Monday, February 23, 2015

Bombs Away : Steinbeck's paean to the Norden Bombsight

For all of us who know of William L Laurence's famous paean to the first atomic bombs (Dawn over Zero), how many of us also know of Nobel winner John Steinbeck and his similar paean to the Norden Bombsight (Bombs Away) ?

None ? 

It was never supposed to be that way.

1945's atomic bomb was classically a weapon of total imprecision .

Drop it somewhere over a city (anywhere) and it can be guaranteed to destroy all the city's war factories, whether they were targeted or not on that raid, along with a few hundred thousand people.

But at the celebratory and futuristic 1940 New York World's Fair, there was seemed to be no need for such a terribly crude weapon; one so certain to unnecessarily kill and destroy much else beyond a few deliberately targeted war factories.

Instead what was called for were daylight raids by small teams of high level B-17 bombers, equipped with the top secret Norden Bombsight, raids which would see them drop their bombs right on target : 'into a pickle barrel from 15,000 feet'.

America's war future was in precision aerial bombing that would win the war quickly, cleanly and cheaply -- and with the minimum of civilian casualties.

Air Force boss Hap Arnold picked famous novelist Steinbeck to pen his praise to precision bombing in light of these expectations.

But when precision bombing proved an abject failure by late 1942, the atomic meatgrinder simply moved up in priorities as Plan B and another book was prepared for the postwar presses.

Why not, because as long as there was a war on, the military totally controlled access and information and also had plenty of money to ease the work of any favoured author, editor and publisher.

Spin, spin, spin.

One way or the other, the post 1945 'war of words' would be won by Washington's military and scientific bureaucrats - regardless of the sorry realities on the ground overseas...

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