Glossing over the past

I don’t normally take umbrage with the tone of BBC News stories – at least, I usually only get annoyed when they’re actually wrong, not just a bit confused. But this is pretty bad even if unintentional:

The memorial, which should be built by 2012, will commemorate the 55,573 crew of Bomber Command, with an average age of 22, who were killed in World War II.

Its role was to attack Germany’s airbases, troops, shipping and industries connected to the war effort.

During the war the command ensured the damage caused to London’s squares, streets and parks from German bombs was not as extensive as it could have been.

I am all for the memorial. We should remember and honour these men; they died because we asked them to, and in terms of sacrifice for a limited return, the strategic bombing campaign was only a few notches below the Somme; we as a nation kept hammering at a brick wall for the desire to do something, and lost an awful lot of lives unnecessarily.

But… if we are to memorialise it, we should remember the full context, not just cherry-pick the nicer bits. We should remember that when we sent these men out to die, we were, at the same time, asking them to do something that we would now consider beyond the pale.

The description the BBC give is at best misleading. What did we use Bomber Command for? We used it, almost without exception, for strategic bombing of Germany; what that meant was massed bomber raids of urban areas with the aim of destroying industry, infrastructure, and residential areas in equal proportion. To quote Arthur Harris, the man responsible for carrying out the policy:

The aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive … should be unambiguously stated. That aim is the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany.

You don’t get much blunter than that, really.

It’s sixty-five years since the end of the war, almost to the day. Surely we have enough distance, enough perspective, that we don’t need to ignore our history, or to cast it in the one-sided mould of wartime propaganda. We really don’t need journalism which – even unintentionally – suggests the deliberate killing of hundreds of thousands of people and the destruction of entire districts of cities were merely attacks on military infrastructure or, somehow, a way of protecting our own cities from suffering a much lighter version of the same.

That way lies a very worrying relationship with the past.

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