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Smeed also had a fatalistic view of traffic accidents. He collected statistics on traffic deaths from many countries, all the way back to the invention of the automobile. He found that under an enormous range of conditions, the number of deaths in a country per year is given by a simple formula: number of deaths equals .0003 times the two-thirds power of the number of people times the one-third power of the number of cars. This formula is known as Smeed’s Law. He published it in 1949, and it is still valid 57 years later. It is, of course, not exact, but it holds within a factor of two for almost all countries at almost all times. It is remarkable that the number of deaths does not depend strongly on the size of the country, the quality of the roads, the rules and regulations governing traffic, or the safety equipment installed in cars. Smeed interpreted his law as a law of human nature. The number of deaths is determined mainly by psychological factors that are independent of material circumstances. People will drive recklessly until the number of deaths reaches the maximum they can tolerate. When the number exceeds that limit, they drive more carefully. Smeed’s Law merely defines the number of deaths that we find psychologically tolerable.

The last year of the War was quiet at ORS Bomber Command. We knew that the War was coming to an end and that nothing we could do would make much difference. With or without our help, Bomber Command was doing better. In the fall of 1944, when the Germans were driven out of France, it finally became possible for our bombers to make accurate and devastating night attacks on German oil refineries and synthetic-oil-production plants. We had long known these targets to be crucial to Germany’s war economy, but we had never been able to attack them effectively. That changed for two reasons. First, the loss of France made the German fighter defenses much less effective. Second, a new method of organizing attacks was invented by 5 Group, the most independent of the Bomber Command groups. The method originated with 617 Squadron, one of the 5 Group squadrons, which carried out the famous attack on the Ruhr dams in March 1943. The good idea, as usually happens in large organizations, percolated up from the bottom rather than trickling down from the top. The approach called for a “master bomber” who would fly a Mosquito at low altitude over a target, directing the attack by radio in plain language. The master bomber would first mark the target accurately with target indicator flares and then tell the heavy bombers overhead precisely where to aim. A deputy master bomber in another Mosquito was ready to take over in case the first one was shot down. Five Group carried out many such precision attacks with great success and low losses, while the other groups flew to other places and distracted the fighter defenses. In the last winter of the War, the German army and air force finally began to run out of oil. Bomber Command could justly claim to have helped the Allied armies who were fighting their way into Germany from east and west.

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