Dresden 66 years on from 13 February 1945.
Was the bombing of Dresden justified? Sixty-six years on the debate continues to rage, despite those putting arguments for yea or nay having never experienced war to the extent of the second world conflict of the 20th century. I think it’s worth remembering that WW2 was conducted on the basis of total war, where all belligerents engage every resource at their disposal to nullify their opponent’s ability to wage a conflict. In total war, there is no differentiation between combatants and civilians. It was Joseph Goebbels in February 1943 who declared “Total war is the demand of the hour; “The total war effort has become a matter of the entire German people.” ; and “I ask you: Do you want total war? If necessary, do you want a war more total and radical than anything that we can even imagine today?”
Of course, ‘total war’ insofar as the Nazi’s were concerned involved elements far and away more radical than the German people could have imagined. None the less, total war was invoked and allied authorities would have been well aware of its invocation, and the consequences of not meeting that declaration on the same level. When one considers the extent of the Blitz, the bombings of Coventry, Hull and Liverpool to mention but a few British cities which were nearly obliterated, I find the accusations of ‘war crime’ and ‘genocide’ more than a little disingenuous.
Area bombing, as the tactic of bombing German cities was know, served a vital purpose. That being to deny the German industrial workforce homes to return to after shifts, and to destroy centres of communications and transport. Were the area raids purpose designed to create terror? Yes, they were. In precisely the same manner that German raids on British cities were designed to disrupt transport, communications and wreck the moral of the British people. This is what all out war means. Destroy the people’s will to persist and resist, and you’ve destroyed their will to make war. In WW2, the war was instigated and propagated by inciting the German people to believe whatever the Nazi party wanted them to believe. It makes sense to me that showing those same people the futility of their adherence to a blindsided doctrine of total war was not only futile, but deadly.
Dresden wasn’t the only German city to be devastated by relentless and overwhelming air power, but it remains possibly the best example of what total war really means. Total destruction, of life, property and a peoples’ ability to function on even the baser levels. There is no glory in such destruction and no-one, not even Arthur Harris, has claimed there ever could be. Area bombing, with the technology available at the time, was an effective means to an end. That’s what war is all about. Striking an enemy effectively and efficiently with maximum detrimental outcome the intended result. Only in the current times, since the development of so-called ‘smart’ weapons has any means of precision bombing become available. Mistakes are still made and losses of civilian lives still abhorred, and while providores of destruction from the air regret the euphemistically termed ‘collateral damage’, high explosive is not and can never be a precision tool.
If there is any lesson to be learned from the Dresden tragedy, and that of Hamburg, Berlin, Coventry, Birmingham or Stalingrad, it’s that war on any level is the pinnacle of futility. Sadly though, those lessons go unheeded more so with every passing generation.