Friday, February 18, 2011

Dresden 1945 : an Allied War Crime?

Last week, an estimated seventeen thousand people in Dresden formed a human chain to commemorate the aerial bombing of the German city in World War II. Deputy Mayor Detlef Sittel said that Dresden remembered its victims and called to mind the days “when Warswaw, Rotterdam and Coventry were laid in ruins by German bombers”. Elsewhere in the city hundreds of neo-Nazis tried to hold a protest march, stating that Germany is not to blame for the war and accusing the Allies of war crimes. Where a demonstration last year was thwarted by anti-fascists, this time the extreme right had been granted a license to hold the protest march. Police from all over Germany, came to Dresden to keep the peace in the city.

The Aerial Bombing of Dresden

Between 13 February and 15 February 1945, British and American bombers laid the historical center of Dresden in the ashes. In four raids, the bombers dropped as much as 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices. A devastating firestorm followed, destroying almost 39 square kilometres of the city.

In the first few decades after the war, some death toll estimates were as high as 250,000, which are now considered unreasonable. Estimates of casualties, mostly civilians, vary somewhat, but the figure of 25,000 dead and 30,000 injured is more likely. An independent investigation commissioned by the city council of Dresden in 2010 reported a minimum of 22,700 victims with a maximum total number of fatalities of 25,000. These high numbers are partly caused by the fact that the city was flooded with refugees from the outlying regions, desperately trying to escape the oncoming Russian army from the East.

In comparison with other German cities, the bombing raids over Dresden were not the most severe of World War II. However, they continue to be recognised as one of the worst examples of civilian suffering caused by strategic bombing. Post-war debates concentrate on the question as to whether or not the bombing was justified, and whether its outcome constituted a war crime.

An Allied War Crime ?

Since 1945, the bombing of Dresden is considered by many as a violation of international law and as a crime against humanity, even though positive rules of international humanitarian law were absent at the time. The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, were among the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes in the nascent body of international law. However these conventions, adressing the codes of wartime conduct on land and at sea, were adopted before the rise of air power. Despite repeated diplomatic attempts (→ The Hague Rules of Air Warefare 1922/1923) to update international humanitarian law to include aerial warfare, it was not done before the outbreak of World War II. The absence of positive international humanitarian law does not mean that the laws of war did not cover aerial warfare, but there was no general agreement of how to interpret those laws.
The aerial bombardment of Dresden does not only raise the question as to whether or not it was an Allied war crime, but it also makes a moral appeal to prevent total war against civilian populations. It's memory is kept alive.


PPL Classification Scheme

Air Warfare : General Works
Crimes against International Law
Sea Warfare : Bombardments by Naval Forces
War Crimes

Warfare on Land : Sieges and Bombardments
World War II : General Works and Various Essays

PPL Keywords

Air Bombardments
Air Warfare
World War II

PPL Books and Articles

3 comments:

Cornelis said...

They sowed the wind, they harvested the storm.

From the bombings of Guernica, Warsaw, Rotterdam, London, Belgrade, Stalingrad, Moscow and many other crimes against humanity by the Nazi German regime, supported by the German People, we finally come to the bombing of German cities.

The German people started a war of annihilation against Untermenschen (slavs, roma, jews, negroes) who were not worthy of living.

From the mass executions during the Polish and eastern european campaigns to the ovens and gass chambers of Dachau and Auschwitz, the Second World War turned into a battle to the death, a fight without mercy.

For in this war, there would be no hope for untold milions and countless generations if Nazi Germany won.

And while War is Hell, and should be lest we make more wars, this war would decide the outcome of civilization and the future of humanity.

In the war against genocidal Nazi Germany, there would be no mercy and no pity. There would be regret but also the drive to finish this foul regime, by any means necessary.

And for those asking "is it worth killing a thousand of the enemy to save one of your own men?", the answer is "yes".

Is it a War Crime? Yes

Was it necessary? Yes

Would it be repeated today under the same circumstances? Yes

Is that fair? No

But none asked the victims of the Nazi Regime if their death was fair while they were being led to their deaths like lambs to the slaughter.

For in war there is no law, no right, no justice. Just cruelty and the will to live.

History is decided by the winners, not by the losers.

And thank whatever deity you pray to that the "Good" side won.

To finish with the immortal words of Basil to the German couple in Fawlty Towers; "You started it!"

Anonymous said...

The previous post is a ghastly proof that nothing has been learned from history:

"They sowed the wind,..."

Says a "liberator" who liberates the women and children from their lives for they have an evil government.

"From the bombings of Guernica, Warsaw,..."

Says the candid poster ignoring the use of white phosphorus and gas against civilians ("rebels") by the RAF in Mesopotamia and India in the 1920s. Indeed the gas was seen by Churchill to educate "uncivilized tribes".

"and many other crimes against humanity by the Nazi German regime, supported by the German People"

The other side of the coin being that it was a totalitarian society. How much time did it take to the Soviet to fall? How many Soviets "supported" the system?

"The German people started a war of annihilation against Untermenschen ..."

While the Deccani and Bengali famines in India with tens of millions of starved by the British Empire are snugly forgotten. The manufactured potato famine in Ireland in 1848 killed ca. 30% of the population. The list of British atrocities actively shunned is long and til 1950s where the British administration killed 350000 Kikuyus in the Kenyan Mau Mau revolution.

"From the mass executions during the Polish and eastern european campaigns to the ovens ..."

Of which we blame the Nazi party and government which implemented the atrocity. Little do we know that gas chambers were used in the U.S. in executions. A forgotten fact is also that the "eugenic societies" promoted "racial and mental hygiene" in the U.S. and that the movement was founded in the Victorian England.

"the Second World War turned into a battle to the death, a fight without mercy."

But the most merciless were the highest leaders and their councillors: Hitler and his ideologists and also Stalin, Ilja Ehrenburg, Winston Churchill, Friedrich Lindeman, Henry Morgenthau and Dwight Eisenhover guaranteeing horrible deaths for millions.

"For in this war, there would be no hope for untold millions ..."

And yet the IG Farben and AEG were U.S.-German war industry complexes with NY-based funding, U.S. associates in boards and mighty supporters of Hitler in 1933 when he was boosted by the so-called Young Plan.

"And while War is Hell, and should be lest we make more wars, this war would decide the outcome of civilization and the future of humanity."

Which we could see in the, nukes of Japan, Cold War, Vietnam war, bloodbath of Timor, the coup of Chile, the Middle East & c.

"In the war against genocidal Nazi Germany, there would be no mercy and no pity."

Indeed, no mercy and nothing what the Allied claimed to represent.

"There would be regret but also the drive to finish this foul regime, by any means necessary."

The torching of homes and hospitals did not serve any such goal, but just killed people.

"And for those asking "is it worth killing a thousand of the enemy to save one of your own men?", the answer is "yes".

The bombing of civilians was no "saving of lives". It was counterproductive. It stiffened the resistance.

"Is it a War Crime? Yes" Correct.

"Was it necessary? Yes" Incorrect.

"Would it be repeated today under the same circumstances? Yes"

Correct, it is going on.

"Is that fair? No" Correct, not fair, particularly when we all are fooled.

"But none asked the victims of the Nazi Regime if their death was fair..."

Correct, but nobody has asked about the similar deeds of the Allied either.

"History is decided by the winners, not by the losers."

Incorrect. History is decided by the wealthiest on this planet.

Anonymous said...

To Cornelis...
anyone that feels the need to take a quote from Fawlty Towers isn't fit to leave a comment on this complex issue. You are also glossing over your own countries dark pages from history with a sense of self righteous smugness typical of the little Englander crowd.