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Looking Back to D-Day 1944 June 6: From Lath & Plaster - A child's Veiw of the War.



The WAR Delusion: John (C) Vetterlein 2011. (To be published 2011 August. ISBN : 978-1-902582-76-4).

This discussion excludes all moral or ethical arguments for and against the practice of armed conflict, with one proviso—see appendix.


The premise is both logical and simple: Mankind is at war with himself. Groups (nations, what have you) have pitted themselves against each other but in effect the culmination of all wars will be to self-destruct.

The development of the instruments of war (weapons paraphernalia) has a momentum all its own. It is somewhat irrelevant whether our final demise will come about through the crippling effects (economic and social) arising out of expenditure on weapons development and manufacture, or whether we shall blow ourselves to smithereens (that has been on the cards from the instant we discovered the secrets of the atom), our days are numbered.


The condition of delusion.

First, for an accurate use of the word.

First, proper use:

a) Do not delude yourself, my son, you can no more play the Brahms D minor Pianoforte Concerto than you can fly like a bird.

Second, misuse:

b) Her faith in God is delusory.

In the first case the subject holds the mistaken view that he can perform the work in question when he clearly cannot do so.

In the second case the believer has faith and faith does not require proof. God in this instance implies a non-substantial ideal that is neither capable of verification or non-verification. The person is in a condition of trust without demanding proof; therefore she cannot be accused of delusion.

(Note the title for the well-publicised book, The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins is not wholly satisfactory.)

Battles are fought within the context of WAR.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, battles were the sport of kings and tribal leaders.

Politicalization of conflicts extended the consequences of warring to impact on entire communities and, subsequently, to embroil the entire world. This is manifest in the two so-called world wars, and since then in a plethora of conflicts worldwide, all fed by the armaments industry

Thus, as with industry generally, the war machine has become integral to growth economics. (It has been stated that in the 2010 Britain’s exports of armaments totalled some £7-billion.)

Those who operate within the arms industry (some at any rate) may have become detached from the consequences of their merchandise.

Collectively, the arms industry has worked towards creating a giant suicide “PILL” for humanity.

WAR is war no matter how we attempt to categorize it. In CIVIL WARS people affiliated to a group (tribe etc.) are at loggerheads with other groups; when this erupts into acts of physical violence, one group against the other, the situation escalates into full-scale civil war. In Africa now, and elsewhere, young and not so young combatants armed with modern weaponry slug it out, resulting in wholesale slaughter. ("Kalashnikov" must have more corpses written against its name than any other, including "nuclear".)


(1) Choice of action. (A moral or ethical dimension to behaviour.)
Mankind finds himself in something of a bind. We are brought
into this world without our consent and we leave as and when,
suicide being the only instance in which we have any say in the
matter of personal exit.


Dispatching others from this world has been a by-product of
battles and wars on the grand scale, murder and manslaughter
has achieved the same result on a smaller scale.
The bind arises out of the fact that we have made killing into an
industry and a profession. (The British Monarchy currently
includes individuals who have chosen a military career.) People
have the choice whether or not they get involved in the weapons
industry, generally referred to these days as the “defence”
industry. (Britain has recently acquired another American import
in nomenclature, referring to the weapons of war as “military


The use of the word “defence” is a neat cover-up for what is
essentially an involvement in the action of warring. The War
Ministry in Britain was re-named the Ministry of Defence
(MoD) some time after World War Two.


Those who refuse to have anything to do with arms (Quakers,
Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Christians and so on, including
individuals) are often regarded as idealists by the rest of us. The
world being the place in which physical survival (in the immediate
present at least) may depend upon gunning down your foe
before he/she does likewise, the pacifist view has to be seen as
unrealistic. (Principle: the fist is mightier than the tongue.)

September 12, 2011
KW17 2PR





War: ISBN 978-1-4259-7448-0 (hc)*

*Cover design (by the author) based upon a form of container used for the transportation of radioactive material well shown in the BBC television drama Edge of Darkness (1985).

To the displaced persons of this planet and the innocent victims of war.

*Throughout Europe and Asia, in North Africa and North America, wherever those who survived chose to put up a sign in remembrance, the war memorials and memorial plaques listing the military and civilian dead have the power to make sane people doubt the sanity of the world.

*A  History of the Twentieth Century, Volume Two: 1933 - 1951, Martin Gilbert: Harper Collins, 1998, with the permission of the publishers.


The use of the word war today is ambiguous. The recent occupation of Iraq by members of a coalition led by the USA is frequently referred to as an act of war. It is hardly that when the world’s most powerful nation militarily sweeps into a country which is unable to offer any effective or meaningful resistance. Some call such an act a turkey shoot.

Matters military dominate our so-called civilization. Venture into the British countryside on any weekday and you are almost certain to encounter some form of military exercise. Intensive low-flying training has been going on there for several decades.

The Ministry of Defence in cahoots with NATO ensures that vast resources are poured into the military. It is all very high tech stuff but most of it is about keeping a vested interest in motion. Military policy is shrouded in secrecy but it needs no high intelligence to work out that supersonic fighter jets have nothing to do with protecting us against terrorism.

These poems allude to war in this broader understanding of the word.

John Vetterlein
June 2005


To the extent that many poets have taken the theme of romantic love for their poetry, I have held with similar tenacity to the subject of war. Indeed, it could be said, quite justifiably, that war occupies my thought in a great deal of my work. This may be an inevitable consequence of my own World War Two experiences which in part led to my working in civilian hospitals for the period of my National Service between 1956 and 1958.

Obsession, unless it is channelled and controlled, (almost a contradiction in terms - non est, nisi est) may become self-destructive - like war itself. It would be equally true to say that the norm in human relations is to be at war rather than to be at peace.

The great musician and pianist, Artur Schnabel, in his long essay Music and the line of most resistance, rounding off, spoke of the breeding of an amazing average cleverness and many-faceted ignorance. This he foresaw might lead us into a preoccupation as a race with all manner of disastrous indulgences, including drugs and what he aptly called artificial eccentricities. None of this could be thought of as a happy state for human evolution to have arrived at, and yet here we are, besotted with materialism, doped on cheap and multifarious entertainment, soaked up to the eyeballs in the world-wide web information bonanza.
Stefan Zweig (1881 - 1942), writer, poet, thinker and man of letters, in the preface to his autobiography, The World of Yesterday, admitted to not being very proud of having written about himself. But thank God he did. Living through both World Wars, he experienced what he felt to be the extremes in individual freedom and celebration: at times hounded and trapped, at others lauded; and by turn despised for being a Jew. He would observe  that it was his  lot to be of  a  generation which had sunk into the ultimate degradation, where wars led mankind into the most bestial acts of violence and depravity - something which he hoped future generations would not allow to happen. Alas, such forlorn hopes. Zweig - who, along with his wife, took his own life - was not cognisant of the nuclear dimension in warfare. He may not even have had the scientific acumen to foresee the limitless possibilities technology places at the service of the merchants of war.
Such a climate has all but swept the planet clean of minds like those of Schnabel and Zweig; for, surely, how could they have tolerated it without crying out with all their breath at every moment of the day? Yet protest from our intellectuals and thinkers today barely reaches a whimper, so deafening is the silence.

Now, as we hasten towards a calendar landmark (the millennium, and no landmark at all in any real sense), I perceive a world decidedly rank and denuded of true purpose; a materialistic world, a world in which lies and falsehoods are tendered as truth by self-opinionated bigots both large and small; a world in which those in power, politically or otherwise, appear quite powerless to govern sanely at all. The nuclear weapon appears not to have convinced us of the folly and futility of war.

Therefore, what hope is there for a change of mind and of coming to our senses? Of course, what is required is a change of heart as well as a change of mind. But then, we are in the hands of those who appear to see human conflict only in terms of “an eye for an eye”.

If war is to be regarded as a necessity, in the way that major surgery might be seen in the context of a human malady, then surely one is entitled to look forward to recovery at some stage? Or (absurdly) are we to take the analogy further and to see the death of the planet in terms of the inevitable death of the human body? To make the analogy complete, one would have to place the patient back on the operating table and for him/her not to recover from the surgeon’s knife. This final visit to the operating theatre we may call the final nuclear theatre of war.

John Vetterlein

From page 3:

For the sake of form

For the sake of form,
let us have partition—
good to the right,
bad to the left,
warriors in white,
warriors in black—
and so, arranged thus,
let battle commence.

Dresden pre-echo

For God will Judah’s cities build,
and he will Sion save,
That they may dwell therein, and it
in sure possession have.

Psalm LXIX (35)

For a little, still, no matter how long, we go in search of a city hewn out of rock that may not fall away from us - delude us?

The author: Synthesis—microcosms of tragedy (completion).

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto in G minor, No. 4

Rachmaninoff had not yet left Russia in April 1914 when he was reported to be working on a fourth concerto for piano. The war, which had just commenced, was said to have seriously affected his concentration to the extent that he temporarily abandoned the project.
In 1917 the unrest in Russia forced Rachmaninoff to leave his homeland. He went first to Scandinavia as a performing artist, eventually reaching the U.S.A. in November, 1918. From here he built his frenzied career as a pianoforte soloist of the highest rank - a treadmill life that he found best served his needs as an exile, a husband and father but, and this must never be overlooked, a composer of great integrity.
Rachmaninoff took up the composition of the Fourth Concerto in real earnest in 1926. This he did, initially, from his New York apartment. But the distractions there - this time more social and professional than political - were too great, and so he made his way to Europe where his family were again united. They rented a villa in a district of Dresden and it was from here that the concerto was finally completed. He wrote to Medtner (the concerto’s dedicatee): “Just before leaving Dresden I received the copied piano score of my completed concerto. I glanced at its size - 110 pages - and was terrified.”
The work was not well received from the start (indeed, some of the criticism was vitriolic) and once more, as had happened with the First Symphony, Rachmaninoff was despondent and put the concerto away. Some fourteen years later, and with yet another war in progress, Rachmaninoff returned to the concerto subjecting it to radical revision. This 1941 version is the one most frequently performed today. Both versions retain the essential mood, the perennial “Russian gloom” characteristic of much of the composer’s output.
The Fourth Concerto is still generally regarded as the least successful, and by some (who should know better) the least workmanlike; for all the vicissitudes the concerto has been through it holds for the present writer a similar place to the Third Symphony - that is to say, it is to be rated as amongst Rachmaninoff’s finest music.

Dresden pre-echo

Rachmaninoff in Dresden, 1926,
confronts the shambles of our musical thought
with his Fourth Concerto,
brings before us the grotesque destruction
perpetrated in the air raids of World War Two;
in the sudden crescendo of the second movement
I hear the razing to the ground of cities,
in the subsequent heaving, dragging tread through the orchestra
something of our attempt to right ourselves from the ashes;
but the music gives us no more release
than we give ourselves, violence
is too deeply woven into our psyche,
war is the only course we appear to understand;
a blighted intelligence outlived its purpose,
unless that purpose is to wipe out all civilization,
all art, all life from this wretched planet.


The path to Armageddon

To some the title of this short essay may smack of emotionalism. But how many such critics have an inkling of the etymology of the word “Armageddon”? So let's clear the decks from the start.

From the OED we have: Armageddon: The place of the last decisive battle at the Day of Judgement, hence used allusively for any 'final' conflict on a great scale

Put thus it appears tailor-made for the atomic age. Yet the concept has been around for a good while longer than mankind's ability to unleash the vast power of the atom. It is mentioned in Revelation XVI 16, for example. And more recently there are samples of its use in the 19th and 20th centuries before anybody would have foreseen the invention of anything much more powerful in its destructive potential than gunpowder and its near cousins.   


It is interesting that our forebears had the notion that we would come to a final state of conflict, the battle to end all battles. But of course the notion of battle has little to do with the means or the event itself in which Armageddon is reached. Indeed, the nuclear device is no weapon since it is too clumsy to have any real tactical use, even though we often hear the phrase "tactical nuclear weapons".


The actual demise of the planet through human agency is as inevitable as day follows night and night follows day, have no mistake about that. If it were to come about through the use of nuclear devices than the event would not warrant the word battle to describe it - global suicide would be more appropriate.


Almost all discoveries or inventions have been turned to military applications. In a world of advanced technologies, therefore, it is inevitable that weapons have been developed that makes muskets appear little more capable of offence than a hockey stick. And since human ingenuity knows no bounds, we can expect the paraphernalia of weaponry to grow and grow until it suffocates us all in its abundance and sophistication.


To see just how far mankind has moved along the path to his own destruction simply peruse a recent MoD publication (2007) entitled Royal Air Force Aircraft & Weapons (Agile - Adaptable - Capable). If after a cursory inspection of this well illustrated booklet you feel comfortable with the world then you are not likely to have nightmares about it. I do have nightmares about it all. I have nightmares harkening back to my World War Two experiences as a child living close to London. My father, who spent the entire period of the War in the Royal Air Force, and was torpedoed on the D-Day crossings, also had nightmares. Servicemen today who are in conflict zones around the globe also have nightmares, and a good deal more than nightmares in many cases.

The men who design the weapons we see illustrated in the booklet, by contrast, have dreams. They dream up ever more fancy ways for killing one another.

To me it is extraordinary that human beings can get themselves into a state where they justify all this military hardware. Maybe it is possible because they live in a fantasy world of semantics and understatement. "Operating in a hostile world - The case for Low Flying" And thus it follows: "Low flying training has the potential to cause disturbance…" and the MoD… ensure the right balance between effective training and the potential impact on the public." [The writer of this blurb has inserted "potential" not wishing to be blunt - low flying can be devastating to those on the ground.]


The MoD is expert at cutting corners and word misuse to suit its own ends. The very word "defence" is itself an unpardonable description for what goes on when we as a nation smash our way into countries ostensibly to protect the world against evil, but in essence out of a sense of confused self-interest. Why should those on the receiving end of our weapons regard us as anything less than aggressors? And so lets not beat about the bush; the word "defence" is simply standing in for the word "war". 


My life (I am seventy-two) has been dominated by war from my earliest childhood to the present moment. Having trained as a physicist, I refused to partake in military National Service. Instead I worked in civilian hospitals as a porter for a period of close on two-and-a-half years. There I came into contact with the bodies of sick people, bodies comprising flesh, bone, blood and sinew, all very soft and vulnerable. Whilst I was tending people in their state of sickness, most of my contemporaries were learning to live with hard-cased weaponry. Therein lies the contrast - our "soft-textured” bodies and the harsh realities of war.


War is a construction of the human mind and body, it is not a construct from nature. As such we are in conflict with ourselves and until we recognize this simple fact, and alter our ways, there is no alternative to the path we are presently treading and that is leading inexorably to Armageddon. War is the black hole of human endeavour.


John (C) Vetterlein



The illusion of power—an ethical perspective.

(The History of mankind is a chronicle of slaughter—the author.)

What is meant by the statement that it is morally wrong to deliberately take the life of another human being? Indeed, can such statements be used to define the words used in them? Surely, the meaning we ascribe to words only comes through the use of those words in context. So to say that it is morally wrong to do something means that the action is indefensible from a given perspective. Thus, it is wrong to kill because the act of killing contradicts what we call a moral code of behaviour.

Having established a first principle in respect to killing there can be no disagreement. Whatever the means or the reasons given for killing, the act is wrong from a moral perspective. This makes it simple to denounce the act of war. There is no defence capable of justifying war from a moral perspective since war invariably involves the wholesale slaughter of both combatants and non-combatants.

To say that wars have been fought to uphold freedom may be true but freedom to do what?

The nuclear dimension to war.

The argument for the possession of a nuclear weapons system is to frame the system in terms of the prevention of war through their non-use. This is called deterrence. But deterrence is only meaningful if the ultimate threat to use the weapon is there. This is a clear paradox. Moreover, the intent has clearly failed since wars presently rage across the globe ad. lib.

The concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) arises out of the notion of deterrence itself. It is vital to understand, however, that deterrence is only a holding state or condition; there is no guarantee of it lasting over any predictable time scale.

There are two aspects of nuclear deterrence, which have to be grasped in their full significance.

First, MAD means what is says. It means that in the final analysis the use of these weapons will lead to our total annihilation. Which side starts the exchange of nuclear weapons is irrelevant (or academic, if you prefer). In that way it can be seen that the initiator of the exchange of nuclear weapons and the retaliator are both responsible for the outcome.

The second point follows from the first. Since the use of these weapons will lead to the destruction of life on a massive scale it can be said that the preparedness to use them is the intention to commit global suicide. Therefore from a purely ethical standpoint the production and possession of nuclear weapons is indefensible.

Those who advocate the holding (possession) of nuclear weapons as a political bargaining ploy must know they have to be prepared to use them. You ask the simple question of such people, would you be prepared to fire off a nuclear weapon and you may receive one of two responses.

First. Yes, but of course it should never come to that if deterrence works.

Second. Yes, and I am aware of the consequences.

Both lead to the same end result - extinction of the so-called enemy and of the self.

It seems to be imagined that there will be at some time in the future the possibility of an enemy that will be prepared to use nuclear weapons as a first strike. Any state or group of individuals that has acquired these weapons has to understand that to use them on another group or state will lead to their own destruction, whether it is done as a first strike or in retaliation.

The deterrence argument rests on all possessors of nuclear weapons as having the same fear of their use. But it is clear that there are those who have no fear of personal destruction. If such people see that their purpose is met in the destruction of the planet, then the possession of nuclear weapons in the hands of those they wish to destroy will not deter or prevent them from using them, on the contrary

The only way to prevent the initiation of a nuclear exchange, therefore, is to ensure that such states or groups do not come into the possession of nuclear weapons. The more weapons there are in the world the more difficult it becomes to control their use, or non-use.

Such control is impossible, for even if a so-called friendly state has these weapons today there is no guarantee that at some time in the future they won't alter in their attitude or that their weapons will not fall into the hands of others who would be prepared to use them. Moreover, it is difficult from an egalitarian standpoint for those of us in possession nuclear arsenals to press the case against other states acquiring them.

From this analysis I submit that it is only a question of time before we destroy ourselves with these weapons. Whether other forces achieve the same result before then is anybody's guess. It could be that the results of global warming, or of a virus pandemic, will wipe us out before we have the opportunity to commit global suicide through the use of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons, in common with other inventions, cannot be uninvited. And since we cannot be trusted to use our inventions sensibly, I for one find it impossible to be optimistic about the future.

The notion of MAD is apt for a species that shows all the symptoms of madness.

John (C) Vetterlein

2006 July 02

The Status Quo - the Dead-end of Militarism


I am approaching this essay as an exercise in deductive logic. I hope, thereby, to allay the fears of those who despise “emotional claptrap”; what I am laying before you is a cool analysistake it or leave it.

It had become an established exercise in self-deception to think that the latest world war (WW2) was the war to end war. No such view is held today.

The gross (no truly adequate adjective available) destructive power of the nuclear device has failed to deter us from warringit has signally failed as a deterrent. No sane individual would start a nuclear exchange, but in war we are seldom dealing with rational behaviour. 

A conscious act of aggression involving nuclear weapons is to an extent irrelevant in determining the fate of the planet. The odds are strongly in favour of some kind of accident happening, sooner rather than later, which will ignite the enormous nuclear stockpiles.

What I wish to concern myself with here is not the likelihood or otherwise of nuclear war. (Any such thing would be a contradiction in termsyou cannot fight wars with nuclear weapons. It is this very knowledge that permits us to carry on warring in the vain hope that nobody would ultimately dare to use nuclear weapons. Again, this is self-delusion. A kamikaze would not recognize our misgivings.) No, I am more concerned with the status quo, the accepted approach to confronting national and international discord through armed conflict.

Technology has developed to an extent that warheads may now be delivered over great distances with remarkable accuracy. Technology, if it continues at its present accelerating pace (and in the absence of restraint on our part there is no reason to suppose it won’t continue in this fashion), will eventually render the planet uninhabitable. Along with the grotesquely huge arms industry have come our insatiable meddling proclivities in every field of research imaginable, from biological engineering to the production of “artificial” chemical elements.

“Military” strategists (the word “military”, like many other words, has mutated considerably over the past century) plan and conduct exercises for war. War, meantime, has also gone through a mutation neatly demonstrated to me by a Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesperson when referring to military action by NATO in Yugoslavia as “armed conflict” not “war”.

Lethal weapons proliferate worldwide. Mere children (in age) are to be found wielding instruments of great destruction. Military culture is spreading everywhere. National governments brandish their weapons, like their words, in displays of wild and irresponsible belligerence. Likewise, we sing the praises of our armaments industries all contributing to boost trade abroad. [India is to receive (2010 or shortly thereafter) 50 Hawk military training aircraft to be followed by the Eurofighter—well done Messrs Cameron & Cable.]

We indulge in activities such as the Falklands, the Gulf etc. etc. with the same end resultthe physical destruction of life and things. It is the only formula we know simply because it is based on a physical fact (I avoid the word “law” in this context), namely, the fist is mightier than the tongue.

The planet is not increasing in size. Yet, by its very nature, modern weaponry and the paraphernalia of armed conflict disperses itself over ever widening horizons. Franklyand it requires no genius to see thisthe planet will not be able to sustain such activities for much longer. This catapulting, leaping, explosive increase in our aggressive behaviour is the very signature that time is running out for us. As we fuss and fiddle with “militarism” other systems are winding up and will, in all likelihood, put an end to us before we put an end to ourselves. I speak of the growing imbalance within the ecosystem caused, in the main, through our meddling and insensitive interference.

Global warming is a fact. (Pollution from aircraft exhaust at high altitudes alone, and propagated at the present rate never mind any increase, is significantly damaging the upper atmosphere.)  New diseases are being discovered and are forming as fast as we try to counter them. Bacterial infections, once curable by drug regimes, are breaking out in new resistant forms. Viruses are being recognized as causative in many life-threatening and life-taking conditions. (We cannot attack a virus by the use of “air strikes” or a nuclear device.)

We subject the human frame to ever-greater stresses and strains through our hectic lifestyles. Our immune system cannot be expected to survive under such pressure. We have evolved as a species through many, many thousands of years by adaptation to slowly changing circumstances. Few species (apart from the viruses, bacteria and some insects) survive violent change whether it is engendered by nature alone or by nature acting through mankind. Seen from this perspective militarism is not just an irrelevance to tackling the real dangers threatening all who share the planet, it is militating significantly towards our shared defeat.





It has been suggested to me by a colleague that far from exacerbating the situation the military have always “helped” in the matter of population control. But, is extermination really the best answer? If I am brutally honest I don’t think we have the ability to control our behaviour in the best interests of the planet.



Extracted from the original text and first published 1998 by Spring Ast LIX



Addendum: 20 June 2010-06-20


A great deal has happened since this essay first appeared in the year 2000. The British Government, lead by Anthony Blair, initiated a foreign policy approach of military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, two areas of the world in which British Forces are currently heavily involved.


The new coalition Government, led by Messrs Cameron and Clegg, appear to be taking up the baton where New Labour was extinguished. Mr Cameron, indeed, exults us to praise our military. I have no argument with giving credit where credit is due, and by all accounts British Forces in the main acquit themselves well under trying circumstances. But I draw the line at having to go along with the rationale at the root of these military escapades.


It appears to me that there is human consistency in all this; we simply fail to learn the lessons of history. But then, it depends upon interpretation as in all things—I fully recognize that my approach to conflict is at variance with the majority.

Low Flying Military Aircraft over UK airspace


“I know of no one who, having been subjected to a very close encounter with a fast moving military jet, is able to regard the experience as other than utterly unacceptable.”
How fast? How close? Over 500 mph. Down to 100 feet. These are the "sanctioned" limits, yet few if any experience it simply because to fly this low at such speeds would be putting aircraft at risk. The fact that the public would hardly want to tolerate it is beside the point. As it is the perception of those who live and venture into the countryside is that aircraft can be very disturbing. Visitors may think they have happened on an exercise; they are not aware that this sort of thing has been going on week in, week out for over five decades now.
The author, who lived close to a Tactical Training Area in Wales for twenty years, attempts to put some of the facts of low flying into perspective. But as he says, “I have no illusions about my work in this area; it will probably be totally ignored. However, I do feel it incumbent upon me to publish my findings. Who knows, some sane individual somewhere at some time may find it all rather intriguing?"

This booklet is a preview to “Low flying military aircraft - three decades of military aircraft exercising over Britain”. The bulk of that work is taken up with a correspondence, mostly between ourselves and the Ministry of Defence in London.

I should like to acknowledge the courteous treatment I have had from Ministry officials (with very few exceptions - the correspondence brings this to light); this has made our task more agreeable than one might have hoped in view of the nature of the topic.

John Vetterlein
Orkney, 1999 April 

John C Vetterlein


What is LOW FLYING? It is flying by fixed-wing military aircraft at heights below 2000 feet above ground level, or more accurately, at less than 2000 feet “minimum separation distance” (msd). Low flying is the authorized practice of military jets training to within minimum separation distances of 100 feet (within Tactical Training Areas - TTAs); 250 feet in most other areas.

Where does it take place? In most parts of the British Isles (and in other countries) outside the larger conurbations.

Why 2000 feet? Presumably in the early days of flying it was considered unsafe or inappropriate (a consideration to those on the ground underneath?) to fly any lower.

So, why is it now considered quite acceptable to fly down to 100 feet? The answer to this is what I have been seeking all these many years. Common sense offers a possible answer, namely, that it is what the military require in order to train personnel and to test their equipment. I have been told "off the record" that pilots would like the opportinuty to fly even lower! Perhaps we should consider ourselves fortunate not to be on the receiving end of drones dropping explosive packages, as they are currently doing in Pakistan etc. (2010).

Part I

I commence this short account from the standpoint of incredulity stemming from two experiences involving low flying military aircraft.

The first was a close encounter with a Phantom fighter bomber in North Wales in 1971. This aircraft flew over my cottage in Cwm Eigiau. The plane was around 700 feet above the house when it passed over, and some 500 feet below Craig Eigiau, the fine crag across the lake a little over half mile from the house. The aircraft climbed rapidly to avoid the end of the cwm, then disappeared over the ridge leaving everything - including grazing sheep - in a state of panic. [The Carneddau has numerous wrecks of aircraft accidents from earlier years.]

The next encounter came a few years later shortly after I had become a full-time resident in the county of Ceredigion. This took place in the Plynlimon range of hills where I was engaged in meteorological work. Mid Wales, I had been told, was used intensively for low flying training; this in no way prepared me for the onslaught. This time - a Phantom again - the aircraft passed to within less than 200 feet of my body when I was on the open mountain. It was travelling at around 500 mph. I can be reasonably sure of the figures because as a scientist I am trained to “measure” things and to get it right.

So frightening was the effect of my experience I was sure that aircraft could not possibly be permitted to do such things in a civilized land. By now I had had some correspondence with the MoD and so I was aware that aircraft were “authorized” to fly to within 250 feet of the person. This, in the case of something like the Phantom, is bad enough but any lower, surely not?

For a selection of writings by John (C) Vetterlein:


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