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B-24 crew member recalls 1944 ‘Precision Bombing’

Ken Norwood
Saturday October 27, 2001


By Ken Norwood 


The missile camera films and the aerial photos of bombs hitting Afghanistan targets looks little different to me than the 8th. Air Force’s “precision” bombing of NAZI targets I saw from the waist window of our B-24 four engine Liberator from early April to May 9, 1944. That was the day our plane was shot down and six of our 10 crew members bailed out over Belgium. The tons of bombs we POW’s saw falling in our direction from Allied planes bombing nearby German targets looked and felt no different to us than is being experienced by Afghani civilians on the edge of Afghani military targets – it is breath stopping terror. 

Remarkably that same W.W.II aerial warfare strategy is paralleled by the high-tech bombing, satellite surveillance, night vision technology now being used in the Middle East. Another similarity is the claim that precision bombing avoids civilian casualties and the dichotomy that despite sixty years the U.S. bombing errors, over-runs, and “accidents” continue to occur. To understand why is to realize that the high-tech advancements in airplanes, armament, rocketry, and guidance systems has the primary purpose of protecting Air Force planes and air crews from casualties. Now the planes are bigger, faster, and carry larger bomb loads, and yet require fewer crew. During 1941 through 1944 the Royal Air Force and the American air crew losses were up to 50 percent, some of whom became POW’s. 

Today’s B-51 has a crew of four compared with ten men each in W.W.II’s B-17 and B-24 bombers. Although WW II bombers flew lower and slower making accurate bombing apparently easier, technical and human errors by navigators, bombardiers, and pilots, and the interference by enemy German ack-ack and fighters caused unintended bombing of residential areas, churches, hospitals, Red Cross trains and convoys, and even harmless villages regularly. The WW II press seldom learned about those tragedies, but there lies the “collateral” damage rational of the military mind. Similarly, ground forces face the same moral dilemma, every U.S. war has been shrouded with “unintended” civilian 


The common denominator in the above comparisons to today is they are all “conventional” wars. “America’s New War” has been referenced to the “crusades,” and a “campaign ” or an “action,” the terms used historically for incursions into other countries when “war” is not politically correct. In this war all the military and patriotic rhetoric that have been used in past wars are present again. Today’s military-industrial complex, inherited from W.W.II, is making full use of the hardware capacity accumulated from pork-barrel Defense Department budgets that focus on modern warfare technology, but conventional in concept: bomb “them” into submission, use minimal ground forces, and get out. 

We need a new strategy that incorporates a geo-historic-cultural-political-moral concern for civilians. The proposed “Department of Peace” may not be too late to save us from retaliations from other terrorist cells, loss of support from the Muslim world, and alienation from those who normally are our allies. The admonitions and cautions about fighting terrorism have been heard long before Sept. 11, and immediately following the W.T.C. attack we were reminded again: the “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” avenging of our losses on 9-11 can not justify fighting world terrorism conventionally. 

Terror is a bitter pill, composed of fear, anger, hate, and the inevitable retaliation, and it never tastes good. War is for cowards – shoot if it moves, ask questions later. To do otherwise is to the disadvantage of the soldier. Our nation will better endure by exercising our power of social, economic, and environmental justice for all. The escalation of the war in Afghanistan is too close to reality to allow the “old guard” unquestioned power. There are alternatives, if we stop, look, and listen. 


Ken Norwood is a Berkeley resident.