The Blue Angels air show: San Francisco’s choice

The Blue Angels FA-18s zoom past the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, in October 2007. – Photo: Clark Cook
The Blue Angels FA-18s zoom past the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, in October 2007. – Photo: Clark Cook

by Ann Garrison

Fleet Week and the Blue Angels are as San Franciscan as Rice-A-Roni, the Powell Street cable car and the Ellis Act. So is the annual Columbus Day Parade, aka the Italian Heritage Day Parade, through North Beach as the Blue Angels tear up the sky overhead.

San Francisco is, after all, as historian Grey Brechin pointed out, Imperial San Francisco. Few aside from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman and the rest of the USA’s military industrial giants have made more money on the Iraq War than California’s U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her husband, Richard Blum. Their $20 million Pacific Heights mansion looks out over San Francisco Bay and its art deco signature, the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Blue Angels first came to San Francisco in 1981, three years after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, when Feinstein was mayor.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Doctors without Borders, said it would pull out of Kunduz, Afghanistan, after the attack by the U.S. Air Force with an AC-130 gunship. They also described the attack as a war crime that should be investigated by a team independent of the U.S.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Doctors without Borders, said it would pull out of Kunduz, Afghanistan, after the attack by the U.S. Air Force with an AC-130 gunship. They also described the attack as a war crime that should be investigated by a team independent of the U.S.

This week I briefly wondered whether the Pentagon bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, might put a damper on the city’s annual celebration of war and militarism. Reports seem to agree that 12 medical staff members died, 10 patients burned to death in their beds, and 37 people were injured. (And Democracy Now! reports that an additional 24 staffers are still missing. – ed.)

U.S. forces are reported to have bombed the hospital with an AC-130 gunship, though it’s not yet clear whether it was an AC-130 Spectre, Spooky, Ghostrider or Stinger II, each of which carries its own distinct array of lethal ordinance. All four are slow, low flying gunships with the nickname “Angel of Death” painted on their nose cones. The U.S. flies Predator and Reaper drones, so why not Angel of Death gunships?

The AC-130s fly at a maximum of 299 miles per hour, unlike the Blue Angels Hornet FA-18s, which can fly at the speed of sound, 767.269 miles per hour, or faster. The only Blue Angels plane similar to the AC-130 is Lockheed Martin’s preceding model, a C-130 Hercules, which the Blue Angels affectionately nicknamed “Fat Albert.” Fat Albert refuels the Hornets in mid-air, with kerosene-based jet fuel.

The Blue Angels’ FA-18 Hornets are equipped to drop a wide array of bombs and missiles, including Cruise missiles and B-61 nuclear missiles. Two FA-18C Super Hornets crashed over the Pacific on their way to bomb Syria last year.

Celebrating war and militarism

Whatever the specs of the AC-130s, the FA-18s and the rest of the Pentagon’s vast array of weaponry, will the MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières or, in English, Doctors Without Borders) hospital bombing in Kunduz, Afghanistan, put a damper on San Francisco’s annual celebration of war and militarism?

Why imagine it would?

These Vietnamese children all have hydrocephalus: from left, Huu Loc, 3, Ti Ni, 12, Tinh, 4, and Tu, 5. – Photo: Ash Anand, Newsmodo
These Vietnamese children all have hydrocephalus: from left, Huu Loc, 3, Ti Ni, 12, Tinh, 4, and Tu, 5. – Photo: Ash Anand, Newsmodo

According to the Red Cross of Vietnam, up to 1 million Vietnamese people are currently disabled or have health problems, including high rates of cancer and birth defects, due to the Agent Orange that U.S. warplanes rained on them during the Vietnam War, which ended 40 years ago. Three million Vietnamese, spanning three generations, have suffered the effects of Agent Orange, including at least 150,000 children born with severe birth defects since the war ended in 1975.

Rates of birth defects in Basra and Fallujah, both targets of heavy U.S. bombing during the Iraq War, are higher than any the world has ever seen, including those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The U.S. has committed literal genocide against peoples of the Global South. We have attacked whole populations even in the genes, and their children will suffer for generations to come.

Our Pentagon also burns so much fossil fuel that revealing its role in hastening climate catastrophe is considered a national security risk. Researchers told the Real News Network that carbon emissions reduction is impossible without demilitarizing U.S. foreign policy.

If none of this has been enough to keep San Francisco from celebrating war and militarism year after year, why would the city blink at a hospital bombing that killed a mere 22 people, even if it included children who burned to death in their beds?

At the recent U.N. General Assembly gathering, President Obama said, “I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.”

In other words, he said that the U.S. will continue to violate the U.N. Charter as it pleases. And Russia and China have now made it clear – in Syria – that if the West ignores the Charter, they may well ignore it too.

Canceling the San Francisco’s Blue Angels air show

In late 2007, early 2008, I made a quixotic attempt to get the invitation to the Blue Angels on the ballot in San Francisco, and, feeble as that attempt was, I probably became as knowledgeable as anyone about the official procedures surrounding the Blue Angels air show.

The rate of birth defects in Basra and Fallujah is higher than any the world has ever seen. Anas Hamed and his sister, Inas, of Fallujah, targeted by intensive U.S. bombing raids using depleted uranium and other poisons, are among the victims.
The rate of birth defects in Basra and Fallujah is higher than any the world has ever seen. Anas Hamed and his sister, Inas, of Fallujah, targeted by intensive U.S. bombing raids using depleted uranium and other poisons, are among the victims.

Once I learned, in 2007, that the Blue Angels come only by invitation, I called Barbara Boxer’s office to ask who the hell invited them. Her staff member responded, “Mayor Gavin Newsom,” and gave me his telephone number at City Hall.

Eventually I got a pile of paper from Newsom’s office, including a Newsom letter to the Secretary of the Navy saying that he’d “take care of Chris Daly,” who was leading a challenge to the Blue Angels on the San Francisco City and County Board of Supes in 2007. None of it was consistent with the official procedure described on the Blue Angels website, but that’s not procedure that anyone in San Francisco, or the U.S. Navy, seems to actually insist on – or at least not after more than 30 years.

The Blue Angels now seem to have San Francisco’s standing invitation, but it could be canceled by the mayor, the supervisors or the voters at any time. To put a measure on the ballot, either the mayor or four members of the Board of Supervisors would have to sign or a campaign would have to gather a daunting 10,000 citizen signatures.

Most fundamentally, the Blue Angels are San Francisco’s choice. The Pentagon does not force them on San Francisco or any other city. San Francisco is not Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama or any of the other nations that the U.S. has decimated with lethal force.

If the Blue Angels air show were on the ballot, I’m afraid that the citizens of San Francisco would most likely vote in favor of it. However, in the process, they would have to engage in debate and discussion that the city’s mayors, from Diane Feinstein to Ed Lee, have always pre-empted, and many more would at least come to understand that the Blue Angels are a choice. They have been San Franciscans’ choice for over 30 years, though it has never actually been presented to them as such.

In 2007, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted on an ordinance initially put forth to cancel the Blue Angels air show. By that time it had been watered down to demand only that the FA-18 Hornets fly over the Bay, but not the city, for safety’s sake. Following the vote, Supervisor Chris Daly told Fog City Journal, “The public now knows the position of their supervisors on this issue.”

If the Blue Angels air show were ever put to the ballot, San Franciscans would likewise know the positions of their neighbors, their community organizations and their fellow citizens.

Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at anniegarrison@gmail.com. In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.

“War Crime in Afghanistan? Outrage After U.S. Airstrike on Hospital Kills 22 Patients & Staff” broadcast by Democracy Now! on Oct. 5, 2015

KPFA News, October 2009

KPFA News, November 2009