Student questionnaire feedback

March 27, 2009

In the penultimate seminar of the semester, students complete a course evaluation form, which asks them to comment on what they’ve gained from the course, its organisation and the helpfulness of the teacher. They’re also asked to rate the effectiveness of lectures and seminars, the promptness and helpfulness of coursework feedback, the approachability of the teacher and the quality of room and library provision on a scale of 4 (best) to 1(worst). Students are also invited to state how long they spent preparing for each seminar.
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Book reviews now up…

March 23, 2009

…and in the bar at the top.

‘Targeting the City’

March 23, 2009

A useful, if inconclusive, survey of air war, memory and ethics: C.S. Maier, ‘Targeting the City: Debates and Silences about the Aerial Bombing of World War II’, International Review of the Red Cross, 87, 859 (Sept 2005), 429-444, can be downloaded here

Book reviews

March 22, 2009

I said I’d put up some of the book reviews – I haven’t done so yet. I’ve got the electronic files from the office, but I need to convert them so that the footnotes and so on appear onscreen. I’ll try to fit it in before the end of the week.

Week 11 Material

March 22, 2009

This week’s lecture is on Post War Representations. It will begin with me asking the whole course to join me in standing up, putting their arms out to each side, and raising their voices in song:

Here are some key clips from the 1955 film The Dambusters, about 617 Squadron’s attack on the Ruhr Dams- you can see more through the link to screenonline. Interestingly, posters on youtube have concentrated on the raids sections of the film, rather than on the development of the bomb and the training of the squadron, which make up much of the story. When you look at them, think about what and who is being shown. What version of the war was constructed in this extremely successful film, and how does it compare to that we saw in Target for Tonight or Millions Like Us?

Working out how to drop the bombs from the right height:

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Week 10 review

March 22, 2009

This week we shifted onto looking at interpretations and representations of Bomber Command’s campaign – the final section of the course.

In the lecture, on legality and morality, I tried to do three things – talk generally about the history of war, ethics and law, talk historically about contemporary justifications and condemnations of bombing, and to try to come to my own judgement about Britain’s bombing campaign against Germany.¬† I suggested three reasons why we needed to think about morality and strategic bombing – first to recognise the discourse that existed at the time, second because I think there is a human duty not to disengage from the morality of military affairs, and third because we have a public duty as historians to try to make sure the past is well used. Moral philosophers will keep writing about war using the example of the bombing campaign against Germany whether we like it or not, so we might as well try to make sure that they’re well informed. Reading up to prepare the lecture, I was struck by how much of the moral philosophical writing about air war is historically garbage (much of it based on a partial, heavily filtered, overly simplistic version of the Official History).

Then I offered some ideas about whether or not conduct in war could be subject to moral and legal judgements – more as a way to stimulate thought than as a comprehensive survey of the field. I introduced students to Clausewitz’s remarkable trinity as a way of thinking about the different influences on the nature of war (Clausewitz is a good example of the inadequacy of much philosophising on morality and war. I’ve lost count of the number of times I read commentators suggesting that Clausewitz said war ‘should’ be carried to its utmost extremities – which seems plain evidence that they have either not read his work, or totally misunderstood his method of comparing theory and reality). I also introduced Michael Walzer’s notion of the ‘war convention’ – the set of culturally determined assumed norms about wartime behaviour. Using this idea, I moved on to discuss the range of opinion at the time about the morality and utility of bombing, and suggested that the way the Air Ministry ‘spun’ bombing indicated that they believed that area attacks violated the ‘war convention’ in place at the time. Read the rest of this entry »

Week 9 Review

March 17, 2009

This week’s lecture and seminar were about looking at Bomber Command’s campaign from the German point of view. I feel this is important because, as so often in military history, much (though by no means all) of the writing about ‘the Whirlwind’ concentrates on only one side of the coin. In the lecture, I concentrated on German strategy, and in the seminar, we turned to look at experiences. In the lecture I was keen to emphasise three¬† points – first, the interplay of ideology and strategy; second, but consequent, the high risk strategies which Germany adopted (which form an interesting comparison to British approaches); and third the degree to which Germany’s air war became essentially reactive – and defeat inevitable given that attrition could be imposed upon them by a Grand Alliance with much greater raw material and industrial resources. Read the rest of this entry »