Above, maintenance crew members walk toward a line of Vermont Air National Guard F-16 fighter jets at Burlington International Airport in South Burlington. The F-16s are scheduled to be replaced by F-35 jets like the one shown at right at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
The good people of Burlington — the Stop the F-35 Coalition — declared war this week, decrying what they call a “corrupt basing selection process” to put the new fighter jet at Burlington International Airport, and making all sorts of claims as to the dire circumstances that will befall the community if the Air Force carries out its plan.
This is not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) at its finest, and I applaud the citizens for being motivated at all to involve themselves in the touchy world of national security.
But I can’t support them. I can’t support them because the arguments they use are faulty and intentionally manipulative, and in that, they merely mirror the Pentagon’s own ritualistic nonsense, a campaign thus destined for failure, a learning opportunity lost, and change thwarted.
The F-35A will go to Burlington to replace the F-16s that are already there, and by all accounts, Vermont’s elected officials all support and have lobbied for this no-brainer modernization.
No-brainer because no one is willing to question whether we really need to protect the skies, whether we need a new plane for this task at all, whether any airplane should be based at a civil airport, even an ostensibly National Guard airplane, whether lobbying should be the basis for our national security, whether continuing down the same-old, same-old path of homeland security after 9/11 makes the slightest sense.
The Stop the F-35 Coalition doesn’t really address any of these gigantic questions, instead saying that the Environmental Impact Statement prepared for basing lacks crucial health-related information, claiming as well that the jets in Burlington will devalue property, disproportionally impact minorities and low-income people, impact cardiovascular health of those nearby, and impair the learning ability of children in nearby schools.
After more back-and-forth, even in court, the government is sure to prevail, maybe even addressing some of the coalition’s concerns. “Want more health-related information?” the government might say. “OK, we’ll spend even more of your tax dollars to produce whatever you want.”
But absent the support of the governor or our congressional representatives, the coalition doesn’t really have a prayer.
Meanwhile, what’s destroying our nation, what’s robbing from civil society, what’s shortchanging health care and even directly messing up the heads of our young people, is the constant state of war we endure, the overblown threat of terrorism, our crazy worship at the national and homeland security altar.
NIMBY is fine, but in this new world of interconnectedness and social media, not-in-my-country is the more appropriate campaign. The roar of F-16s or F-35s might rupture the peaceful image of Vermonters — nice people who think they can create some kind of sanctuary allowing them to drop out of the national tragedy.
They should spend their energy instead going to war against a national security system that can no longer police itself, and one that no one in Washington has any intent of changing.
William M. Arkin, who lives in South Pomfret, is author of “American Coup: How a Terrified Government is Destroying the Constitution” and co-author of the national bestseller “Top Secret America.”MORE IN Perspective
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