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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday July 08 2012

Last week I used one of the photos I took at the new Bomber Command Memorial at Hyde Park Corner as a Samizdata Quote of the Day.

Here are some other snaps I took of the Memorial:

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

For some reason, I often find the little cards and photos of loved ones that people put on these memorials to be more evocative than the Big Thing itself.  And given that others will of course also be photoing the big picture, I often find myself concentrating on these small things when I photo these things.  And on others taking photos of course, that being a constant preoccupation of mine.

You don’t have to agree with everything Bomber Command was commanded to do during WW2 to salute the bravery of those who did it.

I for one find that prominent Pericles reference to defending freedom (the one I made into an SQotD, and which you can see in the final picture above) slightly odd.  Bomber Command was an offensive weapon, as is made clear in the Churchill quote about how only the bombers could offer victory (see photo in line 3, far left).  And its purpose was not just to win the war (which despite Bomber Harris’s promises it only helped to do), but to punish the damned losers of it for having started it.  This was a punitive war, and everyone at the time knew it.  Oh sure, the story at the time in the newspapers was that it was all precision bombing of military targets, blah blah, but if any bombs just happened to land on civilians, the attitude of civilians on our side was: serve the bastards right.

You have to realise how most British people felt about the Germans during WW2, including most of the bomber airmen.  The Germans were the people who, having experienced World War 1 in all its horror, concluded from it that they needed to have a re-run of it, but this time win.  Starting WW1 was forgiveable, albeit a horrible blunder, and we still quarrel about who exactly did start it.  Starting WW2, on purpose, was unforgiveable.

Okay, maybe a lot of Germans were not in favour of all this.  But they went along with it, very happily.  Until it all started to go wrong.

WW1 ended with a negotiated German surrender.  This time around, our Anglo ancestors were determined that every last German left alive would not only lose, but know that Germany had lost.  Each German must taste defeat, and if they died while tasting it, that was just fine.  This time, the surrender would be unconditional.  No “stab in the back” crap.  Stabbed from the front, with overwhelming force, by an enraged world.

Never again.  You must never, never, do this again.  That was what Bomber Command was saying.

In a way, the bombing offensive was a continuation by other means of the silly pamphlet dropping over Germany which was what the bombers first did.  Sending a message, but this time in a form that would register.

You may not like any of this, but that is how it was.

But they went along with it, very happily.  Until it all started to go wrong.

Not exactly. In 1939, there were not a lot of Germans really happy about going to war. The Fuhrer said “Let’s roll!” and nobody disagreed with the Fuhrer - in public - but there was a lack of public enthusiasm. The Army was far from confident.

A year later, after the spectacular victories in Poland, Norway, and France, attitudes changed: “Whee! Let’s kick some more ass!” But that shouldn’t be backdated.

One of the grand errors of the Allies was the belief that in launching the war, Hitler was acting for an inner military-industrial cabal. In fact the military-industrial complex knew quite well that Germany had lost fair and square in 1918, and didn’t want another war (at least not a Great War). But in 1939, nobody disagreed with the Fuhrer, and by 1940, the Fuhrer was obviously right.

By 1943, the Fuhrer was not so right, and in my opinion nearly Germans wanted out of the war before it got worse, and had lost all interest in future adventures.

However - none of this diminishes the heroism of Bomber Command’s flyers. I am very proud of my father, who flew 30 missions with the Mighty Eighth. But when I consider men like Guy Gibson, who flew over 200 missions, I’m awed.

I’ll add one other point. The following story appeared in a WW II forum:

“I have an acquaintence who is Dutch and spent the war years in Holland…

When the sun went down you could hear this faint roaring in the western sky that gradually grew louder and louder until the house literally shook as hundreds of British bombers passed overhead on their way to Germany.  He said he can still hear it in his mind.  It gave him great hope to know that the war was being carried to the Germans.”

Posted by Rich Rostrom on 14 July 2012

Rich

One of my failings as a writer is that I frequently set out to describe how a bunch of people were thinking, and I come across instead as describing what I am thinking.  The words you quoted were me describing how a great many -perhaps most - British people felt about Germans as the Allied bombing offensive got underway circa 1942.  These words were not me describing my own opinions.

I entirely agree that none of the above disputation diminishes the heroism of the men in Bomber Command.

An opinion of mine that I perhaps should have expressed, making it clear that it is my own, is that this recognition is long overdue.  Just because people later felt bad about the decisions they implemented, made by the likes of Churchill and Bomber Harris, that was no excuse for taking it out on the men who did the fighting, night after terrifying night.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 14 July 2012

No German I’ve ever spoken to has ever accepted that the Dresden firebombing of March 1945 was justified, although it is interesting that official figures have reduced the maximum casualty count to 25,000.

But no German I have ever spoken to has ever suggested that “we need a rematch.”

Which has probably avoided a lot of deaths since then. It might yet save Germany from adopting ruinous economic policies which are otherwise dooming most of Europe to societal collapse: “mustn’t have an inflation crisis, we got Hitler last time...”

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 27 July 2012
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