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Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team

af John Steinbeck

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2315118,184 (3.3)4
History. Military. Nonfiction. A magnificent volume of short novels and an essential World War II report from one of America's great twentieth-century writers On the heels of the enormous success of his masterwork The Grapes of Wrath-and at the height of the American war effort-John Steinbeck, one of the most prolific and influential literary figures of his generation, wrote Bombs Away, a nonfiction account of his experiences with U.S. Army Air Force bomber crews during World War II. Now, for the first time since its original publication in 1942, Penguin Classics presents this exclusive edition of Steinbeck's introduction to the then-nascent U.S. Army Air Force and its bomber crew-the essential core unit behind American air power that Steinbeck described as "the greatest team in the world.".… (mere)
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Has any propaganda ever been so powerfully and beautifully written as John Steinbeck ginning up bomber crew enlistees for the U.S. Army Air Force in 1942? Talk about bringing the big guns to bear!

So, yeah, nobelist John FRIGGING Steinbeck tells us what the members of a bomber crew do and propounds on the American exceptionalism that will make our crews the best in the world. And sure, some of them will die nobly, but those who survive will have amazing employment opportunities after the war.

What an incredible counter to Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will.

The only other propaganda that comes as close to this as art in my mind is 1966's #1 pop hit "The Ballad of the Green Berets" by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler or the entire lifetime output of Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates, Male Call, Steve Canyon).

What a weird and glorious and awful artifact of World War II. ( )
  villemezbrown | Jun 25, 2024 |
This is Steinbecks attempt at helping the allied during the war and he might have chosen the worst possible way of doing it by writing propaganda to recruit people to the American bomber force. He wrote this book, some 150 pages, of descriptions of the life of every member of a crew of a heavy bomber with real people (or made up real people) as examples.

There are a few problems here. First, what the heavy bomber crews did might have been heroic the same way as it is heroic swimming with sharks when you are bleeding, but they performed atrocities. There was no precision bombing of only military targets even when they tried, and some did not even try. Instead it was terror bombing of civilians, killing women and children and making millions of people homeless. The heavy bomber fleet made way more damage and killed way more innocent people than the nukes did and as far as I know the terror bombings didn't shorten the war by a single day.

Secondly, that being on a heavy bomber is as safe as Russian roulette is barely mentioned. I think only once and then in a way to downplay the risks. During the war the American Army lost 400k men. A fifth of those were fliers, mostly on bombers, despite the relative rarity of flight crews compared to infantry soldiers or other ground troops. The chance of surviving all mandatory missions in a single tout was statistically about 25%.

Thirdly, he tries to present every role as a unique opportunity to make a difference in the war by being carefully selected and trained. In reality they took everyone and gave them a minimum of training (increased towards the end of the war). For instance, the gunners of the planes are described as marksmen shooting down enemy fighters one shot at a time thanks to the American practice of shooting squirrels with .22 guns or air-rifles. Yeah, that is not what it was about. Gunners were more or less useless cannon fodder (and not included in post war planes). Their only purpose was to spew out enough lead that fighters attacked from non-optimal distances and angles, increasing the chances a little bit.

Then it is the "real world" people who are so happy and feeling so home in the bomber crews. Carefully selected "real world" people I guess. Or not real people. Or really stupid people. Real people should have been afraid, scared and worried.

I don't know how much Steinbeck knew about this during the war but he should have had plenty of time after the far to do something about the book and he did not. By the way, Hemingway said, about this book, that he would rather have cut off three fingers than write this book. Before reading it I dismissed that as theatrics, but now I get it.

In summary: No literary value, no science value and no historical value except as an example of war propaganda. An easy 1 star. ( )
  bratell | Dec 25, 2020 |
"Men who know what they are doing are the best fighting instruments in the world. Nothing manufactured can take their place." (pp128-9)

It is unfair to compare a short, government-commissioned piece of propaganda to a writer's more seminal works, but it is testament to John Steinbeck's enduring qualities that Bombs Away, his freshman puff-piece for a nation that had just moved to a war footing, is not altogether valueless for a modern audience.

It is, truth be told, rather dry, going through a detailed accounting of the training undergone by bomber crews in preparation for combat, coloured with assurances to his domestic audience that their sons are in good hands with a competent military brass. Alongside the dry stuff he tries to provide a human-interest anchor to each chapter (a sketch of Joe the pilot from South Carolina, Bill the bombardier from Idaho, etc.), but whether these are real people or composite archetypes collected by Steinbeck is not clear. There is none of the stuff that would make Bombs Away a truly valuable piece – nothing on flaws, for example, or fear, or even the sensation of flight and combat – but Steinbeck is interested in the training and composition of young bomber crews, and despite the propagandistic restraints imposed upon him he manages to convey this interest to the reader.

It is not a patch on The Moon is Down, his propagandistic novella released around the same time (and which is, in my opinion, a hidden gem), or his stellar collection of war dispatches, Once There Was a War, but Bombs Away has merit, of a kind. There is not much literary merit – one or two lines of the sort quoted above, and Steinbeck's gift of understanding what makes different people tick – but there is a sort of quality to the piece.

I think this quality is there because Steinbeck's commission was not cynical; he believed in what he was writing, even if he would not have written it without official prompting. Not for him jingoistic tub-thumping – instead, Steinbeck makes it clear that America tried to avoid the war but could not, and now that the country was drawn into it, he was confident it would win. In the book he places a strong emphasis on teamwork ("the simple truth that concerted action of a group of men produces a good feeling in all of them" (pg. 28)) and on American exceptionalism ("in spite of the growing need of our sky-rocketing Air Force the country can produce the material" (pg. 92)). Steinbeck's patriotic confidence would soon be vindicated – though those three years would be long ones – and this is perhaps why the book has not aged as badly as it might otherwise have. ( )
1 stem MikeFutcher | Apr 4, 2019 |
On the heels of the enormous success of his masterwork The Grapes of Wrath and at the height of the American war effort,John Steinbeck, one of the most prolific and influential literary figures of his generation, wrote Bombs Away, a nonfiction account of his experiences with U.S. Army Air Force bomber crews during World War II. This first edition, printed during the war, is Steinbeck's introduction to the then-nascent U.S. Army Air Force and its bomber crew, the essential core unit behind American air power that Steinbeck described as the greatest team in the world.
  MasseyLibrary | Mar 31, 2019 |
Steinbeck wrote this in 1942 for the US Government. It was intended to encourage young men to sign to up fly bombers in the war. Sometimes cited as propaganda, it could also be seen as a patriotic gesture by a famous American who during a national crisis wished to do his part using the wonderful skill he possessed, writing.

Steinbeck traveled with a bomber training unit carefully recording the many lessons the men went through to learn their trade on a B-17 or B-24 bomber. He wrote a chapter on each crew position: navigator, crew engineer, pilot, bombardier, radio engineer, aerial gunner. He also wrote chapters on the B-17 and its role in warfare plus a chapter on how the bomber crew must work as a team. There are also included, many photographs of training scenes.

This is not a very exciting read compared to some volumes that chronicle actual bombing operations but he does tell the story of one crew's experience of flying over the Caribbean heading to a practice bombing target when they see a submarine. Checking to make sure it is not an Allied vessel, they proceed to attack it and sink it. Not sure how true this episode is, but it makes a good story. Considering how early in the war he wrote this, some of predictions for the future of air warfare and the post war importance of flying Steinbeck made were very accurate. ( )
  lamour | Oct 24, 2014 |
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Forfatter navnRolleHvilken slags forfatterVærk?Status
Steinbeck, JohnForfatterprimær forfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Aiello, ScottFortællermedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
MalYe, JuliaOversættermedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Meredith, James H.Introduktionmedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Swope, JohnFotografmedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet

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A book should have a dedication, I suppose, but this book is a dedication. [Preface]
In all history, probably no nation has tried more passionately or more thoughtfully to avoid fighting than the United States had tried to avoid the present war against Japan and Germany. [Author's Introduction]
Of all the branches of the service, the Air Force must act with the least precedent, the least tradition. [The Bomber]
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History. Military. Nonfiction. A magnificent volume of short novels and an essential World War II report from one of America's great twentieth-century writers On the heels of the enormous success of his masterwork The Grapes of Wrath-and at the height of the American war effort-John Steinbeck, one of the most prolific and influential literary figures of his generation, wrote Bombs Away, a nonfiction account of his experiences with U.S. Army Air Force bomber crews during World War II. Now, for the first time since its original publication in 1942, Penguin Classics presents this exclusive edition of Steinbeck's introduction to the then-nascent U.S. Army Air Force and its bomber crew-the essential core unit behind American air power that Steinbeck described as "the greatest team in the world.".

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