Connected Diss: Thunder air show sends the wrong signal

The thing I love most about Thunder Over Louisville is the annual opportunity it affords every man, woman, child and dog in the Metro to get a feel for what it must sound like to live in a country that has been invaded by the U.S. military.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fireworks and the wonderful sense of community that brings hundreds of thousands of people and picnic baskets to the Waterfront. It’s the afternoon of strutting our military stuff that makes me uneasy. Clearly an event this large is a major part of the image that this community projects, and an examination of the message that it delivers is long overdue.

I can hear it now — oh, lighten up, it’s just a show, go eat some burgoo …
The problem is, these aircraft that roar over the city during the afternoon of Thunder were not designed for family fun. While there is a civilian component to the Air Show, most of what we see in the skies — the bombers, tankers, fighters and the like — are normally used to do stuff like carry troops, bomb buildings and kill people.

According to the Thunder Web site (, the Air Show was started as a “filler” to build up the crowd for the late evening fireworks. It is now one of the top five air shows in the country with more than 100 aircraft. As the organizers are quick to point out, the “amazing” military technology is a big crowd-pleaser. Not only do you have bombers and fighters in the air, but there are howitzers, humvees and rocket launchers on the ground to shock and awe the kiddies while they eat their cotton candy.

The Air Show always sounds to me like a loud, in-your-face reality show version of the pixilated murder by joystick that is so easily committed in video games. But when we pretend that these planes are toys whose purpose is to entertain us, we (further) desensitize ourselves and our children and validate the perception that war is a game. The reality of modern militarism, however, is that wars are fought in cities just like Louisville, and they kill people just like you and me. My guess is that when a family in Iraq sees these same aircraft overhead, they are not at all entertained. More likely they fear for their homes and their lives. More likely, the mere sounds of these machines trigger their feelings. Pavlov taught us about that.

The war in Iraq has become hugely unpopular, and the misuse of our military is a national disgrace. While we sit in our lawnchairs enjoying the annual rites of spring in the ’Ville, perhaps it is time to ask some hard questions about whether blindly watching these instruments of militarism loop-di-loop through our skies is the sort of message for which our community wants to be known. From where I sit, there is no excuse for continuing to cast military might as harmless entertainment.

For those of you who share my dis-ease, there will be a Peaceful Skies Picnic at Iroquois Park on April 21 from 2-6 p.m. The event is sponsored by a number of local organizations, including the Louisville Friends Meeting, Interfaith Paths to Peace, Pax Christi Louisville, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Louisville Peace Action Community, the Kentucky Alliance, the Fairness Campaign and numerous other groups. According to the organizers, “Families are invited to gather, bring picnic food, enjoy music, fly kites, make paper airplanes and learn about peacemaking and other opportunities.” Let’s hope this is the beginning of serious dialogue about engendering a more life-affirming Metro image. For more information about the picnic, call 214-7322.

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