War is not a video game!

IssueJune 2013
News by Gabriel Carlyle

‘Ah, here they are!’

As the bearded South Asian gentleman and the young woman in her 20s hoved into view, clutching their coffees, our coach driver fired up the engine.

It was 8.50am, and having travelled up to London the night before and slept on a floor to guarantee making the 8.30 rendezvous, I was somewhat peeved that we still hadn’t left.

‘Why did we wait for these two?’ I mused uncharitably, noting that they’d obviously had enough time enough to stop for coffee – and then immediately felt guilty when I spotted that the man was carrying a white stick.

In any event, we were now finally on our way to RAF Waddington.

Two days earlier, on 25 April, the ministry of defence had announced that its pilots were using the Lincolnshire base to fly the UK’s deadly remotely-piloted Reaper drones over Afghanistan, making Waddington Europe’s first drone warfare base.

Loath to reveal anything significant about its drone programme, the MoD seemed to have been bounced into the announcement by our demo.

Biggest-ever demo

With coaches coming from around the country, it looked likely to be the biggest-ever protest outside an active drones base and it had already generated considerable media attention.

On 24 April the MoD had also revealed that, in addition to UK drones, British military personnel had also flown approximately 2,150 operational missions using US Reaper and Predator drones in Afghanistan and Libya (between October 2006 and 31 December 2012).

Also, contrary to earlier claims, UK forces had flown US drones in Iraq.

With no toilets on board – and a four-hour journey ahead of us – Stop the War’s logistics co-ordinator was regretting his large coffee, and as our coach wended its way north the skies darkened and a heavy rain began to lash the vehicle. ‘The forecast was for sun!’ wailed one of our 50-strong contingent.

What with our late departure and the regulation 45-minute service stop break for the coach driver, we arrived half an hour late. But it transpired that we had the placards and therefore everyone had to wait for us anyway.

By now, the sun was shining brightly again, and before long we were trudging en masse out of Lincoln towards the base. (The police guestimated the numbers at around 600, and, for once, I suspect they were right.)

‘Every Afghan has a name! War is not a video game!’ an intensely-gravelly voice bellowed into a megaphone.

It was our blind comrade who turned out to be our secret weapon: a one-man chanting machine.

Last seen on the coach demurely munching a Cornish pasty, he was now in his throat-shredding element – a feat he was able to maintain for the hour-plus that it took us to shuffle the 2½-mile route.

True, there were few members of the public around to hear us, but he did at least drown out the man who kept screaming seemingly-random slogans like ‘Save China and Russia’ and ‘NHS DSL’.

Finally we reached our destination, and the portaloos. Behind the fence we could see a row of E-3 Sentry aircraft with their distinctive radomes, a spectacle bizarre and banal in equal measure.

Then came the inevitable speeches and milling around before we all piled back onto our coaches for the long journey home.

And though many of us had doubtless been to scores of similar demos in the past, for once it felt like the right action in the right place at the right time.

Four days later the MoD announced its ‘first weapons release’ by a Reaper drone ‘controlled from UK soil’.