Monday, May 30, 2016

Why One Goes to War

Last night I watched a fine feature length documentary on WWII. Produced by the National Geographic Channel, "Inside WWII" overviews, in the hyper-speed mode so typical of info-dump docs made these days, the 20th century's largest conflict.

Some of the interview subjects explain why they joined the war. I remember the day in 1984 when I finally got around to asking my own father why he enlisted and why he chose RAF Bomber Command:

"I was pissed off. I was doing poorly in school and my mind was on the war overseas."

His rationale for joining the bomber force as a gunner was expedient:

"You got overseas quickly that way . . . It was an eight-week air gunners' course in Montreal."

(He knew that flying as "aircrew" in Bomber Command was dangerous work. Many young men, men too young, got "The Chop".)

As was the norm at the time in this neck of the woods my dad was sent to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) grounds for dispersal. From that famous Canadian site began the process of getting "shipped overseas", but as this was wartime it wasn't quite that easy. German U-boats roamed the North Atlantic in search of prey, and a steamer loaded with fresh faces was a prime and highly-prized target.

I will stop here: The above bits and pieces are stressful enough, never mind the few combat stories my dad did let out over the years. (While on one of my trips to England, as part of my ongoing research on RAF Bomber Command I spoke with historian Martin Middlebrook and he gave me some sage advice which I understood too well: "Don't ask your father. He won't tell you anything.")

A few years after the war ended he joined the RCAF and enjoyed a long career with Canada's finest service.

I left the best for last; the big "and" part of my dad's explanation for wanting to see action overseas:

"... And I wanted to get the Germans."

(A childhood friend did not come home; he died when his bomber was shot down over France. Kinda sobering, ain't it?)

Passions of the time, those were.

My father loved Germany and the Germans. We moved to West Germany in October of 1966, just twenty-one years after he flew in a Lancaster bomber doing a job he felt he must do.

Royal Air Force No. 626 Squadron - May 1945

(I had not realized until reading my Washington Post this morning that today is "Memorial Day" in the States.)


Tibor said...

The vet I talked to had the same sentiments. Imagine the hysteria if that was happening now...

Simon St. Laurent said...

Of course in today's parlance they would not be the enemy, but "scumbags!".

DonaldAR said...

My father's eldest brother - the only surviving now of four - saw World War II action in Holland: Operation Market Garden, I believe. Well into his nineties, he has always been a favourite of mine for his gentle kindness, dry sense of humour and amusing anecdotes. Yet I have never heard him mention his combat experience, or the (rumoured) machine-gun fire that permanently disfigured his shoulder, which was never bared in public.

Scumbags indeed. I theorize that an inverse relationship exists between our technological efficiency at killing each other, and our collective level of human decency. A sense of honour in combat seems to be a relic of the past, like most of our respected war vets.

Simon St. Laurent said...

Post WWII advancements in technology have produced many wonderful toys, the most practical of which, at least for many in this increasingly disconnected world, might be the "Electric Monk Mk II": It does their thinking for them, so they don't have to.