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.
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.
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