Dresden Firebombing: The Revisionist View

Roundup: Talking About History

Laura Miller, in Salon (March 1, 2004):

Most Americans -- at least, the ones who aren't addicted to the History Channel -- know about the bombing of Dresden in 1945 from Kurt Vonnegut's bestselling novel"Slaughterhouse-Five," based on Vonnegut's own experiences as a prisoner of war. The attack is still a touchstone for the moral perils of war. Frederick Taylor, a British historian whose new book on the subject goes on to challenge much of what we think we know about the bombing, describes the conventional understanding thus:"Dresden was the unforgivable thing our fathers did in the name of freedom and humanity, taking to the air to destroy a beautiful and, above all, innocent European city. This was the great blot on the Allies' war record, the one that could not be explained away."

"Slaughterhouse-Five" came out in 1969, a time when many Americans were wondering just how much carnage could be justified by the trumpeted ideals of democracy and freedom. Like Joseph Heller's"Catch-22,""Slaughterhouse-Five" is a book set during World War II that was read in the light of Vietnam. It wasn't the first time Dresden was seen as a proxy. Taylor writes that not long after the war's end, and certainly before that,"Dresden became one of the most well-placed pawns on [a] virtual propaganda chessboard." There is the real Dresden and the Dresden of legend. Taylor makes what is by all appearances a good-faith effort to excavate the former by digging through the many layers of the latter. His"Dresden: Tuesday, Feb. 13, 1945" aims to be the last word on the subject, though it's sure to be argued about for years to come.

comments powered by Disqus