March 8, 2013

A Compassionate Nation

In his book The Candy Bombers, Andrei Cherny tells the story of the Berlin Airlift following Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945 at the end of World War II.

In 1948, the Soviet Union blocked road, railroad and canal access to West Berlin, that part of the city under the control of France, England and the United States. Their aim was to force the people of West Berlin to look to the Russians to supply their needs which would bring them under Communists authority.

The Allied response to the blockade was to supply West Berlin with food and fuel by air, a strategy which, at the height of the Airlift, had one plane landing in West Berlin every thirty seconds. By February of 1949, the Airlift was delivering 16 million pounds of supplies or more each day. 

The most remarkable part of this story is that during World War II, Berlin was subjected to a total of 363 bombing raids by the United States and England. By the end of the war, 75 thousand tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs had rained down on the former Nazi capital.

Few people today realize the deep hatred and contempt Americans had for Germany during World War II, the result of Nazi war crimes in which an estimated 10 million Europeans were killed.  Then, just three short years after Germany surrendered, American pilots were delivering food to the same people they had tried their best to kill during the war.

In the prayer that Jesus taught us, we repeat the words, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” One of the most remarkable demonstrations of forgiveness I know is how the people of the United States and our Allies transformed their hostility and contempt for Berliners into compassion and love.