How the Commemoration of the British Bombing of Dresden Flirts with Historical Revisionism

April 23, 2020 | Michael Pinto-Duschinsky
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This year sees many 75th anniversaries relating to the final year of World War II, including that of the Anglo-American air raids on the city of Dresden, a major industrial and transportation center of the Nazi war machine. In February, a commemorative ceremony was held in Germany, attended by that country’s president as well as a member of the British royal family. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky found the event itself to be “dignified,” but is disturbed by the way so many now discuss the bombing:

Dresden has become a powerful symbol of the suffering of ordinary Germans. Many consider it a war crime committed by the Allies, in particular by Winston Churchill.

On the merits of the decision to bomb Dresden in 1945, and more broadly on the British policy of “area bombing” at a time when targeting technologies were still poor, I have not considered this narrow question closely enough to reach a conclusion. Though Germany was under extreme pressure by early 1945, it had mounted a serious offensive against U.S. forces in the Ardennes, was still bombing the UK with rockets, and was developing weapons and equipment, such as jet engines, possibly capable of turning the tide. Even after the defeat of Germany, the Allies faced the potentially daunting task of invading Japan. Even if the continuing sufferings of slave laborers and POWs in Germany are to be discounted, there were pressing reasons to force a German surrender at the earliest possible moment.

Yet all these arguments, in my view, pale into relative insignificance. The amount of coverage of the destruction of Dresden lacks proportion and is diversionary.

[First], Dresden is being used by some to justify pacifism, an approach which for all its nobility may partly have been responsible for the weakness which led to the outbreak of the World War II. Further, . . . the subtext of much, though not all, of the Dresden debate is to divert attention from the deeds of the Nazi state, especially but not exclusively towards Jews. The implication that Churchill was as bad as Hitler is grotesque, as has been the tendency among parts of the German population to focus excessively on their status as victims. The further result is to “contextualize”— that is, minimize—the Holocaust.

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