Neunundneunzig Luftballons


The discovery of a high-flying Chinese observation balloon over the USA caused a few red faces in Washington last week. Eventually it was shot down by a F-22 Raptor fighter into the Atlantic off the coast of Carolina, where recovery operations are underway, but to get there it obviously transited across the whole of the continental USA.

US embarrassment increased exponentially when it was reported that this was hardly the first time this had happened, with at least three other incursions having taken place under the previous administration. At the time President Trump seems to have taken no action.

More recently further interceptions of unauthorised objects have taken place over Alaska and now a similar interception over Canada. We also learned that a similar balloon to the one shot down may also have been operation over Latin America.

What’s going on here? Well, either the appropriate authorities in the USA, Canada, and elsewhere have hitherto been unaware of these transgressions, which would be worrying, or that they have known all along but have allowed them to continue for some other purposes. Perhaps we will find out which it is in due course.

The flurry of excitement over these incidents has reminded me, once again, of the prescience of the German one-hit-wonder band Nena and their hit single “Neunundneunzig Luftballons” (Ninety-Nine Balloons) back in 1983. Sample lyrics:

“99 red balloons
Floating in the summer sky
Panic bells, it’s red alert
There’s something here from somewhere else
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
Focusing it on the sky
The 99 red balloons go by”

Dismissed as harmless anti-war nonsense back in the day, perhaps it has become a song relevant to current times forty years later?

Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now

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