The Road to Hell

lancaster-bomberBack in 1995, the BBC broadcasted a radio dramatisation of Len Deighton’s novel Bomber, the story of a fictional saturation bombing raid on Germany in 1943.

It was cleverly segmented so that the different sections of the play were broadcast at the same time of day as the drama, so the pre-raid preparations were on in the afternoon, the raid in the evening and the denouement at 11:30pm.

The story depicted what it was like for all those affected by the events of that day – the bomber crews, the German night fighter pilots and the civilians on the receiving end, interspersed with the genuine recollections of those involved.

It was one of the most harrowing and moving dramas I have ever heard and I recorded it on cassette tape, listening to it again every now and then in the car. The cassette has long been defunct as far as in-car-entertainment is concerned,  so I recently bought the set of three CDs available on Amazon and its power to move has not diminished over the years.

I won’t delve too deeply into the plot other than to say that pretty much all of the characters are damaged as a result of the raid, mortally, physically or psychologically, none more so than pilot Flight Sergeant Sam Lambert who questions the morality of what they are doing. He begins with patriotic intentions before the realisation sets in that civilians are the main casualties of his actions, as well as the many airmen who died in the raids, but he is unable to voice his concerns lest he be accused of LMF – lack of moral fibre.

And that I suppose is one of the main threads of Deighton’s fiction – put in the same position and having joined in a war with the best of intentions of duty and protecting hearth and home, how far would we go knowing that what we were doing was morally wrong? Would any of us make a stand and refuse to carry on with the inevitable ostracisation and humiliation that would entail, or would we cling to the belief that we were only obeying orders?

By coincidence, I recently finished reading Ostland by David Thomas which asks the same question. It is a fictional account based on the real-life Georg Heuser, an idealistic, young detective who in 1962 was found guilty of murdering more than 11,000 as commander of the state police in Minsk. The book seeks to explore what happened to make this good man a monster and though I’m not sure it is totally successful in doing so, we see again a man trapped by terrible events that he unable to escape.

Ours is a fortunate generation not to have been put in that position and one that is free to give voice to our moral outrage when we see fit. But whether the good intentions that would pave the road to our hell would be any different to those of Lambert or Heuser is a moot point.

You can listen to Bomber on YouTube if you’re interested and read more about Georg Heuser if you translate his German Wikipedia page.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

1 comment… Add yours
  • Yorkshire Pudding 20th September 2016

    Thoughtful reflections on a moral dilemma that, as you say, people like you and I have not had to face. For this I thank our glorious dead.


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