Events

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

30-31 May 1942: First Thousand-Bomber Raid on Germany (and an early infographic)

Serendipity is a pleasing thing. Several days ago, one of my tweeps*, looking ahead to this year's anniversary of the first thousand-bomber raid in world history, drew my attention to a New York Times Op-Ed piece marking the fiftieth. As it happened, I had for other reasons been sorting through my old World War II periodicals and came upon coverage of the event in the Illustrated London News (ILN; a popular periodical that celebrated its centennial in 1942 and managed to cling to life till 2003). A few days later, a modern poster in turn raised a connection to the ILN story. So it goes.


"1,046 Bombers but Cologne Lived"?

The contrast in the coverage is instructive. There is nothing objectively incorrect about the Times piece by Max G. Tretheway, a World War II Australian flight instructor, who notes that some of his students took part in the raid. Still, there is nothing new, either, and the message is both intellectually and morally banal. Its perspective is the typical modern one of presumably sophisticated irony, as can be seen from the title: "1,046 Bombers but Cologne Lived." The irony derives from the gap between expectations and consequences. Like many modern commentators, Tretheway points to the exaggerated hopes of air force men in the ability of strategic bombing to determine the outcomes of wars. It might be news to the average reader of the Times--but not historians.

Even though the raid and resultant 5,000 fires destroyed "90 percent of the central city" (he tells us) killing 474 (actually a stunningly low figure, given the primitive technology of the day and compared with later missions), wounding 5,000, and leaving 45,000 people homeless:
When survivors of the world's first 1,000-bomber raid ventured warily out of their shelters, there before their unbelieving eyes, towering majestically above the hellish carnage stood their beloved cathedral - superficially damaged, but with its twin spires still silhouetted defiantly against the bomber's moon.
This miraculous sight strengthened the people's morale and determination through the rest of the war, as the Allies continued to pound an already flattened city long after any real targets remained.
He goes on to cite more statistics, leading to his inevitable conclusion:
The Allies released an incredible total of 1,996,036 metric tons of bombs on Germany and German-occupied Europe, more than half of which fell on cities and communication facilities. Some 593,000 civilians were killed, and 3.3 million dwellings were destroyed, leaving 7.5 million people homeless.

The most frequently bombed city was Berlin; many other urban areas were close behind.

And yet it was necessary for the Allies to invade the Continent, and to fight to the very gates of the capital before Germany finally capitulated in May 1945, three years after the first saturation bombing of Cologne.  
Nothing that would have surprised Churchill, Roosevelt, or Stalin. (They did not improvise D-Day or "the Battle for Berlin" at the last minute because the air campaign did not work out). Amidst all the talk of much more sophisticated "smart bombs" and "shock and awe" during the two US wars with Iraq, we also saw other commentators remind us that the war is not really over until the victor has boots on the ground (to use that hackneyed phrase) and enjoys a drink in the officer club of his foe. What the extreme critics of air power neglect to acknowledge is its success. To say the Allied air campaigns did less than had been hoped to damage either production or morale is not to say that they were completely ineffectual: they also forced the diversion of vital resources from the front, and in the latter phases of the war, the Allies enjoyed complete superiority in the air, which greatly aided the campaign on the ground. And, although most Germans refused to be bombed into despair or revolt against the regime, a surprising number began to regard the Allied air campaign as the punishment by Providence for their crimes, including the Holocaust: a self-pitying attitude motivated by fear rather than guilt, to be sure, but remarkable nonetheless.

But how did the British press see the event at the time? The Illustrated London News coverage--addressed to a British population suffering under the onslaught of Nazi bombers--sought to provide readers with hope: "Here was terrible proof of the growing power of the Royal Air Force. 'This proof,' in the words of the Prime Minister, 'is also herald of what Germany will receive, city by city, from now on.'"


The profile of Air Marshal Arthur "Bomber" Harris contains the sorts of unfortunate hyperbolic claims that Tretheway and historians nowadays like to mock:
were it possible to put 1000 bombers over Germany night after night, the war would be over by autumn. It is another of his beliefs that were it possible to send over 20,000 'planes to-day the war would be over tomorrow.

At the time, of course, no one really knew. It had never been tried. Advocates believed in their ability to deliver devastating blows from the air in part because they feared the enemy's capacity to do so. The bombing campaigns were terrible, but the cost was infinitesimal in comparison with what had been anticipated. The British expected that the German assault from the air would cause 2 million casualties in two months. In fact, the death toll from German air raids during the entire war was only 60,000.

the cathedral, virtually unscathed amidst the ruins
(from the RAF report on the raid)
And whereas Tretheway presents the survival of the Cologne Cathedral--an icon of German national identity--as some sort of miraculous survival or even rebuke to the raiders, the ILN correctly explains that it "was deliberately left unscathed by our armada in the great raid."

Twisting the knife a wee bit, the magazine notes that the cathedral, at least in its present form, is not so old anyway, having been completed only in the late nineteenth century.



Just to make things clear, the magazine contrasts the scrupulous policy of RAF toward cultural heritage with that of the Luftwaffe and its so-called "Baedeker Raids" (1, 2, 3; the name derives from the popular German tourist guidebooks of the day) deliberately targeting cultural heritage--including many cathedrals older than that of Cologne.


Indeed, it presents the German bombing of historic Canterbury as deliberate and unjustified vengeance for the Cologne raid.


Aviation infographics then and now

Oh--and that infographic?

When visiting friends for a party on this Memorial Day, I saw hanging on the wall a striking poster depicting US naval aviation resources, the work of a French geographer.

[enlarge]
It reminded me of what I had seen in the ILN the day before. In order to give the public an impression of the size and power of a 1,000-bomber raid, the publication produced this forerunner of the infographic.

[actual figures from RAF]

Not bad. Not bad at all.

* * *

• h.t. @B36Peacemaker for prompting me to write about this in the first place
• and follow @airminded who knows more about all this than I ever will (I assume he will correct me if I have made any gross errors here)

Monday, May 30, 2016

For Memorial Day: Patriotic Accessories from the Civil War Era

An advertisement from The Press, 29 July 1863. Founded by John Weiss Forney in 1857, the paper was published in Philadelphia until 1920. In 1894, it serialized Stephen Crane's Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage.



Flags, pennants, bunting, streamers. Hats, too. What more could one want?

Oh, burgees? Although the term dates to 1750, it did not appear in Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary, but as his successors at today's Merriam-Webster firm in Springfield explain, this is "a swallow-tailed flag used especially by ships for signals or identification."

Sunday, May 29, 2016

29 May 1942: The New York Times reports on reprisals for the Heydrich Assassination


Two days after the assassination of the acting Nazi "Reichsprotektor" of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, the New York Times reported that reprisals were taking place, and added more details to what was known of the incident.


The emphasis was on the initial executions but information about both the crime and the reprisals was still sketchy.

6 IN CZECH FAMILY EXECUTED BY NAZIS
Seventh Person Put to death in Attack on Heydrich, Who Is Reported Dying
By DANIEL T. BRIGHAM
By Telephone to THE NEW YORK TIMES.

   BERNE, Switzerland, Friday, May 29— Vengeance executions for the attempt on the life of Reinhard Heydrich began in Bohemia early yesterday morning with the execution of six members of one family, including two women and another person declared implicated for failing to denounce to the authorities the two men who late Wednesday afternoon attacked the car in which the deputy Gestapo chief was traveling.
(The report then discusses the attack itself, returning to that topic later in the article.)
More Killings Threatened
   The German "vigilance committee," headed by Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo Chief, rapidly completed arrangements for what appears to be the beginning of one of the worst bloodbaths in Czech history. A decree ''issued by local authorities'' in the Province of Prague ordered all civilians over the age of 15 to report to the police before midnight tonight and obtain a certificate of registration. Past that hour, any one failing to possess such a card or found harboring a person without such a card will be shot, "with his entire family."

   Throughout the protectorate groups of military patrols accompanying police and Gestapo men are stated to be arresting people by the hundreds as house-to-house searches are being made in a wide area around which a cordon has been thrown.
(The report goes on to provide details on the curfew and martial law decree.)

The coverage here is reasonably accurate, under the circumstances. In his anger at the assassination, Hitler had initially ordered the arrest of 10,000 Czechs and execution of political prisoners already in custody, but shrewder heads prevailed, arguing for the continuation of Heydrich's policy of targeted terror combined with coopting of the general population. Still the reaction was harsh: Fearing that the assassination was the beginning general insurrection, the authorities took no chances.

21,000 German and Czech police, Waffen SS, and German soldiers carried out the manhunt. Callum MacDonald describes the Germans as "vengeful and trigger-happy," citing an escaped British POW's description . Even German detectives described "random shooting at open or lighted windows," saying the troops (a direct quote) "are completely mad." MacDonald speaks of a wave of executions, including "those convicted of marital law offences or who had merely expressed approval of the act," but dates the first family execution from only May 31.

Regarding the attack itself, the report includes an initial background summary and an update:
From indications received here this morning it now develops that the attack occurred about eighteen miles east of Pilsen on the Prague-Munich road at a town called Rotkitzen, which was the place of residence of all of the seven executed.

Meanwhile, from a German radio broadcast to the German people it was learned this morning that Herr Heydrich had been so badly injured that it was deemed necessary to issue a bulletin on his condition, which was stated to be "stationary." Another bulletin announced that he was under the care of Adolf Hitler's personal physician. Herr Heydrich was believed to be hovering between life and death. A report on a Balkan radio early this morning stated that his condition had taken a turn for the worse.

[Three bullets that had injured Herr Heydrich's spine and spinal cord were removed by a specialist, The Associated Press reported today, quoting Exchange Telegraph, British news agency.]
This
section is more problematic. The only really accurate statement is that Heydrich's life hung in the balance. The asserted location is completely wrong, for the attack took place as Heydrich's car, traveling from his outlying estate, was entering the northern Prague district of Libeň. Heydrich was not hit by bullets, for the first assassin's Sten gun had jammed, and none were fired. The injuries came from a grenade and injured a rib and internal organs, but not the spine. The physician sent from the Reich was Himmler's not Hitler's.

The update is generally more accurate.
Preliminary reports from usually well-informed German quarters as to exactly how the attack on Herr Heydrich was made indicates that at least two men were involved. One is stated to have thrown a bomb at Herr Heydrich's moving automobile, which swerved to avoid being hit. A second man is then reported to have stepped out from concealment with a submachine gun or automatic pistol and to have fired several shots into the automobile as it rolled into the ditch.

The assassins are then reported to have escaped by bicycle. Another bicycle, a briefcase and a raincoat were found near the scene. These articles are now being shown to persons suspected of knowing who the criminals might be. An official announcement warns that anyone recognizing the articles and not giving information will be shot. News of the attempt to assassinate Herr Heydrich was published in Germany in a brief communique only, and the press so far has not ventured any comment of an authoritative sort.
Two paratroopers did indeed carry out the attack, but in the reverse of the order described here. Jozef Gabčík made the first, failed attempt with the Sten gun, and when Heydrich ordered the car to stop, Jan Kubiš threw the bomb (a modified anti-tank grenade). Because the attack took place in the city, the car did not roll into a ditch, and instead, came to a stop in the gutter near the curb.  By contrast, the description of the paratroopers' belongings and the threats of reprisal are reasonably accurate. The two men arrived on bicycles, but only Kubiš managed to escape on his, whereas Gabčík had to flee on foot. accurate. Although the weather was temperate, Gabčík had brought along a raincoat to hide his motions as he assembled the Sten gun carried in his briefcase. The Germans, noticing the British origin among the items found at the scene, quickly deduced that the attackers were paratroopers. They placed the objects on display in a downtown store window and distributed photographs throughout the Protectorate in an attempt to solicit or coerce information from the public.



Further pieces on this topic.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Town Meeting: purest participatory democracy--or "mental torture, in which the victim actively collaborates"?



"Town Meeting was absolutely awful last night."
"How bad was it?
"It was SO bad that...."

Town Meeting under the magnifying glass

It reads like a corny joke, but it was in fact a conversation I had many times last week, and there was nothing funny about it.

Like many other Amherst and New England residents, I've occasionally poked good-natured fun at this venerable democratic institution because it is so much a part of our culture and identity: it reveals our essential nature, brings out the best, the worst, and the silliest in us.

The issue has become more acute, though, since voters this spring approved a Charter Commission to review the form of Town government, a process that could result in any of several recommendations, including abolition of Town Meeting. Some would relish that outcome, others would fight it to the death. Part of the decision may turn on how effective Town Meeting proves to be under the magnifying class of increased scrutiny in the coming year. The omens are not good. In the past, I thought, the prospect of a Charter vote forced residents to be on their best behavior. Not this time. If anything, the atmosphere is more charged than ever.

The previous Town Meeting sessions this spring already displayed a few foibles and failures (1, 2, 3), but May 16 far surpassed anything we had seen. For a variety of reasons, the debate degenerated into unadulterated nastiness.


The no-go zone

The warrant article itself was simple and straightforward: The Jones Library, using money voted by a previous Town Meeting, is preparing a proposal for a building expansion in a highly competitive state grant program. It requested that the Amherst Historical Society (on whose board I serve), located next door in the Amherst History Museum, sell it a small piece of property that would facilitate this expansion. However, because a change in the dimensions of the Museum property, still zoned residential (a historical anachronism), would bring the remaining lot out of compliance with the zoning bylaw, it needs to be rezoned as business, the same as the Library (and rest of the block). This was the only question before Town Meeting: a vote on a zoning change to the Museum property, necessitated by technical requirements of the bylaw itself.



The Library made a political faux pas in bringing a large contingent
to the stage at Town Meeting, though only a few actually spoke to
the article (here: architect John Kuhn)
But (as they say on late night infomercials), Wait! There's more. The turmoil in Town Meeting was not about the technical zoning fix, as such, and instead, about the motivations behind it and the possible consequences.

Opposition derived from:
  1. Hope of using this article to block the Library expansion plan.
  2. Concern that the rezoning, although required by law, might trigger undesirable further sale/commercial development of the History Museum property (a chimera: the Museum would never allow that to happen).
  3. Blowback against the Town Meeting Moderator (he had provided an unusually wide latitude for discussion of a similarly narrow article the previous week, so his attempt to limit discussion to the zoning change, without reference to the merits of the Library expansion plan that occasioned it, struck many in the chamber as inconsistent and unfair).
The article attained a vote of only 93-91, nowhere near the required two-thirds majority.


No, really: how bad was it?

How bad was it? People who read the newspaper accounts (1, 2) asked what in the world had happened, and I told them that "deeply divided and often contentious" could not begin to communicate the atmosphere and tone.

I have never seen so many protesting "points of order," even in this body known for its love of that that parliamentary procedure. (One senior, very dignified and polite member of the body later joked to me that we should just charge a fee for each point of order, so as to discourage the practice--or raise needed revenue.) In clear violation of the rules of the house, speakers interrupted and argued with the Moderator, signaled their approval or disapproval of statements by means of applause, hissing, catcalls, or other audible interjections, and impugned one another's motives and character.

One really has to watch the entire session to get the feel of the nastiness.



But this excerpt--in which a comment, limited by the rules of the house to 3 minutes, dragged on for 13 as a result of disagreement between speaker and Moderator--conveys the frustrating nature of the exchanges.


One observer charged that the "display of churlishness, no-nothingness, scorn, mockery and outright lies" would have been more appropriate to the Nazi Reichstag or the French Revolutionary legislature under The Terror. I actually received a number of sympathy notes from Town Meeting members as well as the general public. Even some of those on the winning side were embarrassed by the behavior of their allies.


Institutional suicide on live TV?

As I have more than once explained, I have always had mixed feelings about Town Meeting:

• On the one hand, real pride in our centuries-old democratic traditions, and real personal as well as political appreciation of the opportunity to learn the views of the most politically engaged fellow citizens.

• On the other hand, frustration with the process, by which I mean less the length and inefficiency of Town Meeting (which is the deliberately crafted curse of most democracy--here taken to an extreme, to be sure), and rather, the increasing difficulty of tackling any complex legislation in a body of some 250 people.

If it disappeared, I would, quite honestly, miss it: both because of the decline in participatory government, and because I genuinely enjoy the debate.

Whenever people talk about getting rid of Town Meeting, as I noted several years ago, I hear the voice of Michael Cann, a refugee from Nazi Germany and an ardent Town Meeting supporter. He had no illusions about the flaws of the institution but cautioned against abandoning it as earlier generations had overthrown "messy" democracy in the name of fascist "efficiency." Each step away from broad-based democracy, he warned, reduced the opportunities for public participation in government--and in the process, citizen interest in public affairs. We had already gone from a town meeting open to all, to an elected representative town meeting of 240, and now what: a council of a dozen or fewer members?

Michael died four years ago, and I was sad because I had lost a friend. It was sad but not tragic: part of the natural and inevitable order of things. By contrast, what we witnessed last week was both sadder and more tragic because it was unnecessary and entirely avoidable: a self-inflicted death. I am afraid that we saw Amherst Town Meeting commit political suicide on live television. It is hard to imagine how anyone watching could conclude this is a desirable or even functional form of government. The irony is that the people responsible for this spectacle thought they were saving the institution by fulfilling what they see as its aggressive watchdog role.


And the future: return to sanity or renewed mental torture?

Although this week's Town Meeting sessions included the remainder of the most controversial articles--even one directly opposing Library expansion (1, 2)--which generated their share of heat as well as light (and yes, just sheer wackiness), the conversation was nonetheless more civil and restrained. Several people I spoke with, who had been about to despair last week--even some harsh critics of Town Meeting--felt encouraged and buoyed as the night drew to a close on Wednesday. Perhaps there was hope after all. Others warned that the optimists were deluding themselves.

Was the bedlam of that Monday night an aberration or a glimpse of the future? I could not help but think of "The Fallen Sparrow" (1943), an underappreciated anti-fascist film about a Spanish Civil War veteran pursued by Nazis. In one of the most chilling scenes, the evil Dr. Skaas explains the essence of torture to the protagonist, who had experienced it firsthand in Spain. He contrasts the mere physical torture of the Ancients with the more sophisticated cruelty of Asia, epitomized by the infamous water torture, which combines the mental with the physical:
Dr. Skaas: Then—and here is the principle of all modern torture—release is given: the dripping is stopped, the victim is revived, just at the borderline of sanity. Then: ah, then, comes an interval during which the victim tortures himself—waiting, knowing that the operation will be repeated, and it is repeatable, most assuredly, with perhaps several new variations. You see the point?
Barby [the protagonist's girlfriend]:  How perfectly ghastly!
Dr. Skaas: You see the beauty of the idea? Mental torture, in which the victim actively collaborates.


Town Meeting, too, "will be repeated . . . with perhaps several new variations." But which is the real Town Meeting? Is the torment really over, or was that just a momentary respite? I want to hope for the best, but in the meantime, we wait and worry.


Friday, May 27, 2016

May 27, 1942: Czechoslovak Paratroopers Assassinate Reinhard Heydrich in Prague

On May 27, 1942, Czechoslovak paratroopers Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík, trained by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, Nazi "Reichsprotektor" of Bohemia and Moravia, on his way into Prague. Heydrich died of his wounds on June 4. The paratroopers were betrayed and killed two weeks later.

The vicious reprisals took some 5000 lives, most notoriously, the murder of the villagers of Lidice and razing of the entire town, which aroused international outage.

Czechoslovak postage stamp (part of a series commemorating World War II), issued on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination:




Below, commemorative t-shirt sold at the shrine to the resistance movement at the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where the two assassins and other paratroopers were killed.



The motto means, die in order to live.

Previous posts on this theme:

27 May 1942: Assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich by Czech Paratroopers  (2009)
The Heydrich Assassination: "Killing Heydrich" (documentary) (2010)
4 June 1942: Death of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich; reflections on the new monument at the assassination site (2010)
9-10 June 1942: Nazis Destroy the Czech Village of Lidice (Heydrichiade) (2010)
• "this most savage single act of repression": the Washington Post reports the Lidice massacre, June 1942 (2015)
Commemorations of Lidice on Medals and Stamps (2015)
18 June 1942: Nazis Kill Heydrich Assassins in Bloody Church Shootout (2010)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

May 3: Polish Constitution Day

Constitution Day (Święto Konstytucji 3 Maja or Święto Narodowe Trzeciego Maja) marks the promulgation of the Polish Constitution in 1791, the first in modern Europe (that of the French Revolutionaries came into being only in September of that year). Banned by the communist regime, the holiday was once again officially recognized in 1990.

The Constitution remained in force only until a new Partition of Poland in 1793, but its influence was profound. Professor Marek Zebrowski summarizes:

The Enlightenment Era in Poland brought an economic revival as well flourishing of arts and literature. Writers such as Hugo Kołłątaj and Stanisław Staszic postulated far-reaching political and social reforms and laid the groundwork for the Polish Constitution. The process was officially launched in 1787, when Ignacy Potocki was selected to coordinate the project. A lively constitutional debate ensued and lasted almost four years. It pitted two camps against each other—the reformists who wanted to strengthen the government and extend voting rights beyond the landed gentry, and the powerful landowning class that was loath to relinquish their cherished privileges.
The successful vote for the 1791 Constitution was a result of a carefully planned surprise, practically tantamount to a constitutional coup d’état. Most of the Sejm’s deputies were on holiday and procedural calls for a quorum were ignored. Supporters of the Constitution occupied the chambers and the public gallery, and their overwhelming presence secured a passing vote. Since saving Poland’s uncertain future was paramount in the minds of its drafters, the new Constitution was a pragmatic mixture of progressive and conservative ideas. It called for a return of the hereditary monarchy and it restricted some privileges previously granted to religious minorities. On the other hand it abolished the liberum veto law, extended legal protection to a wider sector of Poland’s citizens, and restored the right of the monarch to nominate ministers that would be responsible to the Sejm. The progressive features of the 1791 Constitution, such as the habeas corpus provision that covered all property owners and a clear statement that all power emanates from the will of the people, were clearly rooted in sixteenth-century legislation and political theories of such reformists as Andrzej Frycz-Modrzewski (1503-1572) and Wawrzyniec Goślicki. . . .
The May 1791 Constitution was translated into French, German, and English and many prominent figures, including Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke, praised Poland’s progressive thinking and democratic spirit.
These objects and documents associated with the promulgation of the Constitution and the subsequent revolutionary upheavals are from the great Czartoryski Museum in Kraków. (Closed for extensive renovations for several years, it may reopen in 2018).












Resources:

Extensive discussion and English translation of the Constitution from Wikipedia.

Monday, May 2, 2016

May 2: Polish Flag Day

Early Polish nationalists and the interwar republic celebrated May 3 as a national holiday, recalling the promulgation of the Constitution of 1791. The communist regime instead celebrated May 1, the international labor holiday, emphasizing class over nation. Although the former was restored to the calendar after the fall of communism, May 2 arose as a new holiday, mid-way between the two, in 2004.


The official Polish tourism website explains:
Polish national colours are one of the few in the world of heraldic origin. They derive from the colours of the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Poland and the coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the Polish flag, the white symbolises the white of the Eagle, which features on the coat of arms of Poland, and the white of the Pursuer – a knight galloping on horseback, which features on the coat of arms of Lithuania. Both charges are on a red shield. On the flag, white is placed in the upper part and red in the lower because in Polish heraldry, the tincture of the charge has priority over the tincture of the field.

The red and white colours were first recognised as national colours on 3 May 1792, on the first anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of 3 May. They were officially adopted as the colours of the Polish State by the Sejm of the Kingdom of Poland in 1831 during the November Uprising. After Poland regained independence, the appearance of the Polish flag was confirmed by the Legislative Sejm on 1 August 1919.
Here, the British and Polish flags fly over a tent of the forces of the Polish Government-in-Exile in Scotland during World War II.