by Mary Harrington
Monday, 6
February 2023
Reaction
10:05

How the Chinese spy balloon brought Americans together

Faced with a foreign threat, the culture wars temporarily subsided
by Mary Harrington
The Chinese spy balloon was finally shot down off the east coast of the US.

As a Brit, sharing a language and a plethora of social media platforms with the United States sometimes feels like hearing a couple who have forgotten they’re miked up while having a vicious argument in public.

But the warring Red and Blue enjoyed a rare moment of unity, of sorts, over the weekend, as all converged with fascination on the “Chinese spy balloon”. This unmanned high-altitude balloon, which the Chinese claimed was for “mainly metereological” purposes, followed a route across North American airspace beginning in Alaska. It then passed over Canada and re-entered the United States in Idaho, before traversing sensitive military bases in Montana — at which point it was visible enough that ordinary people began to notice, and the shouting started in earnest.


Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email

Already registered? Sign in


For conservatives, the fact that the balloon wasn’t promptly shot down was merely the latest proof of (variously) American emasculation, Joe Biden’s complicity with the Chinese government, a manipulative government deploying distractions to ward off other scandals, or Pentagon decadence — to name but a few. The other side retaliated with claims that three such incidents occurred during the Trump administration, but no one said or did anything.

But beneath the bickering was, paradoxically, a clear sense of unity. Despite vigorous disagreement about the meaning or proportionality of the US government’s reaction to the balloon, which fell out along familiar lines, Americans on all sides appear to share essentially the same sense of outrage at its presence in US airspace.

There were plenty of photos of people brandishing weapons at the sky, and headlines warning US civilians not to shoot at the balloon (on the basis that the bullets wouldn’t hit it, and would just fall out the sky potentially hitting other Americans). But there were no headlines calling on the military not to shoot down a foreign nation’s surveillance balloon — which finally happened off the coast of South Carolina, seven days after the balloon first entered US airspace.

My takeaway from the whole spectacle, other than that everyone loves a ‘flying object’ story, is firstly that the world’s pre-eminent superpower is less disunited than sometimes appears. And secondly, that such American political polarisation as it exists may be less a product of decline than of America’s historical and geographical position as an empire in all but name — but one with no recent history of meaningful domestic military challenge from a rival nation.

Yes, there are some historical border skirmishes with Mexico, but that’s it really. Geography is, as they say, destiny: the North American continent is a considerable stretch of ocean away from any serious potential challenger. On the other side of the ledger, depending on your definition of ‘invaded’, the list is considerably longer. Indeed, the United States has been ‘militarily involved’ with every other nation on the planet, apart from Andorra, Bhutan and Liechtenstein.

In other words: America is much more used to being the invader than the invadee. And this has, perhaps, produced a superpower that enjoys the luxury of internal bickering because its citizens have set aside any collective sense that serious external threats exist.

Whether this is objectively true or not is another matter, of course. For its part, meanwhile, the People’s Republic may be keen to accentuate American internal conflict and contradictions. Some allege they’re already doing this by, for example, using TikTok to corrupt American phones with spyware and American brains with toxic memes, or mimicking ‘woke’ terminology to fan the flames of culture war. But given the collective outrage triggered by one spy balloon, my sense is that America’s apparent disunity is less structural than it sometimes seems as an outsider.

Meme warfare is one thing. Yet I think it’d take very little material boundary-pushing for marital conflicts to be set aside, in favour of univocal belligerence at a common enemy.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
24 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
j watson
j watson
1 month ago

Much of the infiltration of western economies, company structures/ownership, universities, technologies and the malign use of social media by the CCP has gone largely unnoticed by the general population – as intended. As the Author highlights this Balloon is more tangible and more visibly invasive. It could and should help with the further urgent awakening needed.
Separate thought – at what point do we see and hear more Articles about this real threat than stuff on Woke, Trans et al? Do we have the proportionality of interest the wrong way round? We need more investigative journalism drawing back the veil on what has been happening I think.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

Coincidentally a lot of woke/ trans stuff is being funded by China.

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Did they tell you that on GB News?

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 month ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

Do they have to tell you the sun rises in the East on BBC so you know that?

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
1 month ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Difference here is that the sun actually does rise in the east, although I’m sure the halfwits at GB News probably don’t know that.
On the other hand the comment by Jules is obviously complete and utter nonsense.

Max Price
Max Price
1 month ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

I don’t think so at all. In fact I think your argument is naive in the extreme.

N Forster
N Forster
1 month ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

f**k off Graeme.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 month ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

You do know that Graeme McNeil is an anagram of Gaelic mermen

B Emery
B Emery
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

If you want a bit of info on balloon gate, I read this which was interesting:
https://news.antiwar.com/2023/02/03/amid-concerns-over-a-balloon-us-cancels-high-level-meeting-with-china/

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

The balloon was a sideshow, almost but not entirely, not worth a mention. Now write an insightful article about the REAL INVASION taking place on the US southern border. Millions of illegals from over 120 countries or more have crossed over while our senile President barely takes note.

Last edited 1 month ago by Cathy Carron
Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago

the United States has been ‘militarily involved’ with every other nation on the planet, apart from Andorra, Bhutan and Liechtenstein.

Pah! The US needs to up its game.
The British conquered Bhutan in 1864. I think we hold the record for the most “military involvement”. We even did the USA in 1812.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

Yeah burning the White House down was a nice point to make that they like to forget about.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Stewart
James Stangl
James Stangl
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

We haven’t forgotten. Our national anthem is all about the British attack on Ft. McHenry in Baltimore harbor

Terry M
Terry M
1 month ago

The balloon intrusion was botched. Instead of shooting it down, it should have been captured intact. Yes, at 60,000 feet that would be tough, but no attempt was made. And then, when it was shot down, why weren’t salvage vessels already stationed in the area like they used to be for space flights?

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 month ago
Reply to  Terry M

I find it astounding we do not have anti-balloon weapons. During the Civil War they were used for artillery sighting – WWII had Zeppelin and observation balloons – WWII had them ubiquitously, the Cold War played games with them.

Surely some thing like the cannon shot used to cut the rigging on sailing boats – b***s connected by chains, fired to the sheets to drop the sails and stop the enemy maneuvering. Wires and b***s – shot in a rocket from a F-16, rip as big and many holes as engineers say is ideal to get the thing to settle gently to earth so it can be captured intact.

If they have none of these I demand my royalties for the concept – as it is insane not to have a couple crates of them handy.

No this was a game run by a senile guy and his mad hyena sidekick that was meant to destroy the evidence – high explosives to wreck it, a 40,000 foot fall to smash it, – then into the sea to lose the good bits….

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 month ago
Reply to  Terry M

Awaiting for approval for the word Ba **s – -haha, madness. Reprinted here – but they rarely let me get away with this second chance….

I find it astounding we do not have anti-balloon weapons. During the Civil War they were used for artillery sighting – WWII had Zeppelin and observation balloons – WWII had them ubiquitously, the Cold War played games with them.
Surely some thing like the cannon shot used to cut the rigging on sailing boats – weights connected by chains, fired to the sheets to drop the sails and stop the enemy maneuvering. Wires and weights – shot in a rocket from a F-16, rip as big and many holes as engineers say is ideal to get the thing to settle gently to earth so it can be captured intact.
If they have none of these I demand my royalties for the concept – as it is insane not to have a couple crates of them handy.
No this was a game run by a senile guy and his mad hyena sidekick that was meant to destroy the evidence – high explosives to wreck it, a 40,000 foot fall to smash it, – then into the sea to lose the good bits….

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
1 month ago
Reply to  Terry M

With a SideWinder missile?!?&%$? At almost 400K per? Crikey!

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 month ago

I think it’s true both that the US is in decline but that it remains a superpower for the time being. The culture wars are real. As the author suggests, they are, to an extent, the result of a materially successful, and somewhat self-satisfied, society that is insulated from many of the dangers facing less powerful, and geographically blessed, countries. But they are also degrading American society and have now reached into its productive industries and the science/engineering departments of its universities which are the basis of America’s wealth and preeminence.
An external enemy will doubtless unify the US for a while, but the time may come when the US will no longer have the wherewithal to resist a serious challenge.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 month ago

The bickering couple may not have forgotten they’re “miked up” but are simply being performative in the way that people overshare these days. Once the balloon goes up (as it were), they’ll probably go home and tear each other’s clothes off in a frenzied bout of copulation.
I suspect Mary’s right, because the alternative – divorce – hardly seems an option unless the US population, split between Blues and Reds, decided to migrate to their respective sides (east/west, or north/south) and secede from each other.
To extend this outside the US to the West in general, i also suspect that talk of terminal decline is as premature as the “end of history” sense which prevailed at the end of the Cold War. It’s worth considering whether that piece of seeming triumphalism may have led directly to the culture wars now being fought, as a means of preventing ourselves from becoming bored. Critical theory also plays a part of course, but how many Wokeists actually understand where their views are coming from? I suspect the majority just utilise it as the latest fashionable means of discourse; a way of creating their version of the generational divide.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
1 month ago

The episode reminded me of Spielberg’s ill-fated (but in parts funny) movie, ‘1941’, which lampoons America’s fear of Japanese invasion in the days immediately after Pearl Harbour. The Home Guard-style neighbourhood watch sitting with shotguns on a Ferris wheel in California, John Belushi refuelling his fighter plane at a gas station, Dan Ackroyd racing around in a tank… meanwhile poor old Christopher Lee’s stuck as a German liaison officer on a badly-run Japanese U-Boat. Actually, I might have to watch it again now.

James Stangl
James Stangl
1 month ago

Mary, if you’re going to use a source that deems humanitarian and peacekeeping missions as “invasions,” a lot of people are going to call BS on that.

To say nothing of the fact that many of the nations listed were allies of or occupied by Germany and Japan during WW1 or WW2. Really??

Bruce V
Bruce V
1 month ago
Reply to  James Stangl

Agreed, that claim is even noticeably discounted within the authors provided link. It’s worth looking through. Here’s a 1 line example:
1998 Guinea-Bissau – protection – Evacuated Americans and allies
Rather surprised and disappointed that Ms. Harrington would stoop to such a cheap trick. Pravda would be proud.

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 month ago

This is most obviously a coverup of some kind. My guess is that XI had some equivalent of the Laptop From Hell dangling from the balloon – and China was watching Biden squirm as he was given no good choices… Shoot it down and then be exposed – let it go and be exposed, and so the answer, shoot it down with high explosives over ocean and hope for the best….

haha… Biden is so compromised – totally owned by China, Ukraine, Hunter, and who knows who else..My guess Bankman-Fried has a slim chance of surviving his first few weeks of ‘Suicide watch’ after sentencing – he apparently was Biden/Zalenski/Ukrain/Mexican Cartels bag man…. That is the problem of having a crime family in the top political position – too many people know where the skeletons are hidden…

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
1 month ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

That is an incredible amount of utter gibberish to pack into a single comment – well done!