the oncoming plane. But the jet that roared past was from
the Zambian airforce. We all laughed, a reaction that comes
from knowing both terror and then immense relief within a
few short moments.
Those wounded in the morning raid knew no such relief. That
night I visited them at the hospital. One person lay in bed
crying, while a second victim remained rigid on his side,
his eyes expressionless. A young girl was dressed in band-
aids that covered the numerous small wounds to her body.
Another man, named Mike, ignored his pain long enough to ask
"Why did they do this to us?" This weekend, thousands
will attend the National Capital Air Show and military trade
exposition in Ottawa. They will be drawn there primarily to
see the performance of F-14s, F-16s, F-18s and other attack
aircraft. They will see the A-10 "Warthog," described by the
United States Airforce as the most "deadly ground attack
fighter ever built." Adults and children alike will cheer
and applaud as these planes swoop overhead. An announcer
will describe the manoeuvres of each plane, much as the play
by play announcer in hockey calls the game. And special
guests will be in the stands this year: the highest ranking
air force generals of the Americas, in town for their yearly
These planes are indeed awesome; elegantly designed, swift,
capable of acrobatic turns. But as we become fascinated by
the display of technology, we lose sight of its purpose.
These planes are used to intimidate, or when that fails, to
attack and kill people. The pilots, normally being some
distance from those they target, don't witness the
consequences of their actions. They don't see the bodies
pulverized or burned or sliced to pieces. They don't stay
behind to listen to the screams of the wounded. Nor do they
spend the next few years with the survivors, helping them
recover from the physical and emotional trauma of their
We, as civilians, are even more distant from the carnage.
For us, air shows are "family entertainment," a day of fun,
excitement, and good times. We marvel at and celebrate the
weapons on display, with little thought given to the great
harm they inflict. We share this enthusiasm with our
children, and in doing so help teach them that our use of
such weapons is acceptable, or even necessary and
Those who defend air shows from such criticism, often insist
that we need these weapons to maintain our freedom. We are,
after all, the good guys, living in a world made dangerous
by others. We, and our allies, do not use such weapons with
aggressive or malicious intent, but only to preserve our
security and the democracy we hold dear.
Were this true, perhaps we could occasionally justify the
use of mighty weapons like those displayed at the air show,
although even then their destructive force could only be
regarded as a tragic necessity, rather than something to
celebrate. But it isn't true.
Consider our closest and most important ally, the United
States. It is held by many to be the world's pre-eminent
defender of freedom and democracy. Yet the American military
and the CIA, have conducted scores of foreign interventions
this century, including the subversion of elected reformist
governments. They have also trained and equipped the
militaries of numerous countries, including those that have
tortured, terrorized and massacred their own citizens. US
companies produce and sell more military products, including
attack aircraft, than those of any other country. The
primary motive here is not the pursuit of freedom and
democracy, or the legitimate defence of American security.
Reflecting on a long military career involving action in
several countries, retired marine General Smedley Butler in
1935 commented: "I spent most of my time being a high-class
muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the
This helps answer Mike's question. He, his family and
friends fell victim to a regime, in his case apartheid South
Africa, that wished to preserve economic and political power
for a select minority. It had the means to punish those who,
like the refugees in Lusaka, dared resist its oppressive
rule. In a similar vein, western nations, and most
particularly their elites, wish to protect and extend their
global economic dominance. Those who resist the enormous
disparities in wealth, and the ideology that justifies them,
can be taken care of. After all, we have the means. You can
see for yourself this weekend at the National Capital Air
Bill Skidmore teaches human rights courses at Carleton
University. He also supports the work of the Coalition to
Oppose the Arms Trade, which is holding a vigil in response
to the air force generals' meeting, this Sunday, 8 p.m. at
the Westin Hotel. For more information call 231-3076.
Richard Sanders, Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT)
COAT, 489 Metcalfe St., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1S 3N7
Tel: (613) 231-3076 Fax (613) 231-2614
WWW: http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/coat Email: email@example.com
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