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Hand Grenades

Before I get into the crux of the matter, congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs on their Superbowl LVII win. I had mixed feelings for whom I was rooting. Half of me wanted the team that beat my New York Giants (the Eagles) to win and the other half wanted the Chiefs, tomahawk chops aside, to prevail as they were my emotional favorite. Their second-half onslaught and final-minute field goal made it a thrilling game. It was also nice to see Damar Hamlin in the stands. It wasn’t that long ago the Buffalo Bills tackle nearly died on the football field from a low-probability cardiac arrest after a routine tackle.


Now from the sublime to the ridiculous. Last week as I write, a large balloon-like device floated out of northeast China, and proceeded  over the Aleutian Islands, across a portion of Alaska,  and down the western portion of Canada. It seemed to hover over Montana forever or at least the news media  made it seem that way. Finally, and thankfully, when it made its way over the Atlantic ocean off the coast of South Carolina, a U.S. fighter plane administered the coups de grâce with An air-to-air missile.  A couple days later, a small device was shot down over frozen water off the Canadian coast and a day ago, a third device was downed by an American plane working with NORAD over Lake Huron. Immediately, the recriminations began emanating from Congress. Conservative and liberal Senators and Representatives questioned why the military and the President waited so long to shoot down the first aircraft. Make no mistake, the questions were criticisms. The second and third ones were shot down all too quickly, in my opinion, because of those criticisms.


Why did the Chinese send the first balloon? At this writing, all too soon after the first event, the military continues to believe as it did almost immediately, that the device was equipped with technology that could “listen in” on cell phone communications from key missile bases in Montana. Key to their decision-making was the conviction that the device could gather no intelligence not already available to the Chinese via spy satellites in low orbit. No need, they advised President Biden, to shoot it down until it was over water where it wouldn’t hurt anyone. After all, at more than 60,000 feet in altitude, it posed no interference to civilian airlines. I found myself wondering if there wasn’t a gentler way to bring it down. After all, it was only a balloon.


Notwithstanding, The Navy has begun recovering parts of the payload including a significant portion of an antenna. Stay tuned, but I think we will learn that China did indeed send a spy balloon over the U.S., perhaps as part of a tit-for-tat for the U.S. having done likewise, at least according to the Chinese.


The second and third objects were shot down quickly because their altitudes, 40,000 feet and 20,000 feet, respectively, were a menace to civilian aircraft. Although probably true, this, in my view, was a convenient reason. The heightened and quick response to UFO’s is probably more politically driven than anything else.


Right away, politicians sought advantage in criticizing the President and military for its “late” detection of the first balloon and its “slow” response to its proper dispatch. The jury is still out on this, but something tells me NORAD spotted the balloon in good time and the decision to let it ride was a deliberate one. Nonetheless, politicians predictably commenced bashing. Now spooked, the President and Canadian Prime Minister are shooting first and asking questions later.


The Chinese have taken a page out of the Vladmir Putin and Donald Trump playbooks. Once again and predictably, it worked perfectly. Putin and Trump love tossing hand grenades into anything that seems normal and functional. You name it. From the American electoral process to any semblance of normal human conduct, they love disruption. And when it is so easy like the current state of American and perhaps Canadian democracy is in, it is really easy to get our politicians to go into feeding frenzies. They will tear each other to shreds faster than hungry sharks in a blood-filled tank.


The Chinese must be loving this. Whether they intended it or not and they might have, they now know more about how American politicians respond to the unusual. This knowledge shouldn’t be surprising. After all, it has been part of the American cultural ethos to act deliberately and humanely until pushed to the brink. Take our entry into World Wars I and II, especially II. The biggest obstacle facing FDR was how to motivate the American people into a war footing. It took the attack on Pearl Harbor to turn the tide of much anti-war resistance. We continue in the same mode today, a sane, rationale and humane mode, one that shows that we as a people are willing to put ourselves in harm’s way for the sake of peace. Those who recommend a hair-trigger response, perhaps frightened as “bullies” tend to be, are also posturing. If the Chinese wish to mess with our heads, they may now be assured, we will not be torn asunder and we will act swiftly and forcefully. That is our message to the grenade-throwers.


What I worry about is the goading to which we have succumbed in order to deliver this “don’t tread on me” message. It didn’t take much to get us there. Now we will use the force of NORAD to shoot down every unidentified flying object  that enters our air space. Hopefully, none of them will be extra-terrestrial. No doubt they would not stand for such actions. Neither should we.


Instead, we should return to deliberate action, holding our own while at the same time being quicker to assess danger than perhaps we were a few days ago. Let’s also be more careful not to fall for the tricksters, the hand grenade throwers who would push us into turmoil at the drop of a hat and turn us against each other.


Anthony R. Candela, Author

Saying aloud what should not remain silent.

February 13, 2023

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