REVIEW / He counted them all out, and counted a few in

AT THE time of the controversy over the Arthur Harris memorial, I was rather against the notion of erecting a statue to the chief of Bomber Command - not because I thought the extraordinary courage of the bomber crews deserved no commemoration, but because it seemed slightly unfair to single out a man whose greatest wartime danger was that he might bump his shin on an open drawer. You could argue, of course, that steeling yourself against conscience when the times demand it requires a different sort of courage, but it wasn't an argument that Channel 4's 'Death by Moonlight' (a documentary about Canadian aircrews which has stirred a reprise of the statue fuss) was ever likely to entertain. The leaden sonority of the series' title, The Valour and the Horror, gave clear warning of its simple-minded piety. Intent on honouring the crews (fair enough, in my book), they had to find someone else to blame for what the crews had done and they had settled on Harris.

'Killing civilians didn't bother Bomber Harris,' the voice-over stated coldly, though the only evidence they offered to support this categorical verdict was a highly ambiguous remark. Stopped for speeding, Harris was rebuked by a policeman: 'You could have killed someone, sir.' 'Young man,' Harris is said to have replied, 'I kill thousands of people every night.' Said casually or with arrogance this would be monstrous; said with melancholy it would be no more than a recognition of a terrible irony, evidence of the burdens of command.

By using an actor to play Harris, though, the film-makers could put their own interpretation on the words. Filmed in threatening close-up, thunder- browed, their version came on like a James Bond villain, urbane and ruthless - Blofeld in blue serge. I don't care much for what little I know of Harris myself, but this seemed to fall just a bit short of a fair trial.

It's true that the moral status of targeting civilians to cause maximum terror isn't very complicated - it was wrong. Indeed people knew it was wrong at the time, which is why the strategy aroused heated debate among military planners and why it was the subject of psychological denial during and after the war. But the question of whether it seemed effective, at a time when weariness and fear had altered moral perspectives, is crucially different, and one which can only be addressed with humility.

To airmen distressed by those who now question the propriety of their actions, one can only offer some consoling paradoxes. That, in this case, it is an honourable thing to have a bad conscience and that you fought precisely so that people would be free, among other things, to question the legitimacy of your fight. In one of the more terrible moments in 'Death by Moonlight', a survivor of the Hamburg firestorms recalled seeing a road turned to flypaper by the heat. A young child and her mother were trapped by the molten tar, unable to reach each other, unable to escape. Both burned alive. If we can't, 50 years on, simply acknowledge that that was a terrible thing to have done, what exactly was the victory for?

Sunday Best (ITV), or 'The Neil and Glenys Show', was hugely enjoyable, if only for the surreal disjunction of style and content. The Kinnocks began with Article One of the Declaration of Human Rights and continued with A Midsummer Night's Dream ('directed by our friend Adrian Noble'), post-modernism, and the plight of the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin. Larry Adler made a brave stab at GMTV normality, appearing in a black silk coffin-lining to drop celebrity names, but regular viewers will have been in the ambulance by then.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border