A monument in Green Park
Something rather wonderful happened last week in London’s Green Park. The long-awaited monument to the aircrew of Bomber Command was unveiled by the Queen in front of some 800 surviving aircrew. It had been funded by private subscriptions and funds from the National Lottery. It is sixty-seven years late, but it is there at last.
For those who are unaware, the post-war Labour government of Clement Atlee chose to deny the boys who had flown in Bomber Command - the boys in their Hampdens, Whitleys and Wellingtons, Stirling, Halifaxes and Lancasters - the customary campaign medal marking their service to the nation at war. The policy of denial was continued in the thirteen years of Conservative government that followed. The bomber aircrew were alone among all those who fought under British arms to be so denied.
The problem, of course, was that the sudden unfolding at the end of the war of the devastation caused to Germany’s cities and towns by the Area Bombing campaign and the USAAF 8th Air Force’s daylight offensive was a huge shock for the political Establishment, and a gift for many ambitious men. The wartime service values of duty, discipline and self-sacrifice were falling away as the nation struggled to find its feet and move forward. In the battle for the new moral centre there could only be one victor - moral universalism - and the treatment accorded at this time to Arthur Harris was a highly visible function of that.
The political exodus from support for Bomber Command fractured national feeling more or less along the lines that pee-cee and anti-racism fracture it today. During the war, aircrew were treated with great affection and generosity by the public. They understood that in the long years from the Battle of Britain to D-Day the strategic bomber was the only means of carrying the war to Germany. The service performed for them by Bomber Command constituted an act of endurance at arms matched in British military history only by the BEF in 1914-18. They, the public, did not shift their opinion as their rulers and “moral betters” shifted theirs. They did not condemn the aircrew because of the excesses of the campaign, or because of the questions over its strategic value. If its results were very terrible then that, too, represented a victory of sorts over the enemy, for the Germans, who sunk their development efforts into jets and rockets, never produced a bomber with the lifting capacity of the Lancaster, or any bomber at all with four engines. Had they done so, they would have used it on Britain’s cities and towns to the same effect.
For nationalists the subject of the Allies’ destruction of urban Germany comes with two large and extremely sore points attached. First, there is the feeling among many, which I do not share, that “the wrong side” won ... the Jewish side, the side of anti-nationalism, of European national destruction. The people who make this wholly utilitarian argument are very often American WNs of German descent. But if pressed on their politics they turn out equally often to be right-liberals (in the English sense of that word).
Second, there is the belief among older British nationalists - the generation who fought (and lost) on the streets to the anti-racist left in the final decades of the 20th century - that National Socialism and like forms of Judaic fantasia are viable and true philosophies in their own right ... indeed, that they are nationalism. If I thought that I’d give up thinking entirely.
I often wonder what kind of national feeling the boys in those bombers, in all their war-will, would have expressed. That, too, is there somewhere in the new monument to them in Green Park, in the folds of the battle-dress, in the set of the jaw and the line of the eye’s gaze. One day before too long, I hope, I shall go there and ponder that.
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