By: JK Clarke
Although debates over the necessity of war and military intervention are pretty ordinary and expected in society, there are certain historical actions seldom questioned these days, particularly American intervention, and use of catastrophic force, in World War II. Though there were certainly pacifists and isolationists at the time who opposed US involvement, in hindsight very few doubt its necessity, especially with light shed on the atrocities being committed in various theaters of war. But Douglas Lackey’s in-depth examination of debates over World War II bombing strategies, Daylight Precision, now at the Theater for the New City, calls into question many aspects of that war that we normally take for granted.
Based on real military officers of the era, the story is their imagined moral dilemmas, discussions and arguments over bombing strategies, mainly in regards to Germany: do they merely attack military and industrial outlets or do they include civilian populations as well. General Haywood Hansell (Pat Dwyer), known in the ranks as “the poet of the Air Force” thinks an upstanding and moral nation such as the US should be doing everything they can not to kill mass numbers of people. But his rival, General Curtis “Bomb ‘em Back to the Stone Age” LeMay (a stoic, cigar chomping Joel Stigliano), disagrees entirely. It’s a war of attrition between the two: only one will get to prove his point, right or not.
In the play, Hansell has compassionate conversations with both rank and file fliers as well as noted English pacifist and author Vera Brittain (Danielle Delgado) that only serve to bolster his belief that civilian targets should not only be avoided, but are categorically unnecessary. Technically, he turns out to be right. His efforts to bomb ballbearing factories in Germany turned out to cause more damage and military success than the fire bombings of Dresden and other major cities. And it has been suggested that the dropping of nuclear bombs in Japan, which was heartily endorsed by LeMay, who ultimately overtook Hansell’s command, were unnecessary, as the war had already been all but won.
In light of today’s stealth and drone bombings in the middle east, the play is a meditation on the value, or lack thereof, of collateral damage in war. The discussions are thoughtful and well-written. Director Alexander Harrington and set/video designer Lianne Arnold have collaborated to make a wonderfully modular set that allows for the play’s considerable number of settings as well as interactive and live-action bombing maps that give us a real time feel of the war as it’s taking place — no small task. One walks away from the experience feeling more intimately involved in the day-to-day anxieties of the war, from which there is now so much distance, and extremely grateful for not having had to been involved.
Daylight Precision. Through March 16 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue at 10th Street. www.theaterforthenewcity.net