Friday, July 08, 2005

A machine that fought fascism

I had had something entirely different lined up to post today (it was even all written a couple of days ago!), but somehow my heart just wasn't in it; it was not entirely serious. It'll have to wait until tomorrow or Monday. I was actually a bit depressed by the partisan finger-pointing that my simple expression of solidarity yesterday morning provoked. I honestly hadn't expected that, at least not on the very day of the bombings, while people were still trapped in the bombed-out subways. (I expected a lag of a day or two before the partisan blame game began.) Fortunately, I found something that got me over it a bit. I've had this lying around for a three weeks since I first saw it, never having found a good time to post my little commentary. In the wake of the terrorist bombings in London yesterday, I can' t think of a better or more appropriate time to mention this.

A little while back, Anthony Cox of Black Triangle waxed rhapsodical about a sculpture of a Spitfire fighter plane at the Jaguar factory where Spitfires were made during World War II.


It was indeed a magnificent machine, and I rather like this stylized representation. Without the Spitfire and the brave pilots who flew them to defend Britain against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940, the war would have been lost before the U.S. ever entered it. For months, Britons endured almost nightly raids on their major cities, and the doughty Spitfire pilots were all that stood between Britain and defeat. The R.A.F. was pounded nearly to the breaking point due to the nightly sorties and the damage caused by attacks on its airfields, but in the end Britain endured. The Germans decided that they couldn't break their defenses and that an amphibious invasion of Britain was no longer feasible. By early 1941, Hitler's attention shifted towards planning the invasion of the Soviet Union. Because the British held on so tenaciously and because of Hitler's impatience and unwillingness to wait to invade the Soviet Union, Hitler plunged Germany into a two-front war that ultimately it couldn't win.

This sculpture reminds me that Britain has been through far worse than what these terrorists, including the Battle of Britain and 30 years of bombings by the IRA. They will endure this as well and emerge stronger for it, as they always have. This experience has led Londoners to be far better prepared to deal with such incidents than we are. I remember the typically blasé reaction of my British postdoc who recently resigned from my laboratory and is scheduled to move back to London in a couple of weeks as she said to me yesterday, "We've been through much worse."

8 example(s) of insolence returned:

At 7/08/2005 9:13 AM, Anonymous Mark Paris said...

That is quite a cool sculpture. I didn't realize at first what it was, but the stylized Spitfires are actually recognizeable by their wing shape. By the way, don't forget the Hurricane.


At 7/08/2005 12:50 PM, Anonymous Skeptico said...

Small point, but there were many more hurricanes that spitfires in the battle of britain. The spitfire was much more advanced, though.


At 7/08/2005 1:36 PM, Blogger Paul said...

And I was about to make the Hurricane point too, but I see that I'm too late :)

I sometimes wonder if the terrorist groups realize that this sort of action just pisses us off. I can imagine things that might actually change our mind, or rather cause us to say what we think loud enough to topple the current government, but not many, and anything else just works against them. They're smart enough to understand that, so I wonder if it's actually part of their plan.


At 7/08/2005 2:12 PM, Anonymous littleboy said...

To see an interesting video of a Spitfire go to

The presenter doing the standup is Alan de Cadenet, best known in the U.S. as a commentator on the cable channel "Speedvision", who owns, as I recall, a Spitfire. Any the video is quite funny, though not entirely work friendly. The audio is pretty low, so you will have to turn the volume up.


At 7/08/2005 2:28 PM, Blogger Brent McKee said...

The Hurricane tends to be forgotten because there weren't as many marks of that aircraft as there were of the Spit. Hawker pretty much replaced the Hurri with the Tempest later in the war, and unlike the Spitfire there aren't many left in flyable condition. A number of years ago when the BBC did a miniseries from a novel about a Hurricane squadron they had to change it to a Spitfire squadron because there were only two Hurricanes left in flying condition.


At 7/08/2005 3:46 PM, Anonymous Martin Wagner said...

That is an awesome sculpture!


At 7/09/2005 12:45 AM, Anonymous MyssiAnn said...

Very cool sculpture. The Brits have been through worse and remain, as always, cool under fire. I'd like to think I could've gotten back on a bus to go to work after something like that, but I'm not sure I could if push came to shove.


At 7/09/2005 9:05 AM, Blogger Orac said...

Skeptico and Mark Paris are correct about the importance of the Hurricane, and perhaps I should have put a sentence or two in about it.

It is a cool statue, though.


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