Since the Air Force announced its plan to bring a squadron of new F-35 fighter jets to the 115th Fighter Wing at Truax Field, the multi-trillion-dollar federal defense program has become a hyper-local issue. Some have raised concerns about elevated air and noise pollution, while others have emphasized the jobs and local investment the jets would bring to Madison.
But the impact of Madison’s F-35s could reach much wider. Our local debate has a tendency to look past the reason that F-35s even exist: fighting wars. American F-35s have already conducted airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq, and after all the years and money spent developing the jet, it’s unreasonable to think that the Air Force would keep them out of use. If anything, the military will be more eager to deploy the F-35s to justify the massive investment.
This means that Madison faces a decision not just about pollution and investment, but about our role as citizens of the world. As global citizens, we must acknowledge the fact that our actions have consequences that extend beyond political boundaries. This requires us to weigh costs and benefits for ourselves as well as for anyone else affected by our policies, American or not.
Given the deeply international nature of the jets — barring major catastrophe, any F-35 combat will take place on another continent — the discussion surrounding their presence in Madison should address our city’s duty to the rest of humanity. This means talking about where these jets will be used, to what ends, and whether or not we’re willing to answer for that down the line. Accepting the F-35s would let the world know that Madison is willing to sell out fellow members of humanity (provided that they’re distant and different) for a few dozen jobs and $120 million.
If I knew that the United States would never go to war, or that the 115th Fighter Wing would never be deployed overseas, I’d be fine with the city debating the F-35 program on issues of local investment and pollution. Unfortunately, it’s naïve to think that the new F-35s won’t be used for anything more than training missions and football flyovers.
Madison residents have some control over whether or not F-35s are stationed at Truax. Once they’re here, however, we’ll have no control over where they go. I’d certainly prefer that Madison’s Air National Guard unit stayed safely at home, and I can’t imagine that anyone in our community wishes for its deployment.
Regardless, personnel and jets from the 115th Fighter Wing were deployed to Iraq following the 2003 American invasion (which led to over 100,000 civilian deaths), little matter how the people of Madison felt about the war. And this summer, jets and air guardsmen and guardswomen left from Truax for a deployment in Afghanistan.
Given that at some point, these new jets will likely find themselves flying overseas, we need to ask ourselves whether or not we’ll approve of all of their future missions. If America enters another unjust war, or attempts to overthrow a democratically elected government, there’s a chance that our F-35s, tailfins emblazoned with “WISCONSIN,” will be involved. If America’s enemies hide in hospitals or leave weapons caches under elementary schools, it could be Madison’s new F-35s that execute a higher-up’s tough decision.
Maybe, as a city, Madison will decide to constrain its thinking to municipal or national boundaries. We might decide that louder skies and dirtier air is worth $120 million. Alternatively, we could think as global citizens, and consider the global impact of a single F-35 squadron, and of the entire American F-35 program. We might think of the human cost of these new fighter jets, whose purpose is to kill even more effectively than their predecessors. We might also ask whether the United States military has made a positive contribution to our global community in recent decades, and reflect on whether or not we can trust its future actions to reflect well on our city.
I urge the residents of Madison not to ignore local considerations in deciding whether or not to accept F-35s at Truax Field, but rather to weigh the jets’ global implications as well. If we are to be global citizens, we owe other human beings the same concern we extend to ourselves. As we worry about increased noise here at home, think about how loud an F-35 must sound in combat over Iraq. Before saying yes to the F-35s, we need to ask ourselves whether we would be completely comfortable putting our collective signature on every possible use of the jets.
As some proponents of the F-35s have said, the new jets have to go somewhere. That’s true, but they can go somewhere else. We owe it to humanity to take this small stand.
Patrick O'Connell is an international studies major at Boston College and a 2016 Madison West High School graduate.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.