99 Red Balloons

­My Alexa interactive voice assistant device is equipped with a special feature that alerts me to breaking news stories. A yellow ring flashes notifying me if I have an incoming notification. Alexa’s robotic voice will announce the headline. Nine times out of ten it’s nothing of consequence. If the breaking news involves mass shootings or major earthquakes, I’ll answer “yes” when the machine asks “do you want to hear more?”. Nine times out of ten I don’t want to hear more, the two-sentence alert is more than enough. 

I stopped what I was doing when the notification said, “Chinese spy balloon sails through American air space, do you want to hear more?” I wanted to hear more – a lot more. However, at the time of the initial report, there wasn’t a lot more to hear. 

A spy balloon from China was leisurely transversing the United States at a high altitude gathering information about our country. When the balloon entered U.S. air space in Alaska, it wasn’t a big enough deal to alert the media or our population for that matter.

The balloon enjoyed a tour of the west coast then moseyed over the center of or country while it hovered over the not-so-secret location of the US nuclear missile silos. The huge balloon was photographed from multiple locations and published online by citizens on the ground with their eyes to the skies. Media reports forced the government to hold a press conference to explain how something like this could happen. The angry public wanted the balloon shot down. It seemed like an easy fix. 

The balloon was finally shot down off the South Carolina coast. Top Gun pilots had a field day using the balloon as target practice. The missile may have been overkill. Hopefully there was still some information to be gathered from the pieces of the device harvested from the ocean.

The Chinese government was not too happy. They wanted the balloon back. Their message to America was a simple one: “If you found something on the street with someone’s name on it, you should return it to its owner.”

The balloon became a political tool and a distraction from what’s happening on the ground in this country. (Google “Ohio”.) For a few moments, our nation’s collective attention turned towards the heavens. The balloon incident could have easily triggered World War Three. 

Coincidentally, two more unidentified objects entered airspace over Alaska, Canadian Yukon and Michigan last week. This time, the objects were promptly shot down by the military. Details are scarce other than the fact the objects were spherical and metallic. Not a balloon. Not from China. Not manned. Pieces of the objects are being gathered for identification. Hopeful the origin of these objects will be made known. It’s the information people are not given that opens the floodgates of speculation. No one likes an unsolved mystery.

In 1984, a German new wave band released a song called ‘99 Red Balloons’. The song tells the tale of a person who releases a bouquet of red balloons into the sky. As the balloons drift higher and higher, they are mistaken for incoming missiles from a hostile country. When the balloons encroach upon sovereign air space, the country launches rockets triggering an all-out nuclear war. The balloons were a catalyst for trigger fingered war mongers who are always ready to strike.

The song lyrics are strangely prophetic: “This is what we’ve waited for / This is it, boys, this is war / The president is on the line / As ninety-nine red balloons go by….”

The weekend news reports were ominous. Airspace was closed over part of Montana on Saturday and a fighter jet was sent to investigate a “radar anomaly” but nothing unusual was found in the sky. Another report indicated China was ready to shoot down an object that entered their airspace. Maybe by the time this column sees print, we’ll have answers as to what is happening. Thankfully, the real life War of the Worlds seems to have waited until after the Super Bowl.


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