A Memorial Day thought: How the B-52 can inform our thinking while deterring our enemies

Matthew Ladner

Memorial Day is a time to honor the service of those who died in the U.S. armed services.

 The United States played a decisive role in the 20th century in defeating global fascism in the Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan Axis Alliance. We then quickly transitioned to a multi-decade tense nuclear standoff to contain and ultimately defeat the Soviet Union.

Defeating two powerful totalitarian ideologies in one century is something to take pride in, especially when our leaders demonstrated the wisdom and restraint to defeat the global communist threat while avoiding a catastrophically destructive direct conflict.

Along the way, we demonstrated our continuing liberality as a society with a willingness to make fun of ourselves along the way, most brilliantly perhaps in the film “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Strangelove depicts a dystopian satire of a Cold War run by bombastic fools that fortunately never occurred, if only barely.

Much of Dr. Strangelove occurs aboard a B-52 bomber, which was one of the primary tools of the American nuclear triad that ultimately prevailed in the Cold War. The B-52 has been in continuous service in the U.S. Air Force since 1955 and is slated to continue in service into the 2050s or perhaps longer.

The original request for proposal for the B-52 came in 1946, making the plane seem like a relic. The reality, however, is that the old plane has gone through a continuous cycle of upgrades. Currently, the Air Force is in the process of securing new engines, avionics, defensive gear, sensors and ejection seats, which would lead to the B-52J, with the first three planes being a B-52A.

 The B-52 is an old dog that continually has learned new tricks and has a variety of uses that keeps it in service. The Air Force currently is experimenting with lasers in the hope of giving the B-52 the ability to destroy in-bound missiles.

War often reveals obsolescence. Often this is because we humans are very talented at failing to recognize things we don’t want to know.

The Battle of Crecy should have signaled the end of the mounted knight in shining armor, but even the dimmest bulb figured it out after Agincourt nearly 70 years later. The Ottoman Empire had been a wealthy and powerful cross-roads of some of the world’s most important trade routes before Vasco da Gama diminished its position. It realized its military obsolescence the hard way, facing off against Napoleon Bonaparte centuries later in Egypt.

The American Civil War and the Crimean War ought to have warned Europeans off from diving into the World War I, but too few took notice. When World War II came, the French found themselves with fortifications better suited for 1914 than 1940, which were incredibly costly, inflexible and even more ineffective.

Today, we celebrate the service of those who defended our country. Perhaps tomorrow we can rededicate ourselves to making our K-12 system more like the continuous upgrading of the B-52 and less like the Maginot Line.

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