Notes on "Second Air Force"

This is back home in America on the Air Force base.

Far off, above the plain the summer dries,
The great loops of the hangars sway like hills.
Buses and weariness and loss, the nodding soldiers
Are wire, the bare frame building, and a pass
To what was hers; her head hides his square patch
And she thinks heavily: My son is grown.

She's got a pass, and she's coming in to see her son. When is it that her head would hide his square patch? What are they physically doing at the moment? Hugging, yeah. You know, she hugs him, and he's bigger than her. Her head falls right about in the middle of his chest, and she thinks, "wow, my kid's grown up." It's hard to believe. My son's eleven and he's already getting close to me and about as tall as me. He's not quite there yet. And so suddenly your kids are grown and are called into this big conflict.
She sees a world: sand roads, tar-paper barracks,
The bubbling asphalt of the runways, sage,
The dunes rising to the interminable ranges,
The dim flights moving over clouds like clouds.
So, why is the asphalt bubbling, by the way? Heat. If you've been in Louisiana in the summer and you've been out on the asphalt, from time to time you see those bubbles. Our planes are flying in formation and look like clouds themselves flying over the clouds.
The armorers in their patched faded green,
Sweat-stiffened, banded with brass cartridges,
Walk to the line; their Fortresses, all tail,
Stand wrong and flimsy on their skinny legs,
and the crews climb to them clumsily as bears.
So the planes look clumsy and the men look clumsy. They're all packed down and loaded down with stuff.
The head withdraws into its hatch (a boy's),
The engines rise to their blind laboring roar,
And the green, made beasts run home to air.
Now in each aspect death is pure.
(At twilight they wink over men like stars
And hour by hour, through the night, some see
The great lights floating in-from Mars, from Mars.)
Here are the planes, floating overhead. It looks to her like they're coming in from Mars. Now why Mars? He's the god of war. Aries is his Greek name. This is where we get the word martian, but also where we get the word martial, which means military. Martial is derived from the word Mars. Here is the Army and the planes. The sky is filled with them. These invaders of war, as they were, are invaders of warfare.
How emptily the watchers see them gone.
So to her, and to other mothers, these are the planes carrying their sons off to war, so they feel an emptiness when they see them go.
They go, there is silence; the woman and her son
Stand in the forestof the shadows, and the light
Washes them like water. In the long-sunken city
Of evening, the sunlight stills like sleep
The faint wonder of the drowned; in the evening,
In the last dreaming light, so fresh, so old,
The soldiers pass like beasts, unquestioning,
This, of course, is one of the themes about war that we've seen. There is the need for the soldier to be unquestioning. If you question like Olaf, you aren't too popular. Modern warfare is based upon the idea that soldiers will follow orders. They're told to jump in there, and they jump in there, otherwise, it just doesn't work right. They are taught to obey, like machines, rather than thinking people. You can't debate. "We've got to take that hill." "Well, how about if we went around this way, or how about if we dug under, or how about we wait til tomorrow." If all of the privates start arguing with the captain, will the hill ever get taken? No. So at some point, you have to have unquestionable obedience. You've got to run up the hill even though you know it could mean you're going to die.
And the watcher for an instant understands
What there is then no need to understand;
But she wakes from her knowledge,
So for a moment she understands what this is all about, but it no longer makes sense and her stare,
A shadow now, moves emptily among
The shadows learning in their shadowy fields
The empty missions.

She hears the bomber calling, Little Friend!

Footnote: "Little Friend, Little Friend, I got two engines on fire. Can you see me, Little Friend?" So, she's remembering this story from the paper.
To the fighter hanging in the hostile sky,
So Little Friend is the fighter that's protecting that great big bomber and they're trying to fly into hostile territory.
And sees the ragged flame eat, rib by rib,
Along the metal of the wing into her heart:
So as the plane bursts, it's like a fuse. In her mind it's like a fuse to her heart.
The lives stream out, blossom, and float steadily
To the flames of the earth, the flames
That burn like stars above the lands of men.
The plane's on fire, so what does everybody do? They jump out and blossom. They open their parachutes.
She saves from the twilight that takes everything
A squadron shipping, in its last parade-
Its dogs run by it, barking at the band-
A gunner walking to his barracks, half-asleep,
Starting at something, stumbling (above, invisible,
The crews in the steady winter of the sky
Tremble in their wired fur); and feels for them
The love of life for life.
So she is stumbling her way along looks up and thinks of them.
                                            The hopeful cells
Heavy with someone else's death, cold carriers
Of someone else's victory, grope past their lives
Into her own bewilderment: The years meant this?
What does that mean? What years? The years of raising my son. That's what all this means.?
But for them the bombers answer everything.