On Christmas eve, as has happened for the past sixty years, NORAD tracked Santa Claus and his sleigh as he made his way around the world. Of all of the modern traditions of Christmas, you might think that this is one of the more harmless and fun ones for children to follow and, in some cases, participate in by calling the hotline. But it would appear that there is a grinch for every season these days, since someone found a reason to object to the tradition and call for it to end. That would be MSNBC opinion columnist (and former Buzzfeed writer) Hayes Brown, publishing a not-safe-for-children column titled “NORAD’s Christmas Eve Santa Claus tracker needs to end.”
But why? My first guess was the Brown was upset over the incredibly “awkward” moment when President Joe Biden took one of the NORAD calls and wound up saying he “agreed” with the parent who tossed in a “Let’s go Brandon” comment at the end of the call. Surely the author wouldn’t want to see a Democratic president be embarrassed in such a fashion. But as it turns out, that wasn’t the reason at all. The author insists that he’s not a Scrooge or “some kind of anti-Santa advocate prone to humbuggery.” What Brown really objects to is the way that the tradition associates the military with goodness and denies all of the damage that our military causes. Or something like that.
I’d prefer we end the tradition because it’s about time that we decoupled St. Nick from the world’s most powerful military. American culture is saturated with a desire to associate the military with the saccharine. We get videos of soldiers returning home to their pets or children but never questions about why they were deployed for so long or what threat they were fighting; military jets flying over NFL games give us an injection of jingoist testosterone before more regionally focused battles of testosterone are played on the field; and we get the Netflix movie “Operation Christmas Drop,” a seasonally themed rom-com that cheerfully seeks to boost approval for America’s military base in Guam.
The messier business of war that goes on in the background doesn’t jibe with the Christmas spirit. Last week, The New York Times published a two-part investigation into the civilian casualties of American airstrikes. America’s increased reliance on aerial campaigns helps military officials avoid the political headaches that come from massive ground deployments, but that strategy contributes to the profound disconnect between the American public and the wars fought in its name.
Like so many other liberals, Brown attempts to tread the fine line between being opposed to war (and what sane person isn’t when war can be avoided?) and simply being opposed to the military. He writes at length about the amount of supposed secrecy surrounding civilian deaths caused by drone strikes or other military actions taken during combat. He rejects the “sanitization of military operations for public consumption.” In short, he wants to “decouple St. Nick from the world’s most powerful military” because Santa is nice and our troops… aren’t.
The reality is that collateral damage has always been a feature of war. No reasonable person is happy about it, but civilian casualties do happen. I’ve quoted my own father here more times than I can count (a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient) saying, “bad things happen in war.” The objections from Hayes Brown, however, veer back and forth between the reality of those casualties and the supposed secrecy surrounding them and a lack of transparency about them on the part of the military.
It seems to me that when civilian casualties take place we generally do hear about it. I know that there was plenty of coverage of the botched drone strike in Kabul in the final days of our disastrous withdrawal. Perhaps there are others that we don’t wind up hearing about. I couldn’t really say for sure. But since Mr. Brown is himself a journalist, shouldn’t he be looking in the mirror and asking why he and his colleagues don’t do a better job of rooting out that sort of information and publishing it for the public?
With all of that said, it still seems as if trying to wipe out NORAD’s Santa trackers is an odd target if you’re looking to draw more awareness to the fact that wars produce undesirable results at times. And despite the author’s protestations, Brown really is acting like a Grinch in this case. His attacks are right up there with the people who are protesting the Elf on a Shelf on the grounds of surveillance and privacy concerns. You can debate any of the known issues with war and other broader policies without punishing the children who still have the opportunity to enjoy the Christmas season. So for Hayes Brown, I shall award him five out of five lumps of coal in his stocking. Merry Christmas, sir, whether you manage to find a way to enjoy it or not.