Blogs > Cliopatria > Dagmar Barnouw: Review of Joerg Friedrich's The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945

Apr 16, 2007 5:23 am


Dagmar Barnouw: Review of Joerg Friedrich's The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945



[Ms. Barnouw is Professor of German and Comparative Literature, University of Southern California, and author of Visible Spaces: Hannah Arendt and the German Jewish Experience, John Hopkins (1990). She lives in Del Mar, California. Her latest book is The War in the Empty Air: Victims, Perpetrators, And Postwar Germans.]

The publication in The New Yorker  of  W. G. Sebald’s essay "A Natural History of Destruction" in the fall of 2002 provoked several letters to the editor declaring as immoral any sympathy for German wartime experiences. One reader was "shocked and offended" by the text "with its implicit suggestion that the Allied bombing of German cities was distinguished by ruthless aggression. It was only towards the end that Sebald fully brought home the point that the Germans were themselves responsible for this suffering." Another found suggestions of "Nazi rhetoric" in Sebald's description of air raids, quoting as evidence the phrase "wholesale annihilation" and asserting that  “Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin will be forever trumped by Auschwitz, Sobibor and Buchenwald, a fact that may explain why Germans have continued to show penitence in public for the horrors that they visited on others but have chosen to regret in more secluded ways the sufferings that others brought on them." 1

Memories of W.W. II  where they concern German civilians seem still sufficiently impregnated with "Nazi Evil" to spook otherwise competent readers. Sebald's text could not have been clearer on the issue of German "suffering": it did not interest him; nor did the morality of Allied bombing. What fascinated him was the phenomenon of the huge firestorms--hurricanes, tidal-waves, moving mountains of fire--that from September 1944 to mid-April 1945 raged through German cities. Set off  by the ingenious new British combination of high-explosive and incendiary bombs, they caused unimaginable devastation; but Sebald was mainly intrigued by the stylistic problems for the literary representation of that fiery apocalypse.

Sebald’s concentration on the literariness of remembrance—his recalling the sublime power of fire by merging and reshaping the memory stories of individual eyewitnesses--detracted from the terrifying but common experiences of ordinary Germans caught in the extreme dynamics of modern hyper-technological warfare. He was interested exclusively in the hyper-physical end-effects of destruction by huge masses of fire falling from the sky that he described in the sharply detailed, enameled style of a miniature: the fantastic rock formations of  ruined cities, the shrunk purple corpses, the yellow puddles of congealed fat of the bodies cured by fire. Confronted with that surreal, incomprehensible mass transformation, Sebald focused on its meta-physical horror beyond any moral imagination and responsibility because “the Germans” had abdicated all morality and responsibility. He is very clear on that abdication also in the New Yorker excerpt from a longer text, "Air War and  Literature," where he had pointed out that there had been almost no literary representation of Allied bombing in postwar Germany. Some German critics refuted this claim by maintaining that the "self-pitying" Germans had always remembered their own suffering. But Sebald had not referred to their memories; and it was simply true that German collective memory of that near-total destruction of their cities by Allied bombs had been safely put to sleep for many decades to reserve plenty of room for the "guilt and shame" of their "bad past."

This public deep sleep (advised by the letter to the New Yorker) has been largely responsible for a politicized history of the 20th century, the more so the closer one gets to W.W.II. There has been strong resistance to any shift in the interpretive conventions that have controlled postwar German historical memory; and all public critique of this control has been rejected as heretical "revisionism" and "anti-Semitism." It was precisely the exclusion of all German wartime experiences from historical memory that motivated the military historian Joerg Friedrich to write his provocative, powerful documentary of Allied bombing to re-acquaint ordinary Germans with that still largely hidden Part of the second World War. 2Der Brand (the burning) came out in the fall of 2002, preceded by Grass’s Im Krebsgang (Crab Walk 2003) in the early spring of that year, a novel that seemed to signal the possibility of a greater public openness on the subject of the troubled German past. Its center is the description of  the sinking by a Soviet submarine of a German ship vastly overloaded with German refugees and wounded soldiers on January 30, 1945, one of the greatest disasters in marine history with 9300 lives lost in the Baltic Sea, most of them women and children. The novel's great commercial and critical success can be attributed to Grass’s realistic, virtuoso descriptions of the sinking ship, the fearful chaos of women and children screaming and flailing helplessly in the icy huge black waves; and the terrible silence of the mass drowning. Such focus on German wartime experiences was completely new to German audiences almost six decades after the end of the war, and they responded with gratitude to Grass’s narrative of that dramatic, tragic scene. Arguably, they were less interested in the surrounding  meandering moralizing stories with which Grass, as has been his pedagogical habit for half a century, tried to diffuse his German readers’ politically incorrect feelings of loss—of  their families, of cities, of sacral and secular buildings, artifacts, land- and seascapes, memories.

The positive reception of  Grass's novel certainly helped Deer Brand, but more important was the publisher's marketing strategy to serialize excerpts in the mass-circulation daily Bildzeitung—a strategy invariably denounced in negative reviews of the book because of  that paper's largely conservative readership. Der Brand became a bestseller, surpassing Grass's Krebsgang, because many ordinary Germans wanted to understand better what they had actually experienced. Since a skeptical perspective on waging war has been characteristic of postwar Germany across the political spectrum, it seems plausible to assume that many readers refreshed, with their memories, also their anti-war sentiments.

A nicely neutral review in the Economist quoted Friedrich that the Allied air raids were “’the biggest catastrophe on German soil since the Thirty Years War ‘”and that “‘apart from the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg, it is barely registered in the official German collective memory’.” The review comments that “it is still rare for a German to take a public look at the second world war from a German perspective. But things are changing. Earlier this year, Guenter Grass, a Nobel prize winner, caused a tidal wave of agonized German heart-searching with his novel ‘Krebsgang’  . . . . ‘Never,’ says the Old Man, Grass’ alter ego in the book, ‘should we have kept silent about all that suffering simply because our own guilt was overpowering and our professions of regret paramount for all those years, for we abandoned the suppressed reality to the right-wingers.’” 3  It took time and the changes that come with it; and then it took looking more closely at the evidence--the provocation of Friedrich's book. 

The title of the American translation of Der Brand, The Fire, is misleading since Friedrich's intent was to describe as precisely as possible the burning, the effect of firebombing on human bodies and natural and man-made material. The translation had few public reviews, whereas the original German edition was widely reviewed in Germany and Great Britain. Most of the British reviews were not as sanguine as the Economist though some of them were fair; most of them mentioned German suffering. 4 Yet Friedrich’s focus is explicitly not on the suffering caused by air raids but on recalling and then reconstructing sensory perceptions of air raids: the multiple particular shapes of the shared experience of being firebombed.

Friedrich links the specifically terrifying passivity of waiting for the man-made bombs to drop to the inherent inability to escape the superhuman natural forces of fire unleashed by them: their programmed and uncontrollable power to annihilate everything in their way. The book is a detailed, in part stunning narrative of all the particular physical and mental aspects of air raids on German cities. In that it is a general indictment of all air raids at any time, in any place--Dresden 1945 as well as Baghdad 2003. In a strangely provocative, troubling sense, it is precisely the extraordinary attention to the detailed historical particularities of extreme destruction that makes Friedrich’s documentary so relevant for understanding the general nature of warfare. His highly specific discussion of the modern technology of an air war much “improved” in the latter half of W.W.II  to achieve an ever more spectacular deadliness in the months after Germany's de facto defeat, September 1944 to mid-April 1945, is then “applicable” to the dynamics of other extreme situations in war.

Friedrich is a persuasive but on the whole soberly factual, even distant narrator of what is in effect, a powerful anti-war documentary. The chapters have lapidary titles naming places, events, concepts, objects; and each of them has an introductory summary which is densely conceptualized and carefully formulated. These summaries define the meanings of what is going to be documented, creating a kind of meta-documentary discourse that attempts to be as complete as possible because the documentation itself, a mixture of many mostly unidentified voices and Friedrich’s narration, is by its very nature incomplete. The first chapter, "Weapon," is also the most strictly object-focused. Unprefaced, it goes straight to the description of the air raid as a complex entity comprised of human skills and activities and sophisticated technology. The summary clarifies that “the bomb does not find its way to the target but the target is what the bomb can find,” creating an existential uncertainty for the human beings waiting to become that target. It is the literally and unbearably nerve-wracking, disorienting civilian experience of waiting for the bombs to fall.

"Live” bombs are not self-contained but interactive, in the literal sense of “alive" objects; they are modern technological black magic meant to be as deadly as possible. The extreme destruction wrought by the bomb is caused not by the tonnage of the explosives but by the “self-multiplying” damage done by the mixture of explosives and fire bombs. It took the combination of two scientific disciplines to create this self-multiplication into raging firestorms of heretofore unknown proportions. Over a period of three years, engineers trained in fire-fighting and electro physicists developed the systems that would locate and then target particularly incendiary settlement structures to start the fires. Yet, pumped full with gasoline and bombs, the plane on its way to the target is itself the most sensitive target. Pursued by heavy anti-aircraft guns and small agile anti-aircraft “hunter” planes, the crews charged with the task of mass-killing are almost exclusively concerned with their own survival. War as the paradoxical symbiosis of death and survival has found its most striking allegorical representation in the war in the air when bombers are dropping mass death on civilians and their crews are performing beyond their known limits to get out of the way of death by the fires rising from the earth where they had seeded them. Many did not survive: 55,000 British pilots and crew died in their burning bombers; a death no less gruesome, cruel and, at that late stage of the war, senseless than that of their German victims.

The firestorms that destroyed Pforzheim, Hamburg, Kassel, Dresden, Cologne and many other cities could not be fully staged before September 1944, because they required the symbiosis of "nature’s volcanism" and an overwhelming human desire to destroy. The atmospheric reactions during the attack on Hamburg in the particularly hot summer of  1943 transferred to the incendiary ammunition an unprecedented, untamable rage of aggression. The British saw this as a divine judgment and immediately tried to find its mathematical equation. It took them over a year to figure it out, but from then on there was no limit to Allied bombing. The seduction of having the controllable means to mimic the self-multiplying and then uncontrollably powerful symbiosis of technological and natural forces proved irresistible. The temptation to just go on destroying one city after the other, helped by the increasingly ineffective German anti-air craft (manned by teenagers like Gentler Grass) was just too great. Friedrich’s documentary narrative of Allied total air war, the power of  the evidence he compiled, has caused German, British and American critics to brand his book as "revisionist." But these critics have also been notoriously unwilling to question the official narrative of W.W.II; it has been much safer for them to embrace in remembrance the general unchanging Goodness of victory than to consider the terrifying details of defeat.

In his lengthy review of Der Brand, “The Destruction of Germany" (NYRB, October 21, 2004), Jan Buruma was mainly interested in an enduring German collective guilt and suspicious of Friedrich’s motivations for researching and writing the book. Asking “why a former leftist Holocaust researcher and neo-Nazi hunter would do this,” he thinks that some people just switch "from one form of radicalism to another.” Provoked by the book's detailed evidence of  Allied total air war, Buruma is highly critical of its serialization in Bildzeitung : “It is as though he deliberately aimed his message at the crudest readership—not Neo-Nazi, to be sure, but relatively ill-informed, mostly illiberal, and prone to sensationalism." Their suspect "illiberalism" fits what Buruma, without any explanation, repeatedly refers to as Friedrich’s conservatism. He also reprimands Friedrich for ending his book with a “highly conservative lament” for the destruction of books and archival materials “as though, the loss of books, in the end, is even worse than the loss of people"—a perspective that he does not find ”morally attractive." Friedrich never makes his comparison; but Buruma is offended by his not mentioning “that by far the bigger blow to German Kultur was the murder and expulsion of the best and most intelligent people of an entire generation.” Thousands of books have been written about this loss and millions of readers have read them. For once, Friedrich’s concern is not the Nazi Holocaust but the Allied burning of German cities, which Buruma still thinks a morally suspect choice of subject.

Charting the reactions of individuals to the extreme experience of bombing in the penultimate chapter "Ich," the cool and precise narrating voice lists the effects of the attack on all the senses as if they were man-made instruments: the feeling of horror when the roar of the falling bomb is heard, the nose registering burning and the smell of gases, the skin sensing the rising temperature and air rushing in. In contrast, the concluding chapter “Stone” deals with the burned buildings, sculptures, archival  materials, and books as if they had been alive, once the conscious creations of a now horribly diminished culture. If Friedrich shows any emotion, it is in this chapter: mourning the irredeemable loss of so many cultural objects and their living history, he mourns the impotence of the vanquished. It is an impotence that does not release them from whatever responsibility they might have had for preventing the Nazis’ rise to power. The issue is, rather, the terrible, humanly shameful pity of total warfare with its radical moral inversion when death and destruction reign supreme: 47 % of Potsdam’s historical buildings were destroyed in the evening hours of April 14, 1945. It took Bomber Command 500 planes and 1700  tons of bombs. It was its last big attack, with an imposing target.

The attack erased whole streets of buildings admired for their restrained neo-classical beauty because the material of which they were built, stone, had been shaped to teach beauty, form, proportion and purpose. The bomb, too, Friedrich writes, “was an educator passing judgment on power and impotence. The impotent vanquished are defenseless, without the possibility of an appeal. . . The victor cannot be indicted in the name of religion, human rights or morals because he is the religion, the rights and morals." It was in the interest of the victor that the vanquished not look back,  not dwell on their country's devastation, but move on. More than sixty years later, it confirms the victor's enduring power that Friedrich's looking back at and mourning that devastation still seems dangerous to many readers.

1 The New Yorker November 4, 2002, 66-77.  The essay is excerpted from “Air War and Literature,” On the Natural History of Destruction  (New York: Random House, 2003), 1-104. The letters were published in The New Yorker, Dec. 2, 2002.

2 Among Friedrich's publications: Das Gesetz des Krieges  Das deutsche Heer in Russland 1941 bis 1945:der Prozess gegen das Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (1993); Die kalte Amnestie: NS-Täter in derBundesrepublik (1984);  Freispruch für die Nazi-Justiz : die Urteile gegen NS-Richter seit 1948: eine Dokumentation (1983); he also contributed to the Enzyklopaedie des Holocaust.

3 “Another taboo broken  A German historian describes German civilian suffering in the last world war,” The Economist, November 23, 2002, 26. On the occasion of the publication of  The Fire in late 2006, the Economist's opinion would not be quite that balanced. Praising Friedrich "for both his diligence and his descriptive powers," it also asserts now that "Mr. Friedrich's desire to puncture Anglo-American self-satisfaction comes perilously close to suggesting that the Germans were right to defend Nazism, and the allies were wrong to attack it." There is no proof for this in the book.

4 Among the newspapers notably The Times (19 November 2002) with a good summary of Friedrich’s arguments in contrastto the Daily Telegraph (19 November 2002) and Daily Mail (20 November 2002) where almost nothing is said about the book’s arguments and Friedrich’s Churchill critique summarily rejected. Supporting some of  Friedrich's arguments: Mark Connelly, “The British People, the Press, and the Strategic Air Campaign against Germany, 1939-45,“ Contemporary British History 16/2 (Summer 2002), 39-58. On the basis of press reports, Connelly documents an explicit general informed British approval of the increasingly destructive all-out air war against Germany. The lead article in the Daily Mirror of  12 September 1940 had already called for limitless air attacks, arguing that the distinction between combatants and civilians was no longer valid in modern warfare and thereby anticipating Churchill’s stated position two years later. See also Mark Connelly, Reaching for the Stars: A New Interpretation of Bomber Command in the Second World War (2001). See the well balanced collection of German and British responses to Der Brand in Lothar Kettenacker, ed.,  Ein Volk von Opfern? Die neue Debatte um den Bombenkrieg 1940-45 (2003).




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Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

OK


Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Dagmar Barnouw wrote (in her stunning review of an apparently stunning book): “Friedrich’s documentary narrative of Allied total air war, the power of the evidence he compiled, has caused German, British and American critics to brand his book as ‘revisionist.’ But these critics have also been notoriously unwilling to question the official narrative of W.W.II; it has been much safer for them to embrace in remembrance the general unchanging Goodness of victory than to consider the terrifying details of defeat.”

Simply put, and on the mark.

I have refrained from using her review of this horrific accounting here because there is so much in it that can be used to address how burning the children can or cannot be morally justified that we would need hundreds of posts to get through it. I addressed one sentence—one sentence—in your brief criticism of her review, and after an exchange of thousands of words I am unable to draw out a focused response from you on that one sentence. You will not take responsibility for it. I can only imagine what it would be like to try to address the contents of Barnouw’s entire review here in a cultural milieu driven by a professorial class that is unwilling to take responsibility for an open debate on morally justifying the mass murder of children using WMD, which necessarily would involve a full, free, and open examination of all the WMD used, or allegedly used, in the mass murders.

For six decades Americans, encouraged by the American professorial class (as a class), have morally condemned the use of WMD by Nazis to murder Jewish children, at the same time morally justifying the use of WMD by Americans to murder German children. The American professorial class routinely argues, by how it encourages intellectual freedom here, but will not tolerate debate there, that it is worse to murder Jewish children than it is to murder German children. They appear to have convinced themselves, for what I suppose are both personal and professional reasons, that Jewish children are to be considered more fully human than German children. Many appear to believe they are on the side of God here. I rather think they are on the side of a bottomless vulgarity.


Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Mr. Clarke: YOU WRITE (#108670): “There cannot be any justification whatever for firebombing ‘the Paris of the Elbe.’ It served no military purpose, it did not bring the war closer to an end, and it did not assist in the post-war reconstruction of Europe.”

The implication here (the sub-text if you will) is that if it had served a “military purpose,” the burning alive of the children of Dresden would have been (morally) justified. Or if the bombing had brought the war “closer to an end” it would have been morally justified to burn the children of Dresden. Or if the bombing had assisted in the “post-war reconstruction” of Europe the burning of the children would have been morally justified. I do not see how you can protest that such implications cannot be taken from the words you wrote, or in this context what you mean by “misattributions.”

YOU WRITE: “It is hypocritical to complain about a belittling of British and US atrocities in World War II, while sidelining all other atrocities, and neglecting the causes of the war.”

One implication of what you write here is that any book focused on the liberation of Auschwitz, say, and the criminal behavior of the Germans there, should necessarily take into account, and not “sideline,” the morally reprehensible mass murder of German children by the Americans and Brits. Or do you believe that there should be one standard applied to books addressing the German catastrophe during WWII and another for addressing the Jewish catastrophe?

And here you mention for the first time the issue of the “causes” of the war. How does the “cause” of WWII, or any war, morally justify the burning of the German children by the tens of thousands? Your words suggest that you are going to argue that if the “cause” of the war is for a “greater good,” the burning of the German children might well be morally justified. But you are not particularly clear here on what you really mean.

YOU WRITE: “ … the reason that supposed "German perspective" has been not been written about extensively until recently is because "it was in the interest of the victor that the vanquished not look back, not dwell on their country's devastation, but move on." You note that you believe this is a “weird” point of view. I don’t think so.

I think it obvious that the “victor” (“victors”?) who conquered Germany did not want their own crimes against humanity, such as (but not only) burning alive the core civilian populations of all the major cities in Germany and Japan, including the children, be addressed in the same manner as were the crimes against humanity committed by the Germans. Republicans and Democrats were not, and are not, held to the same high moral standards to which we still hold those who identify with the German National Socialist Workers Party.

It is AGAINST THE LAW in Germany to argue for an open debate on the charge that the Hitlerian administration used WMD (gas chambers) to “genocide” the Jews of Europe. Skepticism will lead you straight to prison. These laws are supported precisely by the “victors” of WWII. How can any “German perspective” operate in a culture where free inquiry and access to a free press are denied to those who do not agree with the State? That’s how it was during the Hitlerian administration. Wrong then but right now, eh? If you are German, and you do not agree with the State on the German WMD (excuse me) fraud, you are a “neo-Nazi.”

This is the core issue in Germany that prohibits a real “German perspective”: did the Germans use WMD to off the Jews of Europe, or did they not? And it is the core moral issue for Americans at the same time. Because if the Germans did not use WMD to off the Jews of Europe, that fact, and it does appear to be a fact (I’m willing to be convinced that I am wrong about this), then Americans do not even have a pretense to morally justify our intentional burning of the children throughout Germany and Japan.

The “German perspective?” There is no “German” perspective. It was consciously destroyed at Nuremburg by those who conquered it, and the wimps and false egalitarians who have run that country since have not had, and do not have now, the courage to have a perspective that is integral to German culture.

YOU WRITE: It is surely possible to discuss the allied bombing of Germany without rationalizing or whitewashing it, AND ALSO without pretending that the only reason that bombing occurred was because the bombers were militarily stronger than the bombees [those who were intentionally murdered, women, children, the blind and crippled, whoever got in the way].

I agree that it surely possible—but in sixty years it has not been, and it is not being now. Not only that, but what the usual Democratic/Republican coalition is doing now in Iraq is what they did in Germany and Japan during WWII. Using overpowering military control of the air, we simply kill and maim and destroy whatever gets in the way. More than a half-million dead, maimed and mangled for a “greater good.” We morally justify (after the fact) burning the German children because the Germans had WMD. We morally justify burning the Iraqi children because the Iraqi administration had WMD. Whatever works, eh?

YOU WRITE: (#108761) “My interest is to note the inconsistency of discussing atrocities in a war without discussing how the war began.”

The great atrocity of the war, as carried out and approved by the Americans, was the deliberate burning alive of German and Japanese civilians by the hundreds of thousands, including their children. You may have a different understanding of “atrocities,” but usually child murder anywhere in the West is perceived to be an “atrocity.” The deliberate burning alive of tens of thousands of German and Japanese children suggest to me an “atrocity” on a grand scale. Maybe we are not together here. I think we are, but that you are trying to complicate the narrative in the hope that we can continue to believe that Americans are more fully human than Germans. Or that in that war Republicans and Democrats were more fully human than “Nazis.”

YOU WRITE: “The millions of grade school teachers who have broken up millions of fights between grade school students over past decades and centuries, have not been mired in deep philosophical shell games about "greater good," while jumping in to take one side in those fights.

Forgive me, but this is an especially weak argument—children bickering on a school ground in America, children being burned alive in Germany and Japan. Give me a break.

YOU WRITE: “Their vastly more typical approach is to break up the fight, and then, BEFORE scolding, reprimanding, counseling, and/or punishing both parties to the fight, they try to find out WHAT HAPPENED before they arrived to restore order.”

I can agree with this perspective, if it can be suggested that perhaps one party to the fight was guiltier than the other, which often enough is the case. This suggests in turn that when the Japanese initiated their war against America, the Japanese were the guilty party. If only the U.S. administration had thought it out about whom it was to “punish” for this bloody act of “fighting.” In the event, of course, it followed tradition, beginning at the bottom, rather than at the top, with the grand finales of Tokyo, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. At the end of the war, most of those responsible for running it from the Japanese side were still alive, while hundreds of thousands of those who had nothing do to with it were dead and maimed and ruined for life.

And then when Hitler declared war on the U.S. (the second really brilliant move, after his attack on the Soviets), the U.S. administration could have responded with a: “No thank you.” Of course, we followed the traditional trail, declared war back (I’m tougher and meaner than you) and went about equipping our military with the weapons most proficient in slaughtering those on the bottom and the most innocent of all, burning the children.

YOU WROTE: “The usual question posed is: WHO STARTED IT?”

This is exactly why your example of how school teachers handle disagreements on the school yard is so inept. I responded to this above, making the very simple observation that it was not the children of Dresden who “started it,” and that therefore burning them alive could not be morally justified. WWII was rather out of their hands, or wouldn’t you say so?

When I read your: “It is hypocritical to complain about a belittling of British and US atrocities in World War II, while sidelining all other atrocities, and neglecting the causes of the war” I am led to suspect, since it is so common in the university generally, to look for a narrative that will complicate a free and open debate on a “German perspective.” Anyone who wants it is a “neo-Nazi” (always referenced), and therefore either an anti-Jewish or stupid person. How could anyone who is “clean” suggest an open debate on the “German perspective?”—since it would have to include an open debate on the German WMD stories.

Again: who started it? The historians and big-brains can look into if for the next thousand years but I do not believe they will find that the children of Dresden started it. This is so simple that you appear to consider it “philosophical.” It isn’t. Any ten-year-old can understand it, and no ten-year-old will agree that the children of Dresden should have been burned because a handful of adults decided it was for a greater good.

YOU WROTE: "’Not complicated,’ Mr. Smith. The USA did not start World War II in September of 1939 by bombing Germany. Saddam did not initiate hostilities with America in 2003 by giving the U.S. a three day ultimatum before invading it. Very different situations. Not the "same" at all, even though both involve widespread and unjustifiable atrocities against civilians committed by both sides. ‘Not complicated,’ again, Mr. Smith.”

Different historical issue, same moral issue. I find it difficult to believe you do not understand this.
It’s claimed, though cannot be demonstrated, that the Germans burned folk alive at Auschwitz and we have heard for sixty years that they were wrong to do that. I agree—if they did do it, it was morally unjustifiable. At the same time we know for a fact that Americans intentionally burned alive hundreds of thousands of Japanese and German Civilians, including tens of thousands of German and Japanese children. No one even tries to claim that the Americans are innocent of the charge. Yet we judge Germans by one moral standard and ourselves by another. As I think you do. It runs all through you “sub-text.”

YOU WRITE: History matters. Except to myth-makers, propagandists, and fools.

I agree, of course. But we do not know what “history” is if we are not allowed to question the German WMD issue, and thus the “German perspective,” in the routine manner that we question every other historical issue. I really do not believe that you are open to this. Maybe I’m wrong.

YOU WRITE: (#108785) “When you finally get around to speaking plainly, you state: ‘I am only saying that with regard to slaughtering the children we should hold ourselves to the same high moral standards to which we hold the others--Nazis, communists and the others.’" Nothing I have said on this page contradicts this position. Indeed, my point here is that ‘we should hold’ Nazis to the ‘same standards. as any other group, and that failing to do so even once in this long book review is a gross inconsistency.

Well, I address this all through the above post. I will only add that while you are concerned that one book from the “German perspective” about the intentional slaughter of German civilians for a greater good does not mention the bad stuff that the Germans did during that war (which, in the context here suggests they got what they deserved from us), I wonder if anywhere in your considerable list of posts here on HNN you have ever noted that a book, any of the thousands that have been published about the alleged horrors of the German camps, I wonder if you have ever expressed your disappointment in the “inconsistency” of any of these books in that they did not reference in some detail the atrocities committed by Soviet, British and Americans against innocent, unarmed German civilians?

This is only a question. And apologies for going on so long.




Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Longwindness... (#108904)
by Peter K. Clarke on April 23, 2007 at 5:03 PM
...and logic, and historical accuracy are three different things.

Re “longwindness”: I have already apologized for that, but I will do so again. Please forgive me.
Re: “logic”: we’ll see.
Re: “historical accuracy”: I’m not addressing this issue from the point of view of “historical accuracy.” I’m addressing one “moral” issue that appears to not yet have risen to the surface of your consciousness.

YOU WRITE: “I will not discuss the deliberate mass murder of Jews and other civilians by the Nazis or your incessant and strange attempts to deny these horrors, Mr. Smith. Neither matters are the topic of this page.” AND THEN YOU WRITE: “In ‘The Ordeal of Total War" by Gordon Wright, published 39 years ago, he said, on page 129: ‘The devastating raid on Dresden early in 1945, and the first atomic attacks on Japanese cities, may be seen from a certain perspective as moral (or immoral) equivalents of the extermination camps.’"

Congratulations. You have found a historian who suggests that “from a certain perspective” the morality of burning the children of Dresden “may” be seen as either “moral” OR “immoral” equivalents of the “extermination” camps.

For myself, there is no “may” about it, there is no “moral OR immoral” about it. That when you intentionally carry out the mass murder of children, and when you do it again and again and again, it is—not moral. For you this might appear to be illogical. If it does, I would like you to explain to me why it is.

And then of course your guy references the German “extermination” camps—the camps where it is alleged, but remains to be demonstrated, that the Germans used WMD to off millions of Jews. So while you state that you “will not discuss the deliberate mass murder of Jews and other civilians by the Nazis,” you choose to quote a passage from a guy who addresses exactly that issue. I think you were a little careless here. And does this fellow address the use of WMD in the German camps of “extermination?” If so, I wonder how he addresses the issue—but then you will not discuss it. You will only reference it.

YOU WRITE: “There are also many other books, recent and from many years ago, which DO discuss the unjustified firebombing of Dresden and other cities by the Allies fairly and without trying to whitewash Nazism or deny the Holocaust.”

I did not mean to imply (I may have been careless here) that no historian or independent intellectual has ever questioned the morality of burning the children as a matter of State policy. I meant to say that it has never been, and that it is not now, a part of public discourse. It was the mass murder of children who “we” burned alive as a matter of State policy. Those who ran the show, and those who carried out the missions, are remembered as heroes. I find a moral issue there that I believe should be discussed with some frankness. If we had spent the last half century occasionally talking about it—openly, in pubic discourse—we might not be doing the work we are doing today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

YOU WRITE: “If you do not care to dwell on the picture (page 143, nr. 13) "Wreckage in Coventry after German air attack, November 1940" in the Wright book, I will not try to suggest that you believe the children of Coventry started World War II.”

Your sub-text here returns PRECISELY to your sub-text at the beginning of this thread where you intimated that burning the children of Dresden might be morally justified if only it had served a “military purpose,” or brought the war “closer to an end,” or helped with the post-war “reconstruction” of Europe. Now you are suggesting, in effect, that it was morally justified to burn the children of Dresden because the Germans burned English children in Coventry.

I am saying something very different and very simple here, something that does not depend on being an intellectual or a trained historian. I am saying that I cannot morally justify burning the children. You appear to say that under a number of differing conditions you very well can. I find that to be a morally corrupt position, rooted in a not uncommon, but base, web of desire. But then, as with so many other things, it really is a matter of different strokes for different folks.


Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

More name-calling. OK. That's the norm for members of the professorial class, and those "allied" with it, when this taboo matter comes up. Always the name calling, seldom a real response.

I'm willing to be convinced that I am wrong about what your position is with regard to burning the children, but each time you approach the subject
you suggest the same thing--that there are a number, perhaps many, scenarios in which you support the burning of the childen (particularly if they are German) for what you appear to believe is a greater good. It must be very uncomfortable for you to recognize this obvious "fact."

You are caught in a double bind here: first you "refuse" to discuss the German WMD (mass murder) issue that goes to the heart of German guilt under the Hitlerian administration. Second, you "refuse" to discuss the use of WMD by the Americans to pursue a course of mass murder.

You are not alone here. I am in the minority. One difference between us is that I am saying that the use of WMD (gas chambers) by the Germans to intentionally kill masses of civilians remains to be demonstrated to be true. While the use of WMD (great fleets of heavy bombers and nuclear bombs) by the Americans to intentionally kill masses of civilians is obviously true in the eyes of the whole world.

In America the professorial class supports your position that the German WMD question should not be addressed in a public forum. I did address this issue, in the simple way I have, in the talk I gave in Tehran December last. It's titled "The Irrational Language of the American Professorial Class with Regard to the Holocaust Question." You can find it here: http://www.codoh.com/newsite/index2.html

The American professorial class, as a class, also has rather a hands-off policy in publicly recognizing the fact that it is American State policy to intentionally kill civilians by the hundreds of thousands, and to burn their children, if it can be argued that it is for a "greater good." And it always can be. No exceptions for the U.S.

This is why Saddam quickly became "another Hitler." Being another "Hitler" (with WMD of course) there was no problem for the U.S. Congress to back the present U.S. administration in its vicious attack on Iraq where it was understood, certainly by the U.S. military, that for every Iraqi military killed there would be, as a "rule of thumb," five, ten, and perhaps more Iraqi civilians killed. Which is what has happened--in spades.

This was not much of a problem for Americans. It's part of our tradition. A tradition forwarded, among other traditions, by our refusal to have an open debate on the German WMD question, or the other side of the coin, an open debate on the American WMD question. The problem here for the professors is that it might turn out that while the Americans have used WMD, the Germans did not, just as the Iraqis did not.

Why is this a problem for the professors? Because as a class they have supported the State line on German WMD from the get-go, and they have supported the taboo against quesioning the State line on this matter from the get-go. I can only imagine the levels of professional shame this class of folk would have to bear if it turned out that they chose to place the politics of their "leaders" over the ideals of the own profession--for more than half a century!

I am not going to argue that you are "stupid," or that you "lie," or that Hitler "did not" lie. For that matter I will not argue that Roosevelt did not lie, or that Johnson did not lie, or that Bush did not lie, or that Cheney did not lie, or that the U.S. Congress is not full of folk who have lied and supported the lies of their "leaders" for decades, if not a couple centuries.

While I do not "follow" your posts on this forum, I come across them every once in a while and find you interesting and informative in almost every case. You have an achilles heel. The Holocaust. I don't know what your problem is. You appear to be a True Believer, which at bottom is a "religious" ideal that denies the possibility that Germans are fully human in the same way that Jews and Americans are fully human.

It's not much to brag about, but we are all fully human, even Germans, and even when they support a leader who encourages brutality and great stupidities. We only have to look in the mirror to see it for ourselves. We have to be willing to look, however. Here we are. All of us.









Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

I don't believe you are, but you are coming across as increasingly empty. "Professorial class" is not a perjorative in and of itself, nor is "working class," or "middle class." Of course you know that, but you have run into a taboo here that you may feel is too dangerous to address, particularly if you identify with those folk who are professors (please--"professors" is not a perjorative).

The risk you face may be that you will be shown to be wrong about this or that (the horror of it, eh?), or that it may affect your career, or your income, or (particularly) your social life, all three of which typically present a very difficult cunundrum for the professorially inclined personality.

When has it ever been any different? How do we judge the professorial class that went along with the State line on Jews during the Hitlerian period? Do we admire them? How do we judge the professorial class that went along with Mao? It's always the individual who refuses to go along with the State, not the class with which he identifies.

With regard to libraries I would like to make two observations.

One: where I live in Baja there is no English language library so I'm out of luck and have to think for myself. An unfortunate circumstance, I confess.

Two: I have not reflected on the matter for maybe twenty years, but I suggest that if you are serious about suggesting that the Germans attacked Coventry before the "Allies" fire-bombed their first German city to intentionally burn the children, that you look into the relevant dates.

Maybe I'm wrong to suspect the worst, and if I am I will be perfectly disposed to say so. I don't see anything wrong with being wrong, so long as one is not addicted to being wrong, or unwilling to confess he is wrong where he has been shown to be wrong, or . . . .

Come on. Lighten up.





Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Dear Mr. Clarke: it looks like you have dropped out of this exchange. It must be frustrating to talk to somebody who looks at these issues from a point of view that those in your circle do not feel comfortable with. It is for me. Let me put an end to it then by a short summary of the problem you (the professorial class as a class) create when you say you will not discuss Holocaust “denial” with me (altho I did not ask you to). Nevertheless. . . .

To begin with: Holocaust “denial” is a news speak term popularized by folk like Deborah Lipstadt (Emory) meant to demean those who question the German WMD, on the basis of the (lack of) evidence for their existence and use. It suggests, and is meant to suggest, that revisionist arguments deny the catastrophe that the Jews of Europe experienced during the Hitlerian administration. No one can rationally deny the Jewish catastrophe of that period.

That being said, when you say you will not (in effect) discuss the use of German WMD (gas chambers) during WWII, you effectively undercut the desperate need for Americans to discuss, through wide public debate, the use of WMD by the Americans during WWII. While this is a historical issue, it is also a moral question. In American culture it is understood that the Germans used WMD during WWII to burn children and others and that “fact” cannot be questioned and it cannot be morally justified. At the same time, the U.S. used WMD during WWII to burn the children and others but there is no need to question it seriously because it was morally justified—by the “fact” that the Germans did it. It’s a kind of moral daisy chain that historians and others in American culture have enjoyed participating in for decades now.

The entire world understands that the Americans “did it.” No argument. Certainly not among Americans. It was morally justified (after the act) because the Germans “did it.” At the same time, there are an increasing number of people all around the globe who do question whether the Germans really did do it, but in American culture we are not to talk about it. It is “hateful” (immoral) to question the “unique monstrosity” of the Germans. Germans, of that period certainly, were not fully human in the same way that Americans were fully human as we went about using WMD to burn the children. How the professorial class, or any decent citizen, can go along with this culturally perverse and morally corrupt scenario is a matter that, in my view, we need to “discuss.”

Again, the issue is how we morally justify burning the children. Not how we morally justify burning these but not those children. We’re not talking about pizza here. This is not something where we cut up the whole into various widths and flavors (narratives) that are most pleasing to us. My own family took part in burning the German children, and while I do not condemn them as individuals (forgive them Lord for they know not what they do) I cannot morally justify what they did.

We do not have to be trained academics to find burning children for a “greater good” repugnant. My father had to quit school about 1901 to go to work in the coal mines in Johnstown PA. Later, when it came to war and peace, he was obligated as a citizen to have a moral sense of what was right and what was wrong. My father-in-law was born in a slum in Mexico City and had to leave school when he was eleven years old to work as a tile-setters helper. Nevertheless, as a citizen, he is still expected to be able, with his vote, to help guide his nation on a fair and righteous path.

Refusing to have a public discourse on Germans using WMD for mass murder is the foundation in America for having no public discourse on Americans using WMD for mass murder. I would want to encourage our professorial class, as a class, to encourage an open debate on the gas chamber question and to stop discouraging that debate. How did those folk ever come to the conclusion, in the first place, that “truth” is to be protected via taboo and prison? Ordinary folk certainly do not forward that proposition, or encourage others to forward it in their name. Ordinary folk, as we used to say, believe we should “let it all hang out.”

Yea!


Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008


irrelevancy (#109004)
by Peter K. Clarke on April 27, 2007 at 3:33 PM
"An open debate on the gas chamber question" is NOT the issue of this page.
You've gone off-topic again, Smith, to mount your own weird soap box. Go have a magarita, and leave history to those (of any real or imagined "class") who know something about it, and about how to be relevant without constantly trying to change the subject.

You began this thread by commenting on how you might morally justify burning the children in Dresden. Did either Barnouw or Friedrich speculate seriously, or speculate at all, on how burning German children might be morally justified, or did you go “off-topic” here with your first observation?

You introduced German “extermination” camps. Not me. You thought it fine to reference German “extermination” camps, but you think it “irrelevant” for me to suggest that there should be a back and forth on the German WMD that were used in German “extermination” camps to “exterminate” civilians, kids and all. How could that NOT be relevant?

Why don’t you simply address the two issues that you (not me) introduced? Tell us how many ways you can morally justify burning German children? And then tell us why you believe it is “relevant” to reference German extermination camps but “irrelevant” to address German WMD that were used to carry out “exterminations” in the extermination camps?

So far as leaving history to those who know something about it, I don’t think I want to leave it to a class of professionals who have steadfastly discouraged open debate on history (as you do), betraying the ideals of their profession, of the universities where they gain their livelihoods, and the students they profess to teach with an open mind. Leaving history to those who “know” something about it is like leaving politics to those who “know” something” about it. No thanks. Impeach the bastards.


Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Are we looking around here for ways to morally justify the intentional burning alive of tens of thousands of innocent, unarmed German civilians? Not complicated, and not necesary. They were intentionally killed for a "greater good"--from the point of view of the American administration responsible for the killing.

Same in Iraq. Not complicated. A U.S. administration initated a war against Iraq for what it saw as a "greater good." Hundreds of thousands of maimed, mangled, and murdered innocent, unarmed civilians later and we get on with it because the same U.S. administration holds that it is, still, for a "greater good."

Who decides what a "greater good" is? Those who, as Mr. Clarke has it, are "militarily stronger" than the innocent and unarmed who are being intentionally killed (murdered?) by the tens and scores and perhaps hundreds of thousands.

I understand that a primary role of the professorial class is to invest in complicated narratives to morally justify the intentional killing (murder?) of innocent unarmed civilians by the various State administrations under which they earn their livelihoods. When has it ever been any different?

One option might be to look for ways to "morally justify" our refusal to support the intentional killing of the innocent in response to the deeds of the gulity. It's an option that might well reduce the level of Drama in the lives of academics and journalists, but what the hell, it might work out, in the end, to be a "greater good."


Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Mr. Clarke: Well, history does matter, but then it doesn’t appear to matter much.

You write (#108670) “There cannot be any justification whatever for firebombing "the Paris of the Elbe." It served no military purpose, it did not bring the war closer to an end, and it did not assist in the post-war reconstruction of Europe”

This suggest to me that if burning alive ten thousand children in Dresden would have served a military purpose, or brought the war closer to an end, or assisted in the post-war construction of Europe, it would have been morally justified. I don’t think so.

“However, World War II did not begin with the bombing of historic German cities.”

I believe you are suggesting here that it was alright to murder the children of Dresden because the German government started a war (of course there was lots of “history” behind starting that war but then there is always lots of history behind every war and everything else as well and it never ends so there is no end to that kind of narrative. Is there?

“It is hypocritical to complain about a belittling of British and US atrocities in World War II, while sidelining all other atrocities, and neglecting the causes of the war.”

The events being “sidelined” here have been discussed without let for more than half a century, while the moral justification for the deliberate buring alive of German and Japanese children by the tens of thousands has never been seriously addressed. And in any event, it’s beside the point. The work of any given American administration is to keep America out of war, not forward policies toward innocents that are morally reprehensible.

In (#108717) you imply that for the Americans (and yes the Brits and so on—but we’re Americans I suppose) it was morally justified to burn children alive by the tens of thousands (not only in Dresden) because the German peole were “liberated from one of the most deadly and monstrous tyrannies of all time.”

Those who kill (murder?) children in the name of “fascist” ideals are evil monsters whose acts cannot be morally justified in any way. Those who kill (murder?) children in the name of “communist” ideals are no-goodniks certainly, but not evil or monstrous in the same way as those who kill children for “fascist” ideals, which is why the professorial and political classes in America seldom go on about it. Then there are those who kill (murder?) children in the name of “democratic” ideals. While there is some occasional hand-wringing (not very much in the general scheme of things) they are morally justified in their killing—always. Oftentimes, as you point out, because they “liberated” those they did not murder.

You write: (#108761)
”My interest is to note the inconsistency of discussing atrocities in a war without discussing how the war began. … The millions of grade school teachers who have broken up millions of fights between grade school students over past decades and centuries, have not been mired in deep philosophical shell games about "greater good," while jumping in to take one side in those fights. Their vastly more typical approach is to break up the fight, and then, BEFORE scolding, reprimanding, counseling, and/or punishing both parties to the fight, they try to find out WHAT HAPPENED before they arrived to restore order. The usual question posed is: WHO STARTED IT?” … The USA did not start World War II in September of 1939 by bombing Germany.”

To be brief, the children of Dresden or in any of the other major cities of Germany and Japan DID NOT START WORLD WAR 11. This is really too simple. It is not a “philosophical shell game.” Or, rather, why do you see it as a philososphicasl shell game? I think I understand why most people support the ideal of burning children alive for what they—sincerely—believe is a greater good. But why do you?

YOU WRITE: “Very different situations [WW11 and Iraq]. Not the "same" at all, even though both involve widespread and unjustifiable atrocities against civilians committed by both sides.”

With regard to morally justifying the intentional killing of the children for what the grown-ups do, it is exactly the same. You see this as being merely “philosophical.” I don’t think it is “deep” enough (this is not a straight line) to be philosophy. I am only saying that with regard to slaughtering the children we should hold ourselves to the same high moral standards to which we hold the others--Nazis, communists and the others.

YOU WRITE: “History matters. Except to myth-makers, propagandists, and fools.”

Well, which am I? I’m too insignificasnt to be a myth-maker. Too insignificant to be an effective propagandist. I must be the fool then. I can see that. I’m an old guy now and when I look back I see a life of great foolishness. What this fool does not understand, maybe under the burden of his foolishness, is why anyone with a heart would go on trying to morally justify the slaughter of the innocent for the deeds of the guilty simply because it is carried out by Republicans and Democrats.

At the same time, I am not such a fool that I believe this will change. We are what we are. Consider our President, and so many of those men who held that office before this guy.


Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Mr. Clarke: in your post Pathological lying (#109020) you write:

“I most obviously did NOT "begin this thread" by commenting on how to "morally justify burning the children in Dresden. As any even drunk-on-maragaritas idiot can seen, YOU started the thread, not me. And I started the WHOLE PAGE (e.g. the first thread, not this one) by saying: ‘There cannot be any justification whatever for firebombing ‘the Paris of the Elbe.’ What part of ‘cannot be any justification whatever’ is your neo-Nazi-fool-warped brain unable to process?”

Thank you for correcting my use of the word “thread” when I should have used the word “page.” It is good to get the important stuff out of the way first. I hope my failure here did not confuse either the high school students who look in on these exchanges or the professional historians who are following our exchange with increasing apprehension.

You Write: “I also did NOT "introduce the German extermination camps." I quoted a historian who mentioned them as a comparative aside to a remark on the allied bombing of non-military targets. I "introduced" that quote (NOT just the extermination camp tag to it) in refutation of your prior and ignorant neo-Nazi bluster about no American historian for sixty years having discussed the deliberate (and failed) allied attempt to "break German morale" by firebombing civilians.”

Again: you are right, I am wrong. You did not introduce the German extermination camps. Rather, you introduced a third-party historian who you allowed to introduce the German extermination campus for you. I suppose it’s a matter of having the best of both possible worlds. I regret that I did not take sufficient care to make this distinction. Perhaps I thought, carelessly, that it would be clear to anyone and everyone with a normal command of English. I see that I have failed at least one of those who have been reading this exchange.

You write: “Barnouw and Friedrichs do not deny that the Nazis committed deliberate mass murder. They simply underplay it in a manner inconsistent with their moral outrage against what happened UNJUSTIFIABLY (for the last time, please read it this time) to German civilians. THAT is the issue I raised, not your twisted Nazi fantasies, anti-Semitic obsessions and incessant misattributing.”

You did use the phrase: “There cannot be any justification whatever for firebombing ‘the Paris of the Elbe.’” I agree with you. I never questioned that sentence. This whole thread (excuse me, PAGE) has been an exercise in trying to find a way to address your second sentence. “It served no military purpose, it did not bring the war closer to an end, and it did not assist in the post-war reconstruction of Europe.” Your language here is indisputably clear. If the bombing had severed a military purpose, if it had brought the war closer to an end, or if it had contributed to the post-war reconstruction of Europe, you infer that burning the children of Dresden would have been morally justified. From the beginning to what I suppose is just about the end, you have refused to address your own language here. You have proven to be an exceptionally stalwart exemplar of the art of stalling.

It might be that you see this solely from a historians’ perspective, while I am looking at if from a moral perspective. I see nothing wrong in looking at it from both perspectives. I regret that I have to repeat myself, but—if there are any number of narratives that can be used to morally justify burning the children in Dresden, as you clearly infer there are, how could it not be morally justifiable to burn the children in all the other major cities in Germany, not to mention Japan? The moral justification of the one is exploited to morally justify the others. If Americans can morally justify burning children by the tens and maybe hundreds of thousands, we can morally justify anything! Which is what we do.

Iraq?

I have thought you were an independent intellectual with a deep interest in history, but I am coming around to the idea that you might well be an actual academic. You use the vocabulary professors routinely employ when they find themselves in the room with someone who questions what they believe about the German WMD, even if that is not the original subject of conversation. Here you have observed that I am lame and deceitful, a pathological liar, an idiotic blusterer, and the bearer of twisted Nazi fantasies and anti-Semitic obsessions. This is not original with you, of course. Google “The Irrational Vocabulary of the American Professorial Class with Regard to the Holocaust Question on www.codoh.com .

Peter: You used language here with regard to Dresden that on the surface is entirely appropriate at university and in the press, but contains a sub-text that is murderous. How difficult can it really be for you to recognize this? Have you never written anything that you regret having written? I’ll tell you up front that I have, and that it’s a lot easier to live with admitting it than it is to try to live with suppressing it.

It is wrong to intentionally burn the children for whatever benefit (to others), and it is very dicey to look for a narrative that says that it is not wrong. My father-in-law agrees with me. Of course, he had only four years of grammar school so what could he possibly understand about the morality of burning the children, or the academic (political?) search for a narrative that will morally justify burning them?

Address what you have written here about burning the children of Dresden: “It served no military purpose, it did not bring the war closer to an end, and it did not assist in the post-war reconstruction of Europe.” For myself, this whole page is about this one sentence of yours.

Why not address it? What’s the problem?


Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

You wrote “It … [burning the children of Dresden—you phrased it differently] … served no military purpose, it did not bring the war closer to an end, and it did not assist in the post-war reconstruction of Europe.” Your sentence caught my attention because in it you suggest very clearly that if any of the three criteria you mention had been achieved, then burning the children of Dresden might very well have been morally justified. I thought it a commonplace thing to be said, but one with a murderous sub-text. I thought I would bring it to your attention.

You write: “There is, in reality, no basis for a "moral" debate here. We both agree that the firebombing of Dresden in World War II was morally wrong.” Yes, we agree on that. Now we can move on to where you suggest three narratives wherein it might just have been morally justifiable. In the interest of brevity I will not repeat them here yet again.

You write: “You have ignored the substance of my critique in order to try to manufacture a "moral" dispute.” There is something to this. The substance of your critique is to the point, but you entered into your critique with what I see as a murderous aside, three speculative narratives in which burning the children could very possibly be morally justified. For the sake of brevity, I will not repeat them here yet again.

You write: “Your holier than thou ‘moral’ posturing is complete bunk anyway, since no one trying to make a career out of pretending the Nazis did not deliberately kill millions of Jews, gives a hoot about basic morality …” It’s difficult to discuss this particular True-Believer outburst. I will only note that I do what I can to convince the professors that they should encourage an open debate on the German WMD question, rather than discourage it. Intellectual freedom, as you probably heard somewhere in your university studies, makes the same promise to those who believe that it makes to those who doubt. Nevertheless, the suggestion of an open debate is one that the American professoriate has choked on for 30 years now. You will find an outline of this absurd scenario if you look into how the professorial class at Northwestern has carried on over Professor Arthur Butz and his Hoax of the 20th Century.

And now you appear to believe that the deliberate killing of Jewish civilians by Nazis morally justifies the deliberate killing of German civilians by Republicans and Democrats. If you are not suggesting that, what are you suggesting with your “millions” of Jewish dead? I would argue that Germans are fully human in the same way that Jews are fully human. And that Nazis as a matter of fact were fully human in the exact way as were the Democrats and Republicans who buried them. This is what we might want to refer to in this exchange as viewing the issue from a perspective, as you have it, of “basic morality.” But then I suppose you will now look around for some “other” morality that is not quite so “basic.”

You write: “The issue here is Friedrich's book and Barnouw's review.” That was the original issue, the one you first addressed. You began it well enough with your first sentence, but lost track of you basic morality by the second. It was that second sentence with its murderous sub-text that caught my attention. Apologies for not following along the way you expected, that you feel you deserve. Life sucks.


Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

You write: “I expected your Holocaust denial nuttiness.” I haven’t really “denied” the Holocaust here. To do so we would have to have some agreement about what was being “denied.” We don’t. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

I find that you are especially taken with my Baja experience, of which I believe I have published only one story online. You have referred to it more than once here. I have always taken it to be part of my discipline as a (failed) literary writer to address the weaknesses in my character. I’ve been working at it for years and remain far from finished. This one Baja story that is online deals in significant part with how I sometimes, oftentimes perhaps, forget to zip up my fly and my wife has to call it to my attention, particularly when we are out on the town. You appear to like this story. I will not speculate.

It occurs to me only in this moment that my inclination to work with the weaknesses of my character is directly related, is the root if you will, of my inclination to work with the weaknesses of American character rather than the weaknesses of the character of the others. I have never made this connection before. Peter, I have you to thank for this little insight. Thank you.

You miss the irony of the “life sucks” joke.

You write: “To correct just one of your latest lies: As should be evidenced by the time I have spent on this page, with you chasing your tail, I DO support open debates with Holocaust Hoax Neo-Nazis … ”

You have Nazis, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and liars on the brain. When I read your language here my first reaction is to feel that I am most likely wrong about you being an academic. You’re too careless, too polemical, too defensive, too . . . Then memory recalls guys like Dershowitz and others who publish in Horowitz’s Front Page and I think, what the hell, who knows? And what does it matter. I guess it matters because I like to think that my betters are allowing me access to their thinking. So far, this exchange is rather disappointing. However. . . .

Re the Nazi bit: I find that Nazis have been demonized. They carried out a lot of brutal and stupid campaigns against others, but the primary charge against the Nazis is that they used WMD to murder innocent, unarmed civilians. Can we agree on this? Let’s go step by step and not get excited. The Nazi administration used WMD to kill innocent, unarmed civilians—that’s the charge. Therefore, Nazis were uniquely monstrous. I don’t believe it. That doesn't mean it is not true. But the Nazi WMD is a taboo subject in the American university. You support, or accept, the taboo, and think those who want to break the taboo are lunatics. Okay. The standard position of the American professorial class. Who can blame you for following along?

My view, as an American focusing on the weakness in the character of American culture, not the “other,” note that it is common knowledge that the Americans used WMD (fleets of heavy bombers and nuclear warheads) to intentionally kill (murder?) innocent, unarmed civilians—as in Dresden. The question that we do not want to face in America, though we talk about “Nazis” endlessly (as you appear to), is this: What crimes against humanity did Nazis carry out during WWII that Democrats and Republicans did not carry out?

If you tell me that I am “lying” about what the Americans did (and facilitated others in doing), I would want you to say exactly where the lie is. If I am wrong, I would want you to tell me where I am wrong—because I am willing to be convinced that I am wrong.

These two paragraphs are intimately related to your first post on this page: “There cannot be any justification whatever for firebombing ‘the Paris of the Elbe.’ It served no military purpose, it did not bring the war closer to an end, and it did not assist in the post-war reconstruction of Europe.”

You write that there can be no justification for firebombing the children of Dresden, but you go on to suggest, clearly to me, that if burning the children had served a military purpose, brought the war closer to an end, or helped with the post-war reconstruction of Europe, it could very well have been (morally) justified. Do you not see what your second sentence implies, how it undermines your first? If it were only you, it wouldn’t matter. But the moral justification for Americans burning, and causing children to be burned, all over the world is that Germans used WMD to kill innocent, unarmed civilians during WWII.

Why do you think Saddam was promoted as another “Hitler”? Why do you think that Amadinejad is becoming yet another Hitler? Hitler and his Nazis, though they did very little that Democrats and Republicans did not do and maybe much less—particularly with regard to mass-murder which is why a public debate on the German WMD is taboo—are still being used to morally justify Americans burning the children as State policy.

Explain to me what the second sentence of your opening post on this page implies. You have yet to do so. I may forget to zip up the fly occasionally (often?), but I am not likely to forget that you have yet to address the sentence you wrote that suggests three narratives that might be used to morally justify Americans burning the children. I think you are trying to dodge the bullet here. It’s your right, of course.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

...and logic, and historical accuracy are three different things.


I will not discuss the deliberate mass murder of Jews and other civilians by the Nazis or your incessant and strange attempts to deny these horrors, Mr. Smith. Neither matters are the topic of this page.


I WILL discuss this passage of your prior post:

"YOU WRITE: It is surely possible to discuss the allied bombing of Germany without rationalizing or whitewashing it, AND ALSO without pretending that the only reason that bombing occurred was because the bombers were militarily stronger than the bombees [those who were intentionally murdered, women, children, the blind and crippled, whoever got in the way].

I agree that it surely possible—but in sixty years it has not been, and it is not being now."


This claim of yours is untrue.

In "The Ordeal of Total War" by Gordon Wright, published 39 years ago, he said, on page 129: "The devastating raid on Dresden early in 1945, and the first atomic attacks on Japanese cities, may be seen from a certain perspective as moral (or immoral) equivalents of the extermination camps."

I recommend you look up this book at a library. I am sure you can find "library" in a telephone book, and a librarian there will point you to where the "History" books are. There are also many other books, recent and from many years ago, which DO discuss the unjustified firebombing of Dresden and other cities by the Allies fairly and without trying to whitewash Nazism or deny the Holocaust.

If you do not care to dwell on the picture (page 143, nr. 13) "Wreckage in Coventry after German air attack, November 1940" in the Wright book, I will not try to suggest that you believe the children of Coventry started World War II.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

"I am saying that I cannot morally justify burning the children. You appear to say that under a number of differing conditions you very well can."

Your second sentence is a stupid lie, repeated now many times. Hitler also told outrageous lies, repeatedly. They were not stupid lies, however.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

There cannot be any justification whatever for firebombing "the Paris of the Elbe." It served no military purpose, it did not bring the war closer to an end, and it did not assist in the post-war reconstruction of Europe.

However, World War II did not begin with the bombing of historic German cities.

It is hypocritical to complain about a belittling of British and US atrocities in World War II, while sidelining all other atrocities, and neglecting the causes of the war.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

You mean like "professorial class" ?

On the way back from a long overdue visit to a library, how about buying a mirror?

You are right, I am avoiding a discussion of Holocaust denial.

I am also avoiding discussing how the moon landings were faked, how Saddam personally dynamited the World Trade Center on 9-11-01, how Magellan really fell off the edge of the flat earth, and what Elvis told me when we cruised around in his flying saucer last week.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Replies:

1. Okay, this convoluted Denglish (Deutsch-English) non-sentence by the reviewer, "In that it is a general indictment of all air raids at any time, in any place--Dresden 1945 as well as Baghdad 2003," certainly covers "all strategic bombing" and Iraq. I stand corrected (on that minor point).

2. Mr Rodden quotes me, and then queries:

"Clarke: "AND ALSO without pretending that the only reason that bombing occurred was because the bombers were militarily stronger than the bombees."

Where did the book or the review make such a claim?"


Where? I would say the review forcefully tries to make such inferences here (the ...'s are in HNN's original):

The seduction of having the controllable means to mimic the self-multiplying and then uncontrollably powerful symbiosis of technological and natural forces proved irresistible. The temptation to just go on destroying one city after the other, helped by the increasingly ineffective German anti-air craft (manned by teenagers like Gentler Grass) was just too great.


The impotent vanquished are defenseless, without the possibility of an appeal. . . The victor cannot be indicted in the name of religion, human rights or morals because he is the religion, the rights and morals." It was in the interest of the victor that the vanquished not look back, not dwell on their country's devastation, but move on. More than sixty years later, it confirms the victor's enduring power that Friedrich's looking back at and mourning that devastation still seems dangerous to many readers.


3. For an example of what real historians think of Friedrich's book go to H-Net. Try the following link, or if it doesn't work, go to http://www.h-net.org/lists/ and look under H-German, book reviews.

http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&;list=h-german&month=0311&week=a&msg=kesmSbVMUBmdyBv8muulaQ&user=&pw=


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

"He condemns all so-call (sic) 'strategic' bombing including the airwar in Iraq." says Mr. Rodden.


Where in this book review is there slightest mention of "all strategic bombing" or of Iraq?


What the review DOES adopt is a weird, and I think aytpical for most Germans except neo-Nazis, set of views that to talk about the horrific, ineffective and unjustified destruction of Germany's architectural culture and civilian populuation in World War II, is to "take a public look at the second world war from a German perspective," and that the reason that supposed "German perspective" has been not been written about extensively until recently is because "it was in the interest of the victor that the vanquished not look back, not dwell on their country's devastation, but move on."

Certainly Germany was "utterly vanquished" in 1945, and suffered a brutal (and in the east massively murderous) occupation, but it was also liberated from one of the most deadly and monstrous tyrannies of all time.

It is surely possible to discuss the allied bombing of Germany without rationalizing or whitewashing it, AND ALSO without pretending that the only reason that bombing occurred was because the bombers were militarily stronger than the bombees.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

"An open debate on the gas chamber question" is NOT the issue of this page.
You've gone off-topic again, Smith, to mount your own weird soap box. Go have a magarita, and leave history to those (of any real or imagined "class") who know something about it, and about how to be relevant without constantly trying to change the subject.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Nobody here is "investing in complicated narratives to morally justify intentional killings", Mr. Smith.

The topic which I am addressing is NOT "Who decides what a "greater good" is?"

My interest is to note the inconsistency of discussing atrocities in a war without discussing how the war began.


The millions of grade school teachers who have broken up millions of fights between grade school students over past decades and centuries, have not been mired in deep philosophical shell games about "greater good," while jumping in to take one side in those fights.

Their vastly more typical approach is to break up the fight, and then, BEFORE scolding, reprimanding, counseling, and/or punishing both parties to the fight, they try to find out WHAT HAPPENED before they arrived to restore order.

The usual question posed is:

WHO STARTED IT?

"Not complicated," Mr. Smith.


The USA did not start World War II in September of 1939 by bombing Germany.

Saddam did not initiate hostilities with America in 2003 by giving the U.S. a three day ultimatum before invading it.

Very different situations. Not the "same" at all, even though both involve widespread and unjustifiable atrocities against civilians committed by both sides.

"Not complicated," again, Mr. Smith.


History matters. Except to myth-makers, propagandists, and fools.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Your apparently incurable penchant for fibbing is tying you up in confused mental knots, Mr. Smith.

I most obviously did NOT "begin this thread" by commenting on how to "morally justify burning the children in Dresden."

As any even drunk-on-maragaritas idiot can seen, YOU started the thread, not me. And I started the WHOLE PAGE (e.g. the first thread, not this one) by saying:

Context (#108670) by Peter K. Clarke on April 16, 2007 at 6:22 PM. There cannot be any justification whatever for firebombing "the Paris of the Elbe."

What part of "cannot be any justification whatever" is your neo-Nazi-fool-warped brain unable to process?

I also did NOT "introduce the German extermination camps." I quoted a historian who mentioned them as a comparative aside to a remark on the allied bombing of non-military targets. I "introduced" that quote (NOT just the extermination camp tag to it) in refutation of your prior and ignorant neo-Nazi bluster about no American historian for sixty years having discussed the deliberate (and failed) allied attempt to "break German morale" by firebombing civilians.

Barnouw and Friedrichs do not deny that the Nazis committed deliberate mass murder. They simply underplay it in a manner inconsistent with their moral outrage against what happened UNJUSTIFIABLY (for the last time, please read it this time) to German civilians. THAT is the issue I raised, not your twisted Nazi fantasies, anti-Semitic obsessions and incessant misattributing.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

"For myself, this whole page is about this one sentence of yours.

Why not address it? What’s the problem?"

The "problem", e.g. your problem, is that I do not share your obsessions and am unwilling to tolerate your obfuscations. No one HNN page can possibly be "about" any one sentence of any one commenter.

This particular page is supposed to contain comments about a review of a book. Whatever auxiliary functions it has, it is certainly not -at least as far as I am concerned- a forum for you to parade your obsessions by use of incessant misrepresentations about what I said in my comment about the review of the book.

My point, which you fail to comprehend (or ignore because it doesn't fit your prefabricated and bogus campaign for a "debate") was that the review focused on Allied misdeeds in World War II in a vaccum. As though nothing the Nazis had done might provide some explanation for brutality of the US and UK response. As though the totalitarian takeover in Germany, the purges, Kristallnacht, the betrayal of Austria, the rape of Czechslovakia, the blitzkrieg through Europe, the flattening of Rotterdam, the bombing of London, the enslavement of Norway, etc, etc. never happened. THAT was my point. There was no burning-children "subtext" to it except in your imagination. I am not aware of any even ex-post facto hypothetical scenario, and you have not tried to develop one either, under which firebombing a cultural treasure such as Dresden and slaughtering thousands of civilians could have been "morally justified."

The "second sentence" of my first comment here, which has taken so much your precious time away from sun, surf, and fish tacos, was a preemption against the lunatic fringe opposite yours, e.g. instead of Holocaust denial, Holocaust über Alles. I addressed those (here absent) cranks, by rejecting up-front some of the usual sorts of rationalizations for the Dresden torching.

The first sentence -about no justification- which you have finally stopped pretending I didn't write, was in order to preempt Holocaust denial nuts. THAT pre-emption failed, in the limited sense of not stopping a torrent of deception and verbal trickery from that fringe of luna.

Look at the curve balls you fling yet again in your latest comment:

"Your language here is indisputably clear.If the bombing had severed a military purpose...you infer that burning the children of Dresden would have been morally justified...if there are any number of narratives that can be used to morally justify burning the children in Dresden, as you clearly infer there are..."

If the language was actually "indisputably clear," then you would not need to haggle with me, you would not need to dance around your mis-attributions by saying I "inferred" or "clearly inferred", and we would be having the shouting match, or "debate" about the "moral perspective" which you crave more than tranquilo relaxation.

There is, in reality, no basis for a "moral" debate here. We both agree that the firebombing of Dresden in World War II was morally wrong.

I took issue with what seems to me to be the reviewer's deliberate attempt to pretend that that morally wrong action was unprovoked, has been unacknowledged in Germany and elsewhere since, and was the result of might makes right thinking. You have ignored the substance of my critique in order to try to manufacture a "moral" dispute.

Your holier than thou "moral" posturing is complete bunk anyway, since no one trying to make a career out of pretending the Nazis did not deliberately kill millions of Jews, gives a hoot about basic morality, but THAT -despite your tenacious obsession at shoving this irrelevancy down my throat with any manner of falsehoods- is a matter for ANOTHER place and time. The issue here is Friedrich's book and Barnouw's review.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I expected your Holocaust denial nuttiness. Normally I am not so blunt off the bat as I was on this page. I was polite and sympathetic when you first crashed the HNN party a year or two ago. Even wasted an hour or two on your bizarre website. But then I saw what you were really up to. Not enjoying Baja the way you should be. Rejoicing in your ignorance of history. Wasting your life. No wonder you think "life sucks."

To correct just one of your latest lies: As should be evidenced by the time I have spent on this page, with you chasing your tail, I DO support open debates with Holocaust Hoax Neo-Nazis, global warming obfuscators, "creation scientists," and Elvis channelers.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

A fool you may or may not be, Mr. Smith, but your post immediately above is loaded with foolish misattributions. This comment sickly distorts what I have clearly stated in my prior posts.

When you finally get around to speaking plainly, you state:

"I am only saying that with regard to slaughtering the children we should hold ourselves to the same high moral standards to which we hold the others--Nazis, communists and the others."

Nothing I have said on this page contradicts this position. Indeed, my point here is that "we should hold" Nazis to the "same standards" as any other group, and that failing to do so even once in this long book review is a gross inconsistency.


Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 4/29/2007

When I was in Germany shortly after the war I did not hear any German say, "We can't forgive you for destroying all of our cities." The one thing all of them said and believed was "We can never forgive Hitler for not giving up after the war became hopeless, which is when we suffered most of our destruction."


Glenn Rodden - 4/19/2007

Mr. Clarke says: "He condemns all so-call (sic) 'strategic' bombing including the airwar in Iraq." says Mr. Rodden."

I stand by my original statement.

Mr. Clark further says: "Where in this book review is there slightest mention of "all strategic bombing" or of Iraq?"

There is more than a SLIGHT mention. I am not sure how anyone could read Friedrich's book or the review without coming to the conclusion that his work is profoundly anti-war and anti-bombing.

Barnouw: "In that it is a general indictment of all air raids at any time, in any place--Dresden 1945 as well as Baghdad 2003."

Mr. Clarke says: "Certainly Germany was "utterly vanquished" in 1945, and suffered a brutal (and in the east massively murderous) occupation, but it was also liberated from one of the most deadly and monstrous tyrannies of all time."

I am guessing this is what you mean by CONTEXT, but I do not see how "liberating" justifies fire-bombing. How were the thousands of people who were incinerated during the bombings "liberated"?

Clarke:

"It is surely possible to discuss the allied bombing of Germany without rationalizing or whitewashing it,"

But that is exactly what you are doing here with your we-had-to-destroy-them-in-order-to-save-them rationalizing.

You should only begin that discussion after you finish reading the review and and the book and when you decide to stop rationalizing and whitewashing fire-bombing.

Clarke: "AND ALSO without pretending that the only reason that bombing occurred was because the bombers were militarily stronger than the bombees."

Where did the book or the review make such a claim?


Glenn Rodden - 4/18/2007

No where did the author claim that WWII begin with the bombing of German cities. The author wrote a book that examines the firebombings of German cities by allied bombers. He condemns all so-call "strategic" bombing including the airwar in Iraq.

I am not sure what you are attempting to say about "other atrocities." This is a book about the fire-bombing of German cities during WWII and not a general discussion of war atrocities.

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