Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Bombing of Dresden

Dresden, 1945

On the night of 13 February 1945 bombers from RAF Bomber Command flew over Dresden, Germany and dropped thousands of pounds of bombs. The next day U.S.A.A.F. bombers continued the bombing raids. In total, four bombing raids were conducted dropping tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs. The mixture of bombs created a firestorm that devastated the city and killed thousands of German civilians.

Exactly how many civilians were killed is the subject of a new study whose results were released today. The purpose of the study was to make an authoritative accounting of the number killed in order to put to rest part of the controversy that has arisen over the Dresden bombings. Since the war there have been claims that have placed the death toll to be between 40,000 and as many as 135,000 civilians killed in the bombing raids. The new study places the death toll to be no more than 25,000, which is still a substantial number.

Even in the midst of the horror and the mass killings of the Second World War, the bombing of Dresden has always been controversial. Dresden was considered the cultural capital of northern Germany and had little or no military value. Also, by February 1945 the war in Europe was almost over and Nazi Germany was clearly in its last days.

Held up against the crimes committed by Hitler's Third Reich, especially the deaths of as many as 11 million civilians in its work and death camps, questions about the necessity and even the morality of the Dresden bombings are pushed into the background. In hindsight and perhaps even at the time, it appears that the decision to go ahead with the bombings and the deliberate manner in which they were conducted, was the wrong decision.

What can be called the deadly equation of war, the costs of a war (which includes the number of deaths) weighed against the results that a country or an alliance can expect to achieve, changes over time. In the Second World War, the nations involved decided that no cost was too high to pay in order to defeat the enemy. As a result, large portions of Europe, Russia and Asia were devastated in the war and millions of combatants and civilians died. In the midst of all that carnage the desire for revenge and to spread the destruction can be a strong motivator in strategic thinking.

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