Bad Advice And Bombs
    By Robert H Olley | April 7th 2012 12:28 PM | 8 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    A few months ago, I read Electric Universe by David Bodanis (ISBN 1400045509).  There are two chapters on radar during the Second World War, #7 dealing with Britain’s defences and #8 dealing with the area bombing of Germany, a tactic down to ‘Bomber’ Harris, which to this day gives rise to doubt in Britain, such that we feel a conflict between honouring the bomber crews who sustained the heaviest proportional loss of all our armed forces, and disturbance at the methods of their commander, who went for mass slaughter of civilians rather than military or industrial targets.

    What makes it a topic for Science 2.0 is the rôle of Churchill’s scientific adviser, Frederick Lindemann (aka Lord Cherwell) who (a) nearly scuppered Britain’s radar project before it got really going, and (b) foisted ‘Bomber’ Harris on to Churchill.  With the following extracts, I will let David Bodanis tell the story (hoping I don’t get a visit from the Urheberrechtsstasi.)  It starts with the invention of radar by Robert Watson-Watt:

    But despite the RAF’s support, Watson Watt, like any outsider, needed a stronger protector in the government bureaucracy.  As his first memos floated along the corridors of Whitehall, they ended up, luckily, being noticed by the kindly Henry Tizard, a superb administrator.  Tizard had test-flown World War I Sopwith Camels, been a lecturer in thermodynamics at Oxford, then the head of Imperial College, and – most usefully for the bureaucratic battles to come – an excellent, scrappy lightweight boxer in his youth.

    There was an especially precarious moment for the [Radar] project, when Parliamentary twists briefly gave Churchill more influence on the government.  Churchill was all for increased defenses against Germany of course but when it came to science, he depended completely upon the advice of Frederick Lindemann – an angry status-obsessed ex-academic who could be serenely charming when he wished, and who had the knack of making upper-class individuals feel that they were as wise as the greatest thinkers.  Since Churchill’s own scientific education hadn’t quite reached the levels of the early nineteenth century, he had no way of recognizing Lindemann’s incompetence.

    Churchill pushed Lindemann onto Tizard’s committee, and Lindemann immediately explained that he knew for a fact the newfangled radar defenses they were planning were never going to work effectively.  It didn’t help that when Lindemann and Tizard had been young researchers, visiting in Berlin in 1908, they’d once agreed to settle a point of honour in the boxing ring.  Lindemann was a much larger man and couldn’t bear it that the wiry Tizard had pummelled him; he refused to shake hands afterward.  Now in London, Lindemann slowed the constructions that Watson Watt was preparing for several months until, through still more deft bureaucratic footwork, Tizard managed to get Lindemann expelled.  He created a dangerous lifelong enemy but for the time being he had also cleared the way for Watson Watt to proceed.

    . . . . .

    It’s doubtful that there was a more disagreeable character on the Allied military side in World War II than Harris.  He could be kind to his immediate family, but he had few friends and no hobbies.  He never read a book, and he never listened to music He had only one great passion in his life, and it was a hatred.  It wasn’t directed against Germany.  It seems – from the evidence of his actions – that it was directed against blue-collar workers.

    Harris was an extreme reactionary.  Like many well-off individuals of his time, he often expressed great distaste for the British working classes, and for their German counterparts as well.  The writings of even many ostensibly gentle literary intellectuals from this period are disturbing when it comes to this topic; indeed, they bear some resemblance to the racial hatred that Japan and America came to feel toward each other as their battles in the Pacific went on.  For American military leaders, this led to the burning down of entire Japanese cities, with few moral qualms; for Harris, it led to a cold and pitiless view of any workers or children on the ground who would be forgotten when his bombers came overhead.

    Many officers aware of his plans were appalled at what he wanted to do …

    Watson Watt was frantic.  This was never what he’d devised radar for, but he was just an underling now, and despite a last desperate rush of words and memos, he could merely watch as the remarkable defensive weapon he’d helped create was lifted from his control.  He even tried getting Henry Tizard to help him.  Tizard was the man who’d headed the original committee that created Britain’s radar system, and that had been so crucial in the 1940 Battle of Britain.  Tizard also despised Harris, and now he started building alliances that in normal times might have been enough to stop him.  But everything had to get past the man Tizard had humiliated at the radar committee in 1936 – and Lindemann had the exclusive ear of the prime minister now.  It was with the greatest pleasure that Lindemann ensured nothing Tizard proposed was seriously considered by the government.

    By early 1943, Tizard and Watson Watt knew they had lost.  At one point Harris sponsored a talk at Bomber Command’s Buckinghamshire HQ on the Ethics of Bombing.  After the talk, the Bomber Command chaplain Rev. John Collins stood up and said that, on the contrary, this was the Bombing of Ethics.  But he was firmly corrected, and no one else there dared to speak in his support.

    . . . . .

    So see what harm one bad egg of a scientific adviser can do!


    Gerhard Adam
    Great piece Robert and it illustrates your point perfectly.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thanks. Any German mentioning this in Germany is called a Nazi and often Jew hater. We are told, first by the Allies, now by our pseudo-left semi-intellectuals in Germany, that the Allies did the utmost precision bombing of military and weapons factories they could manage at the time. All else leads straight to the holocaust denier label.
    Thor Russell
    Which semi-intellectuals? Where I come from talk about WW2 often leads to discussion of carpet bombing and this as much as what happened to London and it is not seen as positive in any way.
    Thor Russell
    I wrote about inside Germany today. If you call attention to Dresden in Germany, the German left and middle and even conservatives will call you a Nazi. G. Grass got all kinds of prizes including a Nobel for speaking according to the German PC party line, nevertheless he is since this week suddenly called a Nazi for merely questioning Germany giving Israel yet more stuff it can use to violate human rights while letting religious fanatics go wild as long as they are of the Jewish faith. We have people being called Holocaust denier for completely unrelated stuff all the time, Sarrazin is called a Nazi for example, and these, like G. Grass, are just the most recent most visible. This is very good for the extreme right, who say "look, we Germans have no free speech, we are brain washed by US/Zionist media, we must start to resist this occupation, ...".
    Nobody seems to be calling Vonnegut a "Holocaust denier" for Slaughterhouse Five, at least across the pond...

    Robert, thought you'd like this picture!

    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” --MLK, Jr.

    Much appreciated.  The roses are lovely, but looking ahead ...

    Bees and butterflies, thistles this way!
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    John Hasenkam
    War is not played by Queensberry rules. The Germans created  the idea of carpet bombing. What choice is there if you are bombing from 20,000, the spread of bombs is enormous. Precision bombing was never possible from that height(though it is little known that by the end of WW2 the Germans had developed radio controlled bombs) . The situation in Japan was far worse. When LeMay ordered those new beaut B29s to fly low to release incendiary bombs the aircrews were not happy because it made the aircraft very vulnerable but the effect on Japanese cities was devastating, one early attack on Tokyo killed 70,000 civilians. It is odd that people carry on about the two nuke blasts when 80% of Japanese cities were burnt to the ground by LeMay's tactics. LeMay himself asserted that if the allies lost the war he would be up on war crimes. 
    War is the end of ethics. Things have not improved, in some respects they have become worse. You don't hear about this often but there some studies suggesting depleted uranium is going to have very long term consequences on the health of everything in the relevant regions. Landmines kill and maim more civilians, often children, than combatants. The USA and Britain are firmly opposed to a ban on landmines. Environmental lead levels are increasing but that won't stop us bombing the crap out of stuff. 

    Any nation with power can descend into the devil's playground. War gives psychopaths the chance to strut their stuff. Methinks Harris must have been up on that continuum.  

    The below is from Parker, R, John Kenneth Galbraith, His Life, His Politics, His Economics. 

    LBJ at staff meeting during Vietnam War to Army Chief of Staff Harold Johnson,

    "Bomb, bomb. bomb. That's all you know. Well, I want to know why there's nothing else. You generals have all been educated at taxpayers' expense, you're not giving me any ideas any any solutions for this damn little piss-ant country. I don't need ten generals to come in here ten times and tell me to bomb. I want some solutions. I want some answers."

    Bombed by the USA