bombers over berlin


The havoc that was visited on Germany by the Allied Powers in World War II is vastly under-reported and misunderstood by most people who were not there. The destruction was so complete and hateful, there is little doubt that the Allies would have been charged with war crimes had the tables been turned.

This assertion flies in the face of our having been sold on World War II as the “Good War,” the conduct of which was totally justified. Yet many of the servicemen who served on our side knew at the time that they were being given orders and participating in acts which were morally wrong. Our readiness to attack anyone who reports the war from the opposition’s perspective attests to the power over us of wartime propaganda which still persists to this day.

Last week, while visiting with a friend, she shared with me this poem that was written by her father-in-law, David H. Jackson, a navigator who served in the Army Air Force which was tasked with bombing Berlin. She said that he returned from the war a completely changed man.

She told me that from his writings (including his love letters to her mother-in-law Helen), she learned he had left for war a warm and loving man. She told me the man who returned—the father-in-law she knew—was a cold, silent, embittered person.

This was at a time that we had only an emerging understanding of PTSD (shell shock or battle fatigue), even though it was an acknowledged problem since the First World War. Of the total Allied casualties on D-Day, fully a quarter of them were psychiatric. Yet, too many generals like George Patton famously believed that slapping soldiers around was the best cure for what ailed them.

This poem was presumably written by her father-in-law at the turning-point of this transformation; his handwritten poems were discovered by his widow in 1988.


Bombs Away

by David H. Jackson


Yes, we bombed Berlin tonight,

From twenty thousand feet,

Came on target by full moonlight,

I could see each tiny street;


We circled once then made the run,

Opening up the bomb bay,

A lurch a shudder the thing was done,

To a whispered command bombs away;


Far below little children slept,

In innocence unafraid,

And down from the sky rained sudden death,

A hell on earth man made.


Yes, we reaped our toll last night,

Two hundred children’s lives,

This is the enemy that we fight,

The victory we prize.



Groove of the Day

Listen to Gene Krupa & His Orchestra performing “Keep ’em Flying”


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5 Responses to “bombers over berlin”

  1. 1 tape
    February 6, 2016 at 3:55 am

    At some point it becomes irrelevant who bombed whom. Instead what everybody invovled has to take away from it, that nobody escapes unharmed.

    In that light I like how the story of the cross on the Frauenkirche in Dresden lets it go the full circle:
    1945 the church in Dresden got annihilated by british bombers in one of the last big air raids in the second world war. When the church got rebuild after being a memorial for the destruction of war in the shape of a giant pile of stones (well, basically the GDR did not have any interest in rebuilding a church and also ran out of ressources to build *anything*, so, yeah, let’s call that a memorial) the old demolished cross was found. The Dresden trust in the UK collected half a million euros to build a new cross, which was forged by the son of a pilot being part of the initial air raid. It made a tour through different churches of the UK and then got put on top of the rebuilt church in front of 60000 witnesses.

    Maybe the question, who destroyed what is a lot less interesting than what has been rebuilt already.

    • February 6, 2016 at 9:29 am

      I agree that life goes on and that it is important for both sides to heal, but I disagree with the irrelevance of who did what. How is it possible to learn from the past, how is it possible to truly forgive, if one side or the other is not honest about what actually happened and maintains the myth of blamelessness?

      • 3 tape
        February 6, 2016 at 11:01 am

        It is important to acknowledge that it happened. The idea of a chivalrous war should be relativated and the Trumps of this world should be aware of that when they once more call for blood.
        But after all the people responsible are not alive anymore, so the blame game leads nowhere. Especially when the incident happened in a totally different time with different values. In the end one just gets caught up in an ethical debate which emphasizes former differences which have become pointless today (see: Israel/Palestine, who owned what first?).
        In this case there is the question: Would have Germany set Europe on fire once more, had the ulitmate price for war not made that clear? After all the lack of destruction let the lust for war reappear just one generation after the first world war, where no fighting took place on german ground. Which of course raises the question: who is to blame for the first world war? which then goes back to the german-french wars, and probably bit by bit to the Holy Roman Empire or perhaps even further (see once more: Israel/Palestine).

        This is why I think it is futile and counterproductive, unless it is done for purely academic purposes. The people alive are responsible for not letting it happen again, but that responsibility is shared by all sides involved.

      • February 6, 2016 at 12:52 pm

        If only it were so simple.

        As it happens, just after you posted your comment, I read this article (http://theweek.com/articles/603635/american-bombs-are-still-buried-under-german-towns-theyre-blowing), which states that even now the 70-year-old bombs are still blowing up, injuring people, and causing property damage. The man mentioned in this article can’t turn to anyone (even his own government) for help… and he is one of those blameless people who was born after the war. What is just? Is he to personally bear the consequences of living in a place that was bombed?

      • 5 tape
        February 6, 2016 at 1:56 pm

        That is the risk over here. One knows what one gets into when buying property. So it is indeed as simple as that. Earthquakes happen, floods happen, airports are getting built… it is a matter of balancing risks.
        It is a giant a hassle, it is unfair, but there is no way to solve the problem perfectly. And when it is solved less than perfect anyway, one has to look for the best possible solution. Which at this point is focussing that such a thing never happens again. Which is not accomplished by driving europe further apart.

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