In an age of high-tech international cyber crime, there’s something refreshingly old school about a superpower using balloons to allegedly spy on its enemies.
Over the last week or so it seems that the US has scrambled F-16s at the site of any kind of inflatable flying objects in its airspace. The result is that #aliens and #UFOs are currently trending on social media as the world hypothesises over the international, or intergalactic origins of the obliterated objects.
Speculation across the Twittersphere is rife – especially in the US – as conspiracy theorists speculate over why the Chinese may be using massive, slow moving and blatantly obvious balloons to covertly spy on the US. I can only assume that, having exhausted the intelligence gathering potential of the internet and satellites, they are taking a new, in-your-face approach.
What next? Giant inflatable men in dark glasses and suspicious coats, appearing in public spaces across the US? Or perhaps they’ll just post questionnaires with stamped addressed return envelopes to all US citizens, asking for their bank details and Google passwords?
Whatever happens, I just can’t imagine that we’d be witnessing the same reaction over here, if the balloons appeared in UK air space. Indeed, far from being terrified of the consequences of a breakdown in global security, I suspect Brits would be buying weather balloons by the dozen and sending Greggs sausage rolls into space, just to see if they’d get shot down.
Either that, or they’d be crafting giant satirical words of defiance in fields directly underneath the path of the mysterious objects.
Why the difference?
Well, there simply aren’t as many conspiracy theorists in the UK as there are in the US – partly down to the obvious disparity in population size, but mostly because we simply can’t be bothered.
Most of us Brits live our lives believing that it’s much easier to just accept things as they are, at face value. It means we have more time to do things that matter, like moaning about the weather. So, if China did send balloons our way, I don’t think we’d be that bothered.
Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want is for our national security to be compromised, but if any enemies of the state were to float a spy camera over this part of the world, the only item of possible interest they’d clock would be the sorry state of our weed-infested back garden. Mind you, if they time it right and the sun’s out, they might just catch a glimpse of my lucky running pants on the washing line.
This whole situation also reminds me a little of the time David Blaine came to the UK to see how long he could live in a glass box, without food. Suspended above the Embankment, next to the Thames in central London, Blaine thought that people would come from far and wide to marvel at his feat of endurance. In reality, Brits did come from far and wide, but mainly to throw Big Macs at him.
This fundamental difference in the perception of reality is what separates the US and the UK. One is prone to wonder and speculation, while the other is prone to scepticism and taking the piss in any way possible.
So, whether they’re inflatable spy balloons, or alien spacecraft, it really doesn’t matter. On this side of the Pond, we’re just intrigued to be watching it all unfold from afar.
Now, time for a Big Mac.