Moral questions aside, airmen deserve a monument
London is littered with monuments to those who fought in the wars of the bloody 20th century, for King, Empire and at times democracy.
There’s even one to the animals who served and died in British military service.
Now, finally, the men of Bomber Command, who carried out the allies’ least-loved campaign of the Second World War, have their well-deserved memorial.
It comes fully 67 years after the guns fell silent, and for good reason.
Even during the war there was misgiving about the policy of saturation bombing of German cities adopted by Air Marshall Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris.
That grew into revulsion when it became clear that something like half a million German civilians had died — not as a result of what we now call “collateral damage,” but due to deliberate targeting of city centres in an unsuccessful effort to break the will of the enemy.
There was no campaign medal for the aircrews and for many years no honours for Harris.
It took until now for a private campaign involving such high-profile figures as the late Bee Gee, Robin Gibb, to build the elaborate memorial on the edge of Green Park in central London that was formally unveiled last week by the Queen.
The moral dilemma of the bombing campaign — is killing hundreds of thousands of civilians justified in the cause of defeating an unalloyed evil like Naziism? — will never be resolved.
Canadians went through that debate 20 years ago when the CBC aired a documentary, The Valour and the Horror, that confronted the brutal reality of bombing defenceless civilians.
None of that, however, detracts from the heroism of the 125,000 men, about 10,000 of them Canadian, who served in Bomber Command.
The Green Park memorial is dedicated to the 55,573 who died. Another 18,000 were wounded or taken prisoner, for an appalling casualty rate of 60 per cent — the highest of any service.
Their average age was just 22, and they did what they were told to do at a time when London and other British cities were being mercilessly bombed from the other side.
Mike Lewis, a Canadian pilot, put it this way in a new British documentary about the campaign: “You can’t have experienced the Blitz without getting a very natural human reaction of wanting to punch back.
“So I punched back.”
The old men who drew up the plans to decimate Dresden and Hamburg have answered for their deeds.
The young men who flew the planes and dropped the bombs deserve their moment of official recognition, at last.