Bomber – Len Deighton

Len Deighton is most definitely the greatest war novelist of the century and this book is believed to be his master piece. Bomber isn’t:

  • Your typical shallow Second World War story where the British noble gentleman fights the evil satanic emotionless Nazis and wins after a brave fight to return to his wife and live happily ever after.
  • Bias, it doesn’t portray the superiority of the British and their sanctity nor does it defend the Nazis and their beliefs. It’s fair and just to both sides uncovering their misdeeds making it a real historical master piece.


  • “We are fooling only ourselves if we pretend we are bombing anything other than city centres”

These are the words of a British pilot named Cohen who dies at the end of the book after a air-raid on a German city. The pilots know that they aren’t bombing any factories instead they’re killing innocent civilians, destroying their houses, burning their crops. These aren’t soldiers who were trying to harm the British Empire. They are children, women and elderly who have done but minding their own business. Then why are they bombed? Aren’t they humans or did the British adopt Hitler’s main ideas: do they believe in the superiority of the British race? Lambert, one the main characters, believes that the pilots have been corrupted; they’re now mere pawns who are used to achieve Churchill’s goals. But isn’t that loyalty? No, loyalty doesn’t mean using another man’s morality instead of your own: this is anarchy.  And that leads to the next point.


  • “Dictators gain power by offering pattern, ranks, common purpose, and men in formations. Men want order, they strive for it.”

People think the British aren’t easy to regiment but haven’t they already when men line up to dig up their own graves? I think Deighton has voiced his thoughts throughout Mr Cohen when he accused the British of gaining a “sense of national identity and purpose… History is being quoted and patriotic songs revived”. What separates them from the Nazis? They both have been fed lies about national pride, both mislead into doing the dirty work of their leaders. All they need is a Fuehrer and a racial minority to attack.


  • “Eventually everyone in the world would become an expert at the modest words, kind smiles and bland assurance that gloved the iron hand of ambition.” Here, Deighton refers to the effect of war on men. Throughout the book, he treats the issue of man and machine. The war has pushed men on both sides to develop magnificent and brilliant new technologies; the fear of loosing the war extended the limits of the brain and unleashed a main stream of inventions and machinery. But what are the consequences? The machines are now used to kill humans in the most ferocious and appalling way: phosphorus bombs, magnesium bombs, stalling bombs… It has made life harder for the “Huns”, but hasn’t it also taken the lives of so many British soldiers as well. Besides, it has made life troublesome for the latter for their conscience is rarely at peace. And how can it be when they became sadists who savoured torturing humans such as themselves before killing them. The machines have deprived them from humanity, brainwashed them into thinking they were the saviours of mankind. Of course, the Nazis have had their fair share of disgraceful acts, but what Deighton uncovered in this book is that nobody is innocent. Both sides are criminals and both should take responsibility for the death of millions. The writer thinks that men shouldn’t have settled for this, they should’ve quit the war just like Sam Lambert: He couldn’t handle another flight and so he quit even though he was one of the most skilled pilots in the squadron.  This has created a new Man “frightened that machines might dominate him and overawed by mechanical performance, was becoming mechanical in his emotions and reactions. We can notice this aspect during the bombing of a German city called Altgarten, a fire-fighter called Ilfa Johannes “was finding it easier to reject the pleas of those too far gone to be saved. It was right to do so and logical too”. He’s right if humans were computers, then that should be the proper way of acting but we are not machines -not yet.


  • “You and I might be able to see the virtue of chaos… muddle and inefficiency are man’s only hope of freedom”

Is this the only solution? Will man only be liberated if he abandons every aspect of modernity: technology, societal organisation… and adopt chaos as a way of life? Well that is the question of the century and Deighton foresaw this issue in 1972. Personally, I don’t think the answer resides in chaos, there is another solution probably but I have no idea what it is.


The book is a work of fiction, it starts on the 31st of June 1943 which makes absolutely no sense. The writer made a huge effort to collect the historical data and the book is filled with it. But still, he created all the characters and even the city of Altgarten. That’s why Deighton earned his reputation both as a war novelist and a historian.

528 pages: the timeline of the story is 24 hours which makes this book unique for we would expect the writer filled the book with boring details that in no way affects the plot in Honoré De Balzac’s way. But, unsurprisingly it wasn’t the case, the book is thrilling and breath taking as it climbs towards the climax.

The Nazi system didn’t turn out to be as expected, in fact it somehow resembles the British system. Its society is organized: hospitals, nurses, fully equipped Fire-fighting department, City hall…

Deighton argues that the war could have been avoided easily: what would Hitler or Churchill have done if they didn’t have the blind support of the public? Governments shouldn’t decide the fate of men, people should be conscious of its acts. If they have, 50 million lives could have been spared.