Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Amongst the Dead Cities - Hitchens

I posted a piece by Hitchens on Dresden, where he responds to defenders of the British bombing. Here, for anyone interested, is the original piece by Peter Hitchens, which provoked his readers to rally to justify the bombardments.

"Among the Dead Cities

Last weekend was the 65th anniversary of the RAF and USAAF bombing of Dresden. I was impressed to see that residents of that lovely city formed a human chain to prevent a demonstration by neo-Nazis, trying to equate the bombing with the Holocaust. Appalling as the bombing was, it was an act of war taken against an aggressor nation, not the same as the deliberate, cold-blooded industrial slaughter of Europe's Jews, a unique crime (which I hope will remain unique and is often falsely compared with lesser horrors by irresponsible propagandists of many kinds).

The citizens of modern Dresden, which has now at least partly recovered from the destruction, and also from nearly 50 years of Communist vandalism and stupidity, are a credit to the German Federal Republic, which has made immense efforts to build a free, law-governed society out of the ruins of Hitler's Reich, and doesn't get enough credit for its success. No, it's not a perfect society (its attitude to home schooling is insupportable, for instance). But it is a very creditable one. Perhaps now we can see (in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance) how badly such attempts to build freedom out of the rubble of tyranny can fail or falter, we should pay more attention to the German success.

Apart from anything else, anyone who seeks to excuse or minimise or diminish the Holocaust may have the effect of making a repeat of it more likely, however unintentionally. That is why the 'revisionist' arguments of some German historians, who seek to equate Holocaust and bombing, ought to be resisted.

Even so, I think we have to admit that the bombing of civilian targets by the RAF during World War Two was wrong. We can say this without in any way impugning the undoubted courage of the young men who flew in the bombing missions - and who suffered appalling casualties while doing so. But their commanders, and the politicians who knew full well what was going on, cannot be let off.

I have just read A. C. Grayling's powerful book ‘Among the Dead Cities’ (you will have to read it yourself to find out where this startling and disturbing phrase comes from). I think its case against the bombing of German civilians is unanswerable. He deals with all the standard arguments of those who justify it, pointing out that all of these would be a better argument for what the RAF largely didn't do - that is, accurate bombing of industrial, economic and military targets. One of the few missions where careful targeting was involved was the rightly famous 'Dambusters' raid, though that did inevitably cause some severe civilian casualties, many of them slave workers from defeated allied nations. Another was the bombing of the missile factory at Peenemunde. Such bombing, which was also tackled by the USAAF, also at great cost in young lives, did in fact have a much greater effect on the German ability to wage war than the bombing of civilians. The Americans, by the way, did bomb civilians in Japan, another dubious episode.

Many other issues flow from this, including the validity of the 'finest hour' and 'glorious struggle' views of the Second World War, which seem to me (who once believed them entirely) to grow more threadbare by the year. And I know that many people would simply rather not think about the matter for this very reason. The market for accounts of the Hamburg firestorm is pretty limited in Britain. That's a pity. We need to know what was done in our name, and in my view to be horrified by it, so that we can be sure we are not again reduced to this barbaric and - as it happens - ineffectual form of warfare.

It is my suspicion that the moral shrivelling of Britain since 1945, the increased violence and delinquency, the readiness to accept the abortion massacre, the general coarsening of culture and the growth of callousness have at least something to do with our willingness to shrug off - or even defend - Arthur Harris's deliberate 'de-housing' of German civilians. The British people in 1939, told of what would be done in their name within six years, would have been incredulous and astonished. I am glad at least that people such as Bishop George Bell of Chichester raised powerful voices against it at the time, at some cost to themselves. We owe it to them to revisit the argument."

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