Continental Chicago

now in its one-hundred-and-eightieth year

The Sunny Side of War

Northsiders gathering to watch the Air & Water Show in Chicago (Credit: Susan Barsy)

Yes, this is the weekend of the Air and Water Show in Chicago, the ritual moment when Americans pause to enjoy—what exactly?  The happy side of military technology?  It doesn’t bear thinking about too carefully.

I guess the Air and Water Show descends from the colonial custom of gathering to watch the militia strut its stuff on the village green.  This is the sort of militarism for which you need your picnic basket.  Get your pleasure boat ready and hope the weather is sunny.  Then head to the lakefront to marvel at the wondrousness of “shock and awe,” considered abstractly.  The graceful acrobatics of the world’s most expensive military.

The Thunderbirds impress you with their neat formations, supersonic speed, their suspenseful loops and their daring.  Will they survive?  It’s bad form to ponder what it’s all about, or to consider what it would be like if they were after you.

Image: Boaters gathering to watch the Air and Water Show on Lake Michigan.
Click the image to enlarge.

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4 comments on “The Sunny Side of War

  1. Susan Barsy
    August 20, 2012

    Sam–You make a good point. There is an interesting tone to Chicago’s air show. It is not solemn or “triumphal” in the way you describe (good description, by the way!). Ours is more like a great feel-good party. Good to hear from you–Susan

  2. Sam Dune
    August 19, 2012

    I have watched air shows in the city where I live. It is impressive to see the planes “at play.” Yes, there are parallels to the May festivities in Russia, but there it is a solemn “show and tell” of their military might. People throng the streets to see the tanks, artillery pieces, and ICBM missiles slowly move by—then thousands of soldiers goose-stepping by. The Politburo solemnly watches from a high-up dais….Yes, our air show “struts a little stuff,” but it’s mainly playful and graceful, I think.

  3. Joe
    August 19, 2012

    The A&W Show is an annual recruiting and sales pitch……the U.S. is a nation that is constantly at war. Young men fight for wars that old men start…….it is very impressive to see the jets (I live near the lake) so I see and hear it. I don’t go down to see it anymore……too many people.
    It is a scary thing to think about those planes coming after you in anger……..

    • Susan Barsy
      August 19, 2012

      Joe–Yes; I think that, back in the day, visitors could even go to O’Hare to see the inside of the planes, a practice that I don’t imagine is continued now. I guess that the show is somewhat like a circus, given our marvel at the skilled performing; and many of its components are the sort that would appeal to buffs. No one I know can resisting craning their necks to see what’s happening when the planes are nearby–the novelty of the experience is too great–overpowering…. The noise near the lake is deafening–at 3 o’clock today it will all be over. A very effective PR tool, but weird enough to waken the imagination and a few consciences, along with a rampant national pride.

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