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  •  REVIEW: B-52


    When you're a jet

    "B-52" is an extensive look at the life of the B-52 bomber which is worth seeing as a source of information about one of the country's most important weapons but fails to explore the plane's significance in American policy.


    "B-52" is a timely documentary about the U.S. Air Force's most fearsome weapon — a plane longer than a football field, used for everything from scaring the Russians in the '50s to pounding the Taliban today. The film doesn't offer a very deep insight about the B-52, but it gives an extensive explanation of a subject that Americans ought to be familiar with to be informed about our nation's foreign adventures.

    Directed by: Hartmut Bitomsky.
    Designed one weekend in 1948 by engineers in a Dayton, Ohio, hotel, the plane debuted in 1952 as the country's prime Cold War weapon, ready to obliterate the Soviets at a moment's notice. One former navigator vividly recalls how true that was during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when his plane was part of a "nuclear fence" circling around the Soviet border. "All I had to do was turn right at any given time, and you're headed towards Russia," he says.

    The plane was converted from nuclear to conventional use in the 1960s for use against Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and this is the only time that we get a sense of the bombs' effect on the people under the B-52's majestic flight path. A man tells how many of his family members were killed in Hanoi bombing runs, and then we hear from a Vietnamese fighter pilot who was the second to shoot down one of these prize targets, a memory that excites him still.

    The film goes on to discuss the plane's use in post-Vietnam conflicts including the Gulf War and Yugoslavia, and then it explores the pieces of the plane itself. We get an interesting (but overlong) look at the demolition and recycling process, and then spend some time with a pair of artists who use plane parts for their creations — exposing graffiti and hiding places that begin to illustrate the humanity of the people inside the planes.

    The film is informative in many ways but it could have done much more to explore the implications of the B-52's massive bombing campaigns, and the country's Bush- and Clinton-era tendency to try to punish our enemies from thousands of feet above their heads. It does too little to help us understand whether massive bombing has been an effective, rather than simply explosive, way of carrying out our country's foreign aims.

    DECEMBER 6, 2001

    Reader comments on B-52:

  • Pretty cool!   from Jon-Boy, May 5, 2005
  • [no subject]   from Floyd, Sep 15, 2005

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