Monday, July 13, 2009

McNary Field: Home of the Salem Cargo Cult

Erickson S-64, refueling at McNary Field, Sale...a working aircraft at McNary Field -- the kind that could continue with the field under private ownership (Image via Wikipedia)

If Salem needs cash so desperately, the place to find it is the airport, as in selling it to private investors for them to operate or put to other use, as conditions dicate.

The airport is currently a tax drain on the city and occupies good, centrally located and well drained land that gets plenty of sun (and, yes, rain) -- perfect for a group of investors to take over, continue to run as an private, civil aviation airport if desired and, more importantly, to start using all that safety-buffer space as farmland as well.

Because the airline industry is cratering. The sooner Salem admits that there will never be scheduled commercial service to Salem again, the sooner the airport can be privatized and put on the tax rolls to become a tax generator instead of a tax drain.

Between the price of jet fuel (kerosene, from oil) and the onset of prices on carbon emissions, the bottom line is that that air travel --- one of the most energy intensive human activities --- is going to be less and less a part of our lives in the years to come and it will certainly never be a mass activity for the middle class, as it was for a while.

Salem's leadership seems to be either unaware or in denial about all of this, but the physical facts on the ground will trump any amount of psychological denial. The only question is how many planes will we attempt to build out of cedar planks before we give up our denial and admit that those years are over:

The most widely known period of cargo cult activity, however, was in the years during and after World War II. First, the Japanese arrived with a great deal of unknown equipment, and later, Allied forces also used the islands in the same way. The vast amounts of war materiel that were airdropped onto these islands during the Pacific campaign between the Allies and the Empire of Japan necessarily meant drastic changes to the lifestyle of the islanders, many of whom had never seen Westerners or Easterners before. Manufactured clothing, medicine, canned food, tents, weapons, and other useful goods arrived in vast quantities to equip soldiers. Some of it was shared with the islanders who were their guides and hosts. With the end of the war, the airbases were abandoned, and cargo was no longer dropped.

In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors, and airmen use. They carved headphones from wood and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses. The cult members thought that the foreigners had some special connection to the deities and ancestors of the natives, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.

In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size replicas of airplanes out of straw and created new military-style landing strips, hoping to attract more airplanes. Ultimately, although these practices did not bring about the return of the airplanes that brought such marvelous cargo during the war, they did have the effect of eradicating most of the religious practices that had existed prior to the war.
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1 comment:

Rob said...

The current city leaders won't admit that Salem Airport (McNary Field really) is just a hobby airport. Taxpayers get to pay for their hobby with dollars and noise over our neighborhoods with virtually no jobs being created. It is a waste of space.