January 30, 2010


By: Sonny Bunch

There was a surprisingly good piece on the architecture of Dresden in the New Yorker this week by George Packer. (Subscription only.) It closed with this thought:

The challenge of Dresden is to acknowledge all of the war’s victims without yielding to the temptation of equivalence; to see the evil of all war and also the evil that led to this war; to remember that the firestorm that killed thousands of people saved the Klemperers.

I say surprisingly good because all too often pieces about Dresden, the firebombing of Tokyo, and the use of atomic weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki are either dismissive of the necessity of the actions taken by Allied forces or, more likely, ready to label them as an evil practiced by a barbaric, some would argue insane, war leadership. Those actions, horrific as they may have been, were neither evil nor war crimes, simply extremely ugly events deemed necessary to cut short an extremely ugly war. Packer’s call to resist finding equivalence between Axis atrocities and Allied air campaigns is refreshing.

Packer also gets into the history of Dresden during the war, noting its rabid anti-Semitism and the factories that operated with slave labor to keep the Nazi war machine running. He also examines the post-war history of the city, showing how the city was allowed to develop a self-perceived notion of victimhood due to the massive fire that literally destroyed the entire history of the city. As he notes:

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, told reporters in neutral countries that Dresden had no war industries, and that the raid was an act of cultural desecration and wanton mass murder. Dresden became Goebbels’s last successful act of media manipulation. A Swedish paper published a death toll of between a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand, and this inflated figure proved remarkably tenacious. … For many readers of [David] Irving and [Kurt] Vonnegut, the bombing of Dresden scrambled the order of perpetrators and victims in the Second World War and came close to establishing a moral equivalence.

Anyway, you should read the whole thing. And don’t come whining to me that you don’t have a subscription to the New Yorker…you know how I feel about that. Everyone should have a subscription to the New Yorker.

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