Olympic Weapons of Mass Distraction
There’s been a lot of general anger on twitter and facebook over the last 48hours concerning the positioning of missiles on residential buildings for use during the Olympics. Its a terrifying thought in some ways, but its also kind of irrelevant to civil liberties, and a very big distraction from the more worrying, and lasting, changes brought on by the games.
There are a great many things going on around the Olympics that are incredibly worrying developments, both for civil liberties and for public wellbeing. A police officer may enter your house to remove a window display that is felt to be offensive. A demonstration anywhere close to an Olympic site will face immense repression. Major corporations with hideous human rights records are using the Games to gain legitimacy when they should be facing massive court cases or even dissolution.
Whilst I understand exactly why missiles on apartment blocks is terrifying, its not really the biggest issue, just perhaps the most visible. There are several reasons for this. The first is that, in order to store ordinance on a roof for more than a few months, an awful lot of staffing will need to be committed. The longer they’re up there, the more likely it is that someone will try to nick them. Its a very short term development, in comparison to any damage to civil liberties. Budgets are too tight to keep that stuff up there for any length of time.
The other main reason is that these are pretty specialised weapons. Most modern weapons are. These things are for shooting down aircraft. Now, the odd pub joke about needing to hire an airship to invade Buckingham Palace for a protest aside, none of us are likely to be the targets for such a weapons system.
A rooftop Ground Based Air Defence system sounds pretty terrifying, but compare it to, say, a water cannon. One of those sounds like something in a futuristic dystopia, and the other sounds like a glorified fire truck. One is unlikely to be used unless a rogue state with planes decides to use one on the Olympics. This scenario in itself is unlikely. The other could take your eye out whilst you protest about the egregious spending and the social cleansing and so forth.
In one sense, the question should be “why are we hosting something that needs to be defended like this so close to such a high populace?”. That question aside, the scenario for which this weapons system is being place in central London is both extremely unlikely and, if it were to occur, very likely to result in massive numbers of deaths to quite a substantial number of very ordinary people. It has no use in a public order, civil liberties or common crime fighting situation. Its just not possible to make use of it like that.
I would be very concerned if a shiny Ground Based Air Defence system caused us all to forget the more mundane trampling on the population in the name of national pride (and tenuously, sport) that is going on around us. Alongside displacement of the poor, the changes in policing and the acceptability of soldiers patrolling London’s streets in times of perceived danger to the state is the real and lasting damage these Olympics will bring, and I think its towards these that we should put our energies in defence of freedom and a non-militarised society.