Tuesday 26 February 2013

Why I wouldn't give a medal to the bombers

How many civilians died in the bombing of German cities during the war?  The answer is about 600,000, including 72,000 children, approximately ten times the number of civilian casualties inflicted in UK cities.

Churchill became ashamed of the scale of the slaughter which, because it was inflicted by the winning side, has never been classed alongside the other monstrosities of war.  Those who inflicted the damage, the young aircrew, did so with great bravery and a huge attrition rate.

So it may be that today's announcement awarding them medals is finally giving them what they deserve.  I'm not so sure it isn't a result of dulled and dumbed down morality.

I have been wondering this since David Cameron popped up in the celebrations remembering the British-led massacre of Amritsar in 1919.  You might argue that the British troops involved in the massacre had carried out their duty courageously, even though the result was a hideous blemish on the national reputation - but would you still give them a medal?

I don't blame the aircrews for what happened, though I know there is usually a doctrine imposed on the losers of war that 'obeying orders' is no excuse - but there are consequences of the mass slaughter of children, and foregoing a medal might be one of them.

Because what is really going on here is an extension of the idea that - because the slaughter is carried out at arms length - it is somehow not barbaric.  The holocaust, the Amritsar Massacre, were carried out face to face.  The fire-bombing of Dresden was not.  Is it really any different?

I remember a cartoon in Punch during the Vietnam War showing a New York Police bomber dropping bombs somewhere in their own city.  The pilot is saying: "Don't worry - we are bound to hit someone who is breaking the law."  This seems to be the morality of Dresden, just as it appears to be the morality of the drone strikes in Pakistan.

What comes up must come down - that is not my department, says Werner von Braun.

So has our moral sense become so blunted that we can no longer see that killing children at a distance, and for strategic reasons, is really no different to doing so face to face?

Moral decline seems often to be accompanied by gross ugliness, and here is the proof right in front of our faces (see picture above): the hideous monstrosity unveiled along the road in Green Park, next to Piccadilly, and monstrously out of proportion: the new memorial for the aircrews of Bomber Command.

They were young men, and their death was part of the general tragedy of war.  They need some memorial, though perhaps something more subtle.  But a medal?  I don't think so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would say that the bombing campaign did have a positive effect on defeating the Nazis. They had to switch large numbers of aircraft to defend Germany which meant that the Soviets and Western allies could have air superiority on their front lines and defeat their armies. Similarly they had to divert flak guns which could have been used against Allied tanks and stopped their offensives