It will be show time, big time, on Sept. 10, when the Navy's Blue Angels bring their six-plane aerial circus to perform in the skies over the Brunswick Naval Air Station. From their inception in 1946, the Blue Angels' raison d'etre was, as their mission statement still reads: "to enhance recruitment for the Navy and the Marines."
As many as 100,000 Mainers, including countless goggle-eyed youngsters, coveted by the Pentagon as future fodder for the military maw, are expected to turn out in Brunswick to ooh and aah over the Angels' diamond-formation derring-do.
Joining the enthralled throngs on Sept. 10 will a gathering of peace activists from across the state, coming not to cheer but to protest the false-god idolatry of the ill-named "Angels."
Led by Maine Veterans for Peace, over a dozen antiwar and social justice groups see the Blue Angels' sky spectacle for what it is, a multimillion-dollar extravaganza aimed at hyping sharply declining enlistments. In the end, it's your tax dollars flying off into the wild blue yonder.
Presented in the guise of "family entertainment," bombers like the Blue Angels' F/A-18 Hornets (the Navy and Marines have more than 500 of them) have flown over 50,000 sorties, raining down death from the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then, there's the complicity of BNAS itself in the never-counted death toll of Iraqi civilians. Day in and day out, surveillance aircraft whose home base is Brunswick are employed to target enemy ground forces. All too often, however unintended, the eye-in-the-sky P-3 Orions serve to contribute to "collateral damage," Pentagon-speak for innocent men, women and children.
Scheduled to join the peace march from the downtown Brunswick Mall to BNAS at 9 a.m. on Sept. 10 will be two extraordinarily courageous women, tirelessworkers for the cause of peace and justice:
- Kathy Kelly, founder of Voices in the Wilderness, who, starting in the early 1990s, led over 50 mercy missions to Iraq, bringing desperately needed medical supplies barred by U.S. sanctions.
- Cindy Sheehan, whose name has become something of a household word, with her grittily determined, around-the-clock vigil outside George Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch. Her story is well known by now.
Sheehan's is a voice that refuses to be silenced, a driven advocate for an ever-growing number of Americans demanding that the troops be brought home now.
Finally, Veterans for Peace, Peace Action Maine, Pax Christi and other groups in solidarity will be challenging BNAS to convert to peaceful productivity. Maine's political representatives and Brunswick community leaders have only to look to see what others have done.
A few examples: The new facility at the former England Air Force Base, Alexandria, Va., has created 1,800 jobs, more than double the number of civilians working at the time of base closing. Bergstrom Air Force Base, Austin, Texas, lost 927 jobs when it was closed in 1995; it now employs 3,000 workers. The former Presidio in San Francisco is well on its way to being converted to industrial and upscale residential use.
In Charleston, S.C., a one-time Bath Iron Works-type shipyard is now a thriving industrial park and commercial ship-building/refitting facility. And when the Naval Air Warfare Station in Indianapolis was privatized, over 1,700 jobs were created, along with a technology park, adding another 2,500 workers.
Overall, between 1989 and 1995, the Defense Department closed some 100 installations in 28 states. The consequences of these shut-downs? In the affected communities, the majority that opted to convert former bases to new nonmilitary uses more than made up the number of lost jobs.
With the will to do it, the far-sighted, creative planning that was decisive in these and other conversion success stories can pave the way to changing the BNAS site, marked for closing by the BRAC commission, into a facility offering good-paying jobs - and the worker satisfaction that comes with making products that improve lives, not end them.
John P. Wirtz (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of Maine Veterans for Peace and Pax Christi Maine.
© 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers