Monday, June 25, 2012

A politics of bombers and bars

About 70 years ago, thousands of Allied aircrew packed themselves in to large, slow moving and vulnerable bombers, flew over German cities and dropped incalculable numbers of high explosive and incendiary bombs on industrial and residential areas. The aim of this campaign, no secret here, was the 'break the moral of the German people' in order to hasten that country's surrender. This meant levelling their cities and killing 600 000 civilians.  Across the world the ultimate expression of this approach saw the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Breaking the civilian morale involved the killing, maiming, and literal terrorising of millions of 'enemy' civilians to a degree unrecorded in history. Hell fell from the sky.  There is no glory to be found in that trade. It makes no difference whether it was difficult for the aircrew who participated in that inhuman action. They did what was asked of them and that was it.

For our Conservatives, however, not one of whom has stood under a falling bomb or commanded and aircraft dropping them, not one of whom is old enough to have memories of that war, these facts matter little. Like 1812, they are revisiting  that war and for reasons which I cannot fathom, are striking a new bar for aircrew medals specifically for those who participated in RAF Bomber Command's campaign against German cities and industrial targets. (Do British veterans qualify for that bar too, I wonder?)

The medals for that war were struck upon its closing are are largely shared across the English-speaking Commonwealth.  There are very few living veterans of that war, and in 20 years there shall be none. Creating a new bar now for that war serves no practical purpose as far as I can see, unless it is to give the finger to historians and others who raise questions about the necessity or reality of that particular aspect of the war and who challenge new wars on similar grounds.

Airshow MacKay, very much the boy with the action figures, says as much between the lines:

The new honour comes 67 years after the end of the war. MacKay today acknowledged this tribute is "long overdue. It is unfortunate it has taken this long," MacKay said. "[Creating the honour] is complex and there is certainly, as is always the case, politics involved in that.
Yes, politics. Or maybe that part of the exercise of stopping Hitler involved the leaders, military and political, of the time giving themselves licence to do unspeakable things to other human beings they temporarily labelled as the enemy. The politics that recognised the horror of such acts and afterward created international institutions like the United Nations in order to avoid reproducing them, especially in the nuclear age. It is that politics that MacKay means because it challenges his own. His is a government with a politics of to inflicting pain on others in the name of great causes, particularly with weapons and uniformed people wielding them. They don't have a Nazi Germany, but they have Muslims, environmentalists, and various other civilian political opponents.  Theirs is a retributive,  punishment politics and emerges in prisons and omnibus legislation.  It glorifies martial violence and demonises those who oppose the policies of state. It wants secret police to read your secret notes. It wants big alliances with bigger powers. It will scorch and toxify air, land, and water to fill its coffers and spite its opponents. It will starve sections of the country who do not support it. His is a politics that thwarts and pervert elections and the rules of democracy.

You see, there was a politics like theirs 70 years ago. The people of the time struck medals and built monuments to the soldiers, sailors, and aircrew who risked and lost life, limb, and mind committing the savagery necessary to defeat it.


kootcoot said...

Something I find astounding and telling about the HarperCon celebration of the War of 1812, is that usually civilized people celebrate the end of wars. Do the Germans celebrate the invasion of Poland, do the Japanese or the Americans celebrate Pearl Harbor.

We remember and mark days of infamy, like Pearl Harbor or various invasions that marked the start of conflicts, but normal people, especially those who unlike Airshow and play soldier Harper, have actually experienced war, DO NOT EVER celebrate the start of a war.

Non-sociopathic folks would celebrate the War of 1812 in 2014, the bicentennial of the end of the conflict.

It's time to prepare for the celebration of the ten year anniversary of "Shock and Awe" over Baghdad, I know we didn't participate, but Harper wanted to, so at least he can have a party to celebrate the occasion.

Edstock said...

A ghastly gong from Stevie, his reward to the valiant.

If Stevie really wanted to honour our airmen, there are a number of museums, like the Canadian Warplane Museum. Helping fund restorations might be helpful.

thwap said...

I can sort of understand why the British got started bombing those cities. Churchill was more than willing to "mete out the measure and more than the measure that they [the Germans] have meted out to us." It was also the case that Stalin was pressing him hard to open a second front and the bombing campaign was all they were capable of.

But the process was extremely wasteful in both men and material and the results on the ground constituted genuine war crimes.

The Americans honestly believed they had the capability of "precision bombing" and they were willing to risk daylight bombing to avoid civilian casualties, but they failed in that regard.

But to "celebrate" this atrocity 67 years later is just stupid jingoism.

kootcoot said...

I certainly am not defending Harper's perverse celebration of thing warmongery, as my earlier comment would suggest. But the fact is the Germans also bombed civilians, I know for a fact because I lost one of my own aunts in the blitz and she was a civilian living in London at the time.

Mind you I wasn't even born yet, she was my dad's oldest sister, but the fact remains, she died from a Kraut bomb while trying to live her civilian life.