Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Places of Evil

I do a lot of thinking about the last World War for many reasons. Chief among them is my incredulity at the level of sacrifice and the heroism demonstrated countless times by ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

The other reason is that my mind boggles at the level of evil manifested by the Nazis. For sheer ingenuity nothing beats homo sapiens when they're destroying one another, and the Third Reich led the pack for years (although it was, as Nagasaki and Hiroshima remind us, the Allies who held the final horrific trump card).

Miss T frequently indulges me when we're on holiday in Europe and something 1939-45 presents itself, and last week in France we found ourselves at La Coupole, a sinister underground factory developed by the Germans to manufacture V2 rockets.

Forced labour was used to dig out a massive cavern covered by a thick concrete dome under which V2 rockets were to be constructed and fired at London. The invasion halted the work in 1944, but that didn't stop the Nazis loading the Soviet labourers onto a Germany bound train. They were never heard from again.

Dank, cold and haunted, despite the trapping of the modern museum, La Coupole is a reminder of how thin the ice was in those days.

History works in odd ways. La Coupole and other V2 related development forced the US Air Force to develop remotely piloted bombers that would literally dive into the targets. Remote control being in its infancy these flying bombs required some flying by pilots, who would take off but then parachute out when the knackered aircraft was safely on course. This was near suicidal work. Among the volunteer pilots was Joseph Kennedy Junior, JFK's older brother. He was killed when his drone exploded before he could parachute to safety.

In a weird circuit JFK can be seen in a video display in the concrete bunker announcing America's dash for the moon. It would use the very same scientists and basic technology used by the Nazis and which his older brother had given his life attempting to destroy. The irony can't have escaped him, but when it came to the progress of his country JFK wisely put any squeamishness he may have had on the back burner.

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