Sunday, 20 December 2009

IT WAS A UNIVERSE NOT OF OUR MAKING

Nor of our choosing. Yet is was beautiful and deceptively peaceful that Christmas eve. For a brief moment the moon was peaceful and alone in the night sky. It softly and kindly illuminated the blanket of snow that hugged the barbed wire and the guard towers as we few survivors of aerial battles, some as long as five years ago, remembered distant homes and better times.

Suddenly the quiet night was shattered by the foreboding wail of sirens, soon followed by the ugly sounds of exploding flak and bombs as Bomber Command and the Luftwaffe were taking, and losing, young lives and killing or maiming hundreds in their homes while engulfing us in a sickening revulsion against the human species that worshipped the same God yet saw fit to continue the slaughter even on his birthday.

We all wanted to be home with the war a receding memory, yet there was little or no animosity towards the Luftwaffe flak gunners or fighters who were up there killing our comrades while defending their homeland. We were all victims of man’s insanity. In a way we pitied them. We all wanted to believe they were fighting a losing battle. And they had it so much worse than we. We, in Bomber Command, were excused further operations on the completion of 60, a fond hope when the life expectancy was only five, but they had to go on until they found “the Hero’s Death”.

There are so many examples, but a few will have to suffice.

Helmut Lent, in his Messerschmitt 110 destroyed 110 of our bombers over several years before he foundthe Hero’s Death in October 1944. Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer fought 164 night battles in an Me 110, destroyed 121 of our bombers, survived the war, only to be killed in a car accident. These two men killed some 1,500 of us.

Men, boys really, like these caused us grievous losses, like the night of 30/31 Mar 1944 when, on a N├╝rnberg raid, they destroyed 94 of 705 bombers, with 658 of 4,935 aircrew. The Me 110 was one of the few aircraft that served for all of the 6-year war. Some 6,000 were built.

In the end we prevailed, at enormous cost to us and even greater cost to them, but what did we learn? This Christmas our highly-flawed species remains at war.

For me, it all seemed so sad when in 1956 I met, and became friends with, the German who shot me down in 1943. I felt that both of us were flanked by the ghosts of comrades.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

IT SEEMS TO ME

It Seems to Me - That this part of America - the 50 states that call themselves “The United States” is actually in great disarray and in considerable trouble. It has a brave new president charged with rebuilding yet they expect him to do it, leaving in place fractured foundations while ignoring the root causes of the current rot.

It is not that this country lacks its fair share of world thinkers. At this moment I have 33 recently-purchased, in-depth books ranging through topics economic, environmental, historical, military, political, religious, and social. Only 6 of these 33 books are by foreign authors due, in large measure, to a reluctance to import foreign-published books thus robbing us of the wisdom of so many others.

If anyone out there is listening - or interested - here are some personal views:

ECONOMICS: This country has a $14.3 trillion economy built, it is said, by rugged (often heartless) individualism and capitalism. Like all addictions, Wealth craves more wealth so we endure the dictatorship of the wealthy. Now, 10% of families hog 50% of the income - always grounds for bloody revolution. There is a debt and a deficit growing rapidly . Now $12 trillion, increasing $1 million a minute. The 2009 deficit was $1.5 trillion, and the interest paid $359 billion. Solutions? The hated IRS must become more hated until we return to a pay-as-you-go economy. Allied with this must be drastic reductions in wasteful expenditures such as political fund raising that robs us of a democracy by confining us to the whims of the wealthy. Years of sound-bite electioneering implies we are a bunch of ignorant slobs easily influenced by repeated half truths or lies. Brave and concerned individuals, willing to endure the thankless (but remunerative) chore of governing, are grossly hampered by the paramount need to raise vast sums to squander on propaganda. Much cheaper and rewarding would be limited federal grants to candidates for media publicity. One good TV debate, for instance, is more revealing than thousands of sound bites that benefit only the media. We can expect good government only when we relieve politicians of the fund-raising burden. Ever since coinage was invented by the Lydians (Turkey) 2,620 years ago (or was It the Chinese 2,900 years ago?) it has been misused for dominance. Something is horribly wrong when we require $50,000 a year for the life style we got for $5,000 only 50 years ago.

HEALTH CARE: What a farce! Politicians and the Military get good taxpayer-financed care, so too often forget about the rest of us who must examine the small print of numerous for-profit insurance companies that add over 20% to costs. Also adding to costs are outrageous malpractice payments, expensive procedures for the terminally ill that add only a few days of painful existence, billions of dollars in fraudulent claims that lack an efficient policing system, and too many vested interests that spend $millions fighting change.

ENVIRONMENT: Those enjoying a cozy life style, short-lived as it might be, continue to erect obstacles to remedial actions that could save us from catastrophe. For at least the past 30 years there have been increasing warnings of impending disasters yet, even as they occur, reluctance to change remains. Polar and mountain ice and snow disappears, water sheds are dying, greenhouse gases are increasing as are droughts, fires, beetle infestations of forests, while ocean levels have risen 1.5 inches. Yet many plead human innocence.

MILITARY: Ever since Sumerian times we have known that force begets force. As too many humans remain savages, defensive forces that make aggression too costly are still required, but there is no need for our current super power with almost a dozen carrier groups, squadrons of supersonic jets, fleets of submarines, and thousands of nuclear warheads, not to mention close to a thousand military bases. As we have gone beyond the $1.20 a day pay this has become somewhat expensive and has created more generals than we can count or need. If we insist on expanding our military presence in other countries then we must bring back the draft with no exceptions that limit the sacrifice to the less affluent - and we must increase taxes to pay as we go.

ANNOYING RESTRICTIVE REGULATIONS: Annoying Restrictive Regulations: Yet, until all learn that each is a tiny element in a crowded world and has responsibilities to the whole, we need benevolent, firm, and enforced rules. Police remain needed as well as additional police to police the police and more to police the police who police the police.

EDUCATION: Education: Humans are remarkably alike, all with pliable brains and billions of neurons firing aimlessly until educated. This country is no different to countless groups over the ages who have evolved styles of living and then attempt to convince others of their superiority by warfare or proselytizing, but much more common and effective has been one group developing a useful technique and surrounding groups recognizing it as such and adopting it resulting in it diffusing around the world. Sadly, millions of superior minds have evolved only to lock themselves away in monasteries or universities, fearing they cannot prevail against those who wield the sword.

FANATICISM: We all exist, for a brief moment of time, in a violent, fearful universe, armed with feeble and inadequate intelligence. We all need something to cling to be it a spouse, family, flag, religion, or cause. We all know that we are all doomed to exit this world alone, so too many can be led to believe they can serve a useful purpose by fanatic allegiance to a cause, even to sacrificing one’s life to it. The first step in educating any human is to ensure that he or she has, or can acquire, the means to produce a living free of hunger, cold, preventable diseases, oppression, or subjugation. Only then can we direct mind sets for the benefit of all.

DOMESTIC ENEMIES: With 5% of the world’s human but 25% of its prison population (affluence also breeds crooks), Al Qaida and the Taliban seem minor irritants. Scam and con artists, drug addicts, drunk drivers, hate groups, thieves, rapists, corrupt executives in the economic and political fields, all cause us excessive grief.

Anyone brave enough to lead us out of this mess deserves our backing, co-operation, and gratitude.