My Father Thinks the Germans are Invading

My Father Thinks the Germans are Invading


My father lived through the bombing of England during World War II that was called the Blitz. He was five years old when each night he would join other citizens in shelters, while German bombs whirred through the sky with that distinctive screech and then — boom — they exploded.

He didn’t ever tell us any more than that but I imagine that most British people who survived that hellish assault suffered some sort of PTSD. My father had a tendency to lose his temper when we were young and run through the house slamming doors. I guess he had an anger problem. He admitted it to me once and said he was trying to be less angry.

My Dad exhibited other signs of PTSD, now that I think of it. In addition to being angry, he could sometimes be so uptight and insecure. I remember feeling embarrassed for my father in restaurants because he always seemed nervous when we walked in. I mean, who were these people, waiters? Who gives a shit what they thought about anything? I remember he would enter a restaurant with his hand over his cheek, as though trying to protect his face — from some emotional buzz bomb? And then during dinner, he would inevitably try to impress the waiter with a ten-minute-long speech apropos of nothing to a person he would never see again.

My brother and sister and I have laughed about this all our lives. It bothered us though. We were resentful that our father seemed so desperate to connect with strangers and yet didn’t seem to want to connect with his own family.When we were on vacation the family joke was that Dad “shot off” again, and walked half a mile ahead, or just went off on his own without telling any of us.

And now he has “shot off” into Alzheimer’s. He can no longer bore a waiter with a twenty-minute speech. He can only speak about a half sentence at a time, and nobody seems to know what he’s trying to say.

Yesterday my sister texted me: “Dad thinks we’re being invaded.”

My father, despite the above-mentioned peculiarities, was a charming and wonderful man. He liked a slightly off-color joke. He liked to dance. He was a doctor and saved a lot of people’s lives. He did a lot of good in the world.

In other words, he was a complex character. I am often jealous of my American friends’ relationships with their fathers, which seemed much closer. I know all fathers of the “greatest generation” have been characterized as distant. But the British fathers that emerged from WW2 were not only distant, they were traumatized — understandably so.

Yes, America was technically invaded by Pearl Harbor on December 7, but Germany invaded Old Blighty for three years straight starting in 1940.

The plans for the invasion of England were communicated by Hitler to his lieutenants in 1940 in Führer Directive №16, “As England, in spite of her hopeless military situation, still shows no signs of willingness to come to terms, I have decided to prepare, and if necessary to carry out, a landing operation against her. The aim of this operation is to eliminate the English Motherland as a base from which the war against Germany can be continued, and, if necessary, to occupy the country completely.”

The plan was code-named Operation Sea Lion and involved Hitler’s 6th, 9th and 16th army to land in England with infantry, panzer, motorized and airborne divisions in addition to special forces of the Brandenberg regiment.

If these forces had succeeded in crossing the channel they would have been met by a weak English army in 1940, supported by GHQ Home forces and the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. Military experts agree that these defenses were insufficient and England would have been occupied by the Nazis. But this never happened because of the English Naval and Air power, which never allowed Germans control of the English channel.

In 1940, after watching Paris fall and the evacuation of Dunkirk, British people were well aware that the German army possessed military superiority. In a very real way, the psyche of the people prepared for the worst.

“We’ve got to get organized!” my Alzheimer’s Dad said last night. “We’ve got to get ready. The invasion is coming.”

While the German army failed to land, the German airforce succeeded in penetrating English territory on a nightly basis. The Blitz of Birmingham, where my father lived as a young boy, took place from August 1940 to April 1943. For almost three full years during the bombing of this second most populous British city at the time, an important industrial center, the citizens crouched in darkness as their city was pummeled. The aim of the Blitz was to demoralize the British into surrender. It did not succeed. But it did kill nearly a hundred thousand people in England and turned its cities into rubble.

How do you “get ready” for the Blitz?

Alzheimer’s is a blitz, I guess. Daily my father’s brain is being bombarded into submission by the amyloid plaques that are taking away his personality and his ability to reason.

“Where’s my mother,” my father says often (she’s been dead for fifty years). “Have you seen my mother?”

In Birmingham, people dug underground metal structures. My father called it the dugout behind his house. Imagine spending nights in a little metal box as bombs drop above you. You want to cling to your mother. You want to be sure at all times that she’s still with you. Physically you are in a kind of shock, as your endocrine system sends wave after wave of adrenaline through your young body. Perhaps you shake or tremble. Your teeth chatter.

And then in the morning you emerge. How bad is the devastation? This is Birmingham one day in 1940:

Severely bombed Birmingham, 1940, wiki commons

How did the Germans inflict this kind of damage? In one raid in 1941, 235 bombers dropped 280 tons of explosives and 40,000 incendiaries on the city of Birmingham alone. Tens of thousands were made homeless and over two thousand civilians were killed in England during these three years.

How does Alzheimer’s inflict such damage? Here is a before and after picture of a brain bombed out by the disease.

wiki commons

Much like a ravaged city, many of the important activity centers and thoroughfares have been destroyed. The person is still alive, but is a “shell of his former self,” as cities were shells of their former selves in bombed Europe.

After the war, the rubble was cleared and Birmingham became home to massive housing estates — breeding grounds for all kinds of misfortune themselves.

The damage didn’t end with Hitler’s defeat.

In 2005 they erected a beautiful statue in Birmingham in memory of the Blitz. It is two outstretched hands cupping a round ball — it could be an egg, or it could be the planet Earth itself.

Wikimedia Commons

“ As a person and a father I stand here in bewilderment and disbelief over past atrocities…” said the artist Lorenzo Quinn at the unveiling.

I see the round ball as my father’s head. I wish there had been someone to embrace his traumatized brain, and protect it from the damage of the Blitz then, and to protect it from the trauma of dementia today.

My diagnosis of PTSD for my father is an amateur one, of course. I don’t know if his peculiar personality was in fact just that — a peculiar personality. But more and more as he enters his second childhood, we are being given glimpses of that trauma, and the conclusion seems inescapable — the past atrocities were indeed atrocious, and he was scarred.

The bombing of Birmingham was not so different than the bombing recently that devastated Syria. The pictures are eerily the same. Look here:

Wiki commons

The children bombed by Russia, the US, and Assad will grow up and try to forget these past few years, I suppose. Maybe they’ll occasionally snap and run around slamming doors — or worse. Maybe when they become senile the past atrocities will return.

“They’re coming,” my father warned yesterday. “We’ve got to prepare!”

How do you prepare for any of it — war, Alzheimer’s, invasion, loss, grief, death.


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