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At 4:13 in the morning on June 13, 1944, there was an explosion in a lettuce patch 25 miles southeast of London.

Britain had been at war for five years, but this marked the beginning of a new torment for the inhabitants of the capital, one that would last several months and cost thousands of lives. The Germans called their flying bomb Vergeltungswaffe -- retaliation weapon. The first V1 merely destroyed edible plants, but there were nine other missiles of vengeance that night, and they had more deadly effect.

The V1s were a terrifying sight. The two tons of steel hurtled through the sky, with a flaming orange-red tail. But it was the sound that most deeply imprinted itself on witnesses. The rockets would buzz like a deranged bee and then go eerily quiet. Silence signaled that they had run out of fuel and were falling. On contact with the ground they would

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  • DAVID EDMONDS is the co-founder of the popular "Philosophy Bites" podcast series and senior research associate at the University of Oxford's Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. He is author, most recently, of Would You Kill the Fat Man, from which this article is excerpted. Text copyright © 2013 David Edmonds. Published by Princeton University Press.
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