Monday, June 20, 2011

Was Hiram Maxim's invention of the
machine-gun sparked by a boyhood accident caused to his mother?

Countless millions of people have been killed by the machine-gun since its design by the American inventor, Hiram Maxin, in 1884. Improbable as it may seem, his idea for the weapon was literally sparked by an accident during his childhood. Late in life, Maxim reminisced about the incident: "When I was quite a small boy, my mother wanted to shoot an owl she saw in a tree in the garden. So she got a gun from the house, an old flint-lock musket and loaded it, but it would not go off. I was siezed with the idea of applying a hot coal to the powder while my mother aimed the gun. So I rushed into the house, returning triumphantly with a piece of hot cinder in a pair of tongs. This I held to the gun, and as I did so, the owl flew off and the red-hot cinder fell and set fire to my mother's dress, burning her badly. This so upset me that I vowed I would invent an automatic gun which would fire itself."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The spin doctors view of WW II
Recently, I watched a re-run of a National Geographic TV documentary called The Bombing Of Germany. While emphasising the Allied aerial bombing campaign against Germany in WWII, the programme completely omits the context of it – the Nazi’s preceding merciless air-attacks against Warsaw, Belgrade, London, and virtually every other European country.
It reminded me of the controversial "official" history of the RCAF - The Crucible of War, 1939-1945. Written by Brereton Greenhous and a gaggle of other trendy historians linked with Canada’s Department of National Defence, it included the assertion that Royal Canadian Air Force flyers in WWII were “terrorists.”
The book re-awoke bitter controversy over a CBC-TV series, The Valor and the Horror. All three of these revisionist viewpoints claimed that Allied bombing of Germany in the latter stages of the war was "terror" bombing designed to break civilian morale. The obvious anti-British bias of the V&H series by Brian and Terry McKenna left the impression that there wasn't much difference between how our side and Germany waged war. They claimed that massive air raids ordered by Air Marshal "Bomber" Harris (whom the McKennas renamed "Butcher" Harris) had little effect on German war production and was mostly aimed at civilians.
At the time, many veterans and others took exception to the McKennas' view. Unquestionably there was an aspect of revenge in the RAF bombing raids -- getting even for the indiscriminate bombing blitz on London and Coventry and many other British cities, aimed at crushing the British will to resist -- part of Adolf Hitler’s spoken promise of waging “total war.” Luftwaffe attacks killed 65,000 British civilians, but only strengthened British resolve and morale.
Revisionists’ favourite resentment against Allied bombing of Germany focuses on the RAF/USAAF bombing of Dresden on Feb. 13-15, 1945, which killed approx. 25,000 Germans. This figure was concluded after a five-year research study conducted by the (German) Dresden Historians Commission, and confirmed the estimated casualty report by Dresden’s chief of police in 1945. This figure is far less than the 500,000 death-toll often claimed by far-left groups and sensationalist writers to this day.
The fact is that British and German people share certain valiant characteristics, including that neither nationality collapses easily under pressure or adversity. So it should have been predictable that bombing German cities and inflicting an horrendous 600,000 civilian casualties would not completely break Germany's spirit to continue fighting on, even after it was obvious their defeat was inevitable.

But as Hitler's minister of War Production, Albert Speer later pointed out that, while bombing didn't prevent German factories from producing guns and tanks, it reduced their numbers.  Air-raids also resulted in over 19,000 awesome 88-mm. flak-guns produced in 1942-44 being allocated for anti-aircraft defence of the Fatherland, instead of being used on the battle-fronts. And the need to defend cities against air-raids absorbed a million troops who would otherwise have been fighting at the front.

The Allied bombing war on Germany in World War Two cost the lives of 50,000 Royal Air Force crew-members (including 10,000 Canadians) and 50,000 American flyers. A terrible toll, but it did save the lives of countless American, British, Canadian, Russian, and other Allied soldiers. No amount of attempts to re-write history can ever diminish their sacrifice and the rightness of the cause in which they died.
The proliferation of e-mail that has almost done away with hand-written letters could have a harmful effect on the future of military history records. Newspaper columnist Naomi Lakritz makes a thoughtful comment on this:

A couple of years ago, while wandering through a military museum, I stopped to chat with a soldier who was working on renovations to a gallery. He said the biggest problem museums face is being caused by new technology. Vast archives of private letters and photos will not exist for future displays, because these days nobody saves digital photos and e-mails. This will leave a huge gap in knowledge for future researchers and historians.”

A sobering and disturbing thought.