Wales a test-bed for ‘fire and forget’ missiles

The development of ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ in west Wales comes under fire in a lecture by Angharad Mair

Broadcaster Angharad Mair yesterday attacked the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition government for enthusiastically supporting the testing and development of drone missiles in west Wales.

In the Lewis Valentine memorial lecture (available in full here), delivered at Bethel Chapel in Llanelli, she asked what Valentine, the first president of Plaid Cymru, would have made of his party being part of a government that “welcomes and promotes military developments that links Wales with some of the world’s most dangerous weapons”.

In the lecture, From Penyberth to Parc Aberporth: Welcome to Warmongering Wales, Angharad Mair quotes from a statement issued by Ieuan Wyn Jones’s Economic Development department in June 2008. This said that Parc Aberborth, on the Ceredigion coast, “was developed by the Welsh Assembly Government as a Centre of Excellence for the demonstration, testing, evaluation and development of both civil and military UAV systems”.

In the lecture she points out that these weapons, which she dubbed ‘fire and forget missiles’, are bringing a completely new dimension to warfare. Pilots of the unmanned aircraft manipulate them from thousands of miles away and so have no direct contact with the battle zone:

“These machines are already being used in their thousands by the USA in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. And although there is nobody actually on these planes that hover quietly above, there are pilots. These pilots are sitting thousands of miles away, and it is their job to fire the bombs, from the comfort of control stations just an hour’s drive away from the casinos of Las Vegas in California.

“Thousands of people have already been killed by these pilots and their destructive bombs and even Obama’s government has admitted that a large proportion of the dead were innocent citizens, mothers and children. An analysis by the Brookings Institute has shown that in Pakistan, ten civilians have died for every one military leader killed.”

And she adds:

“Recently the US Defence Department has started posting clips showing these UAVs killing people on YouTube. An internet sensation under such titles as ‘Hellfire missile hitting a tank’ they have received more than ten million hits so far. This is what’s known as ‘drone porn’. Warmongering pornography.  You can watch real people being really killed.

“As war becomes easier and safer for soldiers sitting thousands of miles away from any bloody conflict and the atrocities of the battlefield, there is a danger that the enemy will not be seen as real people but as small, insignificant dots on the screen. No more emotion will be needed to kill them than to play a computer game. And interestingly, the US defence department is recruiting from amongst young people very highly skilled in those make-believe war computer games. For a new generation of soldiers who no longer have to go to war their conscience need not prick them as it would have before and killing is so much easier.”

Mair is also strongly critical of the news services in Wales that unquestioningly accepts and regurgitates the government’s propaganda without delving deeper into what exactly is happening and what kind of effect these developments are having. As she puts it:

“It’s tragic, frightening and unbelievable that our own devolved government has decided to approve the terrifying plan to test unmanned military aircraft in the sky above Ceredigion. Worse still, one of our government’s ambitions is to see Ceredigion and West Wales leading the world in the field of the most sinister weapons ever seen.

“Wales is the only place in the whole of the UK where these horrifying aircraft are tested. Parc Aberporth is an example of how Wales, quietly and unquestioningly, is being turned into a country of military expertise, with our own government inviting and welcoming the rest of the world to trial and develop military weapons.”

Note: Lewis Valentine (1893-1986) was a Baptist minister, author, editor and political activist. His experience as a medical orderly during the First World War made him a pacifist. In 1936, along with Saunders Lewis and D.J. Williams, Valentine took part in the symbolic burning of a bombing school at Penyberth in north-west Wales. He was sentenced to nine months in prison for this action.

Angharad Mair is the lead presenter on the nightly S4C Welsh language news program Wedi Saith

John Osmond is Director of the IWA

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