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William Rivers Pitt | Top Gun Santa

(Photo: Tony Fischer / Flickr)

Two years ago, nearly to the day, I penned an article about the degree to which the Christmas season generally makes me want to tear my skull out from under my face and lob it through the window of the nearest storefront that has the gall to play “Jingle Bells” on an endless loop from a sidewalk speaker. I have my reasons, valid ones all, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

I am not, however, a curmudgeon. Sure, my “Christmas spirit” takes an annual beating when the commercials start in June, and the same songs are played all the time everywhere (I think the last new piece of Christmas music was written in the year 2), and the overwhelming commercialism of the whole thing makes me wonder why we don’t all just live in the mall and get it over with…but then the day itself arrives, and I see family and friends, and get to watch them enjoy my gifts, and get to enjoy my own, and in the end, it’s nice.

While I am not a to-the-knife defender of all things Christmas, I do believe it is important, especially for the children. All of my best Christmas memories are from before I was ten years old. There was a simple magic to it – the tree, the anticipation, the cookies and milk for the guy who would be coming down the chimney – that I still haven’t forgotten, and this year, I get to share it with my daughter for the very first time.

So when I saw this article on Tuesday morning, I very nearly went around the bend:

As Santa streaks through the sky this Christmas Eve, Rudolph merrily guiding the way, he will be flanked by some new and unusual companions: a jet-fighter escort, bristling with missiles. That is the twist that – to the dismay of at least some child advocates – the US military has chosen to put on this year’s version of its traditional animated tracking of the yuletide journey. This year’s updated segment, now previewing on the military’s website, depicts Santa soaring over snow-capped peaks with military aircraft keeping pace on either side.

Adding the jets is “part of our effort to give the program more of an operational feel,” said Navy Captain Jeff A. Davis, a spokesman for the command that sponsors the event, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as NORAD.

NORAD’s headquarters is deep inside a mountain in Colorado, one of the highest-profile vestiges of the Cold War, with a mission of tracking and intercepting such potential nuclear threats as enemy bombers or ballistic missiles headed for US airspace. It has been sponsoring a Track Santa program since the mid-1950s to draw attention to its radar-tracking, jet-scrambling capabilities.

An intelligence officer asserts that “intel can confirm that Jack Frost and the Abominable Snowman will not be a threat.” Ground forces then report that all rooftops have been checked to make sure Santa, whose call sign is “Big Red One,” and his reindeer can land safely. Could Santa’s navigation system be attacked by a computer virus? Another officer in charge of cyber space chimes in that the “anti-Grinch-viral is up and will continue to monitor threats.”

Threats? To Santa Claus? Whose bright idea was this? Now, for the first time in history, children who see this nonsense will go to bed on Christmas Eve worried that someone might try to kill Santa Claus, an idea that no kid anywhere has ever been required to encompass.

You really have to see this turd to believe it. The martial drumming, the terrible graphics, the cameras and radar stations surveilling everything, and of course, the war weapons on Santa’s six. You’d think the “defense” industry would treat Santa with more dignity. He knows if you are sleeping, he knows if you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so for goodness sake, the guy should be on retainer with the NSA.

The NORAD tracking thing has been around for almost 60 years, and when I was old enough to know better, I loved watching how it made the younger kids lose their minds when Santa’s “position” was reported by the local TV news stations…but this deal with the fighter jets is not just some cute new wrinkle they’ve added.

It is product placement and the creation of brand loyalty to the military in the minds of young children, which in the end makes it recruiting. Period, end of file.

Brazen demonstrations of war weapons are already an enormous part of American culture. They do fly-overs at practically every major sporting event, soldiers carry the flag and sing the anthem, and half the children’s cartoons on television involve war fighting in some form or another. It is practically inescapable, and has been getting more intense with each passing year. The biggest Disney movie out right now is about crop dusters racing F-15s.

In a way, I suppose, NORAD should be commended. After all, they’ve finally found a use for the multi-billion-dollar boondoggle F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: keeping Santa “safe” from “threats.”

Guys, give it a rest already. You’ve already got the kids hooked on war in a hundred ways. Leave the fighter jets in the hangar on Christmas Eve. Santa will be just fine on his own. He always has been.

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