Chinese New Year’s Balloons (and a Bit about Gary Powers)

Having marked the opening of the Year of the Rabbit, Spirited Reasoners may be interested to know that, throughout history, the Chinese have seen a rabbit, rather than a man, in the moon. See, Ever since I learned that fact in a Chinese culture class, I have had trouble seeing anything other than a rabbit when I look at the moon. And even before learning that fact I’d never quite been able to make out the face or body of a man. (I still can’t.)

This past week, however, some Americans saw quite a different heavenly orb when they gazed skyward. According to the rather lame explanation of the Chinese government, it was merely an agricultural balloon which had somehow lost its way (to the tune of halfway round the world.) Today, we learned that President Biden ordered the U. S. military to shoot it down off the coast of the Carolinas. See,

We all know it was a spy balloon. We also know that politicians from all sides of the political spectrum can be expected to weigh in on steps our government should have taken, and ought to take in the future, to prevent, punish, or posture in response.

Before taking any such actions, however, we should take a collective deep breath and recall a moment in time when the shoe was on the other foot.

In May of 1960, an American spy plane piloted by Gary Powers was shot down by the Soviet Union’s air defense while deep within Soviet territory. At first, the United States was unaware that Powers had been captured after safely parachuting out of the aircraft. Assuming Powers had died in a crash, the U.S. felt it safe to put forward the lame excuse that the pilot had meant to be flying over Turkey but had become unconscious and veered mistakenly over the Soviet Union. Premier Khrushchev waited several days before informing the world that Powers was, in fact, alive and had been captured with undisputable evidence that he had been spying. Upon learning those facts, the United States was forced to admit to the world that we had been engaged in aerial spying. See,

The Powers incident scuttled a high-level meeting that would have involved the United States and the Soviet Union. The balloon incident scuttled a meeting between Secretary of State Blinken and high-level Chinese leaders.

What does all this mean? It means we are constantly spying on our enemies and they on us. Every once in a few decades one side gets caught with their hands in the cookie jar. What it does not mean is that we should expect anything to change merely because we successfully shot down one balloon.