I have thus far been silent on the tragedy in Florida, for no other reason than lacking the time to sit down and write the post I have been intending. But my Facebook feed continues to be monopolized by the ensuing debates with my friends weighing in on all sides. The main debate of course centers around the Second Amendment and now the question of arming teachers has also been brought to the fore.
What I find interesting is that a key element of these shootings has been left out: school security. I’ve been in education for thirteen years now and I can tell you that WE AS A SCHOOL SYSTEM ARE NOT DOING ENOUGH TO PROTECT OUR STUDENTS.
School security is a joke. The following is a summary of the security I have witnessed in the three different schools I have worked in over the past thirteen years.
Exhibit A: Metal Detectors.
Sure, there are metal detectors and the kids have to walk through them every morning. Theoretically bags are searched and theoretically pockets are checked. But security at morning intake is hasty and cursory and performed not by trained professionals but instead by school staff such as teachers and counselors. Hundreds of children need to be searched and filtered into the building as quickly as possible and therefore the searches are hasty and sloppy at best. A weapon could easily be carefully concealed inside of a book bag and overlooked. The bags don’t go through the metal detectors at all. They are merely opened and glanced at. If they have a lot of stuff in them, no one bothers to dig through; there just isn’t time for that.
But clear backpacks would certainly help mitigate this problem, right? Sure. Except not all schools require clear backpacks. Two of the three schools I’ve worked in didn’t. If the district requires then then it isn’t being enforced from campus to campus.
The metal detectors aren’t much good anyway. Half they time they malfunction and/or their sirens are disregarded. When this happens, students are NOT patted down. They are told to empty their pockets. It is my opinion that the metal detectors do more to provide the illusion of security than to ensure ACTUAL security, and at best only serve to discourage the notion of bringing a weapon in. But a sufficiently observant and determined student could easily get around the system.
After morning intake the metal detectors are unplugged and put away. Here is when the school is most vulnerable: anyone coming in during the school day is not subjected to any sort of search. The doors around here are locked and you have to ring the bell and get buzzed in by the office. But there’s no questions asked – the button is pushed and voila, you’re in.
This is precisely how Nicholas Cruz wrecked the havoc he did. He walked in with a duffel bag and a book bag filled. Where were the metal detectors? Where were the security guards? Where were the questions and searches?
Exhibit B: Security guards and district police officers
This school district has their own police force. Each school in this district is assigned an armed district officer and also has sundry unarmed security guards and hall monitors.
Now, some of the officers that work for the district are fine examples of policemen who take their jobs seriously. They are truly there to serve and protect our students and staff.
Others…. not so much.
Let me give you two troubling examples of the “underachievers” from one of my schools. Officer Amy (not her real name) was so inept with her firearm that one of my friends (also a district officer) witnessed her attempting to load the bullets into her clip BACKWARDS while at the firing range.
Officer Ned (also not his real name) never bothered with his kevlar at work. Said it was hot and uncomfortable. There was one terrifying occasion at that school in which he was, in fact, faced with an active shooter. Maybe I’ll post that story later. When the gunshots went off and we went into lock down, it was not him, the officer on duty, that ran in the direction of the bullets. No, it was an off duty officer who also worked as teacher. He left his students with another teacher and dashed to his car, where he kept his weapon. Without his kevlar or any other form of protection he was on scene, ready to kill or die to protect our students. When “Ned” finally showed up, it had become apparent there was no real threat – not to our campus, at least. He laughingly admitted to the teacher that he heard the shots and was in “no hurry” to get there.
But even when a school IS blessed with an officer worthy of the badge, that’s still only one officer for campuses that are quite large. Adding to the problem, the officers are sometimes called off campus for a variety of reasons, leaving us utterly without armed protection. Even with hardworking security guards and hall monitors, support simply can’t be everywhere at once. If that were the case, then teachers and administrators would never be called upon to break up fights ourselves.
The simple fact is that proper school security would make both of the aforementioned debates irrelevant. That simple fact is that every single one of the shootings all the way back to Columbine could have been PREVENTED or at very least mitigated if the schools had proper security. More police officers on campus. An armed guard posted at the door at all times. No one gets in without a thorough search. PERIOD. When 9/11 happened we went so bonkers over airport security that we even have to take our shoes off and endure nekked xray imagining. But shooting after shooting has occurred in our schools and all we do is descend into the same unproductive arguments over the Second Amendment.
Guys, the solution to this is so much simpler than a Constitutional Amendment or trying to turn teachers into cops or soldiers. We need REAL security in our schools.
THIS is what the debate needs to be centered on. Because until we’re properly protecting our students – like we protect our airports and our city halls and even our concerts and cultural events – then no Constitutional amendment or assault weapons ban will make our kids any safer than they are now. Bad guys will always be able to get guns. And if they can’t get guns then they’ll make pipe bombs or god knows what else, and they will continue to get into our schools and kill our children.
So this is the nonsense commentary Charlie Hebdo felt obliged to offer up in response to the devastation Hurricane Harvey has wrecked upon the Texas coast.
For those of you who are unaware, I am a Texan.
At this moment, there are 31 dead and the toll promises only to climb. Thousands are homeless across two states. Innocent men, women, and children are without the most basic amenities of life and are taking shelter wherever they can find it. This has been declared an unprecedented, 1,000 year flood event. It’s going to cost the state billions in damage and we have not even begun to see the long-term repercussions of this event that only be described as catastrophic.
America is on point right now. Aid is flowing into the devastated areas from all corners of society, from the government on down to the humblest individuals. Even furniture stores are sheltering evacuees, wrecking their inventory and losing money because they’re goddamned human beings.
And this stupid shit is what Charlie Hebdo decides to publish.
Yes, I’m cussing now. This is no longer about me being a professional. I am a Texan. And I am a human being with a heart. Which is more than I can say for these jerks.
I have a heart. Which is why when a couple of Hebdo’s artist’s got themselves blown away because of their “Draw Mohammad” contest, I mourned for them. I felt genuine heartache at the thought of some French artists whom I had never met getting killed for nothing more than exercising their freedom of speech. I mourned. America mourned. I’m talking to you, Charlie Hebdo. Do you silly French twats know who mourned especially for ya’ll?
The political Right.
The people that make Texas a red state.
The folks that voted Trump into office.
Every time some Muslim extremist psychopath blows ya’ll up, or runs ya’ll down, or shoots ya’ll to pieces, we as Americans – including Texas – hurt for you and you get a major outpouring of sympathy and support from your American allies. The picture below is of my own city, Dallas, showing sympathy and support for ya’ll following the November 2015 Paris attacks.
Even I blogged sympathetic sentiments for ya’ll. We go way back, France and America, back two World Wars and to our own Revolution.
You know who especially supports ya’ll when the terrorists are hammering at you? The political Right. They actually sympathize with those of you concerned with religious extremism. The Left doesn’t generally go for that.
Your strongest support and sympathy in your hours of agony has come from the so-called “Nazis” that are now suffering and drowning in Texas.
Let’s have some photos of the devastation here. Because we cried with you over twelve murdered cartoonists, and now you’re celebrating thirty dead Texans and countless ruined lives.
Now lets talk about those devastated Texans, and their affiliation with Trump and the “Nazi” Right. Check out this map:
See that pretty blue area where the arrow is pointing? That’s Houston. This is a map showing how Texas voted in the last presidential election. Houston, like the other major metropolitan areas in Texas (and the border areas for obvious reasons) voted Democrat.
And now I’m going to go from angry Texan to angry Texan historian.
Do you French jerks really want to talk politics with a WWII historian? Do you really want to point fingers and start condemning folks for being supposed Nazis? Because I got one word for all ya’ll: Collaborators.
Ya’ll rolled over for Hitler like a cheap hooker.
And guess who came and bailed your asses out. It wasn’t England. It wasn’t Russia.
Japan’s actions during and the Second World War are well known, as is the following American occupation and the ways in which the Japanese economy and government was deconstructed and rebuilt. The effects of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been studied extensively, from medical effects to economics to how Japan transformed from a militarily aggressive country into a nation of peacekeepers. But something that has not received much attention or scholarship is how experiences of the Second World War and the bombs have been lodged in the historical memory of the country, and the ways in which it has reshaped Japanese identity and psyche. Japanese society had been devastated by the war, their pride shattered by their surrender, their souls shaken by the horror of America’s new super weapon. Even their conception of their own history was altered, divided into “before” and “after.” From the ashes of their great cities, the Japanese had to learn how to redefine themselves based upon the difficult lessons they had learned. Who were they now, the vanquished, the conquered, the nuked? Who would they be once the occupying Americans left their shores and turned their new government over to them? Key to the rebirth of a new, post-war national identity is the extraordinarily popular phenomena of Japanese cartoons, better known as anime. “Japan’s experiences during the Pacific War have had a profound effect on its animated culture as well as its national identity.” In a country which considers the bombs taboo, which does not teach the war in their classrooms, which refuses to acknowledge or accept responsibility for certain actions, one must look further than textbooks if one wishes to understand the true Japanese perspective on things. The historical memory of the Pacific War and the response to being the only victims of nuclear weapons have been preserved and explored in the medium of Japanese comics and animation.
Cartoons, regarded in America strictly as children’s entertainment, may seem an odd topic for scholarly study. However, in Japanese culture, these cartoons are so much more than just a way to distract the kids while attempting to cook dinner or have a quiet moment to ones’ self. Anime appeals to a wide demographic in Japan, from the youngest children to grown adults. When taken as a whole, anime reflects the evolving ideals of particular Japanese age groups as they grow and mature. Universities in both Japan and America have even begun to offer courses in anime for just that reason: the brightly colored cartoons reveal much about Japanese culture and society. Even in America anime has a wide following, its fans ranging in age from early teens to fully grown, intelligent, educated adults. This is because, unlike American cartoons with their formulaic plots and clear, simple delineation between good and evil, anime deals with complex themes and features fully-developed characters with depth and complicated motives.
Given that the Japanese written language has evolved from pictograms, telling stories through the medium of pictures is, for them, quite natural. Perhaps this is why comics, known as manga, make up the largest portion of the Japanese publishing industry and animated features account for half of Japanese box office revenues. Hayao Miyazaki’s animated feature Princess Mononoke is the highest grossing Japanese film of all time.It is for all these reasons that anime must be taken seriously as a window into the Japanese psyche.
World War II as Seen Through Animated Eyes
Anime developed from manga, which in turn developed from the early 19th century wood block prints of Katsushika Hokusai. Other artists added captions to his images to express themselves in ways that had been forbidden by the government. Manga and anime have carried on this tradition, their artists frequently using vivid characters and engaging story lines to convey opinions which otherwise might be considered too taboo, political, or controversial for polite conversation. In Japan, the war and especially the bombs have long remained a painful topic. Like the way anger over the American Civil War is often passed down through generations of Southern families, or rage over slavery is passed from parent to child in African-Americans, the deep psychological wounds from the Pacific War have been passed from survivors to their descendants. These scars, and the issues causing them, are frequently expressed symbolically in the popular medium of anime, leading to the repetition of particular themes across the genres.
Using the cover of science fiction or fantasy, anime often portrays the events of World War II and explores Japanese feelings about them. A study of anime over the past sixty years reveals not only these feelings, but how they have evolved. Immediate post-war manga, from which anime developed, focused primarily on heroics and dedication, skating over the issues of loss, surrender, and the bombs. Even today anime generally avoids overt mention of these painful topics, yet as time has passed more and more animators have chosen to tackle the issues head-on. This growing boldness can be seen as indicative of Japan’s returning confidence as the nation has become reestablished as a world power. Yet even today, most anime only deals with the war and the bombs in terms of symbols, leading to recurring themes that can be traced across the genre.
A common thread is that of responsibility and victimhood. Animes which portray these themes are doing more than trying to moralize; they are often a commentary on Japan’s own role in the war. Rather than acknowledge the role Japan played in starting WWII, the crimes she committed, her reckless decision to involve the United States, and the hand she had in encouraging the use of nuclear weapons against her own people, all too often the government downplays their responsibility in the whole mess. For instance, as recently as February 2014, a government official denied the atrocities perpetrated at the Nanking Massacre. Japan tends to focuses instead on the horrors and hardships they faced, particularly in regards to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in an attempt to absolve them of their own guilt by making them a nation of victims.
“It has been proven that I’m not responsible… I’m the victim,” states one of the characters in Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent. In this series about a boy on skates with a baseball bat who commits random hit-and-run assaults, Kon sharply criticizes his government’s refusal to accept responsibility for the war. “Shounen Bat” does not make his attacks randomly; he comes when people have gotten themselves cornered and are desperate for a way out. As the series progresses, the two investigating detectives discover that each of the “victims” were seeking to avoid responsibility for their own poor choices, and we actually relieved to be victimized because they felt it absolved them of their guilt. There were some in Japan who saw the Hiroshima bombing as the “golden opportunity” for Japan to get out of the mess she had created and surrender. After all, who can defend against such a terrible weapon? Shounen Bat becomes a sought-after folk-hero, the answer to all one’s guilt and troubles, and by the end of the series he has grown from a small boy, to a monster, to a great black sludge that swallows and destroys Tokyo. He is only defeated when one of the characters finally accepts responsibility and apologizes. Death gives way to rebirth, and Tokyo rebuilds in two years, leaving the viewer with the hope that they’ve learned from their mistakes.
While international society is becoming more and more engulfed by a culture of victimhood, Kon’s message is not a general criticism – carefully planned visuals make it clear that he is referring specifically to WWII. For instance, the opening sequence of the series features mushroom clouds, and he cleverly hid an image of a saluting Hitler within one character’s toy collection. The last line of the series reiterates his point; one of the detectives looks over the ruins of Tokyo and comments, “It’s just like right after the war ended!”
“The lost children are a giant mushroom cloud in the sky,” say the lyrics which accompany this image from the opening sequence of Paranoia Agent. Kon is not being subtle here: he wants his audience to know exactly what his message is about.
Grave of the Fireflies is one of the scarce films which deal with the war directly. Grave seeks to deflect responsibility entirely by using the story of two war orphans to evoke sympathy and demonstrate that Japan, too, suffered. Their mother killed in the firebombing of Kobe, their father off to sea and presumably dead, 14-year-old Sieta and his little sister Setsuko find themselves homeless and starving to death. The issues of the war are ignored entirely and the viewer sees only how American actions hurt the most innocent of individuals. A victim’s history, Grave seems to idealize victimhood on the pretext that it gives depth to the Japanese soul.
Another of the rare war features, Barefoot Gen takes a different tack. This anime, adapted from an actual memoir, shows the bombing of Hiroshima in gruesome detail, an animated vision of hell. But while it does acknowledge the suffering of the victims in a manner that could give even the most stalwart nightmares, it does not point the finger at the United States. Instead, the disgruntled father figure criticizes the Japanese government for their actions and questions their late surrender. The memoir’s writer, Keiji Nakazawa, began writing about the bomb because he felt that his people had neither confronted certain issues nor accepted their responsibility for the events which brought the bomb upon them. But while the suffering in the film is intense, Barefoot Gen ends on a note of hope and rebirth as our main character realizes that his hair has begun to grow back. Like his hair, and the new flower his father has plucked from the ruins of the city, Japan too will experience her own rebirth from the ashes of Hiroshima.
Technology and Science – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Many of the themes in anime are lessons or messages the older generation feels needs to be passed down to the youth of Japan. One of these lessons focuses on science and the resulting technology: the benefits, the uses, but especially the dangers of it when misused. Animes frequently warn that science and technology should never be used without thought to the consequences, or to gain power. Thus, using science to create advanced technological weapons and wage war is always presented as a very bad thing. These story lines are often, in part, criticisms aimed at America for wielding a largely untested weapon against Japan in order to force a surrender. Even today, many scholars and especially the Japanese feel that the use of the nuclear bombs was unnecessary and done more in the name of scientific experimentation rather than military necessity.
Yet science and technology were not to play only the villain in the history of Japan. Following the war, Japan experienced a technological boom that transformed her into an economically relevant country and enabled her people to achieve one of the highest standards of living in the world. “In World War II, Japan experienced the devastating power of technology in the… atomic bomb. In post-war Japan, technology would become Japan’s savior,” thus facilitating Japan’s own cycle of death and rebirth. Today, Japan’s top four exports are technology related – vehicles, machinery, electronics, and medical instruments. Japan also leads the world in industrial robotics. This scientific/technological dichotomy is frequently played out on screen. Anime is perhaps best known for its science fiction settings and its sleek, sexy technology, yet the gadgets for which the genre is famous often carry with them an underlying warning that these things must not be misused.
Few animes hammer this warning home as thoroughly as Akira, a film about the quest to reach the title super-weapon which destroys Old Tokyo at the beginning of the film. The super-weapon, it turns out, was a child who was given psionic abilities in a military experiment that soon spun out of control. The film takes place many years later. Tetsuo, a gentle teenager, becomes mixed up with the military and is forcibly given the power of Akira. At first Tetsuo hates his new abilities, then becomes so obsessed with them that he is literally consumed in a violent scene in which the city is again destroyed by a white light. The film is more than just a warning against irresponsibly used science; it is a scathing commentary on the behavior of the war time government of both countries and especially on the international development and use of weapons of mass destruction. In the film, caricatures meant to represent science and the military carelessly proceed in their quest to develop Akira’s power, in spite of the fact that both know it cannot be controlled. In the end it kills them both, and Tokyo is again destroyed. One of the military’s experiments, a young girl named Kiyoko, says it well: “Don’t use your power in this way. It’s wrong… because in the end you won’t be able to control it, and it will control you…(it is) way too big for us as we are now.”
Akira’s writer, Otomo Katsuhiro, was the child of a “Hibakusha” or A-Bomb survivor. He shared his parent’s trauma with the world through the medium of Akira, reconstructing the experience for the younger generation and using the film to preserve the pain and lessons from the bomb. From the irresponsible physicist who bears a striking resemblance to Albert Einstein to the volatile political/military situation, it is “Otomo’s way of calling on Japan and the international community to learn from World War Two and to be wary of pursuing power through science or technology…” One of the most striking images of the film is the maddened Tetsuo, wearing a tattered red cape and sitting on a throne of his own construction, the very parody of power. His arm was torn off in an earlier battle and has been replaced with a prosthetic he fashioned using his abilities; now out of his control, it morphs and mutates, growing until it swallows him and the city.
Tetsuo the Tyrant. Note how his arm is beginning to grow out of his control. Behind him is all that is left of Akira – a collection of jarred specimens.
Another anime which warns of pursuing power through technology is Aldnoah Zero, a new series currently on the air. The discovery of an incredible alien weapon said to have god-like powers enables the colonists of Mars to build the powerful Vers Empire and to wage an aggressive war against Earth for the conquest of her resources. The use of the weapon in the first war- which, like the first nuclear bombs, is little understood – destroys the moon and nearly the Earth; the resulting armistice is shattered as the series begins. As Vers invades the Earth in the first episode, we see powerful weapons derived from the mysterious alien technology known as Aldnoah lay waste to our greatest cities in blasts that produce mushroom clouds. If the invaders continue to hammer Earth which such destructive technology, they will destroy it for everyone and their attempt at conquest will have been in vain.
Unlike the grim warnings given through Akira and Aldnoah Zero, the western-style sci-fi series Trigun reminds us that technology – specifically nuclear power – can be used for good or bad. On the desert planet known as Gunsmoke, towns are able to survive thanks to the development of a special type of sentient power plant which, we learn, is powered by scientifically engineered humans who serve as the core, much as plutonium is the heart of nuclear power plants. Trigun’s message is delivered through the tale of a pair of brothers by the names of Vash the Stampede and Millions Knives. Vash and Knives were scientifically engineered to be the hearts of two of these power plants, but when their ship crashed on Gunsmoke they got loose and lived their lives as humans instead. Each carry the power intended for use within the plants in their “Angel Arms,” a power which, like nuclear energy, can wipe out a city entirely or help it to thrive. The brothers represent this duality. Vash, painfully aware of the terrible power of his Angel Arm, refuses to use it as a weapon. He does, however, use his abilities to save an entire city by repairing a plant on the verge of explosion. Knives, however, is a mass murderer who wishes to eradicate all life on the planet Gunsmoke. He uses his power to kill indiscriminately, just as Fat Man and Little Boy did in the summer of 1945.
The two faces of technology: Vash the Stampede, and Millions Knives
By the time Japan surrendered in September of 1945, approximately three million of her citizens, be they soldier or civilian, had paid the ultimate price and lost their lives in the name of the emperor. Nearly seventy of her cities had been gutted by firebombing. Over two hundred thousand civilians had been killed in the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Upon their surrender, the United States dissolved the Empire of Japan and forced the nation to accept a democratic form of government. During seven years of occupation, Japan struggled to rebuild her shattered infrastructure and devastated sense of pride and identity. What rose from the ashes and rubble of war was a country entirely different from what it had been – Japan had died, and been reborn. It was from this experience that anime has taken its most common and recurring theme – that of death and rebirth.
“The aggression displayed by the American military carpet-bombing Japan, along with the use of the atomic bomb…forever imbedded a never-ending obsession with doomsday themes in…anime.” Many anime tales take place in post-apocalyptic worlds: indeed, “the atomic bomb trauma and the ruined, burned, and scorched city became… ‘the original experience and the original picture’ of (anime).” Yet all does not remain ash and dust; society has either rebuilt entirely or is in the process of rebuilding. Take, for instance, the cult-hit Akira, set in the highly technocrized city of Neo Tokyo, rebuilt after old Tokyo is destroyed by a mysterious white light.Neon Genesis Evangelion, another popular series, also takes place in a newly rebuilt Tokyo. The original Tokyo was flooded and destroyed by what is known as “The Second Impact,” which we soon learn was the violent arrival of giant “Angels,” aliens from another world which could be said to be representative of the American attackers. Aldnoah Zero also takes place in a reborn Tokyo, fifteen years after a war with the aggressive colonies on Mars nearly destroyed the Earth.Cowboy Bebop is another anime in which the world has been destroyed; the explosion of the Moon Gate rendered Earth unlivable, and humanity has abandoned it for life among the stars. In Trigun, a lone gunman wanders a desert wasteland amongst cities that have been destroyed by a mysterious weapon or are dying from lack of resources – much as Japan suffered as the war progressed. Another lone wanderer is the mysterious hunter D, who rides beneath broken highways, through forgotten oil fields, and past the ruined satellites at SETI in the strangely empty world of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
The list of animes which feature worlds experiencing death and rebirth stretches long; the few mentioned above are just a small sampling of the post-apocalyptic worlds which abound throughout the genre. In each of these animes, the old world has died, much as the last vestiges of the Japanese empire died with the falling of the atomic bombs. And like Japan, each society has been rebuilt in a new and different form. Anime is being used to emphasize Japan’s post-war hope that in spite of their devastation and whatever mistakes they have made, society can be rebuilt and reborn. In the early post-war years, this was meant to give the desperate populace hope in the future. The theme lingers today as an enduring reminder of what has been overcome.
 Jean Marie Bouissou, “Manga Goes Global,” in Proceedings of the Global Meaning of Japan Conference, Sheffield, England, 19-22 March 1998 (Paris, Centre for International Studies and Research, 1998), 22.
Akira, dir. by Ohtomo Katsuhiro, (1988; Bandai Co., LTD., 2009 DVD).
Neon Genesis Evangelion, dir. by Hideaki Anno (TV Tokyo, 1995-1996; Gainax, 2002 DVD).
Clipped from some newspaper or magazine in July of 1943 and sent from the Navajo Ordnance Depot to his own mother, I could think of no better day to share these sentimental war-time thoughts from Granddaddy Bill on the singular beauty that is a mother.
It took a sailor to find a new use for a worn out word which gives it fresh sparkle and a deeper meaning than ever before. I thought the word glamour was through – ready to die from overwork – until I heard one of the boys at a U.S.O canteen express his approval of a solidly built matron with a good humoured smile.
“She makes me homesick but it doesn’t hurt,” he said – “she had mother glamour.”
And so she did. You could be sure just by looking at her, that the cookie jar at home was always filled and that there were no restrictions on lifting the lid. You felt certain that her nerves were strong enough to stand beating drums and blaring saxophones and a goodly measure of back slapping – that her rugs had often felt the contact of scuffing young feet. You could picture her in generously proportioned, spic-and-span gingham aprons, turning innumerable pancakes on her soapstone griddle. You could imagine her listening with flattering and unforced interest to enthusiastic youthful confidences.
Perhaps, like me, you may never before have heard the phrase, “motherglamour,” but you know exactly what that boy meant. Mother glamour is compounded of family games and measles, of birthday cakes and Thanksgiving turkeys, of Christmas tree candles and Easter egg hunts – of homemade Halloween costumes and pack numbers sewn on cub-scout sleeves. It is the fragrance of ginger and cinnamon, of chocolate and bubbling molasses; it is the sound of corn popping, of puppies barking, of flames snapping in a friendly fireplace; it is the color of snowy marshmallows and golden pumpkin pies. Mother glamour – it’s synonym is home – is what soldiers dream about, all around the world.
Everybody loves good spooky ghost stories and crazy coincidences, right? A good mystery gives us something to talk about besides work, or the kids, or what we need to fix on the house. It gives us a break for the mundanity of our daily grind; it allows us to escape from the nine-to-five. It’s why when I want to relax, I’ll probably grab Poe or King instead of Keegan (forgive me, history gods).
In that vein, here is one of those wild tales of crazy coincidence.
I reckon about everyone has seen this, or some version of it, floating around on the web by now. It’s been around for YEARS.
And it makes me absolutely friggin’ NUTS. Not just as a historian but also as a teacher.
“WHY DIDN’T WE LEARN THIS IN SCHOOL???”
“BECAUSE IT’S NONSENSE.”
Allow me to extrapolate below.
First, let’s take a look at the actual coincidences that have been blown way out of proportion.
Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846. John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.
Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860. John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
Alright, this is true. But given that elections happen every four years, it’s inevitable that someone along the way, numerically even numbers for (whatever) are going to line up.
There’s far more non-coincidences in their significant years: birth (1809 and 1917), death (April 1865 v November 1963), Lincoln was 56 when he died and Kennedy 46.
Kennedy spent his time between ’45 and ’60 enjoying an unbroken string of political successes while Lincoln was elected once, served just two years, and lost every other bid he made until 1860. What about the fact that Lincoln was the first Republican, whilst JFK was a Democrat? Lincoln was a lawyer, Kennedy a war hero. Lincoln was killed in his second term, and Kennedy in his first. Aside from numbers, there really aren’t too many similarities between their early political careers.
Both names contain seven letters
Big whoop. You want seven? Add up my birthday – January 4th, 1982. 1+4+2=7. I was born in room no. 7 at 7am after 7 hours of labor and I weighed just 7 pounds (all true). 7 is the perfect number, the number for GOD. It’s all an astronomical signpost meaning I’m ordained to do something great for the Lord.
Pity I’m agnostic.
My significant other has seven letters in their name (no, you don’t get their name per their request). We must fated to be together.
Give me a name and a number, and I can make it work. So can you.
Both were shot in the head.
REALLY? If you were going to KILL someone, WHERE ELSE WOULD YOU SHOOT THEM?
Now, granted, the idiots that assassinated McKinley (1901) and Garfield (1881) weren’t as clever as Booth or Oswald, and shot them in stupid random places (twenty years apart – coincidence?). Garfield was shot in the back and died nearly three months later of an infection from the bullet, whereas McKinley was gut shot and took a whole week to die. Shall we make a big coincidence of how stupid assassins still managed to kill their marks through ineptitude and poor aim?
How about the other two times which some pissed-off Southerner tried to blow Lincoln away? Why do those get ignored? Or the original assassination attempt upon JKF in 1960?
Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.
True, and tragic.
But what about Coolidge, Jefferson, and Adams?
Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808. Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.
Also true. But what about Eldbridge Gerry (1744) and Garrett Hobart (1844)? What about John C. Calhoun (1782) and Martin van Buren (1782)? LBJ (1908) and Nelson Rockefeller (1908)? William Wheeler (1819) or Thomas Hendricks (also 1819)? Teddy Roosevelt died in 1919, surely we should toss that in there for good measure.
If I really wanted to be ornery, I’d toss in the VP death dates. Of course, nothing will ever impress me as much as Jefferson and Adams both dying on July 4th, 1826, fifty years TO THE DAY that they signed the Declaration of Independence. Ya’ll want real, astounding coincidence? THERE YOU GO.
Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.
Eh. Oswald was assassinated by Jack Ruby (probably on orders from the Dallas mob). He was in custody and cuffed and the whole nine yards. Booth, on the other hand, died in a barn fire/shoot-out because he refused to surrender to the officers who had been pursuing him. I may be alone on this, but I don’t consider getting killed while resisting arrest “assassination.”
Both were assassinated by Southerners
Really stretching it, here. First off, you have a fifty-fifty chance of being shot by a Southerner as opposed to a Northerner. The guy who shot Garfield was from Illinois and McKinley’s assassin was from Michigan. So… the two presidents we want to obsess over were shot by Southerners… and the two no one gives a damn about were shot by Yankees. WOW. Booth was from Maryland, which remained in the Union, thereby making him in the eyes of many a true Southerner not actually one of us, whereas Oswald lived a lot of places – New Orleans, Dallas, New York, and even Russia, not including the traveling he did in the Marine Corps. Of the two, only Booth was motivated by sectional concerns – unless Oswald’s possible allegiance to the Soviet Union counts.
Both were succeeded by Southerners.
Ok, granted… but both presidents were from Northern(ish) states and needed Southerners to bring in votes. Anyhow, I’m not entirely sure either of the VPs would have readily identified themselves as Southern. Andrew Johnson disagreed with the secession of his state and spent his presidency doing a strange combination of punishing/protecting the South. LBJ, meanwhile, was a Texan. And Texas is it’s own entity entirely.
Both successors were named Johnson.
Ok let’s let just look at that name – “Johnson” literally son-of-John. John, a stupidly common name. Let’s see how many I have to teach between 1492 and 1877:
John Smith, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Rolfe, John White, John Deere, John Locke, JOHN WILKES BOOTH… that’s what I can think of after three tall glasses of Kentucky bourbon.
John is a stupidly common name in this country. To illustrate this point, take a look at this graph.
For those of you not clicking on the link, in 1885 90,ooo boys in a million were named John. Show me a male child from back then and tell me his name is John and forgive me if I’m not surprised. Along the same lines, the surname “Johnson” literally means “son of John.” According to this chart, it is the second most common surname in the US. They’re EVERYWHERE. I’ll bet you know a Johnson. I know several, all unrelated. I even have some in my family. It’s not a particularly amazing coincidence. It’s like being amazed that *YOU* own a Ford and *I* own a Ford. It’s not amazing – it’s a question of numbers and frequency.
Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
C’mon, that’s a 1-in-7 chance. McKinley was also assassinated on a Friday, but he gets no love. Garfield, however, was shot on a Saturday. So we can draw the conclusion that successful assassins prefer to strike on the weekends?
Speaking of, lets take a look at………………………………………………….
Failed Assassinations and Coincidences
Mulder: Be honest, Scully. Doesn’t that propane tank bear more than just a slight resemblance to a fat little white Nazi stormtrooper?
Scully: Mulder, the human mind naturally seeks meaningful patterns and configurations in things that don’t inherently have any. Given the suggestion of a particular image, you can’t help but see that shape somewhere. If that tank weren’t there you’d see it in a, in a rock or in a tree…
Mulder: Would you answer my question?
Scully: [grudgingly] Yes, it looks like a fat little white Nazi storm trooper, but that only proves my point!
What about the numerous failed assassination attempts on US presidents? Let’s take a look at those. I’m only pointing out the very obvious ones in my laziness and frustration (I’m not getting a grade or a paycheck for this rant), but I’m sure anyone could find more “amazing coincidences” just in the numbers, let alone the facts. I’ll bet someone who is sufficiently determined could even figure out how some or all of these blokes fit into the Fibonacci sequence. Bottom line: if ye seek, ye shall find.
Andrew Jackson: 1835
Abraham Lincoln: 1861, 1864
William Howard Taft: 1909
Theodore Roosevelt: 1912
Herbert Hoover: 1928
Franklin D. Roosevelt: 1933, 1943 (Ten years apart? COINCIDENCE)
Harry S. Truman: 1947. 1950
John F. Kennedy: 1960 (Ten years after someone tried to get Truman?)
Richard Nixon: 1972, 1974 (LOOK SOMEONE TRIED AND FAILED TO ASSASSINATE NIXON AND LINCOLN 100 YEARS APART)
Gerald Ford: 1975, 1975 (Yes, people tried and failed to kill this man two times in the same month, both times in California and both times by women. See, THAT’S interesting.)
Jimmy Carter: 1979
Ronald Reagan: 1981
George H.W. Bush: 1993
Bill Clinton: 1994, 1994, 1994, 1996. Of all attempts on this list, Bill has the dubious distinction of having the MOST. Why is he then remembered as being so bloody popular? Incidentally, one of these fools shot at him TWENTY NINE times and missed. Surely there is some esoteric magical reason for that (actually Bill was inside and all this jackass managed to do was shoot a couple of tourists). Or how about the psycho who prognosticated 9-11 by attempting to kill him with a Cessna flown into the White House lawn?
George W. Bush: 2001, 2005
Barack Obama: 2009, 2011, 2013
Donald Trump (ALREADY? Dang, ya’ll. Well, early birds and worms and all…)
Following now are bits of this silly legend that just aren’t true.
Both names are comprised of fifteen letters
John Fitzgerald Kennedy =21
Abraham Lincoln = 14
Look, I failed math SEVERAL times…. why I majored in history. But even I can figure out this is just made-up.
Lincoln’s secretary, Kennedy, warned him not to go to Ford’s Theatre. Kennedy’s secretary, Lincoln, warned him not to go to Dallas.
Ok, once again we’re just makin’ shit up. Kennedy did have a secretary named Evelyn Lincoln, but if you can find the factual evidence that he warned him to stay out of Dallas, please email me because no one else seems to have that and you could possibly make my career.
Lincoln did not have a secretary named Kennedy. His secretaries were named John G. Nicolay and John Hay.
John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839. Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939.
REALLY? John Wilkes Booth: Born May 10th, 1838. Whoever wrote 1839 is GROUNDED.
Both assassins were known by their three names.
Pushing it. Oswald went by Lee, not “Lee Harvey” and Booth was most often billed as “J. Wilkes Booth:”
Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse. Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.
No. This is twisting facts to suit your thesis. Oswald was, in fact, in a textbook warehouse and shot Kennedy on a street.
He was later caught in this movie theater (which is actually still open, serves nice cocktails, and shows cool underground flicks):
Booth, meanwhile, shot Kennedy in a live theater and was later cornered in a BARN.
Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.
OMG don’t get me started on Lincoln and this one. The idea that Lincoln was a proponent of civil rights and equality is one of the biggest lies ever sold to American society. But don’t take my word for it; check out some of these quotes from an 1858 campaign speech:
I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races — that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making VOTERS or jurors of negroes, NOR OF QUALIFYING THEM HOLD OFFICE, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any of her man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race…
Ohhhhhhhhhh there is more, and it is horrific. But moving on – does this sound like a man particularly concerned with Civil Rights? If you’re still not convinced, let’s take a peek at the famous Emanicipation Proclamation:
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…
So. Tell me. He issues this on September 22nd, 1862, declaring that AS OF January 1st, 1863, all slaves held within rebellious states would be free. If he issues it in September, but it doesn’t take effect until January… what does that do?
It gives the South several months warning of what will happen in January if they’re still giving Mr. Lincoln grief. Hey! It’s September! If ya’ll are still acting up in January, YOU LOSE YOUR SLAVES!
The implication being that whichever slave states lay down their arms BEFORE January 1863 CAN KEEP THEIR SLAVES. Indeed, when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in January 1863, the slaves in the neutral border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and parts of Tennessee, West Virginia, and New Orleans were not affected. This totaled approximately half-a-million enslaved individuals NOT freed by Lincoln’s lauded order. Why? Because these state were either not actively rebelling or had already been subdued.
In short, the Emancipation Proclamation was not a great act for Civil Rights by a man who gave a damn – – – it was an attempt to win a war, a carrot designed to bring the South quietly back to the arms of the Union. To hammer this particular point home, let me again use “Honest Abe’s” own words:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because it helps save the Union…
At this point I could go hunt down the finer points of Kennedy’s Civil Rights actions to see how they line up with the myth in this video, but I feel my point has already been proven by debunking Lincoln, and as this post has already gone on longer than I intended it to we shall move on.
A month before Lincoln was assassinated he was in Monroe, Maryland. A month before Kennedy was assassinated he was in Marilyn Monroe.
Alright, aside from the fact that this last tidbit is tacky and unbecoming of anything trying to pass itself off as fact, how about the actual fact that Monroe died long before Kennedy was assassinated? Monroe died August 5th, 1962. Kennedy was assassinated November 11th, 1963.
Every time someone re-posts this Kennedy-Lincoln nonsense, a historian somewhere suffers an aneurysm and dies.
The Battle of Britain, fought over the skies of England during the summer of 1940, was a key point in the Second World War. The German failure to overcome the island would prove to have profound and lasting effects on the course of the war as a whole. Not only did the loss drive Hitler to invade Russia before he was prepared, it also encouraged American support of England and later provided a foot hold for the Allied invasion of Europe that would come to be known as D-Day. The German estimation of the state of England’s air force and morale did not anticipate this outcome; in fact, Goering had promised Hitler that England would be defeated in a matter of weeks! The German failure to make this boast into reality was due to a number of factors.
The Battle of Britain was lost by the Nazis through a series of errors and missed opportunities. An examination of the three stages of the battle reveal how a lack of focus and poor intelligence continually undermined the attempts of the Luftwaffe to gain air superiority over England. Adding to these issues was failure to properly exploit both resources and pilots. All these factors combined to create a complex tapestry of misjudgments and mistakes which ultimately doomed the Nazi attempts to gain air superiority, and in turn rendered Hitler’s schemes for invasion utterly moot.
Broad Strategies Summarized
In 1939, Hitler had expected appeasement to be the response to invading Poland; his surprise was great when England and France dug their heels in and declared war instead. This was an especially unwelcome development for the Fuhrer, who had not accounted for this contingency in his best-laid plans. In May of 1940 the French, instead of presenting the expected long war of attrition, capitulated to the Nazis in a few short weeks. Britannia, however, remained steadfast and stubborn, the solitary remnant of resistance in the face of The Reich. Forced to contend with her refusal to surrender, the Germans pointed their war machine across the Channel.
For reasons which will be examined shortly, the Germans failed to develop a clear strategy for the war against England. The broad strokes consisted of four goals: destroy the Royal Air Force, strangle shipping, terror bomb if necessary, and after air superiority had been achieved proceed with landing and invasion. The invasion plans were to be known as Operation Sea Lion.
The Royal Air Force’s head of Fighter Command, Air
Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding, had a much simpler strategy – defend and deceive. All England had to do was hold off the Nazis until bad fall weather brought rains and a rough Channel, thus making invasion impossible. The Germans assumed (not entirely incorrectly) that the British had very little with which to defend and expected an easy fight. Dowding intended to exploit this perceived weakness to his benefit, and so throughout the battle would only dispatch small groups of fighters instead of entire squadrons. This “penny packet” strategy would not only protect his precious pilots and aircraft, it would also deceive the Nazis about the true strength of the RAF and cause them to underestimate the British. Goering would be left to assume that the Royal Air Force was weak and waning, and with luck, his famous ego would be his undoing
Into The Breech – Or Not?
The state of British military power following the Dunkirk evacuation was sorry indeed. So much kit had been left behind that only four out of 27 infantry divisions were properly equipped. Seven thousand tons of ammunition were left behind on the beaches of France, along with 2,300 pieces of artillery, eight thousand machine guns, four hundred anti-aircraft guns, and ninety thousand rifles. The army was left with almost no field artillery, five hundred guns, and only 150 tanks. The British Expeditionary Force was down to drilling without rifles, and the home guards were armed with pikes. Of the 250 Hawker Hurricane fighter planes sent across the Channel, only 66 had returned. Of the bombers, 77% were lost. Dowding insisted that he needed over fifty squadrons of fighters to defend England from invasions; thanks to France, he was down to 37. He told Churchill that if Hitler were to attack immediately, he feared he would only have the strength to defend for about 48 hours. After that, England would belong to the Reich.
From the German position in France, it seemed an easy thing to defeat England and many of Hitler’s generals urged immediate action. Erhard Milch, for instance, suggested using Blitzkrieg tactics and sending paratroopers in beneath heavy cover of bombs. After a survey of the kit left behind at Dunkirk, he insisted that invasion must begin at once, positive that a delay of even three of four weeks would be utterly fatal. Yet the Fuhrer failed to strike, and even once bombs had been dropped he continued to remain ambivalent throughout the summer. Why?
Firstly, Hitler was not prepared to fight England. The accidental six-week “blitz” of France had been a surprise to everyone involved. The Germans had been planning a long, drawn out land-war against the French and the economy had been geared towards such, with maximum output of the appropriate items not expected until October of 1940. These were, of course, precisely the wrong sort of items for fighting England, and not due to arrive until months after the fact. In order to properly fight England Hitler would need a strong navy, and that was not due until 1945. In 1940 the Kreigsmarine was only a fraction of the size of the Royal Navy.
Richard Overy suggests that Hitler’s ambivalence towards England was a result of his desire to keep the door open to political settlement due to the knowledge that a loss would be disastrous. The Germans could afford a war only if they won. Overy believes that Hitler was not only aware of the inadequacies of the Sea Lion preparations, but that he had no confidence in his ability to command the insufficient Kreigsmarine in the first place. Hitler, he maintains, was most comfortable with the army, and knew little about air or naval warfare. Goering, too, did not like the idea of immediate attack. He disagreed with Milch’s advice for haste, telling Hitler that they were not quite finished with France and insisted that he did not have enough planes to mount a proper attack on England. General Franz Hadler encouraged the use of political and diplomatic means to bring the island to the peace table; he urged that invasion be considered only as a last resort. Hitler’s thirst for battle with England was tempered by more than practical considerations. He had an affinity for the English people as a whole. As he once told Frau Troost, the window of a much-admired architect, “The blood of every single Englishman is too valuable to shed. Our two people belong together, racially and traditionally – this is and always has been my aim…”
The attitude of many seemed to be that England was so weak there was little need for hurry; surely she would collapse on her own. On June 23, Joseph Gobbles declared that England was doomed, and close to the end of her ability to wage war. General Franz Hadler said, “war is won by us. A reversal in the prospect of success is impossible.” Goering was so sure of English surrender that he spent much of the month of July taking in the sights of Paris instead of commanding his Luftwaffe, returning to them only on July 20th and even then telling them to come up with their own strategy. In Hitler’s mind, there was no reason for England to continue the fight – she had entered to protect Poland and assist France. She had failed and both were now lost, but honor had been satisfied. The idea that she – beaten and broken – should continue the fight in the face of the mighty German war machine seemed utterly absurd.
The lack of focus with plagued the Battle of Britain stemmed from this initial reluctance to fight, and this trend tainted the indecisive bombing campaign from the start. The slow pace of attacks in June emphasized Hitler’s hope that England would “come to their senses,” with just a little coaxing. On July 19th his famously arrogant speech both threatened war and offered peace, promising the continued existence of England so long as he was allowed a free hand in Europe. The meetings of July 21st, 25th, and 31st all emphasized the hope that invasion could be avoided. That is not to say, however, that Hitler sat quietly and waited. Bombs did fall, the light bombing in July half-hearted and in sync with Hitler’s hope that war was ultimately unnecessary. These hopes were also encouraged by the British Minister in Berne, David Kelley, who played Hitler for as long as he could manage in order to buy time for England to regroup. Yet during this time Hitler still failed to create a comprehensive strategy in case England did not surrender. Peter Fleming described Hitler as an olive-branch bearing Dr. Jekyll who prevented Mr. Hyde from sharpening his sword.
Unfortunately for Hitler and his hopes, Milch was correct in his estimation that delay would be fatal. This slow attack, a combination of sloth, wishful thinking, and shock at the French victory, proved to be a tremendous boon to the English. By July, American shipments to England had resupplied 200,000 troops. While Goering vacationed and Hitler hemmed and hawed, England had time to mine and wire her beaches, set up defenses in the harbors to the east and south, prepare herself for the use poison gas if
necessary, and had even trained the Home Guard to kill Germans with cheese cutters and destroy tanks with crowbars. England was receiving Thompson submachine guns at a rate of five thousand a month from Chicago, Illinois. On June 19th, Dowding’s RAF only had 668 fighter planes left thanks to France, and of these only 520 were operational. By August, when the Germans attacked in earnest, this number had been increased to over a thousand fighters, 715 of which were operational plus an additional 420 planes held in reserve. The Luftwaffe, on the other hand, had 805 operational fighters and no reserve at all. If there had indeed ever been a time for “easy victory” over England, the time was past, sacrificed to procrastination and sentimentality. Hitler’s ability to bring England to her knees had been “destroyed by his never altogether banished hope that in the end it wouldn’t be necessary, that the mere threat of an invasion might be enough to bring the British to their senses and make them recognize that they had been defeated.”
Adolf’s hopes for peace were severely damaged when the British opened fire on the French Navy July 6th . The very next day he ordered the preparations necessary in order to begin plans for an invasion. His ambivalence came through even in the wording of this order, Directive 16: “I have decided to begin to prepare for, and if necessary to carry out, an invasion of England.”
Many plans for the subjugation of England were submitted. For his part, “Hitler was genuinely uncertain about how to bring about either a political or military settlement with Britain… He hoped that blockade and air attack might so reduce British resolve and undermine the capacity to fight that invasion would be little more than a mopping up operation.” Admiral Erich Raeder agreed with this, stating his preference for blockade and using invasion only as a last resort.  Dunkirk had weakened the army; the powerful Royal navy was busy with German U-boats and the tiff in the Mediterranean. It was decided that the largest threat to German ambitions with England was the Royal Air Force, and to this end Goering had an idea: he would use his Luftwaffe to bring the defenders to battle in order to weaken them. Because the Luftwaffe could not reach very far inland, they would use attacks on shipping and coastal airfields to draw out and destroy Dowding’s “last few planes.” Goering was confident – he famously predicted the destruction of the RAF in only a few weeks.
However, Hitler’s ambivalence was in the way of formulating a proper strategy. An excellent illustration of this can be seen in his confusing orders to the Luftwaffe. In May, Directive no. 9 ordered siege and blockade of the island. Directive no. 13 ordered a “large scale air war.” Yet in June, when Goering urged retaliation for the British bombings of several German towns, Hitler refused. But again, on July 11th and 17th, he reiterated his order for “intensive air warfare” against the island. However, it was not until August 1st that Hitler issued the order to actually destroy the RAF. After air superiority had been achieved, he declared, they would then return to blockade. This series of orders “reflected deepest uncertainty about the conduct of the war at the highest level.” This uncertainty came through in the air war itself, and lack of focus would characterize much of the Battle of Britain. This led the efforts of the ensuing bombing campaign to be scattered, aimed at many targets at once instead of concentrating on striking a few systematically and repeatedly. Be it shipping, ports, radar, airfields, or cities, each was attacked sporadically and the effort abandoned in favor of other pursuits before the Germans could reap the fruits of their labor. The targets in question, on the other hand, were given the reprieves necessary to recuperate and recover.
This lack of certainty and focus was especially apparent in the months of June and July. Kanalkamph, or the Channel Battles, were launched in part because Kesselring and Speerle were as unsure about the conduct of the battle as their Fuhrer, and didn’t really know what else to do. This preliminary stage gave the pilots on each side a chance to test the waters; the Luftwaffe probed the British defenses, and the RAF got more practice with their new Spitfires.  Strategically the Channel Battles posed a great enough threat to England that one would think they would have been pursued with aggression. England, an island now isolated and utterly without a continental friend, was dependent upon shipping. The shipping lanes were a vital life line, sending her badly needed supplies and helping her maintain her alliance with America. Between the Luftwaffe and the U-boats, shipping through the Channel in the spring of 1940 was highly dangerous. The unintentionally combined efforts of the Luftwaffe and Kreigsmarine closed the ports at Southampton and shipping to London had to be done at night. Luftwaffe attacks forced the British to reroute shipping either by rail, or through the North Channel, which removed the precious cargo ships from range of the Stukas but put them at the mercy of the tiny Type II U-boats that thrived in the waters between Scotland and Ireland. It is not coincidence that the U-boat captains enjoyed their greatest successes during the summer of 1940 when Allied shipping was harried from above and below. Between May and June of 1940, the British had built 1.5 million tons of new shipping, but had lost over two million tons to German activity in the Channel. The possibility of shutting down British shipping lanes and strangling them into submission was looking very possible. With such heavy losses being inflicted by two separate, uncoordinated branches of the Wehrmacht, one wonders how much damage could have been dealt had Raeder and Goering planned a joint attack. However, the Reich was famous for its backbiting and general lack of cooperation, and thus such an effort never came to pass.
Kanalkamph also posed a serious threat to Dowding. At Churchill’s insistence, he grudgingly allowed five squadrons for the protection of convoys. He resented this; shortsightedly he argued that fighting over water would not save the mainland. Defending the convoys was also an issue because it exposed a major weakness in Dowding’s system: he had not anticipated fighting over water, and his pilots, unlike the Germans, were not properly equipped for it. Effective air-sea rescue techniques would not even be in place until 1941.  Furthermore, the Luftwaffe had an advantage in attacking the coast – their planes came in too low for Dowding’s vital radar stations to detect. Combined with the fact that they were often outnumbered, British losses at this stage of the battle were relatively high. 
Hitler coveted a settlement with England without the need for war or invasion, and on some level it was understood by many if not all that England was highly vulnerable to blockade. Yet instead of pursuing this avenue to its fullest advantage, complete with a combined Luftwaffe/U-boat effort, the Luftwaffe swarmed aimlessly though the skies over the Channel for a few weeks before Goering bothered to formulate something resembling strategy. The targets were varied and therefore the impact was scattered – aircraft factories, ports, naval bases, and the rail system – rendering the efforts aimed at them inefficient.
It was not until August that Goering set down a strategy which he predicted would destroy the RAF in just four days: Adlerangriff, or Attack of the Eagles. The procrastination in starting a full assault cannot be laid entirely at the Reichmarschall’s feet – after all, he was waiting on word from Hitler, and Hitler, as we know, was waiting on England. The broad plan was for the Luftwaffe to systematically destroy key targets from Kings Lynn to Leicester, and, once the RAF was destroyed, the Luftwaffe would move to dominate the entire island. Small bombers with light escorts would be sent in order to allow the majority of the Messerschmitt 109 fighters the ability to “free hunt” the British. However, this stage of the battle would prove to be plagued with poor intelligence which would render much of the German efforts impotent, and far from being the quick, killing blow which had been promised and expected, the attacks on the airfields will drag on for weeks.
Early intelligence reports in July contained no mention of the radar system, communications system, or the Civilian Repair Organization, and judged Dowding and his system to be rigid and inflexible. The Spitfire and Hurricane were declared vastly inferior to the Me 109. Luftwaffe intelligence officer Beppo Schmidd announced there were more pilots than planes and claimed the leadership of the RAF was “out of touch.” All of the above was incorrect. In August, a report did mention Dowding’s RDF radar system but assumed the pilots were tied to their individual ground stations. It claimed that each station was independent of the other, showing that the Germans knew nothing of the complex phone network that tied sector station to sector station. This was a serious misconception, as it led the Luftwaffe to assume that the RAF would be unable to converge on a single point on short notice. It would also made their later attacks on the RDF chain utterly ineffective.
Adlerangriff opened with Adlertag – “Eagle Day”- on August 12th, the goal being the destruction of the RDF towers in order to blind Dowding, easing the way for Adlerangriff the next day. Adlertag proved to be the first major failure of this stage of the battle. Six attacks were made in total upon the RDF, mostly on August 12th but not repeatedly and then not at all. Upon bombing the RDF chain, the Luftwaffe was to find the delicate lattice-work towers difficult to destroy. Very few were knocked out, and a failure to send follow-up attacks or to destroy their supporting infrastructure meant that they were up and running again soon. Goering, however, was unaware of this, and expected the element of surprise to belong to his pilots when they returned the next day. When the RAF once again rose to meet the onslaught, he assumed the attacks were a waste of time and they were dropped.
The trouble here is that the Germans neither understand the importance the RDF played for Dowding, nor understood the structure of the radar system. They assumed – incorrectly – that Fighter Command was not actually centralized. They believed that the squadrons were tied to individual radar stations and had no knowledge or understanding of the complex communication systems which Dowding had been struggling to build and refine for some time. Sector stations, the heart of the RDF system, were not identified and as a result not attacked. The phone lines which Dowding’s system were so dependent upon were not even buried, yet the Germans failed to take advantage of this important weakness.
Further trouble lay in the chosen targets, which turned out to be of little importance to Fighter Command. The locations for Bentley Priory – Dowding’s headquarters – important factories, the radar towers and supporting infrastructure had not exactly been concealed by the British. In fact, much of this vital information could have been easily found in guide books or phone directories, or observed through a quick tour of England. However, airfields belonging to Coastal Command – already declared nonthreatening and unimportant – were hit instead, either an illogical choice or a careless mistake in light of the fact that it was Fighter Command the Germans needed to cripple. Southampton was bombed for an hour, but instead of managing to hit Vicker’s Supermarine, which manufactured Spitfires, a bicycle factory, furniture store, and meat storage depot were destroyed. A second wave of attacks also hit the wrong targets, and an attack on Stratford, a tourist town, was utterly pointless.
However Goering had not yet discovered these mistakes, and Eagle Day was declared a triumph by the Germans. Goering reported to Hitler that his pilots had destroyed 84 fighters in the air, plus another fifty Spitfires which had been on the ground. He assumed the British only had between three to four hundred planes left and was sure that Eagle Day had destroyed between one-quarter and one-third of these. Invasion, he was positive, could begin in just a few days. The trouble is that the numbers Goering had were incorrect, and the reality was that Dowding had only suffered a loss of 14 fighters. Of the fifty so-called Spitfires that had been bombed on the ground, only one of them was actually a real Spit, and when the sun set at the end of the day Dowding had 647 operational fighter planes. The Germans, on the other hand, had lost 64 aircraft. Already faulty numbers were building the false sense of confidence in the Germans which Dowding so wished to foster with his Penny-Packets.
On August 15th Goering vowed to destroy “those last few planes” and organized a massive attack against England. On poor intelligence, Luftflotte 5 from Norway was dispatched to attack the “undefended” north of England. Assuming that Dowding had amassed the majority of fighters in the south, and believing his pilots would meet with very little resistance, the bombers headed over with a fake escort of Me 110s. The 110s were there only for show – it was well known that they were no match for the Spitfires or Hurricanes. Instead of finding vulnerable, sparsely manned airfields, the Luftflotte 5 was routed. Even though the RAF was outnumbered, the slow bombers which Goering had sent –sans a proper escort – suffered heavy casualties totaling seventy-six aircraft. The British did not lose a single plane, but Luftflotte 5 was done for good. On the day that came to be known by the Luftwaffe as Black Thursday, Goering’s poor intel had cost the Germans dearly, and not for the last time that summer.
The fighting in the south met with better success. At Eastchurch and Rochester, sixty German bombers overwhelmed penny-packets of twenty fighters. Numerous other airfields were heavily damaged. With over two thousand planes engaged Goering was confident that he had succeeded in destroying the RAF and “those last few planes.” He reported to Hitler that twelve of Dowding’s airfields were completely obliterated and that ninety-nine Spitfires were in flames. However, his information again proved to be faulty and the truth very different. The Royal Air Force had lost just thirty-four planes while the Germans had lost more than twice that. They had indeed hit a number of British airfields, but many of them had not even belonged to the Royal Air Force. Goering’s massive force of bombers had hit the wrong targets yet again.
In fact, between August 13th and 21st, 40% of the major attacks had been conducted against airfields not belonging to the RAF. For instance, Andover was hit instead of Wallop, the correct target, and Croydon, a civilian airfield, was also damaged. Furthermore, many of the planes hit at Eastchurch were not Spitfires, and the airfield – assumed destroyed – was up and running within a few hours. Because it was believed to be destroyed, it would not be bothered again.
Eastchurch is a fine example of the sort of faulty intelligence the Luftwaffe had to work with. Following August 15th Goering was operating on the assumption that eight airfields had been destroyed, but in actuality only three had taken heavy damage and they were all quickly repaired. He also believed the RAF was down to their last three hundred planes, when in reality they had 653 and counting. The English were not only making up their losses; they were, in fact, actually increasing their number of aircraft. In July of 1940 Dowding had 1,200 aircraft at his disposal. In August he had 1,400, October 1,600, and by November the number had risen to 1,800. In addition, 4,955 damaged aircraft had been repaired and returned to the sky. The Germans never had more than 1,200 planes and they did not make any repairs at all.  These mis-estimations, made in part by the Luftwaffe’s intelligence officer Beppo Schmid, “lulled the commanders into a false sense of security.”
The Luftwaffe was engaged in a battle “against a force persistently misrepresented as technically and tactically inept, short of aircraft, pilots, and bases. This… put Germans at a perceptual disadvantage.” Because of such poor intelligence, the German pilots began to feel as though they were digging a hole in the sand, constantly struggling and failing to eradicate those inexplicable “last few planes.” This would begin to wear away at morale and damage their confidence in their commanders, who kept assuring them that victory was nearly theirs. Complacency fueled by overconfidence would soon give way to frustration, adding to the fatigue that the overworked pilots would soon begin to suffer. The British, on the other hand, continually overestimated German strength, and as a result fought harder and no doubt enjoyed a greater sense of accomplishment with each victory.
On August 19th Goering ordered concentrated attacks on the airfields, which began on August 24th. This stage of the battle would prove to be the most damaging for the RAF and should have been pursued ruthlessly in order to meet the goal of air superiority over England. Keith Park and his south-eastern 11 Group received the brunt of the action, engaging the Luftwaffe thirty-three times in two weeks. Twenty-four of these attacks were on air fields. The week of August 30th was a tough one indeed for the Royal Air Force, particularly those stationed at Biggin Airfield in the south – it was hit twice on the 30th and again the next day. August 31st represented the costliest single day for the British, losing them forty-one planes and nine pilots in the face of German losses of thirty-nine aircraft. In all, the final week in August would leave Dowding down sixty-four pilots with an additional eighty-one wounded. It was the loss of pilots that was most dangerous to the RAF. Planes could be replaced quickly as long as factories survived, but pilots needed training and seasoning in order to be anything but flying targets. The Luftwaffe strategy of repeatedly bombing major Southern airfields by day and specific industrial targets at night had proven effective. The attacks were now relentless, without break or pause, depriving pilots of needed rest and leaving the crews hard pressed to repair the heavily damaged fields. Dowding’s fighter reserves were becoming depleted. Had the fighting persisted through September for another three weeks, his reserves would have been gone and true attrition would have begun. Extensive damage to the RDF sector stations was causing problems with ground control. The Germans were closing the gap with losses, as well. September 1st and 3rd were the first time that losses between the two sides were equal. Michael Korda declared that September 6th was the breaking point for the RAF.
This was a critical time in the Battle of Britain. While the British had proven quite efficient at building and repairing their planes, this two-week period was the one time in which they were not able to make up for their losses. At this time, had the Germans continued to hammer England at such a brutal pace for another three weeks it is sure she would have faltered and lost. According to Dowding, “If the attacks had not been brought to a standstill, the invasion would have been facilitated and the war might as well have been lost.” Keith Park also agreed, saying that “had the enemy continued his heavy attacks…fighter defenses would have been in peril.”
However, Germany’s lack of focus again came into play, and the Luftwaffe was turned towards the city of London. This switch “ saved Fighter Command and turned the tide of the battle.” Urged on by faulty intelligence which claimed the RAF was down to about two hundred fighters, in early September the Luftwaffe was ordered to destroy industrial, martial, and transport targets around urban centers in order to prepare for invasion. The attacks were also ordered in the spirit of vengeance: on August 24th, a Luftwaffe pilot bombed Croydon airfield on the Outskirts of London. Dowding believed it to be an accident – he suspected the target had in fact been Kenley airfield but the pilot had likely gotten lost in the dark. A few days later Harrow, again on the outskirts of the city, was bombed.  Accident or not, Churchill was furious and retaliated by bombing Berlin on August 25th and 26th. Enraged by Churchill’s willingness to attack German cities, on September 3rd Hitler withdrew Directive #17 and authorized the official bombing of London. Hitler also hoped that the attacks on London would destroy the morale of the people, sapping their will to fight and attempting to incite the overthrow of Churchill in favor of a more cooperative government. The question, however, was this – should they bomb the East End, to de-house the poor and send them rioting and angry into the wealthy areas, or should they bomb the West End, and frighten the wealthy into surrendering directly? On September 7th Goering began attacks on London, hoping the attack on the capitol would draw out the elusive “last few planes” in a final, killing battle that would cripple the Royal Air Force.
The London attacks began on September 7th. Nearly one thousand German aircraft bombarded the docks at London’s East End. 11 Group met the onslaught and was joined by Tafford Leigh-Mallory’s vaunted yet troublesome Big Wing, nearly half an hour late but still useful and rather intimidating. The British, it seemed, had more planes than Goering had suspected. Intelligence reports indicated that Dowding only had 288 fighters left, yet this was clearly not the case. Goering decided he would have to push harder, since those “last few planes” were somewhat more numerous than reports had indicated.
The hard push came on September 15th, when Goering launched the largest air-offensive against England to date. The Luftwaffe swooped upon London from the morning sky, somehow still expecting light resistance from Dowding’s “last few planes.” Goering got his wish – he did indeed succeed in drawing Fighter Command’s total strength out to fight, but to the Luftwaffe’s shock it was not the piddly force Schmidd had led them to believe. Not only did the attacks on London expose the Luftwaffe to resistance by Park’s 10 Group and Leigh-Mallory’s 11 Group, but also to Groups 12 and 13, which were fresh and at full strength. The sight of their sheer numbers was a major blow to Luftwaffe morale. The Luftwaffe’s best chance at damaging the RAF would have been to hit them while on the ground refueling, but this would have required good intelligence, which again, they did not have.
Long frustrated by their apparent inability to wear down those mythic “last few planes,” the full and equivocal strength of the British RAF, even after all that time and all that bombing, convinced the tired German pilots that their fight was futile and undermined the last of their waning faith in the word of their intelligence officer and their Reichmarschall. Fall and winter weather made invasion untenable, and since air superiority was clearly far from won, Operation Sea Lion was postponed indefinitely.
The British lost thirty-five aircraft that day. The German losses were heavy – sixty-one planes plus another twenty damaged beyond flight capacity. In the first week of attacks alone, the Germans lost 199 bombers, a toll which forced another change in strategy and the Luftwaffe would begin bombing at night. Their fighters were at their limit to reach London anyway, having only ten minutes worth of fighting time, and the switch to nights provided the bombers with the protection of darkness – a protection which would take the RAF months to overcome. Dowding, in the meantime, was sacked for his inability to defend England at night.
London was bombed for 57 consecutive nights. The lower-income East End of London took the most damage on account of their docks and warehouses, and the gleaming, moonlit Thames made it easy to find at night. But even Buckingham would be bombed before calm was restored. In all, thirteen thousand London civilians would be killed in the Blitz and another twenty thousand wounded. Yet in spite of the damage, the trauma, and the casualties, the move to attacking cities was fallacy on the part of the Germans. In bombing London, Hitler’s goal had been to “repay terror with terror, rather than what was most advantageous militarily.” Hitler looked at bombing as a terror weapon, failing to exploit its potential effectiveness as an economic tool which could be used against convoys, factories, or ports. His emotional decision to bomb London was both impractical and ineffective, and it would have far-reaching consequences. The effects of this decision reached further than the fatal mistake of relieving pressure on the airfields – London would distract him from Russia, the Blitz sapping valuable supplies from the Eastern Front. England would also make possible the invasion of Europe in the summer of 1944.
The intent of the attacks on London had been to cause fear and panic among the people, forcing them to demand surrender. This idea failed miserably. The attacks actually proved to be a huge victory for the British in terms of propaganda and morale. America had been hanging back in her aid to the country, expecting England to roll over at any time and surrender much as the French had. Surviving the Battle of Britain and enduring the Blitz proved to this powerful potential ally that England was willing to “take it,” and would be a worthy investment of resources and manpower. Not only were the English willing to take it, they took it in stride, continuing with their daily lives and routine with as little fuss and disruption as possible. The German indecision of which end of London to bomb – East or West – also only served to bring the country closer together. When Churchill visited the bombed out East End and purportedly cried, it proved to the previously bitter and angry lower classes that their Prime Minister really cared about them, cementing their loyalty and willingness to fight. When Buckingham was bombed, it made the whole country feel that this was indeed a fight that involved all of them, from the Queen on down to the lowliest scullery maid. In fact, the entire Battle of Britain proved tremendous for morale. They felt they were fighting for something truly great – no longer shackled by unreliable France, England now found herself facing the Fuhrer alone as the last bastion of Democracy in all of Europe. As opposed to black-and-white newspaper photos, abstract newsreels, and disembodied voices on the radio, this fight was happening right overhead. The people of England felt more involved, more connected to it, and even a bit excited and exhilarated, and the young pilots made dashingly romantic figures, the modern knight-in-shining armor.
Planes and Pilots
Lack of focus and poor intelligence may have doomed the Luftwaffe to failure, but a failure to properly exploit the Germans fighter planes or pilots also put rocks in the pockets of the German onslaught. One of the continuing tactical debates in the Luftwaffe was the best use of the Messerschmitt 109s. These fighters had the technical edge on the famous Spitfire in many ways, starting with their fuel injected engine which, unlike the British fighters, did not stall in a dive. They were also better armed than the Spits, possessing not just guns but also a cannon which enabled them to shoot down both fighters and bombers. They had armor plating in the back of the pilots’ seat, an addition which saved many a German and was the source of much envy on behalf of the British, who would sometimes steal these plates from downed 109s and install them on their own planes. Another major advantage was height, a valuable ally for a fighter pilot.  In terms of performance the 109s and the Spitfires were similar, but at twenty-thousand feet the performance gap between the two widened considerably in favor of the Germans, who were at their best at high altitudes. The Spitfires, although zippy and excellent with turns, had leaky, unpressurized cabins and their pilots suffered when forced to such lofty combat. According to James Holland, while the Spitfire was an excellent piece of equipment, the Messerschmitt 109 was better still and should have won. The fault was when Goering chose to tie them to bombers.
Air war was relatively new, and the question – especially in 1940 – was how best to go about it. In England, Vice Air Marshall Tafford Leigh-Mallory butted heads with Park and Dowding over the controversy of “Big Wings” vs. “Penny Packets.” In the Luftwaffe, the debate focused on the best use of the Me 109s. Bombers were easy pickings for the zippy British fighters, and Goering wanted the 109s tethered closely to the bombers as protective escorts. The pilots disagreed and preferred “free hunts.” Baron Manfred von Richtohfen – the Red Baron himself – had said that “fighter pilots have to rove freely in the area… and when they spot an enemy they attack and shoot him down. Anything else is rubbish.” Early in the battle they were given more freedom to do this, but following the heavy losses of September 15 they were confined to bomber escort. This was poor strategy for several reasons.
Goering wanted the fighters to fly wing-to-wing with the bombers to provide the pilots
with a sense of security and moral support. The 109s had not been designed for this purpose; they were designed to have the speed and height necessary for attacking, not escort duty. German ace Adolf “Dolfo” Galland argued that the best way to protect the bombers was in fact to fly above them and dive down as the British appeared. Height and speed were the fighter pilots’ best weapons. Forcing them to stay close to the bombers cost them both of these advantages and rendered them vulnerable to attacks from Spitfires and even the slower Hurricanes. They also did not have the radius of action which bombers had; their light design, plus Goering’s refusal to add drop tanks, meant that they were limited to a radius of 125 miles from their bases and sometimes had to abandon the bombers entirely in order to get back. The attacks on London caused the 109s more problems. London was further than the Southern airfields, and at best the 109s only had ten minutes fighting time before they had to turn back. But in battle they had to zigzag through the bombers to stay with them, and this drained their already limited fuel supply, thus rendering the attacks on London even more impractical.
Bomber duty was enough trouble for the pilots, but most hazardous of all was Stuka duty. Not only did guarding the famous dive-bombers come with all the difficulties of bomber escort, the fighters were expected to dive with the Stukas, protecting them from enemy fire to the last. This was problematic because the 109s were not designed as dive-bombers, meaning they had no air brakes and could not actually stop in a dive, frequently ending up in the ground instead. All bomber duty seemed to do, according to Galland, was increase the loss of fighter pilots.
Goering also failed to give his pilots due consideration. In true Prussian manner, Luftwaffe pilots were expected to be machines. From the beginning of the Battle of Britain to the end, they received no breaks and leave came only after several months of combat; the only rest they could count on was to be found either in the hospital or in the grave. Adding to this exhaustion was the stress of having to cross the Channel each day and fight over enemy territory. British pilots who were shot down were already home. They could return to their bases and fight again the next day, providing they survived. The Luftwaffe already had fewer available pilots than the British and if they were shot down they were captured and sent to Canada, where they would sit the rest of the war out. If they had
to bail out over the Channel for any reason they understood that even with the life-jackets and bright dye, their chances of rescue were slim and most likely they were looking at a slow, watery death. When faced with this possible fate, many pilots chose suicide instead. The sight of German bodies washing up on the shores of France with a single bullet wound to the head was terribly demoralizing for other German pilots. Goering went as far as forbidding pilots guns, denying them of even this small reprieve. Galland spoke of the demoralization from the stress on both mind and body, combined with the seeming lack of progress against those pesky “last few planes.” German pilots began to suffer from something known as Kanalkrankheit – “Channel Sickness.” The symptoms were stress, fatigue, stomach cramps, vomiting, loss of appetite, and irritability. “It seemed,” German ace Hans Ulrich-Rudel once noted, “you could just wear out like any other machine, and that is where things were going wrong; we just weren’t getting a break.” German doctors were not allowed to prescribe leave, but in severe instances they would diagnose Kanalkrankheit as appendicitis. The minor operation would provide the pilots with at least some rest, but the trouble with this is that each pilot only had one appendix to remove! As the battle wore on into October, Fighter Command was staying strong but the Luftwaffe was wearing down. That very month they lost 379 aircraft to 185 British losses.
Unlike the Germans, Dowding took the human element into account when it came to his pilots. Realizing that in July accidents accounted one-third of their losses, the Air Marshall insisted on rest for his pilots. Each pilot would receive eight hours of rest daily and 24 hours leave weekly. They were given squash courts, built from tax dollars, and enjoyed pool halls and visiting bands. He also established a system of rotation, having pilots serve for three weeks in one sector before being moved to another. This allowed weary pilots who were assigned heavily hit areas like Park’s 11 Group a period of relative rest. Also, he started new pilots in the north so they had more time to practice and become familiar with their machines before being sent into the meat-grinder in the south. The Luftwaffe had no such system in place; new pilots were thrown straight into the mix and ended up being more burden than benefit to their more experienced comrades.
The Battle of Britain was a decisive turning point in the war, often overlooked in favor of D-Day and Stalingrad. Hitler’s failure to overcome the island would be a vital cog that set the machine of his undoing in motion. “In mid-September 1940 Hitler lost the war… Unable to invade and conquer Britain, he would turn against the Soviet Union, sacrificing the German army, and thereby prolonging his war until, at last, the Americans were dragged into it by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, pitting Germany against three of the most powerful industrial countries in the world.” His inability to conquer Britain was due to a number factors, the most important of these Hitler’s reluctance to attack at all. This reluctance infected the German efforts against England, resulting in a lack of solid strategy and therefor a lack of focus that completely undermined any progress that was made in gaining air superiority against the island nation. A failure to make the most of their resources in terms of pilots and the stupendous Messerschmitt Me-109 compounded these errors and sealed the fate of Nazi Germany.
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 David Fischer, A Summer Bright and Terrible: Winston Churchill, Lord Dowding, Radar, and the Impossible Triumph of the Battle of Britain, (California: Counterpoint Press, 2006), , 137.