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Was bombing Switzerland a reasonable thing to do?

The Day We Bombed Switzerland:
Flying with the US Eighth Army Air Force in World War II

(Jackson Granholm)

As a university dropout and night machinist at Boeing Aircraft, young Granholm didn't get around to enlisting until July 1942. With equal leisure the Army Air Forces tried to make a pilot of him, then trained him as a navigator, and finally--in June 1944--sent him on his first mission. What a fool Hitler was, to declare war on a country with such a plenitude of men and aircraft!

His bomber was the slab-sided, four-engined Consolidated B-24 Liberator, its design as uninspired as its nomenclature. But it carried more bombs than the fabulously handsome Boeing B-17, and it lent itself to mass production. Ford Motor Company and others built 18,000 B-24s, and the AAF filled each of them with a 10-man crew.

Never mind the title: the book should be read for its day-to-day account of the lives and deaths of the men who carried the bombs to Germany. More than 300,000 Americans served with the "Mighty Eighth," and more than 26,000 were killed. Granholm sees some of them vanish, their B-24s consumed by fire or plunging wingless to earth. Between times he goes to church, meets a charmingly ignorant showgirl named Valerie, and discovers that one of the officers at headquarters doesn't know that the world is round.

Granholm and the flat-earther join forces in a court martial of the title, defending a pilot and a navigator who had the bad luck to choose Zurich as their "target of opportunity." (The president of the court is the actor-airman Jimmy Stewart.) The fate of the defendants turns on whether their mistake was a reasonable one.

"I found myself wondering," Granholm writes, "whether 'reasonable' was the right word for [men who flew] great, monstrous aeroplanes over Germany every day to drop high explosives. It was a sense of duty that sent us out, not reason. A reasonable person wouldn't have walked within five hundred feet of a B-24 bomber." Yes, and we can't be too often reminded of it.