WW2 Competitions

|   1 October 2010

Ethics of bombing – and the September competition result.

Where is this?

Congratulations to Ray Mitchell of Suffolk, Paul Oliver of Norfolk and Alistair Hollington of Essex who were the first three people drawn at random from subscribers to WW2History.com who correctly identified the city in which this photo was taken as – Coventry. A signed hardback copy of Juliet Gardiner’s brilliant ‘The Blitz’ is on its way to each of you.

Coventry, in the Midlands of Britain, was subjected to a horrendous bombing raid by the Germans in November 1940. The ruins of the cathedral (on the left of the photo) have been kept as a permanent memorial to the destruction and suffering.

But, of course, it was Germany that went on, by the end of the war, to endure far more intense bombing than Britain did. Many in Britain believed (then and today) that, as the bible says, the Germans had ‘sown the wind’ and so it was right that they should subsequently ‘reap the whirlwind’.

Was it? Was it right to bomb the ancient city of Dresden in 1945 and kill 35,000 people in one night? Was it right to create the world’s first firestorm at Hamburg? Or target the medieval city of Wurzburg in part because its old wooden buildings were ‘burnable’?

These are questions to which there are no easy answers. As Professor Tami Biddle said to me, in the context of Dresden:  ‘I’m very uncomfortable about trying to judge the people who made this decision. But I do look back and I think to myself, by God, this is what war does and whenever we make a decision to go to war we’d better be well aware and keep our eyes wide open about what kind of a Pandora’s Box we’re opening and what kind of suffering can come out of it, even unintentionally, even at the hands of people who are convinced they’re fighting a just war or are convinced that they’re doing the right thing and who just short years earlier were insisting to themselves that they would not attack civilians.’

And if we say it was ‘right’ to deliberately try and kill German civilians because we had to win the war, then how far should we have been prepared to go? Suppose we had targeted hospitals, schools and orphanages because it was thought that this would destroy the German ‘will to fight’ most effectively. Would that have been ‘right’ as well?

As I said, easy questions to ask – hard questions to answer.

One Response to “Ethics of bombing – and the September competition result.”

  1. anne-marie says:

    I would like to add a comment on this. They always talk about bombing German cities and if this was right or not. Strange there is no should debate in Germany about British cities? Strange they do not include their long history of bombing cities that goes back to the First World War. Both London and Paris were bombed during the war of 1914-18 causing death and harm to civilians. Latter during the Spanish Civil war German bombers raided Spanish cities or better mainly Basque cities in support of Hitler’s friend Franco. It were mainly women and children who fell victim to these raids! When the war started 1939-40 cities in Poland and Finland were bombed – and Rotterdam was bombed AFTER the Dutch had surrendered. Reason – to scare British, French and Belgians – with the promise ‘that’ could also happen to your cities. My parents as very young people were caught in bomb raids during the invasion of Belgium in May – both and others confirmed more then once they were a target for German Bombers. Latter my father was told by several German officers (stations locally) that they did this to cause a mass panic and that this would cause a forward surge of all those Belgian civilians. Causing mayhem and confusion for the ally troops. It worked – as the Belgian army failed to connect and most troops got stuck along the way. With no hope in hell to connect to other Belgian soldiers or the Tommies. Latter it backfired the German officers explained to my father because due to the masses blocking Belgian and North French routes the German army got serious problems to keep transports of the supplies needed by the troops to fight moving. As they too got partly stuck in the masses. They even told my father that once they got closer to the coast they had halt due to lack of gasoline and bullets to keep the pressure on the British troops retreating! Those who remembered those harsh days of May 40 all agree on one thing – German bombers did target civilians on Belgian routes. During the occupation German propaganda tries to make people forget that. What is also not included in this debate is the fact the Germans started to send rockets the V weapons to London, Antwerp, Liege and some Dutch towns. There was a real fear that they would be able to get the V three ready – a rocket that could carry A-bombs and chemical weapons and could reach New York and a few Canadian cities on the East Coast! Does anyone ever included the thousands of victims of these V weapons – officially called revenge weapons! – in Britian, Belgium and Holland? And they were not the only victims of those weapons of destruction mainly created to attack cities with innocent civilians! As how many slave workers, Jews died working in the camp Dora Dora where those V bombs were assembled? Are too not victims of these terrible weapons? Facing this – what answer should the allies have given? Turn the other cheek saying well those poor Germans and let their own people being killed in thier own cities by German bombers and V weapons? We should be proud about the fact that those men who at the start of the war felt they should not attack civilians but due to the nature of the war changed their opinion – but never felt good about it. As Hitler and his friends never felt bad about it – there were even songs on the radio with lyrics like ‘Bombs over England no English men will left standing’ – it made Belgians sick but the German soldiers sing out loud along. Till about 1942 when they started to realise they may lose the war after all and then turned to saying – we really didn’t wanted this we had no choice we never knew it was so bad — it were also those who said after war that Dresden was a crime —