The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

AIR POWER AT WORK: Before I begin, I should make clear that I have absolutely no military credentials whatsoever other than a passing interest in history and politics, so when I offer an opinion on this sort of thing the reader should take what I say with a couple of pounds of salt. Unlike some people I could mention; Noam Chomsky comes immediately to mind; I don’t think that expertise in one field confers any special insight into another field, even if the two fields are somewhat related; I wouldn’t ask my urologist to fix the plumbing in my house, for example, and I’m sure you wouldn’t, either.

Having said that, I see in the papers that the government of Thailand, faced with a restive Muslim population in its southernmost provinces, and what country eager for world attention and American military aid does not have a restive Muslim population these days, has decided to drop millions of origami cranes on these very same restive Muslims as a symbol of goodwill. Origami, as you may know, is the Japanese art of folding paper into various shapes—it’s almost a form of transient sculpture, really-and people who know about this sort of thing tell me that the paper crane is a symbol of peace. This may well be the case, and I will support any reasonable effort to bring about peace, harmony, and understanding amongst the peoples of the Earth, but it seems to me that the best way to make a large population of restive Muslims even more restive is to spend millions of dollars littering on them.

Beyond the cost of having to clean up all that paper, and in a humid climate like Thailand’s picking up all that wet, clumpy paper for recycling will be nightmarish in the extreme, it seems to me that the military efficacy of origami as a form of ordnance is unproved, as compared to such traditional materials as dynamite. Even when compared to other nontraditional air force ordnance such as chicken salad sandwiches or jars of orange marmalade, and I mean real marmalade with the chunks of orange rind in it, not the sickly sweet jelly by any other name that American supermarkets fob off on the unsuspecting consumer as marmalade, origami cranes seem singularly lame as a weapon of war. There’s just something about dropping a paper crane from a warplane that, to my mind, connotes a certain lack of seriousness about the entire enterprise. A restive Muslim struck on the head by a jar of orange marmalade falling at thirty-two feet per second per second is rendered hors de combat, at least for a little while, permitting a short period of rest to his restiveness, but the same person struck on the head with a paper crane is rendered cranky and deeply annoyed, as when one of your in-laws, someone you never really liked to begin with, asks you for a loan.

The papers also report that school children in the affected provinces have put out large nets to catch the cranes as they fall to earth. This seems to negate the whole purpose of air power, as I understand that purpose. Traditionally, the targets of air raids do not mark their locations with large X’s or bull’s-eyes. During World War II, for example, factories went to great lengths to disguise themselves as golf courses, hospitals, pig farms or some other militarily inoffensive institution. Given this history then, making the task of the enemy air force easier by stringing up large and very visible nets does seem counterintuitive, as does the whole concept of trying to catch a bomb, unless you are a wide receiver.

In addition to this, the papers further report that the Prime Minister of Thailand, whose idea this was in the first place, wrote a message of peace and reconciliation on one of the cranes and then signed it, announcing afterwards on nationwide television that whoever finds this particular crane will, if an adult, get a job, or, if a child, receive a scholarship. This removes this somewhat odd project from the realm of counterinsurgency, I think, and into the realm of promoting lotteries, which is not altogether a bad thing, as this sort of thing goes. There’s nothing more likely to make people less restive than the hope of having their number hit and their money troubles solved in the blink of an eye. I would imagine, what with winter coming on, that New York State’s own goddess of good luck and great fortune, Yolanda Vega, a nice lady who tells the millions of my fellow New Yorkers who play the state lottery every day what the winning numbers for that day are, wouldn’t mind a trip to exotic Thailand in order to promote peace and goodwill among the people of that tropical country. It certainly beats staying here up to her ears in the snow.



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