My mention of the fire bombing of Dresden this morning touched a nerve with one of my readers, Leif. He argues that the attack on Dresden was completely unjustifiable, and his position is one I’d agree with. I’ll let him speak for himself:
I think I generally see eye to eye with you on a lot of issues, but your comment about the firebombing of dresden really got to me. As I understand it, there were absolutely zero significant military targets in Dresden. The Germans had gone out of there way to make it a non-target, and had moved priceless works of art from around the Nazi empire to this apparent safe city. Many soldiers also sent their families there for safety. I’ve also read that even the factories there were specifically producing a minimal amount of war-related goods, so that they would not make tempting targets. In fact, practically the only military presence there was a camp of American POW’s (among them, American sci-fi author Kurt Vonnegut).
My limited knowledge of Dresden comes mostly from Vonnegut’s (fictional, but historically accurate) ‘Slaughterhouse Five’, as well as from a highschool World History class where our (quite passionate) teacher made the event out to be one of the greatest atrocities of the century. Indeed, far more civilians were killed in Dresden than in Hiroshima, and in Hiroshima there were valid military targets amongst the large civilian population.
I don’t think that any “defense of civilization” defense can excuse what the allied forces did in Dresden. I think we would have won the war without touching Dresden, and that the firebombing was only done to break the spirit of the Nazi soldiers, by killing their families and destroying their national treasures. I think it should have been considered a war crime. History is written by the victors, though, which is why people today can look at the event and justify it as a legitimate act of war. I’m quite tired of hearing the word ‘terrorism’ twisted around and used so much it hardly has meaning anymore, but if 250,000 civilian deaths in a colossal firestorm (for the sole purpose of breaking a nation’s spirit) isn’t terror then I don’t know what is.
Leif further drives home the point that I was trying to make, which is that extraordinary circumstances provide rationalization for unspeakable acts. The fact that an attack like the one on Dresden is even considered to be acceptable demonstrates what the frame of mind was during World War II. Is our country in danger today? Of course. But what we ought to be defending our civilization against is those people who would have us cast aside the values that underpin it in deference to our fears.