November 22, 2002
TO THE VICTORS GO THE NUREMBERG TRIALS:
Germans call Churchill a war criminal
(Kate Connolly, 19/11/2002, Daily Telegraph)
Winston Churchill was effectively a war criminal who sanctioned the extermination of Germany's civilian population through indiscriminate bombing of towns and cities, an article in the country's biggest-circulation newspaper claimed yesterday.
In an unprecedented attack on Allied conduct during the Second World War, the tabloid Bild has called for recognition to be given to the suffering inflicted on the German population during the strategic air campaign of 1940-45.
The newspaper's campaign, provoked by a new German history of the bomber offensive, breaks six decades of virtual silence on the subject, and is being seen as the latest manifestation of a belief among Germans that they too were victims of the war - albeit a war started by their country.
The newspaper is serialising Der Brand (The Fire: Germany Under Bombardment 1940-45) by the historian Jorg Friedrich, which claims to be the most authoritative account of the bombing campaign so far.
Mr Friedrich claims the British government set out at the start of the Second World War to destroy as many German cities and kill as many of their inhabitants as possible. Civilian deaths were not collateral damage, he says, but rather the object of the exercise. He argues that Churchill had favoured a strategy of attacking the civilian population centres from the air some 20 years before Hitler ordered such raids.
Britain's war leader is quoted during the First World War as saying: "Perhaps the next time round the way to do it will be to kill women, children and the civilian population."
Setting aside for now the ugly specter of the Germans trying to expunge their guilt for WWII, Bild is of course right--Churchill, FDR and Truman were, in retrospect, all war criminals
and had the Axis powers won they'd certainly have been prosecuted as such. More importantly, were they alive today they'd likely face charges in the International Criminal Court. Which is why we should never acknowledge its authority over U.S. citizens.
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 22, 2002 8:31 AM
The Germans deserved everything they got quite frankly.
For them to see themselves as victims is ludicrous.
The book, or at least the extracts thereof, wholly ignores the technical constraint that drove the British to bomb cities, in contrast to the Americans attacking industrial and transportation targets.
In a nutshell, the British Blenheim and Lancaster bombers were so lightly armed they would have suffered horrendous losses from the German air defense fighters in any daylight attack. Therefore, they chose night bombing.
Given the primitive guidance and targeting abilities of the day, anything smaller than a city was simply immune to Bomber Commands attentions.
Contrast this with American tactics. The B-17 was far more heavily armed than the Lancaster and the Blenheim. Additionally, the US's ability to replace losses--that in 1942 nearly proved ruinous--far exceeded that of the British. Hence, the Army Air Corps chose daylight "precision" bombing.
In short, the US and Britain played the hands that technology and resources dealt.
Also, airpower theorists (Douhet, et al) of the time viewed the enemy's population as a strategic center of gravity. Since it took WWII to prove them wrong (leadership, fielded forces, communications and industrial infrastructure have far more bearing on the adversaries ability to prosecute a war), it is hardly fair to condemn Churchill for not knowing that which only experience could teach.
America targeted civilians too, particularly in Japan. What other purpose did nukes serve except to kill civilians?
But I believe in targeting civilians. I think that while killing German and Japanese may not have won the war quicker (until we had nukes) it did turn them pacifist afterwards.
What the Germans seem to forget is that they were the ones who started bombing raids on cities in the first place. They deliberately erased Rotterdam from the maps, they wiped out Coventry, they destroyed much of London BEFORE the British returned the favor.
I don't want to blame Germans who are my age for what their grandparents did, but only if they have the decency to keep their mouths shut on a subject like this.
I am happy to acknowledge the suffering the Germans enjoyed during 1939-45 and only wish there had been more of it, earlier. Then maybe they wouldn't have managed to shoot as many Jews as they did.
That said, U.S. "precision" bombing was no more precise than British "area" bombing. Very few of the bombs dropped landed within a mile of their supposed target.
While the technical issues encouraged indiscriminate bombing by the English, it was clear from statements made at the time that this wasn't viewed as a problem so much as an opportunity to "give it back to Jerry". The idea that the British regretfully targeted civilians is simply not supported by the historical record. As for not realizing that the bombing would be ineffective at breaking civilian morale, could the British not look about at the survivors of the Blitz?
That said, I find it hard to condemn the participants, particularly the Allies, because there was not one combatant that didn't do this sort of thing when provided the opportunity to do so. The Allies come off better in my view because the other side engaged in total war first. Had the Germans not bombed Coventry or the Japanese not enjoyed themselves in Nanking, perhaps the Allies would have felt some reluctance to bomb civilians as well. Perhaps our modern enemies might consider this fact.
Don't forget Guernica either.
Paul Johnson, hardly an exponent of moral equivalence, very sharply criticized the Allies for the decision to go to area bombing of cities in World War II in his classic "Modern Times". Indeed, he called that decision a critical point "in the moral declension of humanity in our times". A bit out of context, but you need to read the whole passage to understand that he's approaching it from a conservative perspective, not a leftist one.
I did put scare quotes around precision.
The most precise bombing tactic available at the time would be to send planes in singly. However, in order to provide mutually supporting defensive fire against attacking German fighters, B-17s had to arrange themselves in battle boxes. The inevitable result would be bombs falling outside the target area no matter how accurate the lead bomber was. The requirement for survivability ran directly counter to the requirement for accuracy.
The targeting of Japanese cities was driven by two different considerations, meteorological and industrial.
The jet stream winds over Japan are both lower and faster than in Europe, rendering any hope of "precision" forlorn. The only counter to the winds was to go in at much lower altitudes. The downside to this is far greater vulnerability to anti-aircraft artillery. Analagous to the British dilemma, these factors drove the B-29s to night area bombing.
Japanese industrial patterns also helped drive targeting decisions. War materiel production facilities were smaller and more tightly interwoven with surrounding communities than their German counterparts.
I don't mean to argue decisions to target civilian populations were driven solely by technical factors, only that those factors weighed heavily on the same side as contemporaneous airpower theorists who believed the enemy's population was the most vulnerable center of gravity.
It took the experience of WWII to learn that, far from causing quick civil collapse, attacking the enemies population only stiffens their resolve.
It is no accident that precision, economy of force and the lessons of WWII drive US targeting decisions in exactly the opposite direction from those of WWII.
Jeff, I agree with your technical analysis, but
at the time, the strategic bombers were
promising to put a bomb in a pickle barrel
from 30K feet.
It was ridiculous. Spruance put it best, when
he lampooned LeMay for claiming to do
accurate bombing "through ten-tenths cloud
But the issue is not whether bombing was
an effective method -- it was effective in the
long run -- but whether the Germans are
ready to rejoin the human race. The idea
that Allied bombing justified German behavior
did not begin in the current issue of Bild.
Goldhagen, in "Hitler's Willing Executioners,"
writes about how in the 1960s, Jew-killers
under interrogation said that they were told
that they were striking back against the
suffering of their women and children back in
The German capacity for self-pity is infinite.
They really seem another species in this
Regarding the German's self pity, you are quite right. My point all along was the Bild serialization appeared to completely ignore the very real technical considerations that drove Allied targeting.
Therefore, their implicit claim that our leaders were every bit as savage as theirs is disingenuous at best.
I am making no legal or moral judgement just yet, just a bit of family history. One of my uncles was an RAF bomber crewman. He told me that RAF commanders justified bombing residential districts of the grounds that Germans were manufacturing aircraft instruments in their basements and that this was considered by the men to be literally laughable.
Whether they would admit it themselves or
not, the British considered that the end
result of "strategic bombing" would be the
razing of cities. That was the import of
"the bomber will always get through,"
which was interpreted by politicians throughout
the '30s as meaning civilian casualties would
be immense. There was no real concern that
German bombing would destroy military
installations. Rather the reverse.
If you are going to work it out, you have to
go all the way back WW I and even earlier
and examine the German policy of "frightfulness"
and the British response. In 1915, Hankey,
secretary to the Committee of Imperial
Defence, was writing about British operations
that would produce "frightfulness."
But this has nothing to do with German guilt.