June 25, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 10:00 PM GMT
Protestors of the Galway Alliance Against War stand near the Spanish Arch in central Galway, decrying the use of deadly U.S. and British military hardware as entertainment.
After inflating 99 red balloons in secret, anti-war protesters in Galway gathered Sunday afternoon in a 500-year-old city square to decry the use of fighter jets for entertainment at the popular spectacle known as the Salthill Airshow.
And as it turns out, the protesters were right to argue about the dangers of military hardware as bread and circuses for the masses after the door fell off a British Royal Air Force helicopter more than 80 feet and landed among the crowd of 80,000 and injured three people.
Signs on utility poles around this western Irish enclave directed people to join a protest of the Galway Alliance Against War at noon at the ancient Spanish Arch, part of the old city wall. Once there, 99 red balloons would be released, a kind of tribute to the mid-80s anti-war pop anthem about a balloon launch that some generals mistake for a nuclear assault.
Last year, the Galway Alliance planned a similar protest, but the local police force, known as the Gardai, popped the balloons in the advance, according to one speaker (whose name I failed to obtain because I bumped into the protest by accident and didn't have the requisite note pad and pen).
This speaker complained that Galway was criminalizing anti-war speech, and this year, they blew up their balloons and distributed them beforehand in secret, yet launched them publicly as scheduled.
"The Salthill Airshow is rapidly becoming a militaristic jamboree with pornographic displays of the latest 'killer' technology," said one pamphlet handed out by the Socialist Forum. "This year, the new RAF Eurofighter is to be one of the star attractions."
"One of the most advanced warplanes available will be making its first appearance outside Britain," the pamphelt said. "Salthill Airshow has become a weapons' exhibition and is virtually advertised as such."
"This war show serves to glorify war, to gain our approval to the warplanes (sic) murderous acts and sanction the wasteful arms industry," the pamphlet continued. "The Galway Alliance Against War are taking a necessary stand against these warplanes and the war criminals that fly them."
While no one is likely to be charged with a crime in the door falling off the helicopter incident that hurt three people, an investigation was begun, according to local papers, only a few of which mentioned the protest, as could be expected.
But make no mistake, this was not a fringe crowd of communists and Green Green Party activists. As strains of the "99 Red Balloons" died out, the Mayor of Galway, Tom Costello spoke, and lambasted the city council for putting up 15,000 euro (about $22,000 US) to promote the event.
Other people held signs calling for an end to the U.S. military's use of Shannon airport to refuel planes and transport troops.
The pamphlet also called attention to the nine members of the Derry Anti-War Coalition who occupied the Derry offices of Raytheon during the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in August 2006.
Raytheon is the Boston-based arms manufacturer that supplies Tomahawk, Sidewinder, Patriot and "bunker buster" bombs for the American war machine, the pamphlet said.
The Raytheon Nine, while in the Raytheon offices, "decommissioned" some Raytheon computers, and now face jail time.
"If the Raytheon Nine are branded criminals then we are being asked to accept that it is a crime to occupy the office of an arms company, but not a crime to occupy a country," the pamphlet said.