Flyover America

Time for Tradition to End


I may be the only person in America who is in favor of military sequestration. I realize that it impacts people, including many local families who depend on the military for direct or indirect employment. That said, much of the economy – and economic choices – surrounding the US military in recent decades are inefficient, illustrating what Noam Chomsky described as “socialized costs, privatized profits.” No matter what war we look at in our nation’s history, the common thread is that a subset of patriotic Americans is getting PAID. Which is fine – someone has to!

It is beyond this column’s scope to weigh the pros and cons of having a global military presence, of funding and otherwise abetting movements throughout what was once called the Third World, and so forth. But given the long-standing tradition of having military flyovers at Jacksonville Jaguars games, it is instructive to look at the use of military displays as propaganda, specifically designed to shape the short-term thought processes and long-term philosophical inclinations of those watching. What effect is the displays intended to create? And what is the real loss when those displays no longer happen?

A few days back, it was reported that the military sequestration process, among other effects, would end flyovers at all sporting events going forward. As Vito Stellino from the Florida Times-Union reported, the Air Force conducts “about 1000 flyovers at sporting events per year as part of their training routines.” A few of those flyovers, as you would expect, are at Jags’ games

There are some who believe that the Jacksonville Jaguars’ organization was instrumental in making those displays happen. That confusion wasn’t cleared up necessarily by team President Mark Lamping, who said, “We’ve only heard rumors and haven’t received any confirmation, but the flyovers have been an important part of the Jaguars games and a way to honor and celebrate our military.”

First of all, let me be perfectly clear. In a country like ours, which predicates so much of its national identity on its global military presence and its ability to effect change in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the hotspots that are emerging even now, it is essential to “honor and celebrate our military.” It’s good for business – at this point, we expect such displays at Jags games. At some point, though, those expectations have to change. Why not now? Why do we need to see the same flight routines, week after week? Whose interests are served by this?

In one sense, the answer is obvious. Just as the Jaguars get the obvious PR boost from having these displays at their events (as there is precious little overlap between the realm of hardcore pro football fans and the Occupy crowd), the military itself gets a rub. For a little kid, seeing fighter jets piercing the blue skies over EverBank Field can be inspirational – even revelatory.

In a culture that seems to be forever divesting itself of traditional definitions of masculinity, the idea of the Top Gun seems even more irreproachably Alpha Male than it might have a generation or two ago. Combine that with the inescapable reality about the American home in this age of increased single-parentage, and it is clear that there is a distinct lack of male role models performing masculine functions. For boys who could go “wayward”, falling prey to the sonic depredations of rappers glorifying the paramilitary subcultures of the drug distribution world, it is especially important for them to see positive role models. For most people, the men of the military serve as just that.

Moving beyond the symbolic value of the displays, it should be conceded that there is a practical value for the military itself. In exploring that value, there might be some question about whether the flyovers really need to stop at all.

“The Thunderbirds are expected to stand down effective April 1. (Las Vegas) is pretty much going to be, I think, the last flyover you’ll see for a while from us,” Wendy Varhegyi, chief of the engagement division for Air Force public affairs, told USA Today. She then went on to say that there is no additional cost to the government for support of any public events,” since, “if you see a unit fly over a football game, that is 90 seconds out of a several hour training sort that they’re flying.”

So, then, why stop the flyovers at sporting events? Varhegyi’s words demystify the process, giving the lie to the idea that by hosting flyovers, the Jaguars are going above and beyond to honor the military. As the money starts to run out on a federal level, we can expect to find out more about how things are funded and why they happen. For those of us who enjoy transparency in governmental accounting, these promise to be interesting times ahead.

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