Blue angels flyover in Pensacola, Florida
(Image by (From Wikimedia) A sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, Author: A sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy) Details Source DMCA
By April 15, the number of Americans who died from coronavirus causes was officially tabulated at about 31,000.
Failing to take control of the public health situation, what were they thinking in the White House? Maybe something like: OK, let's see, what would be a really good distraction from everyone pointing their fingers at us -- how about a deeply meaningful way to honor medical personnel who have risked their lives and suffered higher mortality than the rest of us for the past three months and, probably, well into the future?
How about a whole bunch of flyovers across the nation by military warplanes designed to kill millions in moments? Perfect! And no chance of infection of the pilots! As President Trump put it on April 22:
"I'm excited to announce that in the coming weeks, the Air Force Thunderbirds -- are incredible -- and the Navy Blue Angels, equally incredible, will be performing air shows over America's major cities. What we're doing is we're paying tribute to our front line health care workers confronting COVID. And it's really a signal to all Americans to remain vigilant during the outbreak. This is a tribute to them, to our warriors. Because they are equal warriors to those incredible pilots and all of the fighters that we have for the more traditional fights that we win and we win."
The next day the Thunderbirds and Blue angels combined for a joint flyover in Pensacola, Florida, where the Blue Angels are based. A dozen warplanes performed in the Pensacola flyover, at an estimated cost of $40,000 per hour, per plane. In all, the event cost more than half a million dollars.
Although Trump was taking credit for this display of American military might as a gesture to life-threatening health care, the whole project was planned, packaged, and promoted by the American military for its own purposes.
On April 11, almost two weeks before Trump announced the idea, the Pentagon put on a prototype in Las Vegas. The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds performed an eight-plane flyover in Las Vegas, near the Nellis Air Force Base. "It is an honor to fly for the Americans at the forefront of our nation's fight against the coronavirus," said Lt. Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbirds commander and leader, in the official Air Force announcement, which also urged spectators not to gather together to watch the airshow but to view it from the safety of their backyards. The event cost an estimated $320,000.
Two days after Trump's announcement, the Pentagon had already managed to schedule the Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds, and other units (including the Goodyear Blimp) for more than 100 events almost daily through May 25 in at least 41 states.
Looking forward to the April 30 Utah flyover, a rare dissent came from Seth Jarvis, retired director of the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City. Jarvis wrote to the Deseret News:
"I love aviation. Chuck Yeager signed my private pilot log book. To me, the National Air and Space Museum is a holy place. But when I read that on the afternoon of April 30 a trio of F-35 fighters from Hill Air Force Base will be flying up and down Utah in an effort to cheer us up, I cannot help but think about the insanity of it all...
"I will stand in my driveway Thursday afternoon, wearing a home-sewn face mask, and admire the planes as they fly down the Salt Lake Valley. But as I watch them, I will be thinking about our nation's deeply irrational and dysfunctional priorities."
In Arizona on May 1, at least 15 U.S. Air Force and National Guard warplanes conducted an hour or more of flyovers around Phoenix. The planes included seven F-35s, seven F-16s, and a KC-135 tanker. Air Force Times predictably reported that "Air Force Brig. Gen. Todd Canterbury said the participating military personnel are honored to extend heartfelt gratitude to health care workers and others fighting the outbreak." The 15-plane air show cost an estimated $600,000.
Media coverage of these flyovers was largely local and fawning. Like most American politicians, reporters and editors chose to take the story at the face value presented by the White House, without asking awkward questions about the obvious absurdities of flyovers honoring people who were underpaid, under-protected, and short of vital supplies. One exception was Reason magazine on May 5: "Empty displays of ritual militarism are always a waste of time, money, and goodwill, but especially during a pandemic." However the typical media tone was more like this coverage from Mass Live on May 4:
Two military demonstration teams, the Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels, have been making flyovers of American cities over the past few weeks in an effort to thank front-line workers and first responders. Those teams flew over New York and New Jersey last week and Baltimore, Washington and Atlanta over the weekend.
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