Greasing the war machine

Ben Jackson asks: by encouraging military tourism, is St. John’s approving of America’s foreign policy?

On first hearing the phrase “military tourism,” it’s hard not to think of the old Vietnam-era gag: “Join the army, travel the world, meet interesting people – and kill them.”

But here in St. John’s, “military tourism” means businesses doing a brisk trade with visiting soldiers to the tune of $20 million a year. And City Council is doing its best to increase that number.  

In the past year alone, roughly 1,200 military aircraft landed at St. John’s International Airport. Ninety percent of these were from the U.S., and the rest came from Canada and Europe.

Military flights pay fueling, landing, and other fees, but most of the spending comes from stopovers.  Military personnel accounted for some 22,000 room nights in local hotels last year, not to mention the money they spent at bars on George St. and on other nightlife.  As Mayor Wells told a reporter for The Independent, “It’s great business b’y.”

Last March, hoping to attract more of the same, St. John’s City Council launched its “Military Tourism Partnership” where the City will contribute $1 million as a “strategic investment” to help make St. John’s International “more viable from the point of view of military aircraft” – mostly increasing parking space to make room for more and larger planes.

But not everyone in the city is so enthusiastic about spending municipal funds to accommodate the U.S. military, especially forces traveling to or from the Middle East.

James MacLean is a member of the St. John’s Campaign against War, a coalition of community groups formed in 2003 to oppose the Iraq invasion.  He’s upset with local politicians and businesspeople who, he says, “appear to have no respect for human life when there is a dollar to be made.”

“In criminal law, it’s an established principle that if you help someone commit a crime, you yourself are committing a crime. The same principle can be applied to war crimes and crimes against humanity, even if enforcement is more difficult. The invasion of Iraq was illegal – U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan has said so explicitly, and those who have helped make possible this illegal war certainly share in responsibility for the many tens of thousands of civilians American forces have massacred.”

Ethics and international law aside, some Councillors have a more immediate concern with the City’s million dollar investment: How do we know the planes will keep coming? The catch is, of course, that continued military tourism is dependent upon continued military action.

But with Lebanon devastated, Iraq still aflame, and the U.S. rattling sabers with Iran, we probably won’t run out of either any time soon.