Opinion/Editorial

THE BROKEN ARROW

 

Once upon a time (back in the fifties) the Canadians built what was arguably the premier fighter/bomber of all time. This was when the Soviet Union was threatening to fly bombers across the arctic, and dump nuclear bombs on North America. This amazing airplane was bigger, faster and more impressive than anything that had come before, or would likely come along for many years. Six Avro Arrow airplanes were built. Models of these were tested over a small lake. Just as manufacturing was about to go into full production (to protect all of North America), the project was abruptly cancelled in 1959. Today, the government of Canada has set aside millions of dollars in an attempt to find, and retrieve, the nine models shot out over that lake, so long ago. The models were being tested for aerodynamic stability and efficiency. All of Canada is interested in the Avro Arrow and what happened to it, to the point of dredging the bottom of a lake to find models of it. The six planes themselves were chopped up for scrap years ago. Conspiracy theories in that northern country suggest that the U.S. felt that the Canadian plane was so far in advance of anything they had to offer, that the military down south had the project cancelled in favor of purchasing American equipment. The truth was much more boring and rational. The USSR successfully launched experimental missiles carrying nuclear weapons to the point where, in 1959, they were certain of being able to hit any target on the North American continent without putting any bombs on any planes.

Why are the Canadians going through this exercise now, and why is it important to so many people? For the same reason Donald Trump is the President of the United States. People want to harken back to what they believe to be a better time. They want to go backwards to a time when they felt their importance was weighed, considered and had an effect on the world around them. Technology in communications, display and information services is moving ahead at a speed too fast for the social order to keep up with. Only a few days ago, Apple unwrapped it’s iPhone X, and introduced facial recognition as a feature available on the phone. Our culture has no clue as to what that means. Oh, the culture gets it that a camera can take a picture of your registered face and use that image to turn on a computer, but what about beyond that? And, of course, it is the “beyond that” where the technology is going to go. The fact that nobody really knows where “beyond that” is going, is what’s creating both fear and resentment. The more ‘advanced’ things become, and the quicker that advancement occurs, the more our culture wants to retreat back into the things it thinks it knows. For some reason, our human cultures have come to believe that because our ancestors learned about hunting in the forests, fishing in the lakes and choosing what selection of berries to eat, humans today need to understand contemporary technology equally well. In truth, most of that early knowledge is long forgotten, except for a very few hardy and throwback pioneer types. Thirty thousand years ago, a mere fraction of the three-million humans wandering the planet fully knew all aspects of what was involved in their survival and our species’ longevity increased only cumulatively over time.

Today’s life expectancy has greatly increased due to scientific advances in food production, medicine, energy and overall infrastructure stability, and around the world technology races ahead, without any ability within cultures to stop it, or slow it down. There’s been a new iPhone every year since Apple invented the smart phone. There is no stopping that progression. There is only adapting to it. The Canadians are not going to rebuild the Avro Arrow. There is no longer any need for that airplane, and the defense requirement that existed to motivate its building is long gone.

The Avro Arrow will forever remain the ‘broken arrow’ of Canadian air defense, and will probably long remain as the single weapons system that caused Canada to become completely dependent upon the United States for air defense. The concept of the Avro Arrow will live on, though, as the people of Canada attempt to figure out what in this new world of high technology and instant communication is worth having, and what needs to be discarded. But Tribal peoples everywhere seek to be tribal, and the tribes that make up Canada are no different. The United States often can agree on very little when it comes to the bargaining table, but a country like Canada is made up of many tribes. As the Avro models are pulled up and put on display, they will symbolize the fear and trepidation human beings have about the uncertainty of a future where so much is understood by so few. The Canadians will raise their models and then pass them in review to remember when times were better, and more in their control, even when they weren’t.

The United States isn’t bound to any single airplane for its sense of self-worth or consideration of value. The modern F-22 would far outrun the Avro at top speed, and also is able to go almost two thousand miles to fight instead of five hundred.  Lower North America suffers from a different form of wanting to go backwards in time. The United States wants to return to a time when well-off white males controlled and owned just about everything. For some reason, the ownership of a modern pick-up truck, a baseball or a cowboy hat, and a good seat at a football stadium for Sunday games has far exceeded the American need to have ever faster, higher and more effective fighter/bomber aircraft. Which culture has caught on to how to adapt better to such an unknown and difficult to understand future?

Likely, neither.

~~James Strauss

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