Reflecting on lessons of history - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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post #1 of 23 (permalink) Old 07-25-2006, 06:33 PM Thread Starter
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Reflecting on lessons of history

Scorched Earth
Was the destruction of German cities justified?
by Christopher Hitchens
07/31/2006, Volume 011, Issue 43


Among the Dead Cities
The History and Moral Legacy
of the World War II Bombing of
Civilians in Germany and Japan
by A.C. Grayling
Walker, 384 pp., $25.95

I am sure I can count on readers of this magazine to have sat up late with Victor Klemperer's diary of survival under the Third Reich:

I Will Bear Witness. This is the single most important document from the era of National Socialism. It gives an account of every day of Hitler's 13-year dictatorship, written by a German-Jewish convert to Protestantism who had married a heroic Protestant woman, and who briefly imagined that his dual loyalty (to employ an otherwise suspect phrase) might win him some immunity. Swiftly disabused on that score, Klemperer resolved to depict his beloved Germany's collapse into barbarism.
The diary possesses three dimensions that are of great interest to us. By its portrayal of innumerable acts of decency and solidarity on the part of ordinary Germans, it seems to rebut the Daniel Jonah Goldhagen diatribe about "willing executioners." By its agonizing description of the steady and pitiless erosion of German Jewry, it puts to shame all those who doubt--whatever the argument may be over numbers or details--that Hitler's state had a coldly evolved plan of extirpation. And it forces one to reconsider the Allied policy of "area bombing."

By February 1945, the Klemperers had been moved to a center in Dresden to await the final transport to "the East," from which none of their friends had ever returned. They were among the very last; those married to "Aryans" had been permitted some latitude. But they knew very well what was coming. And then, beginning on the night of February 13, the most beautiful city in Germany was suddenly set on fire from end to end, by a scientifically designed bombing pattern that swept away its architecture and roasted and melted and buried at least 40,000 of its citizens.

The Klemperers were not at the exact epicenter, but Victor was injured in the eye by debris and slightly scorched, and the couple were nearly separated. Finding Nazi authority destroyed after the departure of the Anglo-American bombers, they took off their yellow-star armbands and began to walk toward the Red Army.

So we might phrase the question in this way. Did the immolation of Dresden and so many other German cities liberate the Klemperers, or would the Royal Air Force (RAF) and United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) have equally happily burned them to death?

In the latter case, we would never have been able to read the record of the Third Reich's own Winston Smith, which is almost a small thing when compared with the treasure house of manuscripts, churches, universities, galleries, and museums that vanished into filthy smoke. And perhaps one should not overemphasize cultural artifacts over human beings: Hundreds of thousands of German civilians, including the flower of the German anti-Nazi labor movement, were burned or buried alive in these incredible bombardments, where we know from declassified papers that Churchill's advisers told him to blast working-class districts because the houses were more tightly packed together.

There is something grandly biblical and something dismally utilitarian about this long argument between discrepant schools of historians and strategists. In the Old Testament, God reluctantly considers lenience for the "cities of the plain," on condition that a bare minimum of good men can be identified as living there. The RAF code name for the first major firestorm raid on Hamburg was "Operation Gomorrah." And this was a city that had always repudiated the Nazi party. Some say that Dresden was not really a military target and that it was obliterated mainly in order to impress Joseph Stalin (perhaps not a notably fine war aim) while others--Frederick Taylor most recently--argue that Dresden was indeed a hub city for Hitler's armies, and that doing a service to a wartime ally is part of the strategic picture in any case.

This leaves us with a somewhat arid and suspect antithesis: Were these bombings war crimes, and if so, were they justified on the grounds that they shortened the duration of the criminal war itself?

more at: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Utilit...69&R=ED34342DC
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post #2 of 23 (permalink) Old 07-25-2006, 06:35 PM
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Wasn't Shabah from Dresden? no wonder he is an angry fella

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post #3 of 23 (permalink) Old 07-25-2006, 06:38 PM Thread Starter
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A bit more from the same source.

"...If the Anglo-American effort was benefiting from Stalin's total war in the East, then what does mere bombing of civilians have to do with it? One might as well shift the center of ethical gravity, and refocus on the mass Russian rape and pillage, followed by the incarceration of Eastern Europe and the partition and looting of Eastern Germany, that was also a price of Hitler's defeat. (Victor Klemperer, who rashly opted to become an East German Communist after 1945, wrote a successor diary about that horror, too.)

That ensuing nightmare may also have been the revenge for the Hitler-Stalin pact--and nobody charges British and American forces with any systematic atrocities against German civilians after 1945--but it is therefore also a blast of the hellish wind that Hitlerism sowed, and thus part of the restatement of the problem to begin with. Grayling has thus not been as daring as he believes he has.

In a recent exchange with him at the Goethe Institute in Washington, I offered a criticism of British policy that went further than his. Like him, I was brought up in urban areas of England that still showed the scars of Nazi bombardment. Like him, I began to doubt the official justifications for the policy imposed by Air Marshal Harris. But these misgivings ought to begin well before the horrible attack on Hamburg in 1943. In 1938, the British government was contacted by emissaries from the Kreisau Circle, a group of courageous German oppositionists led by Count Helmuth von Moltke. They told Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax that if Great Britain would stand adamantly by its guarantees to Czechoslovakia, and promise to make a stand against fascist irredentism, they could put Hitler under arrest. Their aim would be the restoration of German democracy, but their pretext would be that they had averted a war. This could only be done if the British maintained a belligerent policy instead of a capitulationist one.

Who knows if this would have succeeded? We only know that officers as highly placed as Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of German military intelligence, and many influential politicians and diplomats, were part of the plan. We also know that Chamberlain and Halifax refused to talk to them. There is something unbearable in the idea of a British regime, that would not fire or risk a shot against Hitler in 1938, later deploying horrific violence against German civilians instead. There is also something intolerable about the Munich deal with Hitler, a sellout of Prague which led inexorably to the Nazi-Soviet pact, resulting shortly in the destruction of magnificent German cities in order to bring a smile to the face of Stalin. I will never be one of those Englishmen who can complacently regard the years between 1940 and 1945 as a "finest hour.""
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post #4 of 23 (permalink) Old 07-25-2006, 06:45 PM
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Hitchens writing for the Standard...tsk tsk tsk. How low can you go?

"What you are... What you have witnessed since, is something unique in natural history. The first ever metamorphosis from a butterfly back into a slug. I mention slug purposely, because the one thing a slug does leave behind it, is a trail of slime. Now, I was brought up by my father on the principle never to wrestle with a chimney sweep, because whatever you do, you can't come out clean. But you, Mr. Hitchens, are no chimney sweep. That's not coal dust in which you are covered. You are covered in the stuff you like to smear on to others." -- G. Galloway
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post #5 of 23 (permalink) Old 07-25-2006, 06:51 PM
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post #6 of 23 (permalink) Old 07-25-2006, 06:59 PM Thread Starter
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Have any of you geniuses read the book review or the book, reviewed?

B
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post #7 of 23 (permalink) Old 07-25-2006, 07:08 PM
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Nah, we need you edumacated types to filter our "facts" for us...so get to it, bud.
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post #8 of 23 (permalink) Old 07-25-2006, 07:11 PM Thread Starter
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Underwhelmed by this latest revelation of intentional ignorance.
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post #9 of 23 (permalink) Old 07-25-2006, 07:13 PM
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Sorry, that's all I got. I'll try harder next time, really I will.
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post #10 of 23 (permalink) Old 07-25-2006, 07:44 PM
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I saw "Slaughterhouse Five", does that count? I'm waiting for the sequel, "Slaughterhouse Iraq".
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