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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Aviation: Racism V.S. Historical Correctness V.S. Political Correctness in the Film 'The Dam Busters'.

Avro Lancaster's on bouncing bomb run.  Permission Requested.

I am always on the lookout for Netflix flying movies that I might recommend to my readers and last night I came across The Dam Busters.

I had read about the operation and seen some stunning aviation art of the raid.  I had never seen a movie about the raid till last night.  For those of you that don't know, here is a history lesson.

During WWII it was decided that if the allies could wipe out three German dams in the Ruhr Valley they would cripple the Nazi war machine.  It would flood all of the towns below the dam and it would take precious water away from the steel mills that were cranking out Nazi weaponry.  Sounds simple right?

The trouble was that these dams were hundreds of feet thick and made of masonry. Ordinary bombs dropped from way up high didn't have nearly enough explosive power to rupture the dam.  The Nazi's had prepared defenses for torpedo attacks and had heavy steel mesh nets in the water to protect the submerged portions of the dams.

Avro Lancaster in Flight, what a beauty!  Permission Requested.

This is where the story gets interesting.  Barnes Wallis, chief designer at the aircraft company Vickers, developed a large bomb that could be skipped like a stone across the water.  The bomb was to be dropped from an aircraft called the Avro Lancaster.  The plan was for the four engine bombers to come in low over the lakes (60 feet) at night and skip these bombs right into the dams where they would collide with the dam and then sink a bit then explode at just the right depth the blow apart the dam.  A brilliant feat of engineering!

So I was primed for a great movie!  And frankly for about half the film it was great, all the elements of a good war film.  An impenetrable target, a secret mission, a unique invention in the bouncing bomb, a remarkable designer to envision the attack, and brave men to carry it out.  As I watched the film I began to suspect that it inspired certain elements in George Lucas's beloved Star Wars, particularly the attack on the Death Star.  But I digress. 

So where is the racism?  In the film (as in actual historical reality) the Wing Commanders black labrador retriever is named the 'N' word.  They don't just say it once or even twice in the movie but over and over.  In fact the 'N' word is the code for a successful attack on a dam.  Nowadays the film makers would change the dogs name to avoid offending people.  In fact as I write these words a new Dam Busters film is being shot and they plan to call the dog 'Digger'.

Cherished readers I struggled with even writing this post, I really did.  So I think the thing to do is just pre-answer the inevitable questions.

First, did I enjoy the movie?  Yes I enjoyed the movie.

Second, do I approve of the 'N' word?  No I most emphatically do not, it's hurtful and offensive.

Third, do recommend the movie?  I honestly don't know.

Fourth, should historical correctness override political correctness in the new movie?  I don’t think so.  The first thing you have to remember is that movies take a great deal of creative license anyways.  They change all kinds of important historical details in films.  For example in the movie Braveheart the final battle was to have taken place on and around a bridge.  If they can change something of historical significance that is not offensive to anybody then it seems they can change this 'N' word situation to spare us further nonsensical offense.

The historians among you may scoff at my feelings on this matter.  But I think people in the past said and did a lot of dumb things just as we do now.  Proper history should be preserved in history books but blockbuster movies should appeal to the whole audience and they should not demean a certain sector of it.

So that's it for The Dam Busters.  It's good history and worth learning about.  I have included some websites that have all the facts in the Works Cited and one link that has information on the new film and the dogs name.


Works Cited: