Don’t miss Richard Reeves’s engrossing new book about one of the Cold War’s hottest episodes.
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Not only things like dying for their former enemies, but like becoming the Candy Bomber. That peculiar exercise began when Lt. Gail Halvorsen was stretching his legs around the perimeter fence after landing at Tempelhof. He came across a group of German schoolchildren and tossed them a couple of sticks of chewing gum. Seeing their excitement over the exotic treat, he promised to drop gum and candy next time he passed over them and to waggle his wings so they would know which plane was his. Before long, the Tempelhof ops office began receiving dozens of letters addressed to Uncle Wackelflugel (Wiggly Wings) and Schokoladen Flieger (Chocolate Flyer). Soon other pilots joined in, donating their candy rations. In all, more than 23 tons were dropped on miniature parachutes the pilots made in their spare time.
As the months wore on, the Airlift became ever more efficient, the North Atlantic Treaty creating the NATO mutual defense alliance was signed in April, and West Germany moved closer to political reality. Stalin realized he had lost his gamble to get Berlin without a war. The lights running around the New York Times building on May 5, 1949, said it all: “BERLIN BLOCKADE WILL END MAY 12.” The West had won the Cold War’s first eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.
Reeves’s highly readable account of the Airlift highlights a largely neglected operation that once again showed American ingenuity and resourcefulness, as well as the selfless, can-do spirit of its citizen soldiers. It was undeniably a heroic undertaking. But was it the best way to handle the crisis? It does not detract from the merit of those courageous, dedicated airmen to question whether the West should not have called Stalin’s bluff and broken the blockade instead of circumventing it. After all, who had The Bomb?
As Reeves records, at that same June meeting where Truman decided to make a stand in Berlin, he also ordered no fewer than 60 B-29 Superfortresses to bases in Britain — carrying the same type of Fat Man atomic bombs dropped on Japan — under a secret plan code-named Charioteer. And as it happens, an eager Curtis LeMay, never one to back off from a fight, had already prepared a contingency plan in case of a Soviet blockade, insisting that USAFE’s fighters and bombers could destroy every Soviet airfield and plane on the ground in a few hours. That was vetoed by the war-weary British and French.
Had we chosen to take off the gloves, we had the punch to put Uncle Joe on the ropes. As LeMay put it, “They had no atomic capability. Hell, they didn’t have much of any capability.” Of such questions do armchair generals debate after the battle is over.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?