The Brothers Bellum By James Albright
A skilled writer and expert pilot intimately familiar with operating large, crewed jet aircraft, James Albright draws from his deep experience as both a U.S. Air Force aviator and storyteller to deliver well-drawn characters involved in the massive bombing campaign credited with speeding an end to America’s long and unpopular war in Vietnam.
For those curious about the in-flight responsibilities, challenges, concerns and dire confusions confronting B-52 flight crews in combat, this narrative puts you in one of the eight-engine bomber’s ejection seats – most often that of the Electronic Warfare officer. It is his responsibility to provide the aircraft’s primary defense against its greatest threat – surface-to-air missiles. Accomplishing that requires a mix of anticipation, close calculation, nerve and the isolation of critical signals smothered in a roar of electronic audio babble.
For those intrigued by the workings of a military command bureaucracy charged to subdue immediately a resilient, well-armed and ever more knowing enemy, it’s here as well -- complete with overused, intractable tactics, self-protection of rank and pecking order, along with the dismissal of valuable input from warriors actually doing the fighting. A disheartening look inside a puzzle palace.
And helping bring focus to the personal toll of two uniformed brothers Bellum (Latin for “war”) confronting the erred guidance directing the persistent but flawed campaign are the family members and sweethearts whose support steadily descends from encouragement to worry to devastation as nights of bombing take a terrible toll.
While most of the story focuses on the mechanics of modern war – know that the Stratofortress’s systems and roles are continually upgraded to confront 21st Century adversaries -- it also provides reflection on the true purpose and essential failings of war itself. This is done through the questioning by a third brother Bellum, whose positions on the matter are tested and evolve through unanticipated suffering at the conflict’s conclusion.
Although Linebacker II took place a half-century ago, the questions, concerns, criticisms and relief arising in the narrative from that long-ago combat withdrawal are being repeated today as the U.S. military exits another controversial conflict. The Brothers Bellum reminds all that what has gone before often repeats, and that we need to take careful measure to avoid experiencing anew the errors and agonies of the past.