So much for that big and lovely balloon in the sky

by | Feb 5, 2023 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Great. Now it’s balloons.

Like we didn’t have enough threats to worry about. Economic collapseKiller pandemicsGlobal warming. And now a big white spy balloon that the Chinese say just “blew off course.”

Right. And I took a DDOT bus and wound up in Shanghai.

Am I the only one who took this news like a clonk on the head? Just when you think you have all the invasion of privacy stuff figured out — and have told yourself, “OK, as long as there’s nothing else!“ — boom, along comes something else.

A balloon? That’s what we have to fret over now? They already ruined everything else in the sky. Planes can be terrorism. Drones are dangerous. You can’t look at a blimp and not think “Hindenburg.”

Now balloons are not to be trusted?

The whole drama was weird to watch. First, we hear about this floating object over Montana, then we hear that it’s a huge balloon, then we hear that it’s Chinese, then we hear that our government has actually known about this thing for a while, then we can’t decide whether to shoot it down or let it keep going, meanwhile we tell the Chinese this is not nice, our ambassador cancels his meeting with them, but we still don’t shoot it down because our government says the debris could hurt somebody below — and then, Saturday, after it traversed the width of the country, we shot it down over the Atlantic, after it did whatever it did up there, which was …

Well, what WAS it doing up there?

Spying on our military bases? Our nuclear operations? The general population? Your TV?

“Ah, no need to worry,” we were told, “the Chinese can already see all that from their satellites.”


Watch what you’re doing. Cause they are.

I’m sorry. That’s not a comforting explanation. But it further cements the idea that nothing, absolutely nothing, is private anymore.

Think about your daily existence. There are cameras in the streets. Cameras at work. Your emails, photos and posts are all traceable. Your TikTok video is a portal to Beijing.

The phone you speak on can be monitored, and, depending on the model, can send your location even when it’s off. Every time you take out cash, use your credit card, get on an airplane or check into a hotel, some entity knows where you are. If you have Alexa or a similar device, you may be on “Candid Camera” all the time.

Now, we find out, Chinese satellites can see what we’re doing all day, and maybe a Chinese balloon can, too, and all of this information can be gathered, collected, organized, stored … for what reason?

Who knows?

But it’s not to make you happier.

And no, it’s not for weather, which, even for the Chinese, is a pretty lame excuse. You spy to gain an edge. To know a market. To predict behavior. To make money. Or, worst-case scenario, to plot future attacks.

Some, like the Montana barbecue chef interviewed by the New York Times, suggest that’s already happening. “It should have been shot,” he said. “It’s a spy balloon, and it shouldn’t have been flying over the United States.”

At first blush, I felt the same thing. Then I thought, wait a minute. Maybe that’s what they want. Or maybe they’re testing us. And then I had to remind myself we are not at war with China.

Or are we?

Holding it over our heads

In today’s superpower environment, a major confrontation isn’t going to start with a bullet. The days of killing an archduke and sparking a World War are long behind us.

More and more experts believe the next huge showdown will begin with something technological. A power grid. A weapons system. Disabling defense shields. Microchips are the new mini-bombs.

Which is why that balloon was so disconcerting.

Reports have emerged that, before this event, Congress received a classified report about American adversaries possibly using advanced technology to spy on us. Most likely it was China. The type of cameras and data collection devices hanging from that balloon is something we apparently don’t know, and something that unnerves those watching.

Meanwhile, after letting the balloon traverse the entire U.S., we had to close down a few airports before shooting it down, yet the government keeps telling us they are “confident” the Chinese didn’t get any new information.

Let me get this straight. We find out about this balloon. Our secretary of state says it’s an “irresponsible act” and a “clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law.” He cancels his major trip. We blow the thing out of the sky.

Then we’re told it’s no big deal?

Which is it? What was it? What was it doing? Why was it so brazenly in our airspace? Can any of us, with any confidence, say that when it comes to China, we know where they stand and they know where we stand?

Balloons. Now it’s balloons. This was truly a weird week, one that left us looking to the heavens — not for answers, but with a helluva lot of questions.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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