Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blue Angels of Death

The family and I were driving to a park in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood yesterday so our 2-year-old daughter could share some playtime with a friend. On our drive up Airport Way, we saw throngs of cars parked on either side of the road along Boeing Field. Knowing that Seafair was going on over the weekend, I could only assume that there was going to be some kind of airshow. (I admit, I've been here for four years and still don't really know what Seafair is all about. What I do know holds zero interest for me.) 

This particular park is a favorite of our daughter's. There's a playground, a big soccer field for her to kick a ball around on, and a spray park, which she and her little friend loved on this particular sunny day, with temps in the high 80s.

This park is also only a mile or so north of Boeing Field, which means a lot of planes fly low overheard, either taking off or landing. Some of them get pretty loud, especially the big courier jets. My girl doesn't like loud noises, and she presses her hands against her ears whenever she hears one of the planes approaching.

So imagine our surprise when a thunderous roar ripped across the sky from out of nowhere. My daughter barely had time to cover her ears, and cover them she did, complaining afterward about just how loud the "spaceships" overhead were being.

Ugh. Blue Angels.

I'd almost forgotten they were part of Seafair.

But there was no forgetting about it for the rest of the afternoon, as we never knew when the big blue jets were going to scream over our heads to do more of their little flips and dives.

I guess most people are entertained by stuff like this. All it did was ratchet up my anxiety. Not only did I dislike seeing my daughter stop her playing to pre-emptively cover her ears every time she thought she heard a "spaceship" approaching overheard, but it made me think about how our fighter planes must strike fear in the rest of the world, as people who have had the bad fortune to run afoul of our belligerent foreign policy may never know when a jet is going to swoop down out of the sky and fire on their village, their family, or even them. It has to be a terrifying existence.

I couldn't believe I was the only person who felt this way, so I poked around online looking for some kindred spirits. I mean, this is left-leaning Seattle. Are there really that many people here who are enthralled with what amounts to a PR stunt for the military?

Well, most of the complaints I read about focused on how people's pets were traumatized. Which is understandable.

Then I stumbled across the Seattlish blog, which I am now officially in love with. Its author captured my thoughts perfectly:
Worshipping the Blue Angels glorifies war and makes entertainment out of machines whose only [real] purpose is killing human beings as broadly and anonymously as possible. The screech of jet engines ripping across the sky is a horrific sound that for most people on the planet signifies death of their loved ones, destruction of their communities, and the omnipresent anxiety of never knowing when the next bombs will drop.
Yes, that's it exactly. I feel the same way every Independence Day, as the air around our neighborhood fills with so many lights and explosions that I don't feel celebratory as much as I feel as if I've landed in the middle of a war zone. On that day, as yesterday, my primary emotion wasn't a love for country as much as it was a sense that this is how America looks and feels to people in much of the world, as their skies rain down bombs and rip open with explosions, accompanied by the unrelenting terror of never knowing whether the next explosion is going to be right over your house, where your wife and children are sleeping peacefully.

I don't understand how this stuff qualifies as entertainment. It's not. I look up at the Blue Angels, and I see arrogance, hubris, and overblown machismo -- an encapsulation of American imperialism if I've ever seen one. I guess it would appeal to all the rubes who thump their chests and chant "U-S-A! U-S-A!" when something even remotely militaristic crosses their path, as if war is some kind of a big football game.

It's not the money wasted on the Blue Angels that irks me -- in fact, the money they're allocated is a tiny sliver of the monstrous defense budget -- nor was I at all surprised to learn that the Angels' leadership encouraged a hostile work environment brimming with pornography, explicit sexual language, and homophobia, as I would expect no less from the typical military mindset.

No, my problem is with how the Angels make violence and death look cool. It's not just them, of course, given that military recruiters are notorious for preying on impressionable and underprivileged kids, as young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who face bleak options for work and higher education see the military as their best option, while the rest of the kids who have been indoctrinated with propaganda about patriotism and nationalism all their lives are easy to sign up. You've got them right where they want them if you can just convince them that they get to go off and kill "bad guys" while they're "defending our freedoms" -- which, of course, they aren't, but if you let them in on that lie, the biggest lie of them all, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. Seeing how people in uniform are practically deified in our culture surely only sweetens the deal for a lot of kids.

But not my kid, I hope. I don't want her to ooh and aah over those noisy blue "spaceships." I want her to question what everyone else takes for granted. She will take whatever path she chooses in her life, but at least it will be a fully informed choice, not one she jumps into without any thought or understanding. We already have too many sheep in this world who follow the crowd and do whatever they're told. We need more thinkers -- people who stop and analyze what their leaders tell them, rather than blindly accepting what any authority figure orders them to do.

And more importantly, we need more peacemakers. Peaceful people reject war as a quick first-alternative fix to every problem. Peaceful people don't believe that guns and bombs give us our freedoms, but rather understand -- as did James Madison, father of the Constitution -- that never-ending war is actually what threatens those freedoms:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
For those who will inevitably say that if you hate it so much you should move, this is exactly why I do want out -- and if the decision were solely up to me, I'd be long gone from this Hotel California. Planes should be for transporting people from Point A to Point B, not for killing women, children, and other people who have never done anything to harm us.

Give me a nation that embraces peace any day. That nation is not the United States. Americans, by and large, are not peaceful people. We seem to enjoy bullying and subjugating the rest of the world. And as long as we keep cheering on those flying blue instruments of death as they speed across the skies, that attitude is not likely to change.

I'd like to think we can do better.


  1. Ask the people of Gaza how much they appreciate hearing these death machines.

  2. It's easy for Americans to cheer on the death machines, because they've never been on the business end of one. I can't imagine the hell that the people of Gaza are going through. Even their schools aren't safe places.