In the real world, on 9/11, the Vermont Air National Guard defended nothing against nobody, and managed to provide no real protection for anyone anywhere. When it mattered most in 2001, our Air Guard was on the ground.
But that’s not the official story.
The official story is framed to make this abject failure to provide any actual defense look like some sort on non-specific heroic saga. Here’s U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, 74, a Democrat and part-time Vermonter, with his version of the official story in a letter to constituents:
“Vermont’s 158th Fighter Wing [the Air Guard] is of outstanding and proven ability, and in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, scrambled many of their [sic] F-16s in protective missions. For 122 days, the unit provided continuous air patrols over Washington, D.C., and New York City. No Air Force unit did more than the Vermont Guard to reestablish control of our skies after that awful day.”
Leahy offers this irrelevant and misleading non sequitur as an argument for basing the F-35 first strike fighter in Vermont’s most densely populated area. Deliberately deceitful, the official story is also bi-partisan. Vermont Lt. Governor Phil Scott, 55, a Republican and present Vermonter, offered his version in public testimony:
“Let’s also not forget that the aircraft stationed in South Burlington are there for defensive purposes. This base holds an important strategic position to defend the eastern seaboard. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Vermont Air National Guard patrolled New York City and Washington, DC for 122 days.”
The official story is a fundamentally emotional trope, without relevant substance, designed to play on public patriotism and paranoia. No wonder it works, even more than a decade after the whole U.S. Air Force was taking a day off, when it might easily have followed standing protocol and prevented any or all of the 9/11 attacks. An F-35 sitting on the ground will be no more effective than an F-16 sitting on the ground.
The official story is received wisdom that should be rejected as unwise. It’s a repeated fiction that not only asks for genuflection to imaginary heroes, but suggests that F-35 opponents are somehow churlish in their resistance to accepting sacrifice so much less than the World Trade Center. Leahy said in that same constituent letter: “I am not willing to sacrifice any Vermont community for a new fighter jet.”
Given Leahy’s longstanding unwillingness to engage directly with those Vermonters most affected by the F-35 basing, and his equal unwillingness to engage discussion of the F-35 on its merits, he apparently believes some constituents are more equal than others and, to quote Ronald Reagan’s revealing comment, that “facts are stupid things.” In Leahy’s book, South Burlington and Winooski are presumably scored as unwilling sacrifices – as if the sacrificial lamb would care about the butcher’s sensibilities.
This is not to single Leahy out for a betrayal of trust and honesty in which almost all of bi-partisan Vermont officialdom’s “leaders” were willing and sometimes active collaborators. Since no one in a position of authority had the integrity even to ask serious questions about the meaning of the F-35 and its military-corporate beneficiaries to the future of Vermont life, the officials who should be ashamed of their moral and intellectual limpness are far too many to list, but they include virtually all of the Vermont Senate and House, as well as:
Governor Peter Shumlin, 58, a Democrat whose idea of meeting with constituents was to take a junket to Florida surrounded by F-35 supporters;
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, 40-ish, a Democrat whose idea of probity included not recusing himself from the discussion because of his obvious conflict of interest as a past member of the airport board;
Senator Bernie Sanders, 72, an Independent (quasi-Democrat) whose idea of resistance seems to be sending hints of opposition while always “supporting the troops” (and the $600 billion a year it takes to maintain them in the style to which they’ve been subjected since 2001);
Rep. Peter Welch, 67, a Democrat whose idea of confronting the F-35 issue head-on turned out to be a proposal to regulate unmanned aircraft (drones) in Vermont (thereby bestowing on them an unevaluated legitimacy); and
State Rep. Helen Head, 50-ish, a Democrat whose idea of representing her constituents in South Burlington was to leave the decision on the F-35 completely to the feds, even to the point of helping to quash two bills in her committee addressing the issue (an accomplishment omitted from her year-end summary), but a move supported by House Speaker Shap Smith, 48, another Democrat willing to stifle democratic process.
Despite years of public discussion of the F-35, none of these “leaders” – not one – has offered a coherent, factual argument as to how this nuclear-capable bomber serves the common good in Vermont, or anywhere else. In that sense, even though the F-35 won’t arrive in Vermont before 2020, it’s already carried out a successful first strike or two: against lower-income Vermonters and the state’s democratic tradition.
The Vermont Air Guard currently flies F-16 Fighting Falcons, which the Guard describes like this: “The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multi-role fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. It provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system for the United States and allied nations.”
None of these statements is true about the F-35. The F-35 is unproven, of dubious maneuverability, of unreliable performance, and wildly expensive, to the extent that some allied nations have cancelled purchase orders.
And it’s not as though the military excellence of the F-35 is assured, ever. The plane’s performance failure and huge cost over-runs make it currently the world’s most expensive weapons system, and it’s still no use to anyone. For more than a decade now, Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have been saying they’d fix the plane’s problems, but there’s still no certainty the F-35 can even fly in wet weather, never mind maneuver effectively in combat. With this performance record to date, the F-35 makes the U.S. less secure, both militarily and economically. Even if it becomes operational, it may still be all but useless (except for Air Guard missions to guard against no attack). With the rise of other technologies, particularly drones and missiles, piloted fighter planes could turn out to be the Maginot Line of air defense.
And that’s the same defense we got from our Air Guard and the rest of the U.S. Air Force on 9/11 using the old technology – we suffered an unchallenged attack that could have been prevented but for a mind-boggling series of official failures over a period of months if not years, as our government allowed the attackers to go around the defenses we thought made us secure. But that’s not the official story, even now.
After their ten-year commemoration of 9/11 in South Burlington, the Air Guard put out a press release with a familiar ring:
“Adjutant Gen. [Michael] Dubie… reflected on the response of the 158th Fighter Wing on 9/11 and the 122 following days where VTANG pilots and plane maintainers guarded the New York skies against further attacks. It was a highlight of the VTANG to be the first F-16s over the smoking wreckage of the World Trade Center….
“Commander Doug Fick was brief, but poignant… It may be 10 years later, he said, but we cannot let our guard down as a nation from people who hated the military, our families, and our way of life…. ‘We were on the tip of the spear doing the most important work imaginable – protecting our homeland.’”
In a militarized culture, citizens are expected to stop thinking for themselves and to see the military as an object of blind worship in a fetishized homeland where it cannot be seen to do any wrong, even as it circles the smoking wreckage defending against attacks that have already happened.
Welcome to New Vermont.