Is the Jersey International Air Display all just harmless fun?
How the JIAD normalises killing machines, endangers our castle and helps destroy the planet.
By Gabriel Carter with contributions from Ollie Taylor
You see it everywhere these days. The military are in our schools, in our squares, in our streets, and, on Thursday, they were in our skies as well, courtesy of the Jersey International Air Display — the island’s annual guided tour of the greatest hits in killing machine technology from the last seven decades.
For many around the world, the sound of an aircraft’s engine buzzing overhead is a signal to find cover, and fast, lest you become the latest untimely victim of “precision coalition strike support”, “rigorous targeting procedures” or “surgical strikes”. A British, American or French aircraft is the noise you heard and the sight you saw just before your best mate got blown to pieces, the flat above yours was pulverised or your wife and kids were wiped from the face of the Earth while you were walking home from work.
So, why do we view these death machines as a source of benign entertainment?
Over half — 12 out of 23 — of the acts on display at this year’s air display are military aircraft. Make no mistake when I talk about killing machines — the majority of the acts on display here are engines of war designed to facilitate murder. And aren’t they just in great company — the long-time staple of the JIAD, the public face of the RAF — the Red Arrows, flying their classic BAE Systems Hawk advanced trainer aircraft. This time, they’ll be making a return to Jersey after a year’s absence, having been bound up last year in the far more important business of promoting British arms exports to Middle Eastern dictators — particularly, everyone’s favourite seventh-century absolute monarchy, friend and supplier of Salafi jihadists and lover of indiscriminate carpet-bombing, Saudi Arabia.
BAE, the Red Arrows’ supplier, is the primary contractor in the massive arms deals the UK has with Saudi Arabia. Is it just me, or is this starting to sound almost exactly like Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex? A state of perpetual war; a mutually beneficial arrangement between the military and the arms industry; a prime minister who works to facilitate the massive exportation of arms to pseudo-fascist dictatorships who can then use them to indiscriminately murder people. Trebles all round! Well, unless you happen to have been born in one of these nice little arms industry playgrounds.
Is it really normal or healthy for our society to be glamourising a glorified marketing team for Britain’s morally bankrupt weapons industry?
Normalising the presence of weapons and the propaganda tools used to promote them in our everyday lives is uncomfortably close to the outright glorification of militarism and war — it’s promoting the view that no, these planes are not marketing devices for the arms industry to promote sales to volatile dictatorships, but an afternoon’s entertainment for you and the kids. That’s what this is about — it’s about polishing the image of the RAF and reducing the violence inherent in an organisation with a long history of remotely murdering people from thousands of meters up in the air to a few cool tricks and a day off school.
You really want that sort of thing flying around St. Aubin’s Bay?
Speaking of St. Aubin’s Bay — where is the consideration for one of our most important historical monuments — Elizabeth Castle?
Air display accidents are hardly a rare occurrence. In 2015, the Shoreham airshow crash in West Sussex killed 11 after a the pilot of a Hawker Hunter fighter jet misjudged a loop and crashed onto the A27. In September last year, an Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon crashed into the sea during the Terracina air show after the pilot lost control. In Cummings, Kansas, in July last year, a P-51 Mustang (one of the models set to perform at the JIAD) was performing high-altitude stunts and ended up descending into a nose-dive and crashing into a Kansas field.
Planes are flown right above the castle during the air display, and for that reason Jersey Heritage is mandated to close the site during air display day because of the potential risk to life a crash could present?
So, if a crash is judged to be so likely, why do we have this kind of thing going on above one of our most important historical sites at all? How much of the castle and the accompanying site risks sheer obliteration if a crash was to happen? And, even more irritatingly, why can’t the organisers simply move the display a few hundred meters across the bay so that the castle isn’t at risk?
This is all without mentioning the JIAD’s impact — and the impact of aircraft generally — on the environment.
Did you know that the US government’s Department of Defense is the single biggest polluter in the entire world? The military — a large part of that, the air force — is toxic for the environment. The aviation industry on the whole is incredibly destructive to the environment. The burning of aircraft fuel (for which there is no green alternative) currently contributes to 2.5% of total carbon emissions — a figure set to balloon to possibly as high as 22% by 2050 as other sectors emit less.
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This is largely due to the impact of the boom in cheap flights across the world over the last several decades, as other forms of transport become more and more expensive while international flights remain largely untaxed. My question is — why are we so needlessly contributing to this by pointlessly flying planes in loop-de-loops around the bay for our own entertainment? Free and spectacular entertainment is great until sea levels rise and swamp half the island. I genuinely can’t see a reason for this. Flight is already an incredibly destructive force on the environment, so why are we needlessly burning more and more kerosene every year for virtually no reason? As a society, we should see aircraft as something contributing to the destruction of the planet — not as some perverse form of entertainment.
A militarising affect on society, a potentially devastating impact on one of our most important cultural sites, and a destructive impact on the environment?
Still just harmless fun?