Thursday, August 09, 2007

A spot of local and not so local history

An intriguing Kubrick-esque monolith appeared in Kennington Park (my local) a few months ago...




For the first time since its erection I spent a little time looking over it yesterday

It’s a memorial to the 100+ local residents who were killed in a bombing raid back in 1940

And the reason why it took 66 years to erect what is effectively their headstone illustrates one or two issues that, I think, are still relevant today




During the Blitz on London in 1940 decent air raid shelters were in short supply. There were very few purpose built shelters and only about one in four Londoners had gardens in which they could erect the laughably crap Anderson shelters they were issued with - handy for keeping your garden tools in, not so useful if a bomb landed anywhere near them...



Everyone else either huddled under their stairs, in cellars, in public shelters or, when they were allowed to, in tube stations.

I say when they were allowed to because, contrary to myth, the government discouraged people taking shelter in the tube system. Taking my local area for example, people were turned away from the barbed-wire festooned entrance to Oval tube station and directed to the nearby public shelter in Kennington Park instead.

The problem with the public shelters, Kennington Park being one of the very worst examples, was that they were poorly designed and hastily built with sub-standard materials. The shelters were essentially no more than WW1-style trenches covered with thin slabs of crumbly concrete. They flooded easily and were prone to collapse even if a bomb didn’t land near to them. They were, effectively, prefabricated graves

Some ordinary people were so pissed off with the poor provisions that had been made for their safety compared to the more than adequate provisions made for better off people that there were at least some demonstrations outside purpose built shelters that had strict admissions policies based on social standing. (I only know about this because a couple of old guys told me about them - for some reason this story has not made its way into populist Blitz mythology)

Anyway, one night in 1940 a small bomb landed on the Kennington Park public shelter and the trenches collapsed. At least a hundred people died, though only fifty bodies were pulled out before the authorities had the site sprinkled with quick lime and then filled in

The bodies are still there

You can just about pick out the outline of the old trench system/ mass grave from Google Earth views of the park



And that was that. The incident was barely reported and effectively excised from the establishment-endorsed History of the Blitz. Tales of chirpy cockneys being buried alive and left in unmarked mass graves were presumably considered not conducive for national morale.

I think the story has relevance to today for quite a few reasons. It’s a decent illustration of historical myth making – even with 67 years of separation from the event you’d be hard put to find any depictions of the Blitz that show fucked-off working class Londoners huddling in damp pits cursing the people charged with their safety.

It is also interesting how in one time and set of circumstances fifty blown up Londoners get buried in an unmarked hole and receive barely any press coverage because their story doesn’t fit in with a particular state-endorsed narrative. Yet, in another time and set of circumstances, another fifty murdered Londoners are elevated to the level of national martyrs because that does suit establishment objectives.

-

But, hey, what are fifty or a hundred people in the scheme of things. Three hundred times that number of people died on a bad night of RAF fire-storming over Hamburg.

And I’ve just realised what today's date is. A lot of time and effort has been expended over the years anguishing over the whys and wherefores of dropping an atom bomb on Hiroshima. So much so that the follow-up attack on Nagasaki three days later is treated almost as an afterthought. Which is unfortunate, not least because the people of Nagasaki were equally dead but also because nowhere near enough airtime has been devoted to the question ‘Why the fuck did the Americans bomb Nagasaki anyway? What exactly did obliterating a second city so shortly after the first achieve?’

There are several possible answers to that question. None of them very nice

When I was younger and there were more survivors of the London Blitz still around, I’d sometimes get into some fairly heated discussions about the question of bombing cities and civilian populations. The usual response to my concerns was that I was young, wasn’t there and could not understand what it was like to live through it. It was war and the British and the Americans struck back in any way that they could. And besides... wait for it ... the Germans started it


The problem is that we didn’t strike back any way we could. Particularly in the latter stages of the war, Allied numerical and technical superiority in the air was such that we could bomb pretty much anything we liked. Yet, curiously, German industrial production peaked in 1944 and only tailed off because of shortages of raw materials and disruption of its transport network. We left many of their factories untouched yet continued to bomb the shit out of population centres and slaughter tens of thousands of non-combatants right up to the last few weeks of the war

Not so good for German civilians, considerably better for the owners of the factories and also those interests that set about dismantling, crating and sending some of those factories home immediately after the war ended

What the fuck was that all about?

And if all that seems too far back in history, what about Iraq?

Where’s the military sense in reducing a country’s essential infrastructure; its water, its sewerage, its electricity, in the run up to military campaigns that are only planned to last for days or weeks? How does sentencing an entire nation to drink polluted water for a decade or more (whilst, of course, leaving its oil production facilities in pristine condition) help your tanks roll into Baghdad?

.

21 comments:

Sophia said...

‘Why the fuck did the Americans bomb Nagasaki anyway? What exactly did obliterating a second city so shortly after the first achieve?’

Because it was another type of bomb. Some historians, not from the establishment and not mianstream, contend that Japan was ready to surrender and that the bombs were dropped anyway for the sake of testing them in real life conditions. This is why Hiroshima was bombed at 8:15 in the morning, at a time when schoolchildren and workers would be out in the streets.

Stef said...

another reason given is that Russia declared war on Japan on 9th August and the Americans dropped the second bomb to hurry up the Japanese surrender before the Russians could occupy large parts of Manchuria

Which would be strange if that were a factor as the Americans and British had done such an excellent job of handing control of all of Eastern Europe to the Russians only shortly beforehand

(not forgetting the convenient deaths of people who opposed that handover...
http://tinyurl.com/349sfb
http://tinyurl.com/3yw8tt)

So why the sudden squeamishness about turning over large parts of the world to Stalin?

Whatever the answer, this habit of concentrating on slaughtering civilians whilst at least sometimes leaving industrial capacity alone goes back some way

paul said...

Or it could be argued the russian invasion prompted the surrender, not the bomb, as the emperor figured his goose was cooked if they got hold of him.

Merkin said...

I am with Sophia on that one.
Testing, purely testing.
The Japs were taking/had taken the decision to surrender - provided the Emperor survived - which would not have happened had the Russkies got anywhere near him.

Incidentally, the story of the Kubrick Headstone deserves a hearing elsewhere.

Stef said...

@merkin

yeah, you can just imagine BBC doing a Timewatch special pricking that sacred Blitz myth which has had something of a revival these last couple of years

a lot of people who knock the Internet say that it is the cause of all sorts of negativity and conspiracy theorising that didn't take place before its creation

well yeah, but that's not to say heinous things didn't happen before the Internet it's just there was less opportunity to find out about them

I wonder what people would have been saying if the net was running in 1940...

lwtc247 said...

"We left many of their factories untouched yet continued to bomb the shit out of population centres and slaughter tens of thousands of non-combatants right up to the last few weeks of the war" The bastards that always lead the Brits (many with the populations approval it must be said!) have a genocidal streak in them. Always have had mate. It's like having a disese, being British and all. Something you wanna mask, are ashamed of and wish you didn't have.

The fruitcake in me says we killed the people of europe and left their factories so that when 'we' won, the elite could quickly get back to making lots ot money through strangely enough, recently aquired european factories. Yeah, fruitcake innit?

lwtc247 said...

From a casual look at reports of unusual funding for the 1917 revolution and other reports by Henry Merkov and so on, one could draw a hasty conclusion that the cold war was a dliberate ploy. It was a 50 year period of bipolarization. A period in which the very rich became hideously rich (while the world was obsessed with E vs. W) and enslaved even more people around the globe. I've put up a news post relating to the diamond trade you might want a quick gander at.

Stef said...

@lwtc247

a small example

the Wikipedia entry on Strategic Bombing Survey (Europe) includes the intriguing throwaway line...

Truck manufacturing: Concentrated in three factories. Opel and Daimler Benz works were bombed. The Ford Motor Company plant at Cologne was not bombed, but went out of production because its suppliers had been bombed out.

http://tinyurl.com/2tgauf

The RAF and USAAF did try to knock out German industry in the first half of the war but there is a whiff that as the end of loomed post war considerations started creeping into target selection. Slaughter of civilians carried on unabated - the destruction of Dresden in Feb '45 being the most outrageous example. An act that appalled many British people at the time and not just with the benefit of hindsight

Stef said...

@lwtc247

re. the phoney cold war thing

there are 'weak' and 'strong' versions of this theory

the strong version being that the whole thing was centrally organised

the weak version being that spinning the Cold War served the interests of the establishments in both the US and Russia and so they just gravitated towards their roles in the game without any deliberate coordination

there's plenty of evidence to support at least the weak version of the theory - the CIA and SAC deliberately exaggerating intel on Russian missile capabilities for example so, personally, I buy into that version at the very least

Stef said...

@lwtc247

PS

advanced courses in Conspiraloonery™' feature modules on people like this guy...

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armand_Hammer

owner of, amongst many other businesses, this...

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arm_&_Hammer

...a staunch republican multi millionaire industrialist and a supporter of the soviet union?

much murkiness...

Merkin said...

Well yes, Stef, fact is that Churchill gave a sigh of relief when the germans switched from hitting the airfields.
If I were to say that to someone of my mother's generation (who lived through the Clydebank blitz, up here) I would be wearing a knuckle sandwich in the time a Londoner could say 'Jellied Eels' or 'Pie'n'Mash'.

PS appeal to the masses.
Can anyone give me something definitive on the dangers of a National DNA database?

Particularly, something which shows false positives as leading to miscarriages.
I am in conversation with a 'if it clears up one rape after 20 years.....' person.

In the meantime, I put all my used cigarette ends through a cross cut shredder and carry them in bags, suspended inside my trousers, which I can then 'shuffle' onto the local playing field, under the watchfull eyes of Kurt Jurgens.
Never been caught once.

lwtc247 said...

Ford, apparently unbombed to preserve profits, going out of business because the idiots failed to remember to keep its suppliers up and running is quite funny, and actually tragically characteristic of much what we see in Iraq.

I forgot to mention the now much known role of Prescott Bush in financing and profiteering from Germany under Nazi occupation (while similarly I should say was at the time with significant approval of the population)

You are right Bummer Harris was a bastard. So among his peers he was obviously celebrated! But am I not correct in saying that many Brits, albeit at the mercy of Govt propaganda at the time, fell for the 'its necessary' - After all, the press was very unlikely to tell the truth that civilians were being killed, more likely they were told that it was to destroy military and supply some of Germany's infrastructure.

I don’t believe you will find ANY reference to Bomber Harris in UK school textbooks that pinpoint his vicious crime.


On Cold war: Shades of WW2, the suggestions of central power base are worthy of investigation as it does indeed look as if the same people seem to have been pulling the strings of both sides - of course the international bankers being in the thick of it as they are today - exposed cheers to the beautiful Internet. Managers of each respective country are likely to have been in ignorance of such a plan, especially if you believe the presidents and PM's are selected, not elected. The weak thread is undisputable, and the strong one is pretty convincing too. Mr Armand Hammer is an character with errrm 'interesting connections' although both wiki's dismiss such a close link to the man and the Arm'n ammer company. But that’s wiki for you.

Shutter said...

I posted last year
http://tinyurl.com/2nv833
about meeting Bill Barney who was a young radar operator on the crew of Fred Bock's C-13 crew. Their plane "Bockscar" V - 77 dropped the Nagasaki bomb... the original target was the weapons dumps at Kokura but due to weather they went for the 2nd target Nagasaki.

General Spaataz actually wanted to use a third bomb on Tokyo but was overruled... as to selecting targets in Japan try ;
http://tinyurl.com/33japa
which is the Wests Wannsee conference.... calculating that the Hiroshima Hills would focus the balst on pedestrians etc.,

It is not well known that a further 1,000 sorties were flown by USAF Flying Fortresses over N Japan to destroy and remove from Russian control the coal fields and especially the Japanese coal /gasoline extraction plants after the Nagasaki bomb.

Of course "Fat Boy" being a plutonium bomb was less costly and easier to manufacture than the uranium "Little Boy" . No further Uranium bombs were made in the US.

"The 509th Remembered" is a an illustrated history of the 509th Composite Group who dropped the 2 Atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945.Compiled by Robert and Amelia Krauss (who I met with Bill) with over 350 photographs (many never seen before) for the 59th Re-union in Wichita Kansas in October 2004. You can buy a copy here
http://www.enolagay509th.com/remembered.htm

Meeting the last surviving guy who dropped the Nagasaki bomb was a memorable experience. History afords us few chances.

He just saw it as his duty and got on with it. No regrets, but vene he never really knew for years what was involved such was the secrecy.

He told a nice story that eventually a VERY senior genral , the last of several increasingly senior guys flew in to share his 15 minutes with them... after he addressed them,the men were fallen out. Instead of assuming the correct parade ground procedure the men simply ambled away and sat round smoking , drinking.

No disciplinary action was taken.

I have also met survivors of the SS Indianapolis who carried the Hiroshima bomb across the Pacific in the captains's cabin... they were sunk after delivery and captain McVay court martialled a judgement set aside but he has never been officially pardoned.

Great post Stef, and great story which deserves wider audience. My dad would bundle us into the air raid shelter and stand in the middle of the street, claimin g that he was harder to hit.

A bomb took oput a nearby chippy and he rushed screaming into the shelter .. "Shrapnel..they've got me" .. it appears he stepped on his dangling braces which whipped up and hit him in the small of the back.

We used to remind him about his bravery at Christmas.

lwtc247 said...

Of course "Fat Boy" being a plutonium bomb was less costly and easier to manufacture than the uranium "Little Boy" . No further Uranium bombs were made in the US.
Query... How can that be? Pu does not exist naturally. It is made from U.

Stef said...

@lwtc247

re. 'Bert' Harris

There was plenty of opposition to British bombing policy at the time.

If you watch old propaganda films made during WW2 there's always a briefing scene where a senior officer instructs the crews to avoid hitting such and such a school near to their target, usually a munitions factory. Total cobblers but indicative that the powers that be were nervous about what the public reaction would be if the true policy were disclosed

As for the bomber crews themselves they suffered horrendous casualty rates and the RAF alone lost 57,000 people. It might be hard for some people to swallow but they were victims too

Merkin said...

Further to Shutters' little bit of 'real life' fleshing up the bones of 'History'.
Wonderful stuff.
When I was young, my parents lodged a guy who had been prisoner on the Japanese mainland.
He had seen the flash from Hiroshima in the distance.
My parents helped him coz he was pretty much 'down and out' after his wartime experience - 6'2" and down to six and a half stone, scarred all over after being tied up with barbed wire.
He was a lovely Irish man whose sole interest was gardening and Whiskey.
Sometimes he took me to and from school.
One day, as a 6 year old, I remember speaking with him about 'winning the pools'.
He asked me what I would buy.
I told him ' a new football strip and ball'
He told me 'an atomic bomb to put on Japan'.
That I was 6 years old and knew nothing about any of these things is neither here nor there.
I still remember it.

Coming back to the original post, these are the real stories which are always rubbed out by the people we must fight against (whosoever they may be).

Anonymous said...

"the RAF alone lost 57,000 people. It might be hard for some people to swallow but they were victims too"
Yes, absolutely and that fascet of war in it's own right, but it seems, and this is understandable, that it's the only casualties we Brits ever hear about. How many German people died for example? ow many kids? How many soldiers? I fair redress would be pleasing.

- lwtc247

Stef said...

How many German people died for example? How many kids? How many soldiers? I fair redress would be pleasing.

During and after the war ended or just during?

http://tinyurl.com/2coo3h

http://tinyurl.com/27rbk3

Stef said...

@merkin

that guy clearly adhered to the Laurens van der Post 'If you were a prisoner in a Japanese PoW camp you wouldn't doubt the rightness of Hiroshima' school of thought...

http://tinyurl.com/2apx4t

No I wasn't which is why I think the Nagasaki attack is a clearer cut example of unjustifiable slaughter than Hiroshima

Merkin said...

well said Stef - though I doubt whether the guy I was talking about could have voiced an 'if' or a conditional - it was just a mutter under the breathe I, probably,remembered.

As usual, connections.
A favourite book was 'Lost Sands..' as was 'Papillon'.
Both frauds (?) but great writers.

For certain, the second bomb was for 'dodgy' reasons and very possibly the first too.

Did not make a whit of difference really, long term.

Anonymous said...

@ Stef 11:19 PM
Just in case there is a misunderstanding I wouldn't have asked such a question of you, for I know you are not a peddler of propaganda. It was for "them" (bastards) who have sexed up this unich of a history we have now. But well dont for supplying the links anyway.

- lwtc247