Ka-booooom. In this era of political bomb throwing, with negative ads and rancor having sadly demonstrated their grating effectiveness, it is worth considering how we came to so admire the power of a bomb. Or, frequently, clusters of them.
We won World War II in large part through a gargantuan bombing campaign against Nazi Germany (including aircraft, parts and munitions factories, rail lines and oil depots). In parallel, we struck Japan heavily. America’s vaunted Eighth Air Force, acutely challenged in Europe, generated staggering statistics. They flew some 754,000 bomber sorties, dropped 1.5M tons of bombs (the RAF added 1.3M tons), lost nearly 10,000 bombers and earned 17 Medals of Honor. Even now, over 2,000 tons of unexploded Allied bombs are uncovered yearly in Germany.
The combat conditions our fine young men faced were, yes, abominable. They often flew at 25,000 feet or higher with grossly inadequate flight gear in non-pressurized cabins. Ambient cabin temperatures fell to -30F or below and severe frostbite was common. Casualty rates for us were horrendous, with some 79,000 airmen lost. Even on the ground, conditions were often lethal. As Donald L. Miller writes in “Masters of the Air,” “It was dangerous work, especially if the bomb handlers, in their haste, fused the bombs before loading them on the plane. At Ridgewell … eleven bombs exploded under a Fortress [B-17]. ‘Hearing the explosion, I hastened to the scene and was appalled,’ the group’s chaplain, James Good Brown, wrote in his diary. ‘Where there had been a Flying Fortress and twenty-three men, there was nothing but splinters of metal and bone.’”
Life for me includes one major ‘carpet bombing’ campaign. The target is arthritis, my personal nemesis. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people to commiserate with. Just in the U.S., some 52 million are affected by (doctor diagnosed) arthritis. Most of us have osteoarthritis; about two million suffer from the rheumatoid variety, an autoimmune disease as opposed to the degenerative condition posed by osteo.
To combat this osteoarthritis which pains my spine and ankles, I’ve launched a dozen “bombs.” These include medications, heating pads, exercises, special braces, orthotics and electric shopping carts. Collectively they work to the extent that my discomfort is managed and I can get around, although virtually all activities have to be carefully planned and spread out.
Back to politics for a moment. I read the Wall Street Journal the other day while having a tire replaced on my nearly antique and effectively arthritic Audi. Robert Rosenkranz and John Donvan, in a fascinating article entitled “We Need Better Presidential Debates,” blasted conventional debates. “Moderators barrage the candidates with unpredictable questions, often designed to catch them in a trap . . . These debates tell voters almost nothing that can’t be gathered from 30-second campaign ads.” What’s a better approach than this rotating firing squad? The authors make a good case for Oxford-style debates. These are more akin to smart bombs, as they represent more focused efforts to squeeze out and differentiate winning positions and logical supporting arguments. The result may still include poll casualties, but at least for the right—or more nearly right—reasons.
Now what if we turn the clock back again and try to further unravel how we got to a place where bombing campaigns, often unrefined at that, got to be so entrenched in our culture. If I were a sociological prosecutor, so to speak, it would be tempting to call mass advertising to the stand. Madison Avenue and its many tentacles in the media paved the way with a bombardment of ads that routinely targeted women. Yes, those resilient ladies of the 1940’s and 50’s who helped mightily with the big war and went on to help build the greatest society the world ever saw.
The scope of these ads was vast. Reading them now is an exercise in embarrassment, remorse, empathy . . . and, dare I say it, humor. They are so out of step with contemporary roles, expectations and standards as to make one wince and laugh at the same time. The pitches in these ads were incredible. Like smoking cigarettes as a good way to control one’s weight. Or salvation from excess drudgery through ergonomically correct ironing boards and ultra-efficient vacuum cleaners. Stress relief for “nerves” through a relaxing bath with a bar of Ivory soap before dad gets home from work. I also loved a telephone aid that amounted to rotating finger thingies that allowed women to dial the phone (so many times during a hectic day!) without breaking their nails. Oh, and they’re decorative, too, folks. The Frank Line Company in El Segundo foisted that bit of brilliance.
It’s a wonder that our alternately pampered, subjugated and stereotyped mothers and grandmothers survived into the bombastic 1960’s. Maybe the fact that women are inherently superior to men played a role. Exhibit A: the only well-functioning subset of the U.S. Senate today is the 20 women, from both parties, who actually get along well with each other and regularly demonstrate how to work together effectively.
Well, I don’t mean to misrepresent us poor beleaguered Americans, we’re getting more than enough of that lately. And we are making progress, right? Although the same day I got that new tire I happened upon “In Touch” magazine. The cover story was a barnburner: “Casey Anthony Pregnancy Bombshell . . . Her outraged neighbors tell all.” Land sakes.
Seems like we just can’t get enough shelter from all the bombs. I just try to keep recalling that in the right hands, there’s nothing as useful as a good bombing campaign. For a good cause, of course.
Now if I can just discover a really cool new product for carpets . . . I think I know just what to call it.