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VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Destroying meritocracy is deadly

A recent epidemic of airline near misses deserves both attention and reflection.

In mid-December, a San Francisco-bound United Airlines Boeing 777-200 airliner, just a little more than a minute after taking off from Maui, Hawaii, suddenly dived. It lost more than half its altitude and came within 800 feet of crashing into the Pacific Ocean before pulling up.

About a month later, an American Airlines jet crossed the runway at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport just as a Delta Air Lines plane was accelerating for takeoff. The two aircraft nearly collided.

Then in February, a FedEx cargo jet at the Austin, Texas, airport just missed crashing into a Southwest Airlines airliner by a mere 100 feet.

The same month, an American Airlines Airbus A321 was being towed out of the gate at Los Angeles International Airport and smashed into a bus carrying passengers between terminals, injuring five.

These near and actual accidents come amid a general landscape of aviation chaos.

After Christmas, Southwest Airlines simply canceled 71 percent of its flights. It blamed staff shortages because of storms. The airline seemed incapable of ensuring enough of their pilots, attendants, crews and airport staff could get to work.

The FAA in January canceled all flight departures from the United States for two hours because of a computer safety system collapse. Thousands of additional flights were canceled, many for more than 24 hours.

Something has gone terribly wrong.

Either the Department of Transportation and its Secretary Pete Buttigieg, or the head of the FAA, or the quality of either ground crews, pilots or air traffic controllers — or all combined — are putting American travelers at mortal risk.

If not corrected, these near-death airline experiences and the near collapse of the U.S. commercial aviation system presage catastrophes to come.

Similar problems are plaguing the U.S. military.

On July 21, 2021, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley assured the country that “the Afghan security forces have the capacity and capabilities needed to fight and defend their country.”

Those forces utterly collapsed in a matter of hours less than a month later.

On the eve of the war in Ukraine, the Pentagon wrongly warned Congress that Kyiv could fall within 72 hours of a general Russian invasion.

This month, the Defense Department officials apparently allowed a series of surveillance balloons to enter U.S. airspace. President Joe Biden claims he was advised by the military not to shoot down a Chinese survival balloon craft as it crossed with impunity much of the United States.

In the aftermath, Pentagon spokespeople gave incomplete, mutually contradictory and absurd explanations for these serial violations of U.S. airspace, most likely perpetrated by the Chinese communist government.

The Pentagon likewise disputes details of recruitment shortfalls. But the military brass concedes that many branches of the military are still between a third to a quarter short of their recruitment goals — despite the military steadily lowering standards for enlistment. It denies that the new woke military culture has alienated future recruits, although polls suggest otherwise.

The same shortfall is true of U.S. weapon arsenals. Between cuts in the defense budget, poor procurement planning, incompetent administration and massive arms shipments to Ukraine, the military suffers dangerously low inventories of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, artillery shells, rockets, missiles and mines.

America’s security, safety, prosperity and postmodern lifestyles are not our birthright. They are the dividends of centuries of prior hard work, unfettered freedom of speech, disinterested research and a meritocracy.

Tamper with any of that, and the system begins to fall apart.

The United States will then resemble the miasma we see in most of the world abroad where ideology suppresses free inquiry, political correctness warps research and tribalism trumps meritocracy.

Many of the major airlines have established racial and gender quotes for government pilot training programs. United Airlines has set quotas to ensure half of its trainees will be minorities or women. Since 2013, the FAA has been lowering standards for air traffic control qualifications to achieve de facto race and gender quotas.

In testimony before Congress our top military brass has bragged not of their reduction in standards for enlistment, but of their “diversity” hiring, as they purportedly ferret out “white supremacy” and “white rage.”

Our government is playing with our lives as it prefers diversity, equity and inclusion over ensuring the best-qualified employees are hired on the basis of racially and gender-blind competitive tests and experience.

Keep it up, and there are going to be a lot more Afghanistan-style surrenders, Chinese surveillance craft in our skies and airline nightmares.

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a classicist and historian at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Contact him at authorvdh@gmail.com.

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