K'jipuktuk (Halifax) - Being a naturally lovely port, Halifax is fortunate enough to receive nautical visitors from all over the world. From fishing vessels, to cruise ships, to private yachts; Halifax sees them all.
Unfortunately, sometimes those ships show up carrying Tomahawk missiles and nuclear reactors. Sometimes those ships have very bloody pasts. Sometimes nobody is quite sure what they're doing here.
Such was the case yesterday afternoon, when the well-trained eyes of the anti-war groups No Harbour for War and the Halifax Peace Coalition caught wind of three German warships in port, along with the recent visit of a particularly nasty American Destroyer.
I had the opportunity to speak with Gary Zatzman and Allan Bezanson from No Harbour for War as they took part in a picket against the presence of the warships, as to what exactly we were looking at.
Miles Howe (MH): When we look in the harbour today we see three large German warships. What are we looking at today, specifically?
Gary Zatzman (GZ): These are part of a mini flotilla from NATO countries. Halifax in the past, in the heyday of NATO, 25 years ago, had relatively gigantic fleets from all the NATO-member states. Now it's down to these token appearances on so-called “special event days”. This is part of the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812, which brings the United States into the picture, which brings NATO into the picture, which brings a German ship into the picture, and so on. But the main message in every one of these events, whether it was the old NATO fleet or these remnants that we see today...the main message is that Halifax is the property of the war-makers and the war mongers. And the people can just go stuff it.
MH: Are these ships doing anything other than just providing a representation? Are there any kind of manoeuvres going on today or anything of that manner?
GZ: There usually are, and the amount of information that surfaces as to what they're actually doing is always much less than what they actually end up doing. So I don't consider it politic to necessarily comment on what they're said to be doing right now. Because it may turn out to be far more extensive. Or on the other hand it may turn out to be that they needed food and fuel.
MH: But the message coming out to the public from NATO is...
GZ: Is that war is just fine. And that you can't live without it.
MH: What other kind of traffic are we seeing? There was an American Destroyer here as well that has fired tomahawk missiles in the Middle East?
GZ: This is very convenient for the department of so-called Defence, and the department of Foreign Affairs and the Harper dictatorship in general...to have some American ships show up. Everybody knows...everybody who's been paying attention...they know that Canada's role was especially drastic and dirty during the Libyan intervention. A general by the name of Charles Bouchard was appointed by the Americans to actually coordinate their whole assault on Libya, and they trusted him because he'd been in the US for decades. But he's a so-called Canadian so they could say it wasn't an all-American show.
MH: Specifically what's the story with the American ship that was here today?
Allan Bezanson (AB): The American ship that was here left this morning at 9 o'clock. It came here Saturday morning and it was here as part of the American's Memorial Day services to commemorate the 200 American sailors that are buried at Deadman's Island. They were prisoners of war during the War of 1812. So it was here.
The Americans usually have a naval contingent here every Memorial Day. Now specifically why else that particular ship was here; I'm not sure.
But that particular ship, the USS Laboon, it's an Arleigh-Burke guided missile Destroyer, and it is part and parcel of Obama's ballistic missile defence system. Three of its sister ships, that are from Norfolk, Virginia, will be dispatched and permanently based in the very near future in Spain as part of NATO's ballistic missile defence system. This is a dramatic increase in the provocations and dangers of war. It's a provocation against the people of the Middle East, particularly of the Iranian people. Because when they talk about ballistic missile defence they quite often mention the dangers of Iran launching missiles, etc. So it's a provocation against the Iranian people for sure. Russia is very much opposed to the ballistic missile defence system, and they are in turn developing a new system to wipe out the defence system. So it's like a regurgitation of the arms race.
The American warship that just left our harbour this morning...two months ago, it hosted a visit from representatives from all 28 NATO member countries, on-board, to show this defence system. To show their Tomahawk cruise missiles. To show their various other missiles, and the apparatus, etc., for the ballistic missile defence system. So it's not some innocent ship just plying our waters. It's definitely on some mission. Why, of all the ships that the Americans could send, why did they send this one that's so prominently playing a part in that new system?
Also, that ship, in 1996, it launched Tomahawk cruise missiles against the people of Iraq. It was the first of its class of Destroyer to engage in battle and attack the Iraqi people. So it's stained in blood, that one that just left. And good riddance to it, and it should never come back.
MH: These warships behind us seem like quite a military escort for the “Tall Ships”.
AB: These three German warships that are in port, the two that we see in front of us right now, the Frankfurt am Main and the Hessen...they are headed on to Quebec City as part of an annual Quebec naval rendez-vous. But the other, the Emden, which is just down out of site, it is going to Norfolk, and then onto Baltimore, and possibly other places, to accompany the Tall Ships, which we expect here later in the summer. Because of the bicentenary of the War of 1812, the Americans in particular are very much militarizing the Tall Ships regattas and all of that. So wherever they're appearing, up the American seacoast, they've been accompanied by a number of American and foreign, including Canadian, warships. Two of our minesweepers, our coastal patrol vessels, have been going along with the Tall Ships.
MH: So Tall Ship tourism...
AB: Is militarization. A lot of the Tall Ships are naval ships. They're for training the mid-shipmen of the respective navies. It's always been a military extravaganza with a nice veneer of tourism, etc. They are indeed beautiful, but this year in particular, it's a very highly militarized event.