The Truth Behind Dresden

Strahan Cadell

Strahan Cadell

Strahan Cadell is a financial professional who resides in the heart of New Jersey: all opinions expressed are personal.

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15 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Siegel
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    says:

    Great post. Glad to see someone not accepting the standard narrative.Report

  2. Avatar Zane
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    says:

    Surely we don’t need to establish that ‘the bombing of Dresden was entirely appropriate, proportionate, and the best thing that the US and the UK could have done at the time’ in order to deny that ‘the bombing of Dresden shows that capitalism/the West/democracies are as bad or worse than Hitler’?Report

  3. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    I was blessedly unaware of the use of Dresden to grind extremist axes.

    I was aware of how often it is to take the light from previous periods and refract it through the lens of our own concerns.
    Like how Slaughter House Five, Catch-22, and M*A*S*H, while ostensibly about WWII and Korea, were actually criticism of Vietnam and American politics in general.
    By the same token, the history of the Munich Agreement or Pearl Harbor was used constantly to criticize everything from the responses to the Gulf of Tonkin incident to arms control agreements.

    This in turn reminds me of our discussions about Gone With The Wind and the tendency to retroactively praise or condemn the behavior of previous generations.
    If all we are doing is assuming an air of moral superiority then this sort of thing would be just idle and pointless posturing.

    But examining the past and interrogating it can serve a useful purpose in making our own choices.

    For example, lets consider the reactions to two separate and similar bombing campaign, Guernica and Dresden.

    In 1936 the bombing of civilian targets like Guernica was novel, and startling. So startling that it provoked international condemnation and inspired the famous painting by Picasso.

    Yet, only a few years later, the various nations were conducting raids a hundred times larger than Guernica, without so much as a peep of objection.

    I’m not noting hypocrisy here, so much as the power of warmaking to warp our moral compass and cause us to take actions we never would have dreamed of doing.

    Or consider the American Civil war. I’ve read where at the very first battle, the Battle of Bull Run, both sides entered into it with an air of jubilant defiance, and that civilians from nearby actually took picnic baskets up to the hillsides overlooking it, sort of like a freaky holiday, and were hoping to see a splendid little skirmish with a neat conclusion.

    Then by the end of the war, what started out as a noble and honorable cause ended in grisly trench warfare and the burning of entire cities.

    So then we can turn our thoughts to our own time behavior.

    We have been engaged in continuous warmaking now for almost two decades, longer than the lives of some of the young men fighting.

    If warmaking had the power to distort the moral compass of previous generations, is it doing the same to us? Are we now accepting things which we would have found shocking and abhorrent in the before time?Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Far from being a war crime (aerial bombardment was not even criminalized in international law until 1949)

    From what I understand, this isn’t how “war crime” is used these days.

    The narrative for Dresden that I always saw/understood was that it wasn’t merely a message to Germany, but to Uncle Joe. Hey, we can do what needs doing too, pal.

    And it was successful. The Cold War ended with only minimal casualties worth mentioning.Report

    • Avatar greginak
      Ignored
      says:

      The message we had been giving to uncle joe for most of the war was that the allies in the west are actually in the fight not standing around while the russians took millions of causalities. By 45 we had been on the continent but still wanted the russians to know we were active. We also wanted the russians to help us in japan since we were still planning a high causulity land invasion of the japan at that time.

      Short version: We weren’t trying to put in fear in Joe when we still wanted russian bodies to suck up japanese bullets.Report

  5. Avatar Pinky
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    says:

    This is an interesting article. I’ve never seen this point of view on the Dresden bombing before. There are a couple of points that make me nervous, though. The article implies that Nazi civilians are legitimate targets. I’m also not crazy about the guilt by association in the last paragraph. As for the war overall, sure, it wasn’t over in February 1945, but the outcome was certain.Report

  6. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    The allies had been debating the morality of laying waste to cities since early in the war. Dresden was not much different then other targets but the leadership knew that our bombing was not all that accurate and plenty of civilian causalities were unavoidable. They also knew civilian parts of the city would burn. Indeed us and the brits had had people calculating exactly how cities burn.Report

  7. Avatar Brent F
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    says:

    I’m getting caught up by this line

    “a stronghold of Prussian militarism centuries before that.”

    For two reasons

    First, because it sounds a lot like justifying an attack on Eton as breading ground for British Imperialism, or Langley Virginia because its a hotbed for American dirty tricks abroad.

    Second, because I’d consider myself pretty well informed about German and Prussian history and I have no idea what the heck you’re talking about. Dresden was the capital of Upper Saxony which was literally not Prussian at all ever. Not even after unification, certainly not for “centuries before 1945.” Its like calling Windsor, Ontario a stronghold of the American Military Industrial Complex because its over the river from Detroit.

    Lets not even get into whether being associated with Prussia is a mark against you beyond the typical European norms, which is its own kettle of fish.Report

    • Matt L. Matt L.
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      says:

      “Prussian militarism” is and has been a term used to refer, pars pro toto, to the military policies of the Deutsches Kaiserreich (which was Prussian dominated, and of which Dresden was a significant possession) and before that the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth (where, under August der Starke, Dresden was made the “Royal Residential City”). People also talk about the founding of Russia in Kiev, and about Holland when they mean the Netherlands. I read that statement as establishing that the city was no stranger to military strategic importance within German polities, which only makes sense given that this section of the article was devoted to addressing the countervailing claim that Dresden lacked any such importance during WWII.Report

      • Avatar Brent F
        Ignored
        says:

        The centuries of military history Saxony was associated with was being a speed bump/forced ally to whichever of its much larger neighbours was currently ascendant on the North European Plain, be they Polish, Swedish, Austrian, Prussian or French.

        I have never once heard “Prussian militarism” associated with the Commonwealth and it would be a highly unusual construction to do so, as its an Anglosphere concept to descibe what they thought they were fighting in World Wars and the Prussian military aristocracy had very little to do with the Commonwealth. Dresden itself is connected to the Commonwealth by way of being a separate dynastic possession of the Polish ruling dynasty.

        Its just a very weird thing for the OP to toss of in a sentence.Report

  8. Avatar Mark
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    says:

    Twice as many civilians died during WW2 as people in uniform. The norms of civilization went out the window and murder, arson, rape, and destruction became ok because someone thought that a military objective was attainable. We should be mindful of Dresden and equally mindful of the thousand other cities that also suffered wholesale slaughter. I think Vonnegut’s book is a great work of art that shows that calm, sane thoughts about war are fantasies that deserve mocking. We must stop or at least restrain the idea that wars result in anything other than killing. If we sow the wind, we will reap the whirlwind.Report

  9. Avatar gabriel conroy
    Ignored
    says:

    I sign on to Pinky’s and Brent F.’s reservations. However, here are two reasons I liked this post:

    1. Before I read it, I had simply accepted the standard narrative Strahan questions. It’s one of those things I thought I knew, but now I realize I didn’t (or I now realize that the facts are contested).

    2. I was not a fan of Slaughterhouse Five. In part, that was because I’m not really a fan of (what I’ve read of) Vonnegut’s work. His writing style just doesn’t suit me. I find it annoying. In part, it’s because the novel wasn’t the novel I wanted Vonnegut to write. I now have another reason not to like the book. (However, if I’m honest, I don’t, deep down, think factual inaccuracies of the sort Strahan suggests Vonnegut is, perhaps unwittingly, guilty of are per se a reason not to like a work of fiction.)

    In sum, thanks for writing this post.Report

  10. Avatar Kristin Devine
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    says:

    I thought this was a fascinating piece, and I’m glad to see you writing here.Report

  11. Avatar Nigel Crossley
    Ignored
    says:

    Dresden was known to the British of a city of wooden buildings and therefore they chose incendiary bombs to cause the maxiumu destruction of houses, not to destroy factories.
    It was obviously intended as a moral breaking stratergy.Report

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