March 18, 2013

Surplused B-17s in Ontario, California, just after WWII

The field looks like about 2000 aircraft, which is remarkable, as they built about 13,000, and 5000 were lost in operations.

There seductive appeal of form of the B-17, like the Vargas girls painted on the sides of so many, speaks to other things; it flies in our imaginations like the Spitfire and the Mustang, beautiful aircraft that seemed in their aesthetics to represent the best version of the anti-fascist cause.  But it is never to be forgotten that in the course of stopping an unimaginably greater horror, as it faded from history, the B-17 took with it hundreds of thousands of souls. As one B-17 pilot put it, on the day orders shifted from military to civilian targets, "It was worth it if we accomplished Justice. Otherwise, it was just mass murder." 

War confuses us horribly: by the charismatic beauty of weapons and weapons systems, by its prizefighter excitement, by how statistics and abstractions and ideologies are reveled in to the point in which the humanity of everyone involved is all but erased.  War nostalgia must be handled with terrific caution, for it can over-bait the imaginations of men, and it can normalize war-making, tangling our identities up in vengeance over ghosts, and conjuring a fresh hell where none exists. 

The whole point of the B-17, not as a pretty plane, but as a weapons system, was to bring the world to this point, in 1946, with a couple thousand aircraft slowly weathering in an open valley, most beautiful on the cusp of their disintegration, with no reason to fly.


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