It is Fleet Week in Hippyville. San Francisco, that great City of the Summer of Love, the place where flowers are put into barrels of Vietnam soldier’s guns, and just down the road in Los Angeles, a band called Love, played Forever Changes, warning that the mud in the tub turns into blood. This is not a militaristic kind of town. We don’t really do that hoorah shit. Peace, love and hallucinogenic drugs, yes. Pride parades, The Grateful Dead and parties in Golden Gate Park, sure thing. Artists collectives, and creative start ups, cool old drinking holes, hikes up hill to run errands, and lazy afternoons looking out over the Bay towards Alcatraz watching the ships come in, is more our style than the dick swinging death worship of that is airborne military displays.
It felt like the end of the world had arrived, complete with fighter jets making passes over downtown buildings (yeah yeah, I don’t much care if that is not strictly what these planes identify as: they go fast, they ape military top gun style maneuvers, they look like arrows and they make a Big Noise), they fly low and loud, do close flying formations, and dangerous looking passes which buzz civilians, all in the name of civic pride and ‘paying respects’ to our armed forces. Fuck that shit. Fuck the Masters of War! Fuck their DEADication to the cult of destruction.
My PTSD went off the charts with the first buzz, I ducked and winced, the fear rising in my chest. The Boy grabbed my hand. We had no idea what was going on as we walked home from baseball. I suppose I had missed the memo that we were about to be the stage for a military fly-by air display. This is my first October in the City. My one year anniversary of coming to San Francisco is coming up in November. I had no idea what to expect.
As we walked home, the Blue Angels made repeated flybys right through the heart of the city. They flew in skillful formation, they rolled on their sides, and screamed through our peaceful clear blue skies. My shoulders started to shake. My breathing came in ragged. The Fear rose in my chest. I started to cry. “What on Earth is going on, Ma?” the Boy asked with a look
For the last two days my afternoons have been marred by these air displays over heavily built up areas. My apartment feels as if it is in a war zone. The noise is immense. It rattles the windows and shakes my bones. A sense of dread fills my chest. Is is such a jump of imagination to wonder how it feels to have dog fights in the air above your home? How it feels when the soldiers come? How it feels when death is arbitary and final, and doesn’t discriminate between civilian and military, between man or woman, between child or elderly person? Between peacenik and hawk? Air shows sometimes go wrong, and I can’t help but feel the risk of flying like this over San Francisco is blatant macho bravado that crazily risks the city, just so these peddlers of the machinery of war can show off their toys, their skills and their ability to ruin a good peaceful day. There is meant to be a week of this insanity. I am not sure if I can take it.
I cannot be the only member of the community with PTSD, and who is struggling with the noise, the imagery of war, and the low flying planes playing chicken with the high rise buildings! Watching my son flinch as they fly low and loud infuriates me. The car alarms go off, the people stop and stare. I can’t help but feel most of the faces on the street show fear. It is one thing to fly over water where the only necks they are risking are their own, quite another to take a risk, however small, with the City of San Francisco and its mostly peaceful inhabitants.
The intent of these displays, burning all that fossil fuel for fun, ruining the environment for ramboesque kicks, giving joy rides to retiring military members, show of strength, does not vibe with San Francisco. It is at odds with our environmentally friendly, peaceful City.
Turning on The Gunner’s Dream, from the highly underrated Pink Floyd album The Final Cut, trying to drown out the sounds of war on the horizon, the sounds of the power of rich men at play, of their substitute dicks exploding in planet killing vapor trails, it all made sense. As Roger sang “and no one kills the children any more…”, his dream driving ME insane, the dream of a world that is not run for the benefit of the war machine, where war and death and the business of military supremacy is not idolized and cheered on from the Bay, or anywhere for that matter. The ‘comfort of the band’ that Roger sings about is no comfort at all. It is hard to hold onto the dream of peace when the business of war is dragging us all down.
“A place to stay, enough to eat…somewhere where old heroes shuffle safely down the street.” Roger is a dreamer, but he is not the only one. The dream should not be spending millions of dollars on planes and finite fuel. The dream should not be sacrificing the gunner, as he spirals down in Water’s song, seeing visions of his poor mother, his brother, his loved ones, the children he will never have, the love he will never make, the pints he won’t get to drink, the games he won’t get to play. Goodbye? What is the point in these sacrificial goodbyes? Where is the goodness of waving our Boys off to yet another war no one will ever win? There is no comfort in displays, in flags, in planes, in marches or displays or uniformed men knocking at your door telling you that they are sorry. There would be no sorry good enough for any mother. Any wife. Any lover. No sorry good enough to make amends for what was taken to feed into the heart of the beast of the War Machine.
Still the Blue Angels fly, I am not sure that we have the freedom now to ‘speak out loud about your doubts and fears.’ Mob rule is the Law of the Badlands of the Internet. The ‘standard issue’ is still kicking down doors of journalists, of freedom fighters, of the Undocumented. We are not free, but the road to freedom cannot be bought with the lives and souls of our boys. “What’s done is done” sighs Roger, thinking of his father, killed in World War Two, when Roger was just a little boy.
Clean Air Day was October 6th, but the Blue Angels are burning up fossil fuel like there is no tomorrow. This makes it window dressing, pure lip service to clean air, to saving our planet, there might well be no tomorrow if we do not all wise up and stop being so selfish and self indulgent. I know what will be said – these pilots need to practice so they might as well show off to the city. Well this civilian does not want to see this show of military strength. It cannot be absolutely safe to fly over the city, and besides, it smacks of disingenuous gaslighting. This is an Air Force Party. Pride for Hawkish war mongers. Fuck those of us who cannot withstand loud noises Fuck peace. Fuck the environment. Fuck it all, huh. Because that is exactly what we are doing. The human race is fucking it all, and killing and war and Military pride parades in the skies of San Francisco will not unfuck it.
Sabre rattling by the CCP, sabre rattling by various tin pot wanna be dictators, posturing by those men who would play games of soldiers with the lives of young men and women, with all our lives, the overhanging threat of nuclear warfare that for some reason we all tolerate, all of this has to end. There cannot be a future where human differences are settled by games which leave, as Water’s so eloquently put it, ‘only charcoal to defend’.
So here I am, planting my flag in the sand, drawing my line, saying that Freedom and Peace are the only way forwards, and the two are not mutually exclusive. The illusion of Freedom being purchased with blood and war and the death of our fragile Earth, is something that we all can challenge.
For now, I have to try and get through another day of this worship of exhaust fumes and posturing, buzzing past my window and making my involuntary fear rise in my chest. How many more people are out there in this city, calming their terrified pets, calming their non neurotypical loved ones, and trying to control their own post traumatic stress disorder responses to this show of strength and domination? Death is not entertainment. War is not fun. The Blue Angels might be skillful and impressive, but I fail to see how it is safe, thoughtful, or beneficial to the City. I would rather a peace and love parade be thrown, or the money given towards charities that benefit those in this City who have the least, and if the War Machine must exercise and put in flight hours, they do it over the ocean, where we as a City are not risked, hounded, intimidated, nor have to watch them in action.
The Blue Angel’s Fleet Week sounds like a death song, and I for one am not glad to hear it in the San Franciscan skies.