Politics made real

I have a standard, personal prohibition against talking politics at the airport. Aviation should bring us together and politics, particularly in the current climate, divides us. We go to the airport to share – our love of aviation, our experience, our knowledge, our companionship. Not much sharing going on in today’s politics. As a rule, the aviation community skews conservative. The television in most FBOs is tuned to Fox News. Why that is so is a subject for another time. Adhering to my personal rule for the moment, let’s come back to that another time.

Sunset over the Adriatic

But our journey, Adam’s — and mine for the time being — takes us through a part of the world where politics is unavoidable and where my knowledge of world history, ancient and modern, constantly seems inadequate. Like too many Americans, I have opinions about world affairs that are woefully uninformed. The Dunning Kruger effect is at work, rendering me far too ignorant and far too certain – and I’m not very certain. And in this part of the world we are confronted by the reality of the famous assertion by Clausewitz, that war is the continuation of politics by other means.  (His actual words were a little more nuanced.)

Everywhere on this journey I am confronted by my sketchy knowledge of the world beyond my borders. Vague recollections of world events come up wholly inadequate. One of our next stops will be the 6th of October Airport in Cairo. For weeks now, contemplating our route, this airport has been not much more than an ICAO identifier, HEOC, and a recommended general aviation airport for Cairo. I gave little thought to its unusual name. Of course it must commemorate some important date. And it does – it commemorates the day in 1973 when Egypt launched its effort to retake the Sinai peninsula, which Israel had acquired, or captured, or invaded depending on your point of view, in the Six-Day War of 1967. This war, known to the Egyptians as the October War and to the Israelis as the Yom Kippur War, was ended by a mutual cease fire and the eventual 1979 peace treaty.

This past week, we spent several peaceful days luxuriating in a resort hotel on the outskirts of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

The Valmar Argosy in Dubrovnik

Many languages were heard in the elegant hotel lobby. The guests were mostly older, intent on frequenting the bar and sunning on the pool deck, where very few ventured into the water.

Every evening a coterie of vacationers assembled on the pool deck to watch and photograph the sun setting over the harbor. Breakfasts were sumptuous. The weather was near-perfect. The Croats were adept at catering to the tourist industry. Almost everyone spoke at least basic English and many Croate we met spoke multiple languages with fluency. And yet, just the place names – Dubrovnik, Sarajevo – in the Balkans resonated with stories of horrible events twenty-five years ago when Yugoslavia came unbundled and the region fell into savagery that I still cannot understand. Our guide on a walking tour of the old city, Marco, was four years old in 1991 when Dubrovnik came under attack. He and his mother evacuated Dubrovnik to a safer refuge in the north of Croatia while forces shelled and bombed Dubrovnik, focusing on the 16th-century walled city for reasons I also do not understand.


Each dot on the map represents a building damaged or destroyed by attack during the 1991 war.  Marco, our guide, lived through it as a child.

He addressed the causes only briefly and obliquely, standing in front of a street map of the old city that showed nearly every building had been damaged in some way.  His implication was that Serbian forces allied with the Yugoslav army were responsible for most of the damage.  (Very soon after, he was discussing with great knowledge the ongoing NBA playoffs and the remarkable skills of Stephen Curry.)  Why not attack the industrial or commercial part of the city? I can think of some possible reasons, but I can only speculate. Today, the old city bears the scars of those attacks, with shrapnel scars in the stone walls of ancient churches and houses rebuilt that were burned to the ground in 1991.

Of course, far worse things occurred elsewhere during that war, as the war crimes tribunals are still attempting to adjudicate. At a cafe in a slender, shady alley in the old city, we stopped for a light lunch and a cold beer and I asked our waitress, who was native to a nearby town, to help us understand the confusing mix of combatants and cultural forces at work in that war. Her English was excellent and she was not offended by the question, but she seemed unable to make it understandable to us, perhaps because the causes were just too complicated without a deeper understanding of the history, which we clearly lacked.


Church of St. Blaise, scarred by shrapnel
A home in the old city of Dubrovnik in flames during shelling in the 1991 war.  Now rebuilt, this poster on its exterior is a reminder.

My point is not to write a treatise on the troubles in this part of the world, only to admit that I wish I had more knowledge and more understanding. All of this becomes very real.

In the course of our flight planning yesterday for upcoming legs, we learned that an existing NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) discouraging flight over the northern Sinai has recently been extended to the entire Sinai, suggesting that flight below FL290 (roughly 29 thousand feet) might leave an aircraft vulnerable to attack from the ground. The troubles continue. They are not simple. I hope wise men are at work to end them. We will route around the Sinai.

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