Monday, April 09, 2007

You gotta get ready for the big payback

Thank goodness it was Easter egg hunts, candy and bunnies for me this weekend. After reading Gert Ledig's Payback, I needed some cheering. Gert Ledig was a German World War 2 veteran who fought in Russia and also survived the bombing of German cities. In the Stalin Front, (also known as the Stalin Organ) Ledig wrote about war in Russia. Payback reflects his bombing experiences.

The story takes place in one day and involves the crew of American bomber that is shot down over the unnamed German city as well as anti-aircraft crews and citizens of the unfortunate city. The book follows a number of characters, many to their deaths by horrible means.

There are lots of anti-war novels out there, but this one stands apart with its moral distance. Neither side (American bomb crews vs. German soldiers and civilians) is portrayed as hero or villain. Both sides are portrayed as victims of a war they can't control. People behave badly, spouses are abandoned, a girl is raped, and civilians beat someone to death. Ledig presents war as limitless violence with no respite or hope. The title is also ambiguous. Is the Payback to the Germans or the Americans?

Ledig uses an effective pathos device to amplify the horror. When a character dies, he writes mini-bio about the life of that character up until their death. Before the death of a German fighter pilot, we learn about how he painted his sons room and the games he liked to play with him. A dead woman is revealed to have had sparkling wine twice, once on her confirmation and another time on a vacation. This device again emphasizes the massive cost of war.

If you want more on bombing, take a look at Dresden, and the Bomber War, which come down on bombing cities was morally ambiguous but overall the right thing to do. Then you should take a look at Among the Dead Cities which argues that while the bombing was militarily understandable, but in the end morally wrong.

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