Monday, 23 August 2010
Top Gun twaddle
Ryanair fly here. As we sit on the balcony having our evening meal, the occasional harp-tailed plane drones overhead, on its way to Perpignan airport. Typical Ryanair, mind you - they don't fly from either Belfast or Dublin, so if Irish people like myself want to fly with them, you have to first get to one of their airports in England. I wasted a lot of time checking out possible connections before stumbling on the fact that Aer Lingus fly here direct from Belfast. Michael O'Leary may say insulting things about Aer Lingus but it looks like they've wiped his eye on this one.
Ryanair and Aer Lingus aren't the only planes to occupy the Catalan evening air. Yesterday and the day before, I was at the cheese-and-liqueur stage when a sound louder and more insistent than normal filled the skies. Six fighter jets in tight formation, with a seventh bringing up the rear, whined across the deepening blue sky. Passenger planes aren't allowed within three miles of each other but these testosterone-fuelled beauties looked to be no more than thirty metres apart.
Why? I presume it's something to do with acting as a unit if they're in a conflict situation. Like a squad of soldiers, they start off close together, go off individually or in smaller teams to do their dirty work and then re-group. Although it still seems to me terribly risky to have people flying so close to one another.
The other why of all this is more baffling. The French defence budget is roughly the same as that of Britain, which is an annual £40bn (mind you, that's not including the £130bn the British plan to spend to replace the Trident nuclear submarine programme). Why does either country spend so much money and who are they protecting their people from? In France, it goes back to de Gaulle. He looked at the Spanish Civil War, when the American politicians refused to support the Spanish Republicans because they figured it might cost them votes. De Gaulle vowed that France would not allow voters in the American Mid-West to shape its future and so he developed his 'force de frappe' - a nuclear strike capability that gave France, he argued, independence from the United States.The fighter planes I saw overhead the other evening are not capable of carrying nuclear weapons but they're part of that same mentality, one shared by Britain, that national independence demands a really strong - in the case of nuclear weapons, suicidally strong - war machine you can call your own.
It's all rubbish, of course.There's the hypocrisy of a country like Britain preaching to Irish people, for example, that they should resolve their differences peacefully. Meanwhile they themselves spend £40bn a year on ways to kill people. Then there's the notion that France or Britain could go it alone in a major war. They're both members of the EU, they both have close ties with the US. There isn't the remotest chance that an attack on a major European country wouldn't provoke a lethal response from the other EU members and the US. And we haven't even asked the most obvious question: who's going to launch a major attack on France or Britain?
The whole notion of national defence systems, and particularly go-it-alone systems, requires serious rethinking, particularly at a time when thousands are becoming unemployed because stupid and greedy people screwed up a stupid and greedy capitalist system. As things stand, the fighter planes that streak high above our balcony and the nuclear submarines that Britain is about to replace are cripplingly expensive and morally contemptible displays of Colonel Blimp thinking.