When we last left Congressman Jack Murtha, he was insisting that U.S. Marines had indiscriminately killed Iraqi civilians near Haditha late last year. On Alan Colmes's Fox News Radio show last night, Murtha repeated the claim, comparing the alleged atrocities to U.S. bombing raids in World War II.
Reportedly, a dozen Marines are under investigation for the incident, which happened in November 2005. Murtha insisted that the "truth" (when it comes out) would be much worse than the initial reports. According to NewsMax, Colmes asked the Pennsylvania Congressman if the episode could be characterized as the deliberate, indiscriminate killing of civilians. Murtha agreed, and likened the incident to American bombing raids during the Second World War.
"In World War II we dropped bombs on all these different countries," he told Colmes. "We killed civilians. In wartime - this is wartime. You're not sitting in an office back here. This is wartime."
There is no doubt that civilians died in U.S. bombing raids during World War II. But Congressman Murtha slanders the thousands of aircrew members who gave their lives in an effort to destroy enemy targets and minimize civilian casualties. Perhaps Mr. Murtha has forgotten, but the American bombing campaign in Europe was built around the concept of daylight, precision bombing. Despite the limitations of 1940s technology, U.S. air planners and bomber crews made every effort to hit their targets and reduce collateral damage. Army Air Corps leaders, including General Hap Arnold and Lieutenant Generals Ira Eaker and Jimmy Doolittle, resisted British calls to halt daylight raids, and join the RAF in night-time, area attacks.
Instead, the U.S. continued its daylight campaign until the end of the war, and many crew members paid the ultimate price, trying to hit precise targets with bombs from their B-17s and B-24s. Professional photographer (and aviation buff) Tom Philo has put together some interesting data on U.S. bombers losses in Europe during World War II. On particularly bloody raids (Schweinfurt and Ploesti), U.S. bomber groups lost more than 50 aircraft, each carrying a crew of 10 men.
Critics will argue that the U.S. still engaged in the deliberate targeting of civilians, during the infamous raids on Dresden, Germany in early 1945 and the B-29 fire-bombing campaign against Japan. However, those claims fail to ignore important facts: namely, (in Dresden) the bulk of the damage was inflicted by the initial RAF raid, and beyond that, there were valid military reasons for targeting the city's rail yards, the primary target for U.s. and British bombers. Against Japan, night raids (using incendiary bombs) began after daylight, high-altitude attacks failed to produce desired results. This failure was partly due to technical problems with the new B-29s, effects of the jet stream (which blew bombers and their munitions off-course), the long distance between Japan and U.S. bomber bases on Guam, and the density of Japanese cities, where civilian, military and industrial targets were typically interspersed.
With his latest defamatory comments, Jack Murtha has achieved a new low (even by his standards) and owes an apology to everyone who served as a U.S. bomber crew member in World War II. That list includes some former Democratic colleagues, namely Senator George McGovern and the late Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. I'm sure that Senator McGovern would be surprised to learn that he did nothing more than kill civilians during his 35 combat missions as a World War II B-24 pilot.