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How should we remember Bomber Command? | Open thread

Sixty five years after VE Day, a monument to the bomber crews who helped defeat Nazi Germany raises difficult questions

Just over 65 years after VE Day, Westminster council has finally given the go-ahead to a memorial dedicated to the memory of RAF Bomber Command and the bomber crews who flew over occupied Europe during the second world war and died in their thousands in what was one of the most dangerous missions for any wartime service personnel.

Among the UK's copious collection of war memorials are many famous and less well-known tributes: "the Few" of the Battle of Britain have two monuments, in Kent and in London; the Merchant Navy's memorial is at Tower Hill, London; the Desert Rats are commemorated at Thetford in Norfolk; Liverpool has a statue dedicated to those who crewed the ships of the Atlantic convoys, and there is another in Murmansk marking those lost in the Arctic convoys; and not forgetting the animals' war memorial next to Hyde Park in London. So why is it only now that the 55,573 bomber crew members killed – a casualty rate that meant a life expectancy of six weeks, only slightly longer than that of the estimated 540 fighter pilots killed in the Battle of Britain?

Winston Churchill said, in 1940: "The fighters are our salvation but the bombers alone provide the means of victory." Yet Bomber Command's celebrated leader, Sir Arthur Harris, was not granted a memorial until 1992, and this monument to the crew has waited more than 65 years. There is a perception that the commemoration of the bomber crews' sacrifice was postponed because of a widespread moral unease about this aspect of Britain's wartime conduct: that dropping bombs on one's enemy is intrinsically unheroic; that the bombing of Germany was not "our finest hour"; that the heavy civilian loss of life was cruel and, some have argued, even criminal.

Was this memorial overdue or is it right to have qualms? If both are true, how can the two considerations be reconciled? © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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