Monday, February 19, 2007

Masters of The Air

I just finished reading Donald L. Miller's Masters of The Air, a history of the Mighty Eighth Air Force from 1942-1945. What a good read. If you have interest in the subject, I highly recommend it. I have a passing familiarity with the subject as my father was a waist gunner in a B-24 in the Eighth Air Force, 2nd Division, 489th Squadron out of East Anglia, but I was surprised by many of the lesser know historical aspects of the air war:

  • Switzerland although officially neutral kept American POWs in horrid conditions while allowing the Luftwaffe to use their airspace and resorts like Davos.

  • The casualty rate among the Eighth Air Force exceeded that of the USMC, USA, etc., everyone except submariners in the Pacific.

  • Black American airmen on separate occasions revolted in England killing military policemen in armed mutiny.

  • The original concept behind precision daylight bombing and the "Flying Fortress" were deeply, deeply flawed. If something similar happened today some generals would get flayed alive.

Two things occurred to me while reading this book. The first thing is that if we had the press we have today back in 1942, Adolph Hitler would still be presiding over the Third Reich. The second thing is that we tend to view WWII as the last "clean war", where the powers of good and right fought the powers of oppression and darkness. While I believe our cause in WWII to be just, there was nothing clean about the deaths tens of thousands of people, at or from 30,000 feet. The men who conducted the air war fought and died in miserable conditions while bending over backwards to avoid civilian casualties, for the most part. When the Americans decided to target civilian areas, many airmen had difficulty dealing with the morality of bombing non-combatants, but they did it anyway. It was nasty, difficult business.

1 comment:

CultMan said...

Mark Steyn & I have an ongoing feud about this issue -- he believes "it had to be done", with (apparently) no regrets, while I can see no way 'round condemning as a lazy, ruthless, & ultimately ineffective tactic of war/terrorism -- the targeting of non-combatants, that is. It seems to me that common sense would dictate, at the very least, that "conservatives" bend over backwards to honor the ethics of the "Just War" tradition before hastily breaking its tenets.