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Morality of British area bombing

LAURENCE REES: And as the British changed policy in this way, was there any discussion about the morality of killing women and children and old people via this new bombing offensive?

TAMI BIDDLE: You know, I think it’s very interesting because if you read the directive it’s obvious what’s going to happen. By the same token, a lot of people who aren’t quite wanting to face up to this are telling themselves that there is actually an economic component to this. And that’s where I think you get terms like de-housing, which is a very euphemistic term. We’ll de-house people, we’ll displace them, they won’t be able to go to their homes at night therefore they won’t work effectively in the factories in the daytime. And somehow there was a willingness on the part of at least some people who were doing it - probably Arthur Harris would say, everyone but him - being able to not quite face up to what this really meant.

LAURENCE REES: It seems extraordinary that people can talk about ‘de-housing’ and ‘affecting morale' when actually they mean killing civilians?

TAMI BIDDLE: Well, I think perhaps at one level they are understanding it. On another level, for the Brits, they’re under attack themselves. The British had been under attack since the Blitz; the Battle of Britain had been a close run thing and they’d been feeling like they were sort of hanging on by a thread for quite a while before the 1942 directive was issued. The first time that the British went to a city and attacked a city as a designated city, as a target, was Mannheim on the 16th of December 1940, which was right in the wake of the Coventry raid. And so it’s an acknowledgement that this is all we can do, but we’re also giving them as well as we’re getting, you know, we’re going to give them a dose of their own medicine because they’re attacking us in this way.

LAURENCE REES: So it’s the old British phrase ‘they started it’?

TAMI BIDDLE: I think in large part yes. And I think it was a recognition that the gloves were going to come off in the course of the war, but they had been coming off with the attack on Warsaw, the attack on Rotterdam and then with the Blitz. I think by that time Portal felt that we’re probably not going to get a lot of people standing up and saying that this is a terrible thing we’re doing, because the bombs are landing on our heads as well. We’re now in a fight for survival, this is an existential fight with Hitler and if we don’t fight on their terms we might not live long enough to have a chance to go back to something better. We might not be able to re-establish a moral world order if we aren’t willing to fight to the death right at this moment in time.

LAURENCE REES: So there’s a sense in which it is kind of ironic, isn’t it, that Hitler subsequently called the V weapons ‘revenge’ weapons, but actually - before that - the British aerial bombing had a component of revenge?

TAMI BIDDLE: Yes, absolutely.