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Planes Collide, Common Sense Misses

Guest Column
Andrej Bogdanov

The relentless media obsession over the fate of the American plane crew caught spying off the Chinese coast reached its climax on Saturday, as the 24 servicemen and women were welcomed back to their home base by a stampede of military personnel, officials, journalists and the occasional patriotic citizen. Driven by an absurd pursuit to outdo one another in the dramatization of the rather unexciting event, television networks and newspapers alike had no choice left but to proceed with an appeal to the basest of all instincts: national pride. A gargantuan American flag dominating the otherwise scant decor at the homecoming site provided a more than fair distillation of the whole experience.

The pundits of the day were quick to react to the narcissistic tone of self-admiration set by the media. The Bush administration was praised by Republicans and Democrats alike for its tough and uncompromising attitude towards the Chinese government. All talk of possible American fault for the incident was immediately dropped, as the heroes of the day confirmed our suspicions that they were bullied by a Chinese maverick fighter who obstructed their evident right to freely roam a spy plane within miles of Chinese territory.

The numbing of common sense by such outbursts of national pride prevents us from asking the most obvious question: why are we spending taxpayer money to support spying missions over the Chinese coast? Under the pretext of preserving our national security, we are indulging in aggressive military practices on the other side of the planet. Even with the boosted ego of the one and only military superpower left in the world, it would be too crude to blatantly state that as self-appointed defenders of the free world, we have the exclusive right to spy over whomever we like whenever we please to do so.

Yet given the astoundingly isolationist tone of the administration’s foreign policy, such statements may come as no surprise in the near future. Caught in the deadly game of nationalist euphoria, diplomats in Washington are competing to find the most devilish form of punishment for the Chinese sinners. Amidst overwhelming support from all sides, Bush and his staff are quietly contemplating the awful monster they created.

As usual, the big businesses which control the political mood in Washington will not remain dissatisfied. Weapons manufacturers are looking forward to enormous profits as the long-awaited sale of aircraft carriers, bomber planes and missiles to Taiwan is expected to obtain overwhelming approval in Congress. It is only natural for the supporters of this lucrative deal to argue that a massive buildup of the Taiwanese military is the only answer to the overwhelming threat of its powerful neighbor.

Yet that argument hopelessly fails when it comes to our own hemisphere. We only need to go back a few decades. As the Soviets were trying to sell weapons to Cuba in 1962, America dismissed such a possibility by threatening a nuclear attack. The affair is lauded in history books as the crowning achievement of the Kennedy administration. The lessons of history are easily forgotten when the interests of the rich and powerful are in question.

Recent history holds an even more relevant lesson: outbursts of national pride yield massive misery. Perhaps our mighty military can protect us from that misery, but we must bear no illusion about it.

Andrej Bogdanov is a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.