Friday, June 13, 2003

The Parallels of History
"Missiles Flying in the Third World, from Hanoi to Wounded Knee. Bombs falling over Baghdad, and each one cries 'Democracy'." David Rovics.

Those who do not understand their history are doomed to repeat it. The system that has rained destruction on Iraq and threatens nuclear, biological and environmental armageddon to the world learns its lessons well. Maybe this is because their view of the future is so short term? Either way, those of us opposing the corpse machine also need to learn from history.

So it was as I read the excellent book by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall; 'Agents of Repression'. Among other things, the book documents an incident in 1973, where the FBI and allied forces laid siege to a gathering of Native Americans encamped at Wounded Knee. These people were members of AIM - the American Indian Movement and they have come to the site of the 1890 massacre of their people to re-assert their civil rights and culture. As I read the account, I was struck by the similarity of the tactics used there and the parallels with the Fairford Peace camp established this year to witness the forward operating base for the bombing of Iraq.

I’m certainly not claiming that the severity or context of the two events were similar, but the tactics of repression were. Fairford was a peace camp while at Wounded Knee, a siege developed as the FBI attempted to isolate and destroy the American Indian Movement. By the end of the 68 days siege where the US Federal forces had deployed an arsenal including at least 130000 round of M16 ammo, 41000 rounds of M1 ammo and 600 cases of CS gas. There would be dead on both sides but mainly of AIM people. There would be 1200 arrested and the net result would be the US government again ignoring the legitimate demands of the true inheritors of that land.

Why so much force over such a small areas of land? Many years ago the US state had shrunk the Native American population into tiny areas of land considered worthless. When that land turned out to hold vast deposits of valuable minerals such as uranium and bituminous coal, the control of this land was an issue of vital economic and so political importance. The Siege of Wounded Knee was the opening salvoes in a war to ensure that these valuable resources was firmly in the hands of the state. The siege was characterised by the lines drawn; Inside the tiny village of Wounded Knee you had around 500 residents, AIM people and other tribal groupings such as the Independent Oglala Nation. Surrounding them were the combined forces of the US state including the FBI, the Federal Marshals and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Police. The was a clear desire on behalf of the state, not to stick to the law of the land, but to use any and all means necessary to ensure an favourable outcome; namely the destruction of Native American rights and power.

Fairford Air Base, situated in sleepy Gloustershire, England represented an asset of vital military and so political importance. Based here was a fleet of B52 bombers with sufficient reach, because of the bases strategic location, to cover a wide range of possible targets from Libya to Iran to the Sudan and of course; Iraq. As the peace movement focused on the base and established a peace camp, the clear aim of the state became to ensure that, regardless of the law of the land, the continued maintenance of USAF range and power.

Both battles for control were waged using a host of techniques on the part of the US state:

>>>Military Intervention in Civil Matters
Wounded Knee: Despite the constitutional prohibition of the involvement of the US army in domestic affairs; "General Alexander Haig, then Vice-Chief of Staff at the Pentagon, dispatched Colonel Volney Warner of the 82nd Airborne and Colonel Jack Potter of the 6th Army to Wounded Knee. For the first time in their careers they were ordered to wear civilian clothes while on duty."
Fairford: On the 11th March, despite the lack of any legal jurisdiction the US troops were engaged in forcefully moving the peace camp; "Acting totally outside of their juristiction Americans from USAF Fairford illegally forced the G10 Bomber Watch to move camp whilst police stood by."

>>>Physical Isolation of Activists
Wounded Knee: The US state went to huge lengths to block access to the area and so starve the defenders of food and medical supplies. While this may have been done under the pretense of stopping weapons supplies, overt food convoys were routinely intercepted and confiscated and as such those inside the village ended up on one meal per day.
Fairford: "[The peace camp] is now subject to an embargo of certain essential items. Campers and visitors are not allowed to bring firewood, essential camping equipment such as sleeping bags, blankets, clean clothes or toiletries like toothbrushes to the camp." The area was also subject to Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, allowing the police to stop and search any traffic and (often illegally) turn people back from the area.

>>>Vigilante Attacks
Wounded Knee: Some of the most brutal attacks on Native American activists, including fatal shooting were carried out by a squad of vigilantes known as the GOONs (a federally funded paramilitary force), while they had no real authority to act as they did and were so out of control some members were even arrested by the US Marshals on the scene, as they ached on the side of the state, they were protected and even armed by the FBI. As a result none were ever convicted of wrong doings. Despite over 150 civil rights complaints being brought to the attention of the government, only 42 were ever investigated and 0 brought to court.
Fairford: the peace camp was subject to attacks; "At 10pm last night (19/Feb/2003) as the peace campers were retiring to bed the camp was attacked by six men dressed head to foot in black." To date the police have arrested or charged nobody for these attacks.

>>>Police Harassment
Wounded Knee: Needless to say before, during and after the FBI and local police forces subjected, at every possible turn, the activists to massive harassment. A typical example would be the incident of Frank Clearwater, an AIM activist shot in the head. The US state ensured a lengthy protraction before agreeing to medical aid for the victim but nonetheless eventually it was agreed that Frank and his wife could pass though the siege lines. As soon as they reached the police area, she was arrested and thrown in jail. Frank died on the 25 April 1973.
Fairford: Where were also legion of incidents in the sleepy Gloustershire village. A typical example was the pre-emptive detention without provocation of the WOMBLES civil disobedience group by police at the 22nd March demo.

>>>Media Disinformation & Complicity
Wounded Knee; Consistently the highly experienced FBI disinformation machine put out lies to the press, but the combination of the isolation tactics and complicity in many media outlets meant that the AIM activist could be painted as unrepresentative and dangerous militant to destroy their support base. Typical examples include the FBI telling the press that Father Paul Manhart, from the local church who was at the time were inside the besieged Native American village, was being held as a 'hostage'. Yet when two Senators arrived to negotiate his and 10 others release, they 'hostages' refused to leave because they did not consider themselves as hostages as one remarked; "The real hostages were the AIM people".
Fairford: The authorities tried to force journalists to 'make an appointment with the police before they visit the camp' and also refused entry to some journalists. Here's a typical example of the state-spun story where the anti-war movement is categories into two camps; the well-behaved (i.e. no threat to the war machine) and the Fairford protestors; "Scotland Yard expects a peaceful mass demonstration by 100,000 marchers at Hyde Park in London after extensive negotiations with the organisers. Anarchist and militant groups are concentrating instead on launching a two-pronged attack on the US military presence in Britain. The spy base at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire is being branded by campaigners as the 'brains' of the American war effort and RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire the 'body'."

So What is Your Point?
The first point is to learn from history. We are engaged in a long struggle and we need to read our shared past; because you can bet the state is learning from and refining its tactics whether we do or not.

Secondly there is a validation of the part of the path chosen at Fairford. Ward Churchill, the AIM activist and writer remarked; "So whatever it is that is that will be state approved is exactly what you ought not want to be doing. Whatever it is they tell you, that you absolutely cannot, ought to be an indicator that maybe you ought to look at it seriously." Clearly, though the evidence presented here, the state did not want people at Fairford. It was happy for them to be in London, out of harms way. With such information and the evidence presented of the extraordinary lengths the US/UK state has gone to in both cases, I cannot but conclude that Fairford was the right place to be. I only wish others in the anti-war movement had also realised this and not squandered their energy in repeated state sanctioned marches.

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