[February 13, 2015] War! It has been said that “war solves nothing.” Yet this is so parenthetically untrue that its longevity still amazes most of us. War is a violent, brutish, and chaotic affair; and of course not without extraordinary controversy. Such is the case of the World War II firebombing of the city of Dresden, Germany beginning the evening of February 13, 1945.
The bombing was part of the Allies’ strategic bombing strategy that was both a military and political instrument of power. Militarily it was designed to cripple the German war production, transportation, and supply of material for the fight. Politically it was to destroy the morale of the enemy Axis population so that they would sue for peace.
The controversy has two main opposing views of the bombing. Best known is the argument that Dresden had no military value and any bombing so late in the war could not realistically affect the outcome. Further, Dresden was Germany’s most internationally renowned city of art and high culture and its destruction was thus unnecessary. The opposing view is that Germany’s surrender was not a sure thing and there was great fear of a stalemate, just as the Allies were to reorient toward the conquest of Japan. Germany, it was thought, needed to be shown the power and strength of will of the Allies. Dresden was to be the lesson.
Over 1,000 aircraft participated, dropping over 2,000 tons of high explosives and 1,500 tons of incendiaries on Dresden, culminating in the single most devastatingly effective raid of the European bombing war.1 By the time the fires died out between 35,000 and 135,000 were dead.2 With many Germans fleeing westward into Dresden to escape the Soviet Army, making an accurate count is impossible. What we do know is that the city was utterly destroyed.
Much of the “controversy” that surrounds the bombing of Dresden is also based on the post-bombing misinformation campaign of Germany’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels who wanted to incite the German population to fight harder and to appeal for sympathy.3 After the war, the Soviet Union used the bombing of Dresden to help cover for the atrocities of the Soviet military during their advancements west to Berlin3 … and the controversy continues to this day.
War stopped Nazi Germany from its crimes against large portions of humanity. It crushed Nazism as a viable social-political entity that held nationalism, socialism, and racism as a sacred part of its destructive ideology. The destruction of Dresden was part of the price that Nazi Germany had to pay to rid itself of such an evil and its destruction was meant to end the war sooner. It worked.
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