There's a War On

They came back, again. Party on, dude. Rock and roll.

Don't the Blue Angels know there's a war on?

The Blue Angels—excuse me, the KeyBank Air Show at Seafair—returned this weekend, and somewhere amongst the hundreds of thousands of awestruck spectators down on the ground, there were teenage boys who thought, "Gee, I want to do that."

And who, this time next year, might be in Iraq as a result.

The Blue Angels are a love-'em-or-hate-'em proposition. There's an undeniable lure to the very loud machines that fly in such stunning precision, and a breathless anticipation of the crash that never (usually) happens. On the other hand, they are very loud; ask any dog under the flight path. Some of us never quite got the appeal of loud machines and view the Blue Angels as, essentially, a tractor pull with wings: lots of noise but no beauty.

The Angels also curry disfavor among those of us who are against the mindless glorification of war. And right now, as it happens, there's an unpopular war under- way. That war has been chronically short of machines and soldiers, and has been heavy on the use of air support to try to flush out Iraqi guerrillas. But not to worry: The Blue Angels are among the Navy's most successful recruiting tools.

They don't, all by themselves, convince young men and women to sign up—at least, one would hope not—but they do contribute to an advertising-induced aura that being a soldier is really, really cool, and involves adventure, high-tech, teamwork, going places fast, and making lots of noise. And so the Angels tour the country, every week somewhere else, as a sort of military circus act.

But what does that circus act mean, at a moment when many Seattleites in all probability believe that our military is, at best, being misused in the war on Iraq—and at a time when signing up for a tour of duty is as dangerous a proposition, involving as unknown a situation in the years to come, as our armed forces have faced in a generation? It hardly seems like a time for overriding sober sign-up decision making with the adrenaline rush of a recruiting gimmick like the Blue Angels. Duty in Iraq these days is many things, but one thing it clearly is not is really, really cool. Ask any returning vet—of the few being allowed to return.

And what about the Iraqis themselves? It's hard to separate fast, high-tech military bombers from their mission—namely, to bomb—in a war where a majority of the casualties have been civilians and the rationales for target selection are often murky. Indeed, one of the reasons civilian casualties are so high is that guerrillas blend seamlessly into an urban population, and then the Americans overreact by bombing an entire area—creating that many more enemies.

Chances are the sound of a Blue Angel wouldn't be quite so thrilling to a resident of Baghdad or Fallujah. They're all too familiar with the payloads such machines carry. The fact that we in Seattle can separate awe over the technological accomplishment of the jets and the skill of the pilots from the purpose of the whole thing is a sort of peacetime privilege it's too easy to take for granted.

In essence, that's why I'm not a fan of the Blue Angels. I can appreciate the skill on display, and I trust that most of the audience knows the difference between an air exhibition and a war. Still, it's hard to shake the notion that we're being sold a bill of goods—a vision of war as sleek, high-tech, and, ultimately, painless. It looks so easy. But if we know anything so far about our experience in Iraq, it's that it's not, by a long stretch, easy or lacking in pain—for Iraqis or for Americans.

gparrish@seattleweekly.com

 
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