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The bombing of Germany



From the UK, George Sassoon said; "One can mention the raid on Coventry in which 700 civilians did in a single night. Hitler claimed this as a great victory and invented the word "coventrieren". Who blames us for returning the compliment?" I answered "No reasonable person". Philip Terzian says: "Count me among the unreasonable.

After touring Hamburg in 1945, George F. Kennan wrote the following: "In the ruins of Berlin, there had seemed to be a certain tragic majesty. Berlin had been a great cold city, an imperial city, haughty and pretentious. Such cities invited the wrath of gods and men. "But poor old Hamburg: this comfortable, good-humored, seaport community, dedicated, like so many of our own cities, to the common sense humdrum of commerce and industry -- for Hamburg, it seemed a great pity. "Here, for the first time, I felt an unshakable conviction that no momentary military advantage -- even if such could have been calculated to exist -- could have justified this stupendous, careless destruction of civilian life and of material values, built up laboriously by human hands over the course of centuries for purposes having nothing to do with war. Least of all could it have been justified by the screaming non sequitur: 'They did it to us.' And it suddenly appeared to me that in these ruins there was an unanswerable symbolism which we in the West could not afford to ignore. If the Western world was really going to make valid the pretense of a higher moral departure point -- of greater sympathy and understanding for the human being as God made him, as expressed not only in himself but in the things he had wrought and cared about -- then it had to learn to fight its wars morally as well as militarily, or not fight them at all; for moral principles were a part of its strength. Shorn of this strength, it was no longer itself; its victories were not real victories; and the best it would accomplish in the long run would be to pull down the temple over its own head. The military would stamp this as naive; they would say that war is war, that when you're in it you fight with every means you have, or go down in defeat. But if that is the case, then there rests upon Western civilization, bitter as this may be, the obligation to be militarily stronger than its adversaries by a margin sufficient to enable it to dispense with those means which can stave off defeat only at the cost of undermining victory."

RH: This perhaps tells us more about Kennan than about the bombing. He changed from the hard-line proponent of containing the Soviet Union into a pacifist, apparently under the influence of his Norwegian wife. George Sassoon's question remains valid.

Ronald Hilton - 1/30/03


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