Karl Marx famously said in the Eighteenth Brumaire that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” While there are many examples of this insight from history, Marx could not foresee how farce would become the staple of the US ruling class, how elites would defend what they see as their interests with a web of calculated deception extending beyond the limits of the absurd.
Like the mad General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s great film, Dr. Strangelove, an Air Force four-star General, Mike Minihan, “sent a memo on Friday [January 27] to the officers he commands that predicts the U.S. will be at war with China in two years and tells them to get ready to prep by firing ‘a clip’ at a target, and ‘aim for the head,’” as reported by NBC News. Further, the deranged General “directs all AMC [Air Mobility Command] personnel to ‘consider their personal affairs and whether a visit should be scheduled with their servicing base legal office to ensure they are legally ready and prepared.’”
Further evidence of the 1950s Cold War-like craze possessing the military and infecting a gullible public came on February 1 when the US Air Force designated a proposed Chinese-owned corn mill as a “significant threat to national security.” With 370 acres of farmland, Shandong-based Fufeng group saw an opportunity to mill corn to supplement the company’s food additive business. According to Yahoo!news, the locals saw the corn mill as an “economic development success” until the military warning turned them against the plans. North Dakota’s two Senators loudly led the chorus shutting down the project.
The Great Balloon Fiasco
The world woke up during the first week of February with a new and ominous threat-- a great balloon was floating slowly through the Stratosphere across some Western US states. Unnamed “officials” declared that the balloon was a Chinese spy balloon, sent to discover some profound military secrets. The declaration was followed by incriminations from politicians of both major parties, denouncing the treacherous Chinese Communists for their perfidy.
As hysteria mounted and civilians began to report new sightings of imaginary new balloons, a few dissident voices noted that balloon spying was a dated, obsolete technology superseded by advanced high-altitude, manned airplane overflights, which have been themselves replaced by satellites and high-tech cameras. Why would the Chinese use a balloon for espionage?
But “experts” emerged who claimed that there may well be an ever-so-slight advantage to be gained by proximity and slow speed. None of the overpaid newsreaders who occupy network anchor chairs noted that since the balloon had first been detected over Alaska, the military authorities had plenty of time to rush out to Walmart to buy tarpaulins to cover the sensitive military installations from the prying eyes of the balloon’s master.
Officials in Peoples’ China admitted that it was their balloon-- a meteorological balloon-- but denied that it was a spy balloon. They might well have pointed out that it was odd that the US government would make such a fuss when it publicly claimed nearly a year ago that it was planning to engage in balloon-spying and to direct it at the Russian Federation and the Peoples’ Republic of China!
But it gets better…
As the balloon precedes slowly across the US on a course bound for the mid-Atlantic states, politicians, retired military experts, and pundits denounce the inaction on the part of the Biden Administration and the military. Goaded into a response, the military launched its most sophisticated stealth jets to intercept it-- apparently to ensure that the enormous balloon could not take evasive action. A $400,000 Sidewinder missile brought the balloon down off the coast of South Carolina before the intruder could escape our valiant air-defense command.
Not only was the South Carolina engagement the most expensive combat victory over a balloon in history, but it was the first kill for the US’s most expensive fighter, except in war games, movies, and novels. No doubt the pilot will stencil a balloon on the fuselage of his F-22.
But this last-minute response to the cackling of the chicken hawks would not suffice. The naysayers continued to attack the Administration’s response-- not enough, too late. At the same time, comedians could not resist poking fun at the alleged national-security threat from a mere balloon.
To respond to both and underscore the seriousness of the balloon threat to our security, unnamed officials announced that spy balloons had penetrated our stout defenses earlier, including at least three times during the Trump administration. Rather than quieting the warmongers and snuffing out the levity, the defense officials opened a new can of worms.
Trump’s defense officials, including career bureaucrats and Trump haters like China-phobic John Bolton, claimed no knowledge of earlier incursions.
Even the unimaginative, power-ingratiating media could not reconcile the two claims: documented balloon incursions and an unknowing Administration. Did the military shield the information from civilian authorities? Was this proper? What does this mean?
To resolve this dilemma and close the can of worms, unnamed senior Biden Administration officials came forward with a new narrative: The earlier incursions were unknown at the time and only discovered later, after the change in administration.
This led to the undoubtedly unintended parody embedded in The Wall Street Journal headline: U.S. Says Balloons Weren’t Detected. If they weren’t detected, how do we know they were there?
Of course, the military has an answer: they found out later, but how they found out must remain a secret. “Gen. Glen VanHerck, the head of U.S. Northern Command, said Monday that the Defense Department ‘did not detect’ the previous balloons, adding that the intelligence community was made aware of them through other means of information collection,” according to Politico.
CNN reports that General VanHerck, the commander of US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, attributes the failure to a “domain awareness gap”. Thus, the failure to detect three balloons, but to discover their presence later, is explained through a mystifying, arcane piece of military jargon: a “domain awareness gap.” Shades of “Advance to the rear!”
Predictably, the stalwart defenders of our interests in the House of Representatives voted 419-0 denouncing China’s “brazen violation of United States sovereignty,” with a balloon.
Like its precedent in the 1950s, today’s war mongers advance Cold War hysteria, regardless of how we view The Great Balloon Fiasco.
If the balloon were merely an errant private meteorological balloon, then the fact that its predecessors advanced across the US undetected would demonstrate the need for more vigilance, more advanced detection capacity, better interception possibilities, and more personnel-- a gift to the Pentagon’s budget.
But if the balloon is authentically a surveillance device, then we presumably have more reason not to trust the Communist leaders and must prepare for further aggression-- with a bigger military budget.
Both are ridiculous conclusions that follow from ridiculous, outlandish, and malignant premises. Balloons constitute no more security risk than the spy satellites that are commonplace today and ensure a relatively fair playing field in international affairs.
Yet the US State Department used the ill-fated balloon as an excuse to cancel Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s trip to Beijing-- a trip scheduled to reach understanding and lessen the tensions between the two countries, a peace that the US government doesn’t want.
While it is impossible not to see the absurdity-- the farce-- in these developments, they have deadly serious consequences. As their historical precedents did in stirring the Cold War pot, China-bashing prepares the US for war. The reckless provocations, the groundless charges, and the constant baiting of Peoples’ China all raise the risk of war.
We have seen this before, most recently in the US behavior leading up to the war in Ukraine.
It must be resisted.
postscript: Yesterday, February 10, the US government announced that they had shot down "a high altitude object" over Alaskan air space. According to The Wall Street Journal, an unnamed Defense Department official said that "[t]he object didn't initially appear to belong to a government." Aliens, perhaps? The insanity continues...