Blue Angels

Every summer in Seattle we have an event called Seafair, a series of local celebrations that culminates on an August weekend dedicated to hydroplane boat races, bi-plane demonstrations, grown men pretending to be pirates, drunken people drunkenly captaining boats into other boats equally drunkenly captained, and a show provided by the Navy All Stars of Aviation, The Blue Angels.

When I was a boy I loved The Blue Angels – I recall at least one poster of theirs adorning my walls and going to mulitple air-shows to watch them fly. However, as I’ve grown older my wide-eyed enjoyment has shifted into a more disillusioned squint, and yesterday morning as I was quietly enjoying what up to that moment was a lovely summer Seattle day, one of the Angels – the first of the day, and thus a complete surprise to me – ripped overhead on a practice flight, sending sound echoing like screaming buckshot off everything and generally giving the impression that a chasm of Hell had opened directly above my apartment and Satan himself was taking a scorchingly cancerous, first-of-the-morning piss directly on my rooftop.

And so, after several more hours of the Angels screeching above the city’s skies I undertook what seems to have become a tradition on this particular weekend: I got to thinking about The Blue Angels, which, as ever, has lead my mind to a very sharp V of thought: on the one hand there’s the combined awesomeness of the technology and the precision of the pilots who seem capable of flying within mere feet of one another—it’s really pretty amazing to watch and I’m certain it’s something that only a handful of people in the world are capable of doing. But—seems there’s always a but—the other alley of thought is the unavoidable reality that these are machines designed solely for one purpose: destroying things and people, and no matter how cool the nose-dive or barrel role the Angels perform that point stains and sullies like blood on Lady Macbeth’s hands. (I have wondered if I’d be equally excited to watch tanks or Humvees or naval destroyers maneuver, but none of them seems as appealing.)

Given the purpose and function of these machines, and given that our country is presently employing these and similarly designed machines in not one, not two, but three (3) wars (for with what other term can we label our present and increasingly intractable involvement in Libya?—a conflict? an international disagreement? a handslapping of Qadaffi’s peevishness?), cheering as a weapon whose sole purpose is combat/destruction flies over my home has become a little awkward.

I suppose such thoughts make me sound like a prudish downer, or worse, a leftist coastal elite: after all, what’s the harm if folks wanna unhitch the powerboat, dress up like pirates, get drunk and feel goddamned proud to be an American as fighter jets scream overhead? But really, what are we cheering if not the military-industrial-technological complex that, while arguably valid or necessary on some grounds, nevertheless is presently involved in killing people—real human people—in three different conflicts, each instance of which is admittedly terribly muddied and convoluted though in no case is it clear that our involvement is justified or defensible, to say nothing of our capacity to withdraw our troops from the morass that each situation has become?

There’s no smooth way to end this post. I’m rankled, but those who know me will realize this as nothing new. I certainly don’t have a solution, and even if I did have a clear voice I have the sense that the noise from the planes overhead would wash it right away.

2 Responses

  1. Rick Spencer

    I was just talking to Kate about this post and this very kind of reaction. I think it would actually be easier to understand if the f-18’s weren’t sort of disguised in garish colors and with names like “Blue Angels.” Seattle would have a marginally easier time with it if it was more honest; “Here are a few pilots from the VFA-97 Warhawks flying in close air support kit. Each of these men have flown 30-40 sorties over 2-3 deployments in the ___theater and have a operational record of…. We are fighting two wars.”

    My father was a Blackhawk mechanic for most of his career with a National Guard unit out of Frankfort KY. I would spend quite a bit of time there watching them land, wandering around the hanger, and punching guys in the nuts (yeah, ask me about that). So I was pretty accustomed to the loud sounds. I really enjoyed the yearly mock-operations they would put on display for NGBC families and locals. If the guys I’d been around had been more intellectually or professionally impressive, rather than just a group of ever-fattening smart-asses, I’d probably gone into the service myself.

    Comparatively, I don’t see much of the national war machine here in Seattle. I’m pretty comfortable with that. It definitely seems odd at first blush to think of the Blue Angels as part of SeaFair, and not some sort of Boeing-sponsored aviation day, but the F-18 is their product. I’ll be honest I don’t really know what the relationship is beyond that reasonable conjecture. Same with powerboats, are they a Seattle ‘thing?’

    This is all to say that I have a lot of the same neurotic, complicated ambivalence about their role in our skies, but I smile and am tickled to hear that roar overhead. I like to daydream that they’ll drop a couple blue/yellow JDAMs-of-joy on the Pike/Pine corridor. I suppose that joy is not connected to their purpose, but to my memories.

    • aaron

      Rick – thanks for your thoughts. Despite your suggestion for wider honesty I think this situation might be a lot like eating meat: greater transparency will only make us less rather than more comfortable, and I don’t believe we really want to think about these machines’ functions nor the pilots’ flying histories.
      I do agree that living here is bubble-forming: we see little-to-none of the war-machine on a daily basis, and yet you move outwards in a 50-mile radius from Seattle – McChord, Andrews, Kitsap – and there she be.
      Anyway, the Angels are now gone from our skies and we don’t have to be concerned about them round here for another year. That makes me smile, as does the thought of you punching airmen in the nuts.

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