A. For those who have served honorably in our military: thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I am well aware that it is only an accident of timing that kept me out of Vietnam (still going when I got to high school, ended, after a fashion, before I turned 18). My father spent WWII as a crack welder on the home front; some of his and my mother’s brothers did fight, but were of a generation where, mostly, it was not something you talked about much. My aunt Verna was Rosie the Riveter, complete with models and photos of the planes she help build – that she never talked about. I only found out from my cousins after she died. Uncle Louis did something with the Air Force in Korea, but all I ever heard about was his time as a voice on military radio – he had a very deep and beautiful speaking voice, bet he was good.
My father in law, may he rest in peace, got in in time for the invasion of Italy. About the only story he told was of cataloguing the weapons the Allies seized: he was struck with how beautiful Italian machine guns were, especially compared to German machine guns: scroll work, a sense of proportion. But there was no question which one you’d want to be holding if you needed to kill somebody.
He was also helped liberate some Nazi death camps. This, he never spoke of, except to tell of the dancing. Because he grew up in and near various ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago, he knew all sorts of ethnic dances. He was an incredible dancer. So, when the prisoners were freed, they – any who were strong enough – danced. And he joined in.
He paid a terrible price, even if he never, as far as I know (and I doubt I or anyone does know), had to shoot at anyone or see his buddies die before his eyes. He saw unfathomable evil up front and personal. His mother said he went to war a happy-go-lucky boy and came back a serious and sad man.
So, thank you, veterans! God bless you. And may He grant eternal rest to those who have died.
B. Read something about the comparative capabilities of American versus British WWII bombers, specifically, the B-17 and the Lancaster, which were the workhorse Allied bombers in the European theater. What was most interesting to me: the American bomber had a bigger crew and more guns, and included armour around all the crew positions. As a result, a B-17 generally carried about half the weight in bombs that a Lancaster carried, having instead invested that weight in guns and armour to defend the aircraft and its crew. The Lancaster had fewer guns and no armour protecting the crew, except the pilot – who was generally the only officer on board. But it typically carried about twice the tonnage of bombs as the B-17.
B-17s flew high and during the day; Lancasters flew lower during the night. The Americans targeted specific buildings and installations, while the British targeted cities. Once the P-51 Mustangs came on-line in force, the B-17s had really good fighter escorts. The net results: B-17s, partly because they bombed during the day and partly because they flew above where flak could reliably hit them, and because they had swarms of Mustangs with them to keep the (very, very good) Luftwaffe fighters at bay, reliably hit their targets. The British, flying at night to compensate for their comparative lack of altitude and defences, targeted ENTIRE CITIES because anything smaller was all but impossible to find and hit. Their success rate was comparable to the Americans, but only because their targets were an order of magnitude or 2 larger. I assume the British pilots and bombardiers were as good as the Americans, because British pilots in WWII were damn good. It is a matter of strategy formed by technical capabilities, coupled with a burning British desire to make the Third Reich pay for bombing British cities. And, boy, did they pay.
Underlying this, it seems to me, is another factor, one I ran into first years ago reading about Florence Nightingale. The attitude of the British military, it seems, is that commoners both expendable and of no great value. Nightingale found the British officers showed no concern to the point of contempt for the men dying under them, and it took her years to shame the government into starting to provide decent (for the times) medical care. But the attitude persisted: the Lancaster, and, I understand, subsequent British bombers as well, embodied this disdain: only the pilot’s position was armoured. Stray bullets or shrapnel was much more likely to kill a crewman than an officer on a British bomber. And the numbers seem to bear this out: both in absolute and percentage terms, casualties among British airmen were far higher than among Americans. Americans, I should think, would be shamed and outraged if their officers were provided protections denied to the crewmen.
C. Tidy segue: Reading Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis for our Chesterton Society reading group. In it, G.K. tells the story of how a young Francis, working for his father selling cloth in the marketplace, is interrupted by a beggar:
While he was selling velvet and fine embroideries to some solid merchant of the town a beggar came imploring alms; evidently in a somewhat tactless manner. It was a rude and simple society and there were no laws to punish a starving man for expressing his need for food, such as have been established in a more humanitarian age; and the lack of any organised police permitted such persons to pester the wealthy without any great danger. But there was I believe, in many places a local custom of the guild forbidding outsiders to interrupt a fair bargain; and it is possible that some such thing put the mendicant more than normally in the wrong. Francis had all his life a great liking for people who had been put hopelessly in the wrong. On this occasion he seems to have dealt with the double interview with rather a divided mind; certainly with distraction, possibly with irritation. Perhaps he was all the more uneasy because of the almost fastidious standard of manners that came to him quite naturally.Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi
G.K. goes on to comment about the relationship between the rich and the poor in medieval Italy, something that, though imperfect and often ignored, is one of the great triumphs of Christianity:
Another element implied in the story, which was already partially aibid.
natural instinct, before it became supernatural ideal, was something that had never perhaps been wholly lost in those little republics of medieval Italy. It was something very puzzling to some people; something clearer as a rule to Southerners than to Northerners, and I think to Catholics than to Protestants; the quite natural assumption of the equality of men. It has nothing necessarily to do with the Franciscan love for men; on the contrary one of its merely practical tests is the equality of the duel. Perhaps a gentleman will never be fully an egalitarian until he can really quarrel with his servant. But it was an antecedent condition of the Franciscan brotherhood; and we feel it in this early and secular incident. Francis, I fancy, felt a real doubt about which he must attend to, the beggar or the merchant; and having attended to the merchant, he turned to attend the beggar; he thought of them as two men. This is a thing much more difficult to describe, in a society from which it is absent, but it was the original basis of the whole business; it was why the popular movement arose in that sort of
place and that sort of man.
This, coming from an Englishman, one who clearly felt a great affinity to St. Francis. We Americans have, somehow, inherited, it seems to me, more from the South to which we did not belong than to the North from which we came. This brings to mind Lafferty’s assertion that, while our institutions come from the Romans, our hearts owe more to the Goths. But that’s getting far afield, even for me.
E. After I published that last bit of flash fiction fluff, I remembered that I had already written a very similar and, it seems to me, much better piece of fluff. Almost took the new story down – as low as my standards are, I do, in fact, have some. But then, remembering that authors (if only!) are the worst judges of their own work, I left it up.
To find the earlier piece, which at first I did not remember clearly, I needed to skim through the couple dozen pieces of flash fiction I’ve posted here. Distance, perhaps after the fashion of beer goggles, has made several of them look pretty OK. The ones that got the most comments were:
Prolegomenon to Any Future Old-School SF&F Adventure – the A. Merritt tribute opening;
The most positive feedback on an individual story was on Random Writing: One Day… about a crusty old man who mooned a big rig from the back of his vintage motorcycle while crossing the Vicksburg Bridge. That one was a lot of fun.
But by far the most comments and positive feedback were received on the 7 parts of It Will Work – Tuesday Flash Fiction taken as a whole. I stopped the series because it stopped being flash fiction – in order to end it, I needed to think ahead more than one episode. Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps I need to get off my hindquarters and finish it.
But my surprise favorite at the moment is possibly Saturday Flash Fiction (12/15/18), a story about a woman seeking healing through story therapy, which, it seems to me, displays the most craft: I set it up so that the – I hope – surprise ending carried some emotional punch, and could be read on several levels. I also like how Stanford’s storytelling came out. I’ll no doubt change my opinion in the morning.
And, thus, I’m brought to the real issue here: I can write flash fiction because, like diving into cold water, I need only pluck up my courage for a moment. A short story is like swimming the Channel to me; a novel would be swimming to Hawaii. The combination of being hypercritical, needing to plan, and being a coward is leaving me with hundreds of pages of begun, half-finished, and even very nearly finished stories. Not to mention a couple non-fiction works on education I’ve left hanging.
I’m not sure what to do at this point.
6 thoughts on “WWII Bombers, the English, Recap, Links”
Class warfare and class issues really did matter in Great Britain. It’s an odd thing because what I have noticed (and I am no scholar, I just do like reading things from different times and places) is that rank is very much baked into human beings, but only under Christendom do we see it transmogrified, with the rank still existing and the shared humanity shining through anyway.
This, coming from an Englishman, one who clearly felt a great affinity to St. Francis. We Americans have, somehow, inherited, it seems to me, more from the South to which we did not belong than to the North from which we came.
No. I think it has more to two with to things: The above mentioned faithfulness: I’m not sure God cares that much about our theological divisions (even the important ones, like Baptism) so long as we put him first. If you recall from De Toqueville, Americans were ludicrously religious (North and South) by European & British standards.
The second comes from the German Lutherans and Catholics and the egalitarianism of the old Tuetonic culture. The Lutheran influence on America from the beginning is a bit of a hidden treasure, as it was extensive enough to give old Mr. Franklin a good scare about whether German, rather than English would be the official language. Again – no scholar, but compare the Kinder, Kuche, and Kirke mentality that kept Germans lagging behind the Protestants in enlightment viz women. The feminist corruption seems to be baked in – from The Scarlet Letter up to the Seneca Falls declaration. Or read that Bostonian Louisa May Alcott’s An Old Fashioned Girl (my favorite book by her) but you cannot miss the beginnings of the rot therein.
To be fair to my Catholic brethren, they seem to have a more-well-ordered view of women (mainly because of Mary) than the Protestants, but from the outside (since I am neither one) they both look completely messed up now. Can you give me a better picture?
Those are good points. It does come up regularly when reading: the default setting for people almost everywhere seems to be strong class divisions. Europe has the comparatively odd practice – off and on, sometimes – of class mobility. Pre-Christianity, a poor Roman freeman would sometimes sell himself into slavery to a powerful lord, promising to prove himself worthy. Such slaves were sometimes put in charge of some of the patriarch’s businesses, where the common practice was to free the slaves children if the slave did a good job. It is so weird to the modern mind as to be almost incomprehensible: selling yourself into slavery in order to get ahead. Have not specifically heard of non-Roman slaves doing this, as they would not likely be citizens in any case until much later under the Empire (I think, again, not an historian).
Alexander the Great put locals – non-Greeks – in positions of authority in the lands he conquered, which the Romans, to an extent, did as well. The difference – again, not an historian – was that the Greeks, by opening their ephebia to the locals, provided a path to full Greek-hood, as it were. A man who thought and acted like a Greek was a Greek, and training in the ephebia helped the locals achieve this. Contrast to the treatment the Vandals and Visigoths got, when they made up the backbone of the legions: they spoke and dressed as Romans, died to defend Rome, yet were never *really* Romans in the eyes of the Latins.
Anyway, to your question, and recognizing it’s all the speculations of a non-historian, here’s what I think happened: the English, until Henry VIII and the dissolution, had before them a millennium-old system whereby commoners were not inextricably bound to the land, and could even rise to some prominence: the Church. The University system eventually provided another avenue, as lords and even parish priests would champion talented local peasants for places in the schools. Your bishop, especially in England, was still almost certainly a nobleman, but other people you’d routinely see might very well have started life the sons (and even daughters!) of peasants. This reinforced the teachings of the Church and the native feelings of people everywhere: you may be a Lord, or a Bishop, or a King, but down deep we are both men. You are no better as a man than me.
By putting the Church 100% under the control of the crown, and pitting the nobility against the commoners – to more than the usual degree – by removing the Church as an intermediary, Henry set the kindling to a class war that is still going strong. The type of Englishman who came to America was more likely than not to be the type feeling this injustice most acutely. The grievances in the Declaration of Independence seem mostly the grievances of the self-respecting yeoman against an overreaching and condescending lord, and appeal to traditions older than Henry.
Those traditions are the traditions of the South, it seems to me. Your Burgundian, Spanish, and especially Italian peasant was never all that impressed by his local nobility – see Don Quixote, for example, or, perhaps more to my point, Canterbury Tales, where a motley crew of equals make their way to the shrine of a guy who died standing up for the little people. That tradition lived in England, but suffered a terrible blow when Henry made recognizing the sin of the Sovereign treason, to be punished by being hung, dawn, and quartered. He was not like other men, it seemed, and got to enforce his superiority at the end of a rope and with the support of the church he governed.
As to Germany, I know, if possible, even less. It seem even there, the ancient Teutonic egalitarianism was strongest in the south – Bavaria, Austria – while the countervailing elitism was strongest in the north – Prussia. But I know little of this. I have run across the clearly underrated influence of German immigrants in America: until recently, Germany was the single largest source of immigrants to the U.S., yet we rarely if ever speak of it in the same way as Irish or Mexican immigration.
You might like this
Hilarious. I think.
Finish the non-fiction. Your country needs you.
Thanks. Our country needs every man and woman of good will. don’t know how much a book or two would help, but I probably should Just Do It.