Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ireland, Principles, and Jobs

So, Shannon Airport in Ireland is still on my mind. I was chased out of there in the fall of 2002 with an Irish peace activist who was keeping tabs on American military planes stopping over on their way to the Middle East. Ireland's constitution declares it a neutral state, so some of the Irish understandably take offense to foreign warplanes landing in the country. I was doing research on nonviolent activism in Ireland at the time.

The fight over Shannon Airport in Ireland, like so many other defense industry fights, comes down to principles vs. jobs. On the one hand you have folks advocating for peace and neutrality, and on the other, folks reminding everyone that a fella's got to eat. And if a fella earns his daily bread by cashing in on a heavy traffic of military personnel and equipment on its way to blow away who-knows-what-sorry-bastard, well... That's the way the world is. Not pretty. But a fella's got to eat.

I caught a little fresh perspective on Shannon Airport, and on this whole sad principles/jobs divide, just last week. I was returning from a trip to Europe and one of the airports I hit on the way back was Shannon. Now, I've known for some time about US transport jets refueling there, terror suspects being sent through in "extraordinary renditions," etc. etc. Still though, it was jarring to walk into the airport lounge and be confronted with some 50 odd American Navy sailors in sand-colored cammies.

Most of them were standing around the bar, drinking pints. A few younger enlisted types were wandering around the duty free shop, which is where I was. They were coming home for Thanksgiving and picking up gifts for their mothers, little brothers, alcoholic uncles, and so on. Normal Americans, good kids, the sort of women and men I talk with every day on the GI Rights Hotline.

Now, I don't look like much, but I don't think I look like a penniless slob (OK, I actually do look like a penniless slob, but I try not to while traveling--less hassle from security). So it was interesting to see what happened as I stood there perusing the whiskey selection. As soon as a man or woman in cammies entered the whiskey aisle, a nice Irish lady would run up and ply them with free samples of expensive booze, cajoling them to take a nice bottle home to mom, or dad, or of course to alcoholic uncle Steve. Meanwhile, I was thoroughly ignored. Even when I was left alone in the whiskey aisle, staring at labels, with the free sample lady similary unoccupied a few feet away at her table.

The lesson? Free sample lady knew where the money was. It was in the pockets of the lonely American boys and girls heading to Chicago for a weekend-long reprieve from the worst experience of their lives.

This is what the jobs side of the principles vs. jobs fight looks like. An old lady pushing booze into the hands of giddy and sad American kids.

Related links:

Peace On Trial, website for the Irish Ploughshares community which smashed up a US navy jet at Shannon using hammers, prayed, were arrested, had three trials, and were unanimously acquitted.

...Into Ploughshares, a brand new blog by Ciaron O'Reilly. Ciaron was one of the aforementioned Ploughshares activists, and he's a friend of mine.


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