Compartments of the mind

My thesis supervisor Y often remarked on the to him paradoxical state that I was a radical pacifist, yet would attend military air shows.

I for my part pointed out that one could be, say, an expert on dangerous diseases yet have no desire to inflict said diseases on people, but Y never got the point of my analogy. And, thinking deeper, there may be a point to that too. Germs don't care if we study them or not, they just are. Air shows on the other hand are made by and for people, the audience who is to be wooed and the participants whose egoes certainly are boosted performing for the audience. So, studying live military forces can certainly be considered as an encouragement and endorsement of their activities and therefore clearly problematic.

My interest in (military) aviation clearly has complex reasons and roots—certainly at the bottom there is what in my childhood was considered a “boyish” interest in fast and noisy things that make other things explode. Certainly I played a lot with the little plastic soldiers that were abundant at the time (I actually didn't have very many myself, but I had friends who were willing to compensate for that lack) and I don't think any of us considered either the battles or the soldiers to be “real”; soldiers fall over, you get a point, whoever has most standing at the end wins, then you can raise them all again and start another round.

Then, aircraft, something that you could learn more about; catalogue, classify, connect, makers, users, performance figures. Yet again those things boys were supposed to be fascinated by, and I was, and I am.

But then also, as I have found, for most any subject, learning deeply about a subject brings also an æsthetic appreciation of it. I have over time and with learning and practice developed a feel (not necessarily identical to that of other professionals) for elegance in an algorithm, beauty in a mathematical proof and the quality in a well-written text, but perhaps stronger than all this is the experience of a beautiful aircraft. And yes, then there are the the big and strong aircraft, the clumsy but lovable aircraft, the plain planes, and, of course, the hopelessly ugly and useless, loved not even by their manufacturers.

And which aircraft belong in which categories can of course be argued for hours, and what colours they would have been painted in at a given time, what retrofits and upgrades were performed over time and what the actual performance would have been of various armament options. And this consumes a large amount of modellers' time and never does it really pass beyond the abstract. For most. Then there are the…creepy ones, who seem a little too interested in wearing period uniforms and collecting militaria. On one occasion I received, with models I'd bought, the seller's business card with SS mottoes, and they did not seem to be ironically meant. Not least disgusting was the idea that this was apparently intended to encourage further purchases from the person in question and presumably it had worked before. Fortunately there are none of these kind of people in the local modelling club, as far as I've been able to tell, and we have pleasant evenings arguing about the exact caliber of the nose guns on the various subversions of the Bf 109G without worrying about the people that ended up in front of them.

So, when I found this collection of clips of German aircraft, purportedly from the Battle of Britain period, I was geared up for a pleasant little nitpick post, noting how the He 177 wasn't even built in 1940 and how the loaded bombs obviously couldn't have been from the period in question, but then I saw the comments… There were the people for whom a He 111 wasn't a somewhat obsolescent aircraft in late 1940, underpowered and underarmed but still elegant with the characteristic elliptical Heinkel wings and the rounded Plexiglas-covered nose; there were the people for whom it was a weapon for murdering other people and they approved of murder. This was like finding maggots in your half-eaten sandwich and the fun went out of studying the video.

And so we live our lives, desperately trying to justify ourselves. *sigh*

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