Blake Fleetwood Opinion Original

It’s Not All Balloon Buffoonery: Weaponizing Anti-China Paranoia

Chinese weather balloon. Chase Doak, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Blake Fleetwood / Original to ScheerPost

The U.S. suffered worldwide embarrassment in the last two weeks while the American media and  Republican and Democratic politicians hyperventilated over four UFO balloons that turned out to be harmless.

At first the military wanted to keep everything about the Chinese balloon flight completely secret, but they were forced to address the issue when a picture of the large Chinese UFO balloon was printed in a small Montana newspaper by a local editor. 

The balloon frenzy took off across the country in  the major newspapers, cable news channels and social media.

The Republicans lost no time in taking political advantage of the brouhaha by portraying President Joe Biden as doddering and senile. 

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“He is not protecting us,” “Shoot it down,” they shouted from the hilltops.

UFOs, Aliens invading, and Chinese spies marauding about our skies are always good for headlines and whipping up mass hysteria. Be Scared. Very Scared! 

The White House response was not very helpful. Initially some generals seemed to suggest that the UFO might be of extraterrestrial origin: an alien invasion? The next day White House quickly took this back  and said they didn’t know what it was — even though they undoubtedly had high altitude U-2 planes flying around it for days, taking pictures. 

But think about it — if it was an alien invasion, you would hardly expect the government to admit it.

 What a panic that would be.

President Biden was forced to defend his manhood against the likes of Representative Majorie Taylor Green and responded to this “SHOOT THEM DOWN” bloodlust.

The Chinese, to their credit, quickly acknowledged their ownership of the UFO and said it was a weather balloon that had been blown off course by unusually strong westerly winds.

But for some unfathomable reason, the U.S. military persisted in clinging to a prolonged cloak of secrecy, even though they knew from the beginning what was going on. 

Maybe, politically the White House wanted to set up a dramatic scenario where President Biden could assert his tough guy, macho, war mongering muscles by orchestrating a mid-winter fireworks display — blasting this invading oriental UFO to smithereens.

The suspenseful charade went on for a week. To this day the U.S. military has never released close up pictures or the recovered remnants of this balloon and the three others that were subsequently discovered. 

President Biden eventually got his fireworks show when the UFO was shot down in a blaze of glory by a $143,000,000 USAF F-22 firing a $500,000 Sidewinder missile.

The three other other UFOs were similarly shot down but, over the weekend, came the embarrassing news that one of the UFOs shot down may have been a $12 hobby project belonging to the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Club Brigade. 

Finally, after seven days of suspense and secrecy, The Washington Post reported Friday that the Chinese explanation was probably true, citing government sources. Even the president and the  Pentagon, were forced to give some credence to the initial Chinese explanation and apology.

As it happened, the U.S. had been tracking the first UFO balloon from its launch on Hainan Island, in China 10 days ago. In fact, according to the latest Pentagon sources, this weather/surveillance balloon was headed not to the U.S. mainland, but to Guam and Hawaii, when it got blown off course, just like the Chinese said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin eventually admitted in a news conference that the object was never a military threat to people on the ground, but was shot down because it could have been a risk to civil aviation and “potentially an intelligence collection threat.” An unlikely explanation. Austin acknowledged that it was never meant to monitor our NORAD Air Force base in Montana.

But the big takeaway about all this is: why all the secrecy? No pictures, no debris for more than a week. All this information was hidden from the American people. Why aren’t they showing us all this stuff? When local authorities or the FBI routinely seize a cache of weapons or cocaine, they proudly spread it for all the media to see and take photos. 

Even today some senators, kept in the dark like the rest of us, still believe that the UFO was part of an alien invasion. “We are being invaded and the government is doing nothing to protect us,” according to legislators. Always good for a headline. 

After all, the Roswell N.M. UFO alien mystery has lasted more than 70 years and continues even today. The truth is that the UFO crash of 1947 was no more than a failed U.S. military spy balloon. But the government lied about classified programs for more than 50 years.

From the beginning the big Chinese UFO, given all the public angst about the invasion of American sovereignty, should have certainly been shot down over deserted and uninhabited portions of Alaska, the Yukon, Canada or Montana, where the remnants could have been easily picked up and examined. The official explanation — that shooting it down over land would have injured people on the ground — is a crock. On its own, it was more likely to come down dangerously over a population area.  

The White House certainly had no hesitation in downing the next three balloons over land. They didn’t seem to be worried about injuring innocent civilians then. 

When NORAD did finally blast the first UFO out of the sky, they shot where it would land in the ocean. Why not just puncture it with a high powered rifle or a small cannon so it would come down slowly and could be retrieved easily. Who knows?

The military didn’t express any worries about injuring civilians over land when they shot down the next three UFOs with the same expensive Sidewinder missile. Nor did they worry about where the large explosive Sidewinder missile would land.  One Sidewinder  missed its target because the missile is a massive overkill for the task and was not designed to hunt down slow moving balloons. They never did say where the errant missile landed. 

The government is claiming that it can’t find what’s left of the next three balloons. Hogwash!

When the UFO first wandered over U.S. territory. First reports had it flying at 75,000 feet, then 65,000 to 75,000 feet, then 60,000 feet. We will never really know.

This is important because there is no international agreement about where space begins, and many countries say that space begins at 62,000 feet and no government has sovereignty over anything higher..

Why would China launch a spy balloon in the first place? It would be a waste of money. They already have 68 military satellites orbiting the earth every few minutes. These satellites can already easily read the license plate number off a Montana sheriff’s car.

Our 122 U.S. military satellites can do the same thing, even better. Russia has 74 military satellites flying over the U.S., one every few minutes. 

It has been said that spying is the world’s second oldest profession.

 The U.S. reaction to the balloons brings back the scene in the classic movie “Casablanca” when Captain Renault  closes down Rick’s Cafe  using the pretext, “I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on!”

Since the beginning of the modern military, generals have dreamed of the ultimate Balloon Bomb. During World War II Japan launched 9,300 incendiary balloons toward the U.S. They were incensed after the Doolittle Raid in April 1942, which managed to firebomb downtown Tokyo from long range. The Japanese Fu-Go bombs were intended to start large forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. But only about 300 made it to the Americas. Riding on the prevailing  jet stream, the bombs were ineffective fire starters due to damp conditions, causing only  minor damage and six deaths in a single civilian incident in Oregon in May 1945.

At the time, all information about the Fu Go bombs was censored and blacked out.The news media and radio stations were prevented from writing or reporting about the balloon attacks for fear of inciting a mass panic.

In the 1950s the U.S. Air Force, under President Dwight Eisenhower, launched a weaponized balloon project called  Project Genetrix that was designed to spy over China, Eastern Europe, Cuba and the Soviet Union. The Genetrix balloons reached altitudes of 50,000 to 100,000 feet, well above the range of contemporary fighter planes.

Between Jan. 10 and Feb. 6, 1956, a total of 516 high-altitude Genetrix balloons were launched from Norway, Scotland, West Germany and Turkey. Only 31 provided usable photographs. Most of the balloons were shot down or blown off course, and the flights led to many diplomatic protests from the target countries. Russian MiG fighter pilots learned that at sunrise the balloons dipped into shooting range because they floated to a lower altitude. The lifting gas cooled at night and became denser, reducing lift.

In the late 1950s, the inefficient Genetrix balloons were replaced by the U-2 spy plane.  This high altitude plane, the brainchild of the CIA, was touted as a technological marvel traveling at altitudes of 70,000 feet. It is still flying today. The CIA said that it could take pictures of headlines in Russian newspapers as it flew over and that the Russians had nothing that could shoot it down and, anyway, the pilot had pills to kill himself. 

But on May 1, 1960 a U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union. The incident derailed a summit meeting between President Eisenhower and Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev that was scheduled for later that month. Khrushchev pulled off an incredible international coup when he produced not only the mostly-intact wreckage of the U-2, but also the captured pilot — very much alive.

There surely are  some underlying important issues behind all this UFO Sturm und Drang caused by both political parties.

Edward Snowden, the former CIA operative and whistleblower, who exposed how the CIA was listening to all of us, all the time, suggested that Washington deliberately created the UFO incidents to divert attention away from the U.S. role in blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipeline, explosive news recently revealed by Seymour Hersh.

But the most important issues between the U.S. and China are the increasing tensions over the real possibility that China will invade and reunify Taiwan as part of their motherland. The Chinese say the reunification possibility is real, but will it be non-violent?

Would we go to a major war — perhaps nuclear — with China over Taiwan? Who knows?

Storm clouds are gathering. Both superpowers long ago agreed on a policy of “strategic ambiguity.” President Biden has said that the United States would come to Taiwan’s military defense. But saying that we would defend Taiwan doesn’t mean we could, without a massive cost or that we would win. 

In order to convince Americans to go to war, an overwhelming majority must be persuaded that there is an “imminent threat” to our way of life. This requires a substantial amount of groundwork, war propaganda, much of which, in the past, was based on outright lies. We saw these fabrications at work in justifying the war in Vietnam and again before the attack on Iraq and other military fiascos. Vietnam was never going to be the domino that would lead to Communist domination of Asia. Saddam Hussein never possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” 

Over the last few years there has been a very active campaign to demonize China, supported by elements in the media, the military-industrial complex and many politicians. Fox News analyst Rebekah Koffler used the balloon incident to declare that China is already at war with America and “Biden is ignoring the signals.”   This war mongering lobby is trying to drum up anti-China feelings to influence major elements of the U.S. government, the media and the public.

Another example is a recent leaked memo by Gen. Michael A. Minihan, commander of the U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, which said he had a “gut feeling” that the U.S. will be at war with China in 2025. Written to soldiers under his command, it was clearly meant to spur them to “attain higher readiness, integration, and agility” deemed necessary to win in such a fight.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the recent Chinese spy balloon over the United States presents security challenges for the 30-member alliance as well as countries around the globe.

Senator Chuck Schumer said in an interview with ABC’s This Week that the Chinese were “caught lying” about the balloon and its intended purpose.

“The Chinese were humiliated,” said Schumer.  “The Chinese were caught lying. I think it’s a real step back for them. 

“This group  understands that the American people will not support such a dangerous war unless the public can be convinced, by weaponizing fear and panic, that China is an “imminent threat” to America.
As the greatest war propagandist of all time, Nazi General Hermann Göring  said in a post war World War II debriefing interview before he committed suicide:

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor … in Germany. That is understood. … It is the leaders of the country who determine the policy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism.” 

One  rational explanation for Biden’s recent aggressive military actions, and rhetoric, against what turned out to be a phantom threat, is trying to avoid a looming U.S.– China crisis by signaling to the Chinese that they will not be able to take Taiwan back without serious military consequences.

But this is a dangerous gamble, a two edged sword, that may spin out of control and lead to a horrific geopolitical nightmare.

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Blake Fleetwood
Blake Fleetwood

Blake Fleetwood was formerly a reporter on the staff of The New York Times and has written for The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, The New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Village Voice, Atlantic, and the Washington Monthly on a number of issues. He was born in Santiago, Chile and moved to New York City at the age of four. He graduated from Bard College and did graduate work in political science and comparative politics at Columbia University. He has also taught politics at New York University.

CC-BY-NC-ND is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license. CC-BY-NC-ND only applies to ORIGINAL ScheerPost content.

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