Guest commentary: Swastika-bearing glider spreads message of hate and division

A plane with a swastika on the tail was photographed at the Torrey Pines Gliderport.

In the skies above the beaches and tony neighborhoods of La Jolla, a glider has apparently soared, its tail emblazoned with a misbegotten, taunting and unfortunate facsimile of the red-white-and-black Nazi flag, at the center of which is a poor attempt at a swastika.

A glider with a swastika on the tail was seen recently at the Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla, causing serious concern for some.

For the record:

3:45 p.m. Sept. 8, 2020The writer has corrected this commentary to include that the glider appears to have been a replica of a German Luftwaffe training craft.

That the large model aircraft had been apparently stored and launched from San Diego’s city-owned Torrey Pines Gliderport should be cause for alarm and outrage.

But instead, leaders of the Torrey Pines Gulls, a club whose members fly mostly gliders and paragliders from these scenic, ocean-facing bluffs, have been downplaying the incident.

This at a time when America has spent months embroiled about what to do with the country’s own symbols of racism and white supremacy — Confederate flags and monuments — much less what to do about the hateful symbols of their vanquished World War II foes, the German Nazis, who unleashed a genocidal Holocaust that killed some 6 million mostly European Jews and a concurrent war — the most devastating in human history — that left as a many as 80 million humans dead across the globe.

Dan Cummins, past president of the Torrey Pines Gulls, has appeared to have planted himself firmly on a fence in an equivocating attempt to reduce the presence of this aircraft on city property to the benign status of mere kerfuffle. It is anything but.

And Cummins’ explanations aren’t helpful.

When asked about the glider, Cummins told La Jolla Light reporter Ashley Mackin-Solomon:

“The clubs and people that fly at the Gliderport are fantastic salt-of-the-earth people from all walks of life. Nobody that takes the time to build and fly these planes would go out of their way to offend anyone. But at the same time, many of the pilots are scale-airplane historical nerds that pride themselves on the accuracy of the planes and their insignias.

“Someone being offended by a symbol on a scale-model plane doesn’t change the history of how the planes were painted back in the day.”

Sorry, Mr. Cummins, but your excuse for the person who built this plane and subsequently flew it from city property is nonsensical. It falls into the category of “very fine people on both sides,” President Trump’s defense of the 2017 Unite the Right rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va.

So where does that leave us regarding the case of the Nazi glider?

The plane appears to have been a replica of the Goppingen Go 3 Minimoa, a single-pilot training craft developed and deployed by the German Luftwaffe in the run-up to WWII. So while the owner of this model plane may indeed have been a misguided “history nerd,” that doesn’t remove the responsibility to be respectful of others in the community. Launching a symbol of racism and anti-Semitism from city property and having it soar above our homes and beaches is thoughtless and ill-advised (homes and beaches, I might add, that are populated by a significant number of Jews and military personnel, as well as plain old freedom-loving Americans).

It’s a slap in the face to the few remaining survivors of the Holocaust, as well as to the sons, daughters and grandchildren of those survivors. And in a military town like San Diego, it is again a slap in the face to the surviving men and women who fought in WWII and saved the world from the scourge of Nazism.

Mr. Cummins, instead of mamby-pambying your way through this embarrassing fiasco, you should denounce it with force and vigor rather than with mild equivocation. And then you should quickly get to the bottom of it, make public what you find and take corrective action to ensure the public that such a stunt won’t happen again.

I, for one, am outraged. As a fellow American, you should be, too.

Craig K. Collins is a longtime San Diego resident and the author of “Midair.”