Over 20 years ago I came down from St Albans by hired coach to take part in a demonstration at the US bomber base at Fairford. Now we live 15 miles from the base which became the focus of concerted anti-war protests after Iraq was attacked by “the allies” in 2003. Plus ca change eh?
Stroud lay/lies under the flight path of the US bombers bound for Iraq and local protesters were quick off the mark to set up camp at Fairford and The Powers That Be equally quick to bring the full force of new anti terrorism legislation to bear. When I arrived with a small group of Stroudies to join the Peace Camp at Gate 13 we were immediately apprehended by a four-wheel-drive loaded with coppers who demanded our names, particulars and purpose.
We were caught on the hop - well I was - not having taken in the full implications of the Act. Why were we here? “To stop the war of course!” we blithely replied and demanded to know why we should surrender our names.
The police quoted the Act at us and the full absurdity of the situation finally registered: we peaceniks were to be regarded as terrorist suspects - or , at the very least, terrorist sympathisers. I was reminded of all this when, at the beginning of July, a two-day event titled “A View To Peace” was staged at Stroud Valleys Art Space (a complex of studios and performance space) and those heady days were revisited.
Local Green councillor Dave Cockcroft was among those who set up an inventive and witty troupe called the Gloucestershire Weapon Inspectors who demanded admittance to the Fairford base to search for weapons of mass destruction and he, and his daughter Isabel, opened the event with their personal recollections of that time. Isabel even made the pages of the national press and TV and radio bulletins when she - then aged eleven - was arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist.
In support of their joint presentation in Art Space they showed an excellent documentary film of the Fairford demonstrations and already - well, to me anyway - those scenes seem extraordinarily distant from the present bloody impasse in Iraq. There were some shreds of hope to be grasped: the courtroom triumphs of the Fairford Five, the partial (official) condemnation of police tactics in turning back a coach load of protesters bound for Fairford and the stubborn survival of pockets of resistance to war dotted about the UK.
Meantime, our peace vigil in Stroud's High Street has shrunk to three or four vigilantes and our outgoing PM was defending, to his last breath, his government's failure to investigate allegations of corrupt arms sales in the Middle East on the grounds of national security and the defence of jobs in the Arms Industry. Plus ca change eh?
One coup of the Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors was to make their own stealth bomber and parade it, not only around Fairford base but also through the streets of Stroud.
The stealth bomber is well-named. Its sinister shape and black livery perfectly expresses its demonic purpose. In a way, it's an exemplar of “modernism” in that its design and function are inseparable. How strange then, that the Weapons Inspectors' home-made doppelganger spread a curious kind of joy amongst the protesters, and looking again at those scenes on film I was reminded of the extraordinary upsurge of creative energy which the build-up to the war provoked.
The anarchist philosopher and theorist, Bakunin, claimed that “the urge to destroy is a creative urge” and, as I watched footage of Fairford protesters assaulting the main gates and tearing out sections of the perimeter fence, I took what comfort I could from his paradox.