Today's Guardian reports the attempted suicide bombings at UK airports under the headline 'A plot to commit murder on an unimaginable scale'. Any attempt to take human life is abhorrent, and thank heavens the alleged plot was foiled. But let us not forget that killing on an unimaginable scale by aircraft is not the monopoly of any one ideoology.
'As German fuel supplies dwindled in the autumn of 1944 and into the final months of the war, aircraft were grounded, tanks halted, training for replacement pilots could not be maintained, and most of the new and highly effective Messerschmitt 262 jet-fighter aircraft (photo above), of which over 1,200 had been produced by the end of 1944 and which might have considerably prolonged the war, had neither fuel to fly nor trained pilots to fly them. The ME 262s were anyway extremely fuel-hungry aircraft, and those that went into action had to be towed to their end of their runways to conserve fuel, cows were used to do the towing to further save the fuel of tractors.'
On the night of 13th to 14th February 1945 RAF Bomber Command carried out two devastating raids on the city of Dresden. In all 768 aircraft dropped 2,646 tons of high explosives, incendiaries and flares. Shortly after midday on on 14th February a formation of 316 bombers returned for a third attack in which a further 782 tons were dropped. All three raids met with minimal resistance from German aircraft or anti-aircraft guns for the reasons explained above. The city was crammed with refugees fleeing from the advancing Soviet forces. The death toll from the raids will never be accurately known, but conservative estimates put it at about 25,000.
The quotation in the second paragraph is taken from Among the Dead Cities. This is a brilliantly researched and written, and deeply disturbing new analysis by philosopher A.C. Grayling of the Allied policy of 'area bombing' that led to death and destruction in Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo and many other cities. A brilliant study of one of the most complex issues of morality of modern times which concludes that the policy of area bombing was unecessary, disproportionate, and was in defiance of accepted moral standards.
In his final chapter Grayling asks: 'What is the moral difference between bombing women and children and shooting them with a pistol? Is it that when you bomb them you cannot see them - and you did not intend that particular child to die - and any way they may escape the bombing, perhaps by reaching a shelter? But if they are here against a wall just feet away from the muzzle of your pistol they cannot escape: it is more personal; you can see their eyes. Is that the difference - the anonymity of the act of killing from 20,000 feet?'
Another new addition to the Dresden literature is Firestorm, the Bombing of Dresden, 1945, edited by Paul Addison and Jeremy A. Crang (Pimlico, ISBN 184413928). This is an antholgy of contributions to the colloqium on Dresden organised by the Centre for Second World War Studies at the University of Edinburgh in 2003. Particularly noteworthy are Nicola Lambourne's chapter on the reconstruction of the city's monuments (see I am a camera - Dresden), and Alan Russell on why Dresden matters. The latter includes a survey of post-war musical activity (including Rudolph Mauersberger's scandalously neglected Dresden Requiem), and gives us a timely reminder that the first performance of Britten's War Requiem outside the UK took place in Dresden in 1965.
Related resources On An Overgrown Path include * Dead, dead, dead everywhere ... * Dresden Requiem for eleven young victims * I am a camera Dresden * The Radiance of a thousand suns *
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