In less skilled hands than Plokhy’s, the US shuttle bombing operations (known to military historians as Operation Frantic) might have seemed nothing more than a glorified footnote. In fact, the theme emerging from this brilliantly researched book is that the Cold War was already brewing in 1944. If Forgotten Bastards makes me very queasy, it’s because, 70 years on, everyone is still squaring up to each other. There is still a feeling of unfinished business.
Plokhy is an expert guide through these murky waters, marshalling the archival and memoir material skilfully and telling his story with flair. In his wider assertion of the significance of the episode to the history of the Cold War, he is hard to contradict. At the Frantic bases, the naive American assumption of shared values, beyond the defeat of a common enemy, began to evaporate. It was there that ordinary Americans first came face to face with the realities of communist tyranny.