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These coronavirus flyovers have got to stop
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These coronavirus flyovers have got to stop

'These planes can’t bomb the virus into oblivion'

When I first heard about the flyovers over New York City a few days ago, my first response was shock. An image came into my head: I’m looking out the window above my desk in Manhattan the afternoon of September 11, 2001. My boss and I are unsure of what to do, so I’m painting a ceramic bunny rabbit at my desk. And then I see F-16s dotting the sky in the spaces between the buildings.

I dove under my desk.

I’m not the only one who flashed back to 9/11 when the idea of planes flying low over Manhattan was proposed to honor frontline workers and somehow provide some kind of solace or something to Americans during this coronavirus pandemic. And now we seem to have a pandemic of flyovers. The Phoenix area recently saw two flyovers: one to honor healthcare workers, and another to commemorate the end of World War II. The Arizona National Guard did a flyover starting in Prescott over the Navajo Nation and ending in Gallup, N.M., last week.

Now, Tucson’s own Davis-Monthan Air Force Base announced on Facebook that they will do a flyover above Tucson on Thursday to “salute our local heroes fighting COVID-19.”

I just don’t understand how fighter jets or airplanes are comforting. In fact, fighter jets flying over cities may be traumatizing for a lot of people.

Granted, I have a deep history when it comes to fearing fighter jets. And I’ve luckily never lived in an actual war zone. I grew up in a house under the flight path of Davis-Monthan. Every day, fighters flew over my house with such volume and intensity that I was convinced one would eventually crash into my house. One evening during dinner when I was about eight, a plane did fly so low that it nearly hit our eucalyptus tree. We could see it out the window. My dad grabbed my sister and I and pushed us under the dining room table.

When I was older, I learned that actually, a fighter had crashed into the neighborhood close to my parents’ house at the time when my mom was pregnant with me. Could that trauma have been imprinted on me in utero? Probably.

Also, my paternal grandfather was in the Air Force during World War II. Family legend has it that he was the one who had to deliver the data to the Pentagon that showed that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the only way to win the war, and my grandfather felt intense guilt about that role he played in that history his whole life. Could there be some kind of epigenetic transfer of my grandfather’s guilt that manifests itself as a fear and loathing of fighter jets in me? Perhaps.

Regardless, these days, I don’t live in the flight path anymore, but when there’s an air show at Davis-Monthan and the planes are practicing over the city all day, I usually take my kids and drive as far out of town as we can get.

So the idea of these flyovers as some sort of celebration, as something somehow soothing, seems completely preposterous to me.

What are fighter jets if not symbols of terror, of destruction? They are in essence weapons of mass destruction, winged tanks, fast-moving guns. They are designed to kill people. And kill people they do. The U.S. Air Force bombs countries with its fighter jets more frequently than most people probably realize. The most recent one was just a few weeks ago, on March 13 in Iraq. There was one in January, too. For a good number of refugees who are living in this country now, the sight and sound of U.S. fighter jets flying over is certainly triggering past and likely creating new trauma.

What is the message supposed to be? These planes can’t bomb the virus into oblivion.

There is no logical reason for these flyovers other than military posturing and nationalistic distraction. The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds and Arizona Air National Guard can’t save us from COVID-19. But they can cause a level of fear and anxiety in a lot of people, and more fear and anxiety is the last thing we need right now.

Couldn’t we have something less war-mongering, less loud? What about hot air balloons, or lanterns, or butterflies? What if we repainted the Goodyear Blimp to say “STAY HOME” and put a cute mask on it? Even that would be better than fighter jets flying over cities.  

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