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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Take note, Canada

Yesterday, I went to the Canadian National Exhibition here in Toronto. The featured act of the CNE yesterday (and today and tomorrow) was an air show. The weather was picture-perfect, and it was impressive watching the planes do their tricks over Lake Ontario. One or two Canadian stunt pilots were featured, as well as a new Canadian-built short-haul airliner and the Snowbirds aerial demonstration team (Canada's answer to the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels). Nevertheless, the show was dominated by the US military.

The show began with an F-18A Super Hornet, which flew numerous low and loud passes, as well as doing some tricks. Then, after three impressive but typical aerobatic acts, the PA microphone was handed over to some staff sergeant PR types from the Air Force. They mentioned repeatedly that this is the 60th anniversary of the US Air Force, and they "celebrated" this by showing a World War II-era P-51 Mustang, an F-16 Falcon (aka Viper), and the new F-22 Raptor. As if the phenomenal demostrations of power and maneuverability were not enough, each plane was introduced by the staff sergeant announcers as being or having been "the most lethal aircraft" ever. (All the staff sergeants had a jingoistic southern twang to their speech, even the guy from Michigan.) And I doubt if anyone in the crowd disagreed with that description of the Raptor. Ugly and big (about twice the size of the F-16), the Raptor did the same types of high- and low-speed passes that the F-16 did, as well as the vertical climbs. Amazingly, it also did most of the same tricks that the little aerobatic planes had done earlier, including some tumbles and appearing to just float in the air. The staff sergeant said "the Raptor is prepared to defend freedom around the globe" or some such BS.

The Canadian announcers weren't much better, always thanking their "friends from the south" for being willing to come perform here in Canada. When planes like the F-16 and the C-17A that the Pentagon has condescended to allow Canada to purchase were shown, the announcers gushed over this fact. The announcer did mention that the multi-billion dollar purchase of C-17A's by the Canadian Air Force had been controversial in Parliament, but stated that the fact that the first one had just delivered war material to Canadian troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan was "proof" that the decision to purchase the plane from Boeing was the right one. He bragged that with planes like the C-17A, Canada's Air Force was prepared to "defend human rights and freedom both here and abroad."

I imagine that there were many Canadians in the audience who realized that the people of Afghanistan and Iraq get a US "air show" every day, and that the main reason the USAF is willing to put on such a show in Canada is to remind the Canadians of their secondary status. "Hah--you waste all your money on health care, while we spend ours on the 'most lethal aircraft ever'!"

On a superficial level, an enjoyable experience in a beautiful setting. On a deeper level, the whole thing was quite disturbing.