Nonfiction about a brief but fateful encounter between a German ace fighter pilot and an American bomber crew, in mid-air; forty years later, the two pilots met up again. The book started out as a magazine article, and I bet it was a terrific one. It’s a great story and unlike many WWII stories, this one is about people’s best behavior rather than their worst.

As you may guess from the summary, the actual incident, though amazing, lasted about twenty minutes and is recounted in about ten pages. So most of the book is the story of the German fighter pilot, Franz Stigler, plus a much smaller amount about the American crew. (Stigler was not a Nazi and in fact came from an anti-Nazi family. I know that it would have been convenient for him to claim to have been secretly anti-Nazi after the fact, but given what he was witnessed to have done, I believe it.)

The book is is interesting if you have an interest in the subject matter, but doesn't really rise above that. The best parts, apart from the encounter itself, were the early sections on the culture and training of the German pilots. One detail that struck me (not just that it happened, but that Stigler actually told someone about it), which was that dogfighting was so terrifying that pilots regularly landed with wet pants. I'd heard that about the first time, but not that it wasn't just the first time. Just imagine doing that for months on end. And knowing that you're not likely to do it for years on end because the lifespan of a fighter pilot is probably not that long.

If you just want to know what happened in mid-air over Germany, in December, 1943, click on the cut.

The American bomber was hit over Germany, killing two and wounding several of its 12-man crew. As it began to flee, Franz Stigler was sent to dispatch it. But when he got close, he saw that its guns had been destroyed and enough of its structure had been ripped away that he could actually see the men inside, some tending to the wounded and others trying to bluff him by aiming the wrecked guns at him. He couldn't bring himself to kill defenseless men in cold blood, especially when he could see their faces, so he decided to let them go.

Here's where he goes way beyond the call. He tried to signal to the pilot, Charlie Brown, to fly to Sweden, but couldn't manage to communicate it. (Brown only figured out that was what he meant when they met 40 years later and Stigler told him!) But what Stigler knew, and the Americans didn't, was that if they kept their course, they would fly right over a German anti-aircraft battery that would shoot them out of the sky. So Stigler flew below them, knowing that the gunners below wouldn't shoot down one of their own planes. He escorted them for twenty minutes, until they were safe, then saluted them and flew back, knowing that if he didn't come up with a convincing story to explain what he was doing, he'd be taken out and shot.

Luckily for Stigler, things were so chaotic and desperate at the time that no one really looked into it. Luckily for the bomber crew, they managed to get safely home. After the war, Stigler moved to Canada. Forty years later, he read an article about that encounter in a magazine, and wrote to Charlie Brown with details that no one could have known unless they were there.



Does anyone have any recommendations for other books on pilots, fighters or otherwise, historical or otherwise? I've read Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and really enjoyed the combination of desperate survival narrative with odes to the joy of flight. I think I'd be more interested in memoirs by pilots than biographies about them.

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

From: [personal profile] davidgillon


"The Dambusters", by Paul Brickhill, is a documentary account of the raid on the Ruhr Dams by 617 Squadron in 1943. You get the full story, from Barnes Wallis's conception of the mission, his development of the bouncing bomb, the trials, and then Guy Gibson's assembling and training the squadron. And then the raid, following each aircraft, and what happened to it. It's the core of the film of the same name, though that also draws on Gibson's wartime autobiography "Enemy Coast Ahead". Really well done.
isis: Isis statue (statue)

From: [personal profile] isis


I absolutely loved Beryl Markham's memoir West With the Night. She was the first woman in East Africa to be granted a commercial pilot's license (in the 1930s), and the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


Oh, I liked this one too! She had a really interesting life.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)

From: [personal profile] cyphomandra


I also liked the Markham a lot 😀 (I ended up writing a crossover fic featuring it for Yuletide having never previously read it, solely on the basis of the requester's prompt sounding intriguing, and Isis very kindly beta'd for me).

Richard Hillary's The Last Enemy is fascinating - the memoir of a Spitfire pilot, written during the war. I was actually reading it for details about Archibald McIndoe's work (pioneering plastic surgeon) as I have been fiddling with a relevant story idea for ages, so can't remember specific details about flying, but I would recommend it and it may be on project Gutenberg.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)

From: [personal profile] cyphomandra


No kidding! What fandom did you cross it with?

Jan Morris' Last Letters from Hav, my favourite travel book to a nonexistent country :D

Your grandfather sounds fascinating! Did he do a memoir? I hadn't thought about the less visible injuries but yes, they must have been devastating.

I've read an interview somewhere (in one of Jan Wong's memoirs, I think) with a Chinese urologist who did a lot of penis reconstruction surgery - apparently the traditional Chinese toilet training method involves putting the kids in open crotch pants, which in small villages with feral pigs and dogs means the potential for horrific injuries.
nenya_kanadka: Rasputin made friends with the zeitgeist (@ mangled history Rasputin)

From: [personal profile] nenya_kanadka


Makes me think that some of that work could have been useful for (later?) surgeons doing gender confirming surgery for trans people, as well as the cis guys who got injured in the crotch area.

Poor damn kids.
Edited Date: 2017-08-06 05:41 am (UTC)
rydra_wong: Lee Miller photo showing two women wearing metal fire masks in England during WWII. (Default)

From: [personal profile] rydra_wong


Richard Hillary's The Last Enemy is fascinating - the memoir of a Spitfire pilot, written during the war. I was actually reading it for details about Archibald McIndoe's work (pioneering plastic surgeon)

Ah, the Guinea Pig Club! [personal profile] rachelmanija, they and McIndoe are a fascinating story -- McIndoe wasn't just a pioneering surgeon, IMHO, he was pioneering psychological/social support and de-medicalizing life for patients who had to undergo repeated surgeries over years, including integrating them into the local community.
cyphomandra: Painting of a bare tree, by Rita Angus (tree)

From: [personal profile] cyphomandra


Yes! I have been fond of McIndoe since I was assigned a project on "Skin" at the age of 12 - I'm not sure what the teacher was thinking, but what she got was an awful lot of early plastic surgery :D

I am tinkering with an historical m/m in that setting.
rydra_wong: Lee Miller photo showing two women wearing metal fire masks in England during WWII. (Default)

From: [personal profile] rydra_wong


Well,I just fell in a rabbit hole.

Observe my lack of guilt. *g* I think I first found out about them via an exhibition at the Hunterian Museum, covering plastic surgery in WWI and II.

NPR piece, in case you haven't already found it:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7556326
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)

From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard


I saw that, and I figured you had stopped after Amazon.

Since you buy a lot of physical books, and I've stopped buying anything but e-books, I bequeath to you my book bargain-hunting secret: bookfinder.com. It'll search Amazon, abebooks, and a few other sites, and put the prices up next to each other for easy comparison.
movingfinger: (Default)

From: [personal profile] movingfinger


Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote a few things, but North to the Orient and Listen! The Wind! might be most interesting to you.

ETA: I have Byrd's Skyward but I'm pretty sure I haven't read it yet, but there it is: a narrative of the early days of aviation by the famed aviator and explorer. I have not read any single book about the doomed Umberto Nobile expedition (the airship Italia, which crashed), but I think there are some books out there.
Edited (additional books) Date: 2017-08-05 08:41 pm (UTC)
muccamukk: Athos looking up with an ironic half smile. (Musketeers: Wry Look)

From: [personal profile] muccamukk


I probably mentioned it before, but I really liked Terror in the Starboard Seat non-fiction about a canadian mosquito navigator who 100% didn't want to be fighting nazis. A lot of stuff about base life and details of how navigating worked.
muccamukk: Gregory Peck looks up from the book he's reading. (Books: Hello Reading)

From: [personal profile] muccamukk


For movies, I liked Twelve O'Clock High, which was largely about base life and the psychological stress involved in bomber missions. It was made in '49 and was supposed to have really captured the feel of it.
nenya_kanadka: quality content: Gregory Peck with his shirt off (@ Gregory Peck shirtless)

From: [personal profile] nenya_kanadka


Rachel, FYI, this is a Gregory Peck film, and in fact the one that started our whole craze this spring. 😂
muccamukk: Gregory Peck looks up prayerfully. (Christian: Say a little prayer)

From: [personal profile] muccamukk


That's NOT the one where he's a Mosquito pilot who spends most of the movie dirty and sweaty. I'd rec that too, but it has v. little flying in it.
selenite0: (Bandaged Maggie)

From: [personal profile] selenite0


Twelve O'Clock High was part of my official training as an Air Force officer. I showed it to my kids as part of our Memorial Day movie tradition.

It hit me much harder as a father than when I'd first seen it.
selenite0: (Jamie glasses)

From: [personal profile] selenite0


They liked it. "Glory" is still their favorite of the Memorial Day movies.
nenya_kanadka: Gregory Peck staring soulfully into the camera (Gregory Peck hello)

From: [personal profile] nenya_kanadka


A *different* movie, I will point out, than the one where he's a Canadian bomber pilot in Burma who falls in love and quits his (post loss of first wife!) death wish and THEN gets lost in the jungle and has to sweatily, dustily bring his injured fellow aviator home! (ETA: I see Mucca's already mentioned Purple Plain. 😂)

He was in a lot of war movies.

Twelve O'Clock High was available at our local library, though, and may be at yours.
Edited Date: 2017-08-06 06:48 pm (UTC)
muccamukk: Gregory Peck looks up prayerfully. (Christian: Say a little prayer)

From: [personal profile] muccamukk


It's stoic woobie heaven, man.

(It's also around the point where Our Hero learned to act, which is nice. Icon from previous film, where he didn't seem to have.)
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


I really enjoyed Reach for the Sky, about Douglas Bader, WWII flying ace and POW who lost both legs in an accident in the early 1930s and taught himself to fly fighter planes anyway. It's a biography, not an autobiography, but it was written about ten years post-war and the author obviously interviewed Bader and had a lot of contact with him. In some ways this results in a somewhat more glowing portrait of him than you'd probably get in a book written decades later (from other accounts, he was apparently kind of an asshole, although a charismatic asshole), but it's very close to the subject and goes into a lot of detail on exactly how he adjusted to his disability in a 1930s/1940s world, which I found very interesting.

Another one I really liked was The Last Flight of Bomber 31, about the WWII bombing runs staged from the Aleutian Islands across Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula towards Japan. Obviously this one fascinated me in part because of the Alaskan historical connection, but it's also a really interesting account of trying to conduct an air war over large amounts of territory with extremely long supply lines and the logistical difficulties they faced. The Americans could just barely manage to reach Japan's northernmost acquisition, a rocky island of no interest to anyone except as a strategic point of attack on the main part of Japan, by stripping down their planes of all extraneous weight and adding an extra fuel tank, but even under good conditions they were flying on fumes by the time they made it back to the easternmost tip of the Aleutians, so anything from a headwind to minor damage to their planes tended to result in crash-landing in Kamchatka. This was awkward for the Russians, who were trying to maintain their neutrality with regards to Japan so as not to have to fight a war on two fronts, so they took the American pilots as POWs because they didn't really have a choice, but negotiated a sort of informal "escape route" across Siberia to release their (alleged) POWs in the Middle East and allow them to get back into the fighting.

The author also strikes a pretty good balance between the American and Japanese perspectives, and deals fairly with the ordinary Japanese soldiers who were stuck in the middle of nowhere with Americans dropping bombs on their heads all night long, some of whom had pretty interesting stories too -- like one guy who kind of broke my heart - born in the U.S. of Japanese origin, his family was visiting relatives in Japan when the war broke out, and he ended up drafted on the side he didn't want to be on, and stuck on this barren rock in the middle of nowhere, then imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp for several years post-war rather than being repatriated back to the U.S. like he was hoping.
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)

From: [personal profile] lilacsigil


Bader is a really interesting guy (he still holds the record for pulling the most Gs without passing out, because he didn't need to circulate blood to his legs), but I'd put a warning that he was an old-school colonial racist who spent a lot of time working for Shell in Africa and was a huge supporter of white rule in Rhodesia in particular. If the book has anything about his later life, I'd want to warn about that. My dad grew up in then-Rhodesia and Douglas Bader came to speak at their (all-white) boarding school. He landed his plane right in front of the assembled kids and offered to take a couple of the younger female teachers up for a flight, but this was not allowed!
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


Yeah, this is a big part of what I mean about how a biography of Bader published later than the 1950s (and not written by someone who appears to be friends with the guy - the book came out in 1954) would probably have presented him in a less positive light. I know from other sources that his politics were extremely reactionary, but that isn't really touched on in the book at all, which presents him as a sort of dashing iconoclast. In all fairness, it doesn't really deal with the postwar years at all except as a brief epilogue (which, given that it was only the early 1950s when the book was written, isn't that surprising). The book is pretty much just about his disabling accident and WWII career.
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)

From: [personal profile] lilacsigil


That's a good period to read about. He did do a lot of work on behalf of disabled people, and I don't want to minimise that, but running into the extreme racism without a warning is not great.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


Yeah, it's definitely one of those cases of people being complicated! A lot of the things he did are really impressive and admirable, a lot of the beliefs he held were repugnant, and one doesn't negate the other (in either direction).
nenya_kanadka: toy kangaroo joey: "You will roo the day u messed with me" (@ Roo the day)

From: [personal profile] nenya_kanadka


The Alaskan/Russian/Japanese one sounds fascinating! I say as someone who grew up with Alaska Highway mythology.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


I really loved it! The framing story is the author going along on an exploration of a bomber crash in Kamchatka, then the book arose out of research to try to discover which bomber crew it was so the families could have closure. So there's also a lot of interesting (well, interesting-to-me) stuff about how they went about that too, and pictures of the crash site and so forth. Just talking about what they -- the author and photographer -- had to go through in order to get there (which involved planning months in advance and days/weeks of travel) really impressed on me how remote eastern Siberia is.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


Sadly no (the actual travel across Siberia was done by train) but there are descriptions of crash-landing in the Siberian mountains, life in a remote Siberian POW camp, and also (rather horrifyingly) being imprisoned in a Siberian lumber-cutting gulag, which it is kind of amazing anyone survived at all.
green_knight: (Eagle)

From: [personal profile] green_knight


The diary of Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Battle Flyer, on Project Gutenberg, though I don't know that particular version) is worth reading, though it is not comfortable to read - he starts out very detached and treating the war as a good laugh, shrugging off deaths; daring and dashing and... at some point the reality of the accumulated deaths hits him and he becomes noticeably uncomfortable with his earlier self.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


Along these lines, I think the war autobiography that delivered one of the hardest punches between the eyes I've ever read in a war memoir is Farley Mowatt's. Have you ever read that one? Trading on his reputation as a humorist, he wrote a very funny, light and engaging memoir about himself as a young Canadian kid dealing with boot camp, losing his virginity, etc, and it's all written in the same light, tongue-in-cheek tone as most of his animal books. Until the last few chapters, when he experiences battle for the first time and ends up in the meat grinder of Italy. And then there's a horrifying tonal switch as just about everyone he knows gets killed, there's no supplies, no backup, and they keep getting ordered forward and pulverized every time they try to advance. He has a psychotic break from the stress, and that's where the book ends, in mid-battle with Mowatt having pretty much lost touch with reality in the middle of a corpse-strewn battlefield.

It's not that the brutality of war is something that most war memoirs shy away from, but the way it gently leads you into the battlefield with a lightly funny touch and then plunges you straight into utter brutality of war and just leaves you there, dangling on a narrative cliffhanger, is really well done. It's a brilliant way to use the book's structure, as well as reader expectations about him as an author, to convey the experience that he had, as an idealistic 18-year-old who had no idea what he was getting himself into.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


Er, in retrospect, I should probably have asked if you wanted spoilers before describing the entire book. Also, I read it something like a decade, decade-and-a-half ago, so I'm not sure how well it holds up. /caveat

But yeah, I've also read a number of his books about animals and nature, and really enjoy them.
graydon: (Default)

From: [personal profile] graydon


Its even more complex than that!

I remember reading it, and about it, when it came out and running into several articles drawn from regimental histories "which cannot be reconciled with Mr. Mowat's account." (Which is not necessarily to say And No Birds Sang involves deliberate untruths; people don't often remember what actually happened during combat.) Mowat himself said he had waited until after his father died to publish it. There's some parental expectations involved as well as the presented naïveté.

We don't have (so far as I know) a really good critical biography of Farley Mowat, nor anyone who has gone through and done the monumental job of fact checking necessary to talk about the mythologizing Mowat certainly did a lot of even in ostensibly factual books. And there are very few primary sources.
graydon: (Default)

From: [personal profile] graydon


I think in Mowat's case the only possible answer is "both".

People who get consciously good at humour may not solely do so because of trauma, but it seems like a safe bet. It's clear Mowat started doing that prior to serving and sort of semi-clear that most of Mowat's writing is about a better world with better outcomes. (And then you get into "why is that the better outcome?")

"Why?" and "to what end?" is why I would like that critical biography and the kind of academic interest to generate it. Not going to tackle that one on my own.
selenite0: (Bujold--book is an event)

From: [personal profile] selenite0


Chuck Yeager's autobiography is good. Doesn't just discuss the war, includes his time as a test pilot and commanding Air Force units.
graydon: (Default)

From: [personal profile] graydon


While certainly about pilots and certainly not about flying as such, Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" is an interesting thing to read with Yeager's autobiography.
selenite0: (mad science)

From: [personal profile] selenite0


The Right Stuff is brilliant. And the movie actually did a good job of translating much of the story.
naomikritzer: (Default)

From: [personal profile] naomikritzer


Did you read "Code Name Verity" and "Rose Under Fire" by Elizabeth Wein? WWII YA fiction about young women pilots.
naomikritzer: (Default)

From: [personal profile] naomikritzer


Oh, also, not exactly in the same genre, but a super fun read: "Riding Rockets" by Mike Mullane (about being an astronaut -- that's a kind of pilot, right?)
naomikritzer: (Default)

From: [personal profile] naomikritzer


Did you see there's a prequel out? I looked earlier to confirm the titles and it popped up! (It's a prequel about Julie.)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)

From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard


I didn't know there was a prequel out until I saw this comment, and I bought it sight unseen. I'm now about 3/4 of the way through, and so far it is not heartbreaking, not like Verity or Rose. So far, the most outstanding aspect of this book for me is Whyvr vf pnabavpnyyl ov!! Definitely recommended.
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)

From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard


Yes! I just finished it, and I did not find it heartbreaking in the least. In tone, it's most like the first part (ETA: chronologically earliest, as recounted by Julie in her written account of Maddie, not the first actual pages of the book) of Code Name Verity, when Maddie (Sir Not Appearing in This Book) and Julie are making friends and hanging out and having a good time, before everything goes south.

Re the spoiler, I saw it developing, and I've been so conditioned by every book ever that I was thinking, "The character doesn't realize what's going on, and the author's never going to go there, but the ambiguity's going to be great fodder for fanfic authors." Then she WENT THERE. And then I kept waiting for her to go back on it, decide it was a phase, etc. AND SHE DIDN'T.

I foresee glorious Yuletide treasures coming out of this!
Edited (clarification) Date: 2017-08-18 12:40 am (UTC)
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

From: [personal profile] magistrate


I may have to check out this book!

I heard this story on an episode of the podcast Futility Closet, which seems to have a lot of really fascinating WWII stories. (Like the Battle for Castle Itter and the most effective double agent of the war.

I feel like the more I learn about WWII, the more I realize how deeply bizarre circumstances can be.
vass: Jon Stewart reading a dictionary (books)

From: [personal profile] vass


Does anyone have any recommendations for other books on pilots, fighters or otherwise, historical or otherwise?

Have you read Sherri L. Smith's Flygirl? YA novel about a Black American girl who joins the Women Airforce Service Pilots in WW2, and has to pass as white to do so. That and Code Name Verity are what immediately came to my mind.

Also, I vaguely remember Roald Dahl's memoirs having a lot of piloting in them.
teenybuffalo: (Default)

From: [personal profile] teenybuffalo


This anecdote is like a redemptive answer to some of the stories that horrified me in a book called _Quartered Safe Out Here_, George MacDonald Fraser's memoir of serving in WWII in Burma, in a regiment from the north of England. Despite what I'm about to say, I love this book and would recommend reading it.

Fraser describes one of many battles in which an officer shouted at his men, "Get that bugger, he's nobbut wounded!" and pointed at an enemy soldier who'd been shot and was trying to crawl away to cover. There is then a lengthy justification of how you can't just wound someone on the field of battle, you have to shoot him again and finish him off, or he'll be back in action a month from now, and shoot you. "If you think that sounds barbaric, well, think away," he says, and the subtext is: and who are YOU, reader, to question Fraser's morality? Have YOU been there? Huh?

Anyway, I tried to accept this from Fraser without either compromising my own sense of right and wrong, but it was hard to handle the cognitive dissonance. Likewise, his descriptions of his own bloodlust. He doesn't quite say, "Shooting that one Japanese guy on the field of battle was an adrenaline-packed thrill ride and I sometimes wish I could do it all over again," but I got that impression, and I felt filthy just reading it.

It was all very convincing at the time, but I don't think I have to buy into Fraser's worldview just because he was a combatant and I'm not. Nice to know not every combatant thinks it's automatically wrong to make a generous gesture in a battle or to refuse to finish killing people you wounded.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


On the flip side, something interesting my husband's grandfather once told me (that I've never run across in any of my other reading on WWII) is that, as a young man in the European theatre of the war, he was taught to shoot to wound in preference to shooting to kill, because wounding a guy gets three people off the battlefield (the one you shot, and two guys to carry him off). I always found that really interesting and wondered how widespread it was.

The Pacific theatre was very different, though, and from what I've heard, for various reasons (racism obviously being one of them) the behavior of the Allied troops towards the opposition troops was more brutal.
graydon: (Default)

From: [personal profile] graydon


I think you're doing Fraser a disservice there. Quartered Safe Out Here came out in 1992. It's a mature work, after four decades for reflection.

The thing about combatant world views is not just that you don't know what you'd do in the same situation, it's that they didn't know what they were doing to do, and a great many of them don't know why they did what they did afterwards. Fraser's very unusual in talking about it. (There are some really harrowing Eastern Front memoirs that talk frankly about events, but like ... six? seven? out of millions upon millions of people involved.) Fraser's also unusual in also writing the -- genuinely humorous -- McAuslan stories about serving with the Gordon Highlanders (well away from Burma in North Africa), The Steel Bonnets, a scholarly work on the Scots border reivers, the frankly morally ambiguous The Candlemass Road, and the -- most popular of all Fraser's writings -- Flashman stories, whose protagonist isn't morally defensible and clearly knows it. Fraser's views on conflict and combat and the utility of force aren't facile ones. I think they're interesting in large part because Fraser is willing to acknowledge that people really are like that and really do those things.

So I don't think Fraser's subtext there is "who are you to question"; I think Fraser's subtext there is "you don't think enough".
teenybuffalo: (Default)

From: [personal profile] teenybuffalo


I don't think I am doing Fraser a disservice. And where did I say that his opinions were facile? You can say that Quartered Safe Out Here is "a mature work, after four decades for reflection," or you can say, "It's a work full of entrenched ideas, after four decades of angrily defending his choices against hand-wringing pacifists," and both are true to some extent; the second one is the point I'm trying to make. And sure, there's more to Fraser's worldview, which was why I began by saying that I would recommend reading the book.

Did you assume I was unfamiliar with everything else Fraser ever wrote, or are you giving this list of his works for the benefit of other folks in this thread?

Any fans of Fraser in the house should note that I wasn't playing fair with that quotation. It's not from QSOH, it's from the short story "Captain Errol," and the real quote should be "By today's standards, you may think that atrocious. Well, think away." The protagonist, totally-not-Fraser, is justifying the decision he's about to have to make, to order soldiers to fire into an unarmed crowd. Your call whether that's the same as saying, "Who are you to question my morality?" but I think it is.

Then there are other things in QSOH, like this one nighttime massacre of wounded Japanese POWs in a hospital, murdered by their guards, men who were never punished for it. Fraser still seems to feel guilt about it, after the lapse of decades, but he makes the point that... what were he and his guys supposed to do, turn in their comrades for murdering enemies? (To paraphrase a line from Fraser's own The Pyrates, the answer to that is "yes," but it's not the kind of thing I can say to him and still be a decent person myself.
graydon: (Default)

From: [personal profile] graydon


Did you assume I was unfamiliar with everything else Fraser ever wrote, or are you giving this list of his works for the benefit of other folks in this thread?

I had no idea whether or not you were familiar with Fraser's other works, but needed to reference them to make the argument I was trying to make, that Fraser had complicated (and maybe ultimately unresolved) views about force and violence and war and that QSOH is maybe more explicable in the context of those other works.

I am not a Fraser fan; I could not get very far into the first Flashman book, and my view that Harry Flashman the character isn't a defensible literary choice colours my views of everything else Fraser wrote. It's a bit like Mowat; I try to be sympathetic to Farley despite a career built on lying his ass off about real people and real things, and I try to be sympathetic to Fraser despite a career filled with never quite managing to move to the "axiomatic" part of "axiomatic necessity" no matter how much energy and research and struggle got expended on the "necessity" part.
teenybuffalo: (Default)

From: [personal profile] teenybuffalo


Ayyup. It's easy to just look at the incident in isolation and ignore the terrible, unwinnable moral dilemma, yeah. (As Stigler must have done, in order to do what he did.) That's why all the moral dilemmas in Fraser still bother me: because there isn't a good decision, where "good" = "I don't do something that will rebound badly on other people." I can object to Fraser's self-justifications, but I am also not pretending to have any solutions that would be better.

It occurs to me to realize that I think it's better, or more righteous, or something, to value "having mercy in the moment" over "being ruthless in the moment to prevent a potential future bad thing," since the future is uncertain but the fact that you can make decisions in the moment is powerful.
alessandriana: (Default)

From: [personal profile] alessandriana


I'm only a couple chapters in, but I'm enjoying Sled Driver: Flying the World's Fastest Jet, by Brian Shul. (You may have run across one of the stories from it, which has become a little bit tumblr famous.) It's out of print and copies cost $450, but the pdf can be easily found with a little digging.
nenya_kanadka: The Middleman makes exclamatory jazz-hands (@ !!!!)

From: [personal profile] nenya_kanadka


Twenty minutes is a long goddamn time in those circumstances! Wow.

Mucca's grandpa was a Canadian fighter pilot, but my own was US infantry, so no family tales to add there.
autopope: Me, myself, and I (Default)

From: [personal profile] autopope


For another take on this territory, I'd strongly recommend Len Deighton's novel Bomber. It's a work of faction — fiction-written-as-documentary — that provides a thinly fictionalized account of the progress of a British heavy bomber raid on a German city in mid-1943, as viewed from all sides (military and civilian perspectives included). Reads like
in-depth news reportage, based on accounts by the survivors of the bombing campaign in question.

Of supplementary interest is Fighter, his more straightforwardly-historical account of the Battle of Britain.

From the "nothing to do with this at all" department comes The Man in the Hot Seat by Doddy Hay (long out of print, mostly published in the UK). Hay was an RAF tail-gunner during the latter part of the war, and a keen — Olympic level — free fall parachutist in the 1940s (back when that was considered extreme sports): most of the book is a memoir of his years as guinea pig test pilot for Martin-Baker ejector seats, in which he racked up a number of memorable firsts (first backward-facing ejection, first triple-zero (ground level, zero speed, zero altitude) ejection), and a considerable number of broken bones. A bit of an odd book, about an extremely odd fellow.
summerstorm: (Default)

From: [personal profile] summerstorm


Wow. Thank you for sharing this.
carbonel: (Default)

From: [personal profile] carbonel


I'm surprised that 84 responses in, no one has mentioned the one recommendation I can think of: Piece of Cake.

This is a novel from 1983 by Derek Robinson about a fictional (but historically accurate) RAF squadron in the first year of WWII.

It was adapted into a six-part miniseries in 1988.

Not my usual sort of thing, but I watched the adaptation with my then-boyfriend and later read the book. Then I had to read something fluffy and comforting afterward.
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