The North American Aerospace Defense Command is more obviously a monument to the Cold War than an exemplar of the holiday spirit. Better known as NORAD, the Colorado-based air defense program was responsible for detecting incoming Soviet missiles; as such, it was an important link in the strategy of mutually assured destruction, under which the certainty of a devastating retaliation helped deter each superpower from using its nuclear weapons against the other.
These days, in addition to staring into the abyss, NORAD also tracks Santa Claus. The air command recently relaunched its Christmastime website, www.noradsanta.org, which purports to follow “Big Red One” around the world; this year’s version ups the gee-whiz factor by showing jet fighters escorting his sled.
Some critics have protested that the Pentagon is militarizing Christmas, but they’re likely overthinking an initiative that’s meant to be all in fun. Still, the jokes are a little stiff; “We all know that Santa travels faster than starlight,” a voice in one promotional video says, “but this is nothing that our technologies can’t handle.” And the juxtaposition between the innocence of Santa Claus and all that high-powered weaponry is a little disorienting. It makes one worry that Comet and Cupid will be injured by a wayward drone, or that Frosty the Snowman might melt from the heat of a fighter engine.