Article: "Challenging the National Capital War Show"

By Richard Sanders, Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.

This year, the theme of Ottawa's war show is "Between Best Friends."  It sounds harmless enough, but what's behind this innocuous title?  Organizers say they'll be "commemorating the special relationship between Canada and our NATO partners."  Many of world's most deadly warplanes will execute aerial stunts to demonstrate the amazing, high-tech war-fighting abilities of our government's "best friends."  It's fun for the whole family! Every year, the latest "weapons delivery systems" descend on our city for a degenerate carnival to celebrate war.  Part of the growing globalization of war culture, such public spectacles - held annually in about 500 communities across North America - are among our society's most popular, mass cultural events.  Though euphemistically called the "National Capital Air Show," this is really a kind of sanitized blood sport.  It exemplifies a military culture that has escaped its bounds and is parading through civil society.  In this theatre of war, the battle is fought for the public's hearts, minds and pocket books. War shows proudly provide a major recruiting venue for the armed forces. The high-flying drama is carefully orchestrated to breed a young generation on the art of war, to cultivate their support for militarism and entice them into a cult which worships at the altar of violence.  War shows also manipulate the attitudes of adults who should know better than be conned by such crude propaganda.  These events serve the interests of the military industrial complex by blatantly encouraging public revelry in war technology.  By romanticizing and glorifying the ultra violent tools of military culture, these events help to "manufacture consent" for war.   

War as Performance
Last spring, during the bombardment of Yugoslavia, the following NATO warplanes strutted their stuff over our fair city:  Tornado IDS, E-2C Hawkeye, P-3 Orion, AV-8B Harrier II, A-10 Thunderbolt, F/A-18 Hornet, B-52 Stratofortress, F-117A Nighthawk, C-130 Hercules, KC-135 Stratotanker, B-1B Lancer, F-16 Fighting Falcon and the CF-18.  During the previous year's war show, a B-2 nuclear bomber flew over Ottawa.  At US$2.2 Billion each, the B-2 is the most expensive warplane ever built.  Imagine the social and environmental programs that could be funded with even a small fraction of this public wealth! Seeing this list of warplanes brings to mind many of the wars, interventions, invasions and campaigns of state terror and repression that have been launched by our "best friends" over the past 50 years: Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iran, Lebanon, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Libya, Grenada, Iraq, Turkey, etc.  Warplanes disturbing the skies over Ottawa have struck fear in the hearts of millions around the world.  Why do these vehicles of destruction bring smiles and laughter to the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens?  Why are people enthralled and delighted by weapons which have destroyed so many lives?  

Media: "Partners" in War
The public's naive perception that warplanes are an appropriate source of joyous fun is aided and abetted by our mass, corporate media.  War technology, and war itself, are often used to entertain children and adults alike.  Last year, the following local newspaper, radio and TV outlets were listed as official "partners" of the war show:  Le Droit, CFRA, Kool FM, The Bear, Young Country, CJOH and CHOT.  In 1998, media partners included: Ottawa Sun, CJOH/CHRO (BBS), CHEZ 106 and Majic 100.  Can we expect fair coverage of our opposition to war, and war shows in particular, when so many media outlets shamelessly become "partners" with event organizers? No, not likely, but when did that ever stop us before?

Building a "Culture of Peace"
This is the fourth year that the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) has used the war show to raise awareness on peace, human rights, environmental and economic issues.  This being the UN Year for a "Culture of Peace," and the beginning of the UN's "International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World," activists
from diverse communities have an opportunity to work together to build a culture of peace.  We can refocus attention on NATO's war against Yugoslavia, which will continue to damage the Balkan region for generations to come.  NATO's "first use" nuclear policies can also be highlighted by the disturbing presence of numerous nuclear warplanes. This year, we are inspired by opposition to Hamilton's war show.  Among those involved in the planning are some activists with Homes Not Bombs (Ottawa) who traveled to Hamilton's "Festival of Life" (see pp. 27-30). We are working to create and strengthen alliances between as many individuals, groups and movements as possible to develop a broadly-based, innovative campaign to oppose Ottawa's war show.  In this way, we are building a culture of peace and demonstrating our own understanding of the war show's theme, "Between Best Friends." 

Source: Press for Conversion!, issue #41, July 2000.

Press for Conversion is a 40 page, quarterly magazine published by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.
The theme of the current issue is: "Building a Culture of Peace."