Friday, March 1, 2013

A swimmer into technical sweetness leaping...

....Robert Oppenheimer was the Rupert Brooke of his War Generation : the War of Big Machines and the War of Modernist Science : World War Two.

Paul Fussell is probably the most limpid writer since George Orwell and all his books on the war experience are treasured by me - but I do think he was only half correct in acutely detecting no revival of the Great War's moral intensity among the foot soldier in the Second World War.

Frankly, foot soldiers seemed almost an embarrassment in this new war : un-armoured, un-mechanized, watery bags of delicate and expensive jelly who still persisted in walking to work on shank's mare.

Politicians, Generals, Industrialists and Editorialists: they all believed this would be different war, a new sort of crusading warfare decided instead by the sheer will power of their side's brainy scientists.

Chivalry and morality , the old crusades of the Great War at its Front and among its foot soldiers, were dead and buried in a mass unmarked grave, but at today's Top and in today's Rear, a new Crusade of  Scientism had replaced it with gusto.

Now middle class scientists would devise the means and middle class officers would deliver the goods.

Above all, daytime precision bombing, with the middle class Norden bombsight and the middle class pilot and bombardier , would turn modernist war into a Nine to Five, Monday to Friday sort of job.

Almost an office sort of job and yet also a reassuringly modernist version of the traditional officer's calvary role, manly man riding off as in yore, only now riding highly expensive, highly technical mechanical horses, on land (tank),  sea (battleship) and air (bomber).

Roll out of bed in the morning, nice hearty breakfast, toddle off to the Ruhr to drop a stick of bombs and then back into time for a spot of Tea and then off to the pub before climbing into blanket harbour : and no need to lose your the famous British Weekend to beastly war.

Delivering death from a distance, there'd be no more "waving of the bloody shirt" in this war to indicate personal bravery , at least not among those at the delivering end of death.

Among the deliverees however, few would die by the traditional and so picture-perfect 'bullet in the chest' : now science would see to it that they boiled and burned to death or got blown into little bits of blood and flesh and bone.

Painting that sort of noble death would be beyond almost any artist's ken .....except perhaps Francis Bacon, he of the famous half-boiled flesh portraits.

Hard to know why kindly-seeming scientists could be able to plan that sort of death for others : but a lack of moral imagination (in fact a lack of moral empathy of any sort at all) certainly helped .

That, along with an almost normal scientific curiosity to explore the sheer 'technical sweetness' of all these new death machines, encouraged them to leap into this new crusade : its just too bad Rupert couldn't be here to literaturize the whole ghastly affair....

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