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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Strategic Air Command

This morning, so soon after posting some negative views on the virtues of bombing from the air, I took special care to record on DVD a thinly disguised recruiting vehicle for the Air Force of yesteryear that doubled as a Jimmy Stewart/June Allyson love vehicle, called "The Strategic Air Command."

It seems strange even to me when I tell you that, despite several things, this film is one of the movies that I can closely relate to. Given my particular configuration, there are very, very few of those, believe me! The reason is that, in 1955, the year that this movie carries, I had just a few months to go before the end of my four-year hitch in the Air Force, and I spent the last year and a half of that time, in fact, in the Strategic Air Command, or "SAC," as we called it.

Unlike Jimmy Stewart, however, I wasn't a flying crew member. Instead I was a ground maintenance man, keeping the planes' radios up to snuff. While in SAC I started out working on the old prop-driven B-29's on Okinawa, and then the whole outfit was shipped lock, stock, and barrel to Lincoln, Nebraska, where we were given the first of the then brand new B-47 jet bombers. That is the same type of plane that figured in the climax of the film, when Stewart has to make a harrowing landing in the rain and low clouds on the same base in Kadena on Okinawa where I was stationed. The B-47 was one of the two long-range bombers that the Air Force used at that time. The other was the B-52, which, incredibly, is still in use now, as far as I know, 50 years later!

For me, the real interest of this film doesn't lie in its story line or in its characters. Instead it was in those marvels of engineering, the planes, and I always felt grateful to the U.S. government for giving me the chance to check out a variety of them close up. The sight of them streaming through the skies is as beautiful now as it was more than half a century ago.

It follows that, being young, in 1955 I spent no time considering the purpose of those planes. I didn't have that luxury.

This film deals heavily with the question of how the Air Force can retain its good personnel. Nowadays the U.S. military is still grappling with that same issue, but it is even more pressing than in the Cold War days, which benefitted from the patriotic momentum that was still present, following WW2. Things are very different now, because instead of necessities, and since Iraq and Afghanistan aren't enough, the Bush Administration has several more military adventures in which it would like to engage but is hamstrung by a distinct scarcity of volunteers willing to so risk their life styles and their lives.

In the year of "SAC," I grappled with the notion of whether to re-enlist. I was asked to, and I thought heavily about doing so. But the difference between Jimmy Stewart and me was that I had no pregnant June Allyson to disapprove of my staying in. All I had was a strong desire to go back to Okinawa, a place that fascinated me and that I felt I had left too soon. Stewart chose to stay in, in spite of June Allyson's objections, but a bad arm threw him willy-nilly in the opposite direction that his wife had desired.

In my case my decision not to reenlist was a result of the bizarre reasoning that I supposed has always characterized me. I decided that the Air Force was too easy a life, and also I was too familiar with it. I thought I'd look to see what was under other rocks.


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