Celebrating the mass bombing of German cities during the Second World War would be obscene but not recognising and remembering the 55,573 aircrew killed out of a total of 125,000 that flew would be a betrayal of people who were asked to take great risks on our behalf.
I have to declare an interest in this - my uncle; Kenneth Foyle was a member of a Lancaster bomber crew and was killed over Germany on the 22nd January 1944 in Lancaster LL680 from 115 Squadron flying (I think) from RAF Witchford near Cambridge. It appears they were outbound, and were shot down from 21,000 feet over Perleberg by Major Prinz Heinrich zu Sayn Wittgenstein, a top night-fighter ace.
The Major was apparently shot down himself by an RAF Mosquito later that night - young men killing more young men. This is all very 'Boys Own' until we remember the death and destruction both in the air and on the ground below.
Kenneth was 19 years old when he died, younger than the average age of the crews which was 22 years. He and all the other aircrew who lost their lives should have had long futures ahead of them but they died in the cold dark skies above Europe - no doubt scared and alone in those last moments. Now he is just a face in a photograph - a young man who should have been thinking of his future - enjoying the company of friends and girlfriends and all the other things we take for granted.
Like many others family members in similar positions I feel duty bound to recognise that he sacrificed everything and will be forgotten unless we make the effort to remember them. Last week the Queen opened a memorial to those in Bomber Command who lost their lives and this was too long in coming.
I don't think we can distance ourselves from this by saying that the mass bombing of German cities was wrong (as was the mass bombing of British cities) and so the crews should have refused to do it. We have the luxury of hindsight and we have not lived through bombing raids and a real fear of invasion. Very few of us would have the courage to refuse to carry out what was seen as a patriotic duty, especially when our own cities had been bombed and thousands of men women and children had been killed.
These young men did not choose the strategy or even the targets for the raids but they did risk everything and in 55, 573 cases, lost everything.
That this was not recognised after the war was a betrayal by those old men who send these young men to their deaths. Did they feel too guilty to mark what was done by on their orders?
I don't think that recognising the price these crews paid in the name of this country is in any way a justification of the bombing of civilians then or now but I think we need to show respect to those that fight in our name or stop sending them to war.
Some people believe that no wars are justified - I disagree - fighting an evil Nazi regime was justified even if - as always - our more altruistic motives were probably mixed with national self-interest.
Before we launch ourselves into any war we should ask if it is worth the inevitable deaths of civilians; the women and children at the wedding parties in far-away countries.
We should ask ourselves if it is worth the deaths of some of our youngest men and women and if we send them to war we should show them the same loyalty to them that they show to us.