President Obama’s world moral equivalency tour continued today in Germany with a stop at the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp and then on to the city of Dresden. While pleasing to his German hosts, who have been rightly upset by Obama’s attempt to foist his stimulus approach to economics, the stop at Dresden does a bit more than, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said, symbolize the progress Germany has made since unification. To Germans, it is a symbol of their suffering at the hands of the victorious allies in World War Two and balances out Obama’s reminder of the crimes of the Third Reich.
The firebombing of Dresden in 1945 caused horrific casualties and some have always argued that it had little military value. As such, the Dresden raid has always served as an opportunity for revisionists to try to prove that the “good war” that America fought wasn’t as pure as we have been told. But though the debate over the utility of much of the allied strategic bombing campaign in the war is fair, the idea we should consider Dresden a war crime — something indicated by Obama’s decision to go there on the same day he visits an outlet of the Nazi machine of oppression and death — is dead wrong.
Historical evidence about German war production indicates that once the Allies were able to deploy sufficient numbers of bombers with fighter escorts and to concentrate them on targets that couldn’t be missed (i.e. large cities) in 1944 and 1945, the results were devastating and clearly impacted the Nazis’ ability to go on fighting and murdering. Dresden, a major rail hub, was not free of war-related manufacturing. And the chaos that resulted from rendering large numbers of German workers homeless (at a time when their industry was completely devoted to war work), had to harm Germany’s already faltering war effort.
Although the human cost of attacks on German cities was horrible, it was a direct result of Germany’s decision to keep fighting to the bitter end. That was a decision that was largely supported by the German people, the vast majority of whom loyally continued to do their criminal government’s bidding until Hitler’s suicide. Allied attacks, including bombing raids on centers of military industrial activity and rail sites that facilitated the movement of German war activity, were fully justified and, indeed, necessary, for the defeat of the Nazi terror regime. German civilians in places like Dresden died because their nation had launched a genocidal war, not because of American or British beastliness.
As RAF Bomber Command chief Arthur “Bomber” Harris memorably said as the Allied air offensive started up earlier in the war, “The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”
Just as one cannot compare the cold-blooded murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust to the fact that the Palestinians have suffered from their ongoing refusal to live in peace with Israel — as Barack Obama did in his Cairo speech — one should not compare, even implicitly, the suffering of the victims of the Nazis at Buchenwald with that of those German civilians who died as the result of efforts to extinguish the Hitler regime. And anyone who does so lacks the moral seriousness to be a leader in the search for peace, no matter how eloquent his rhetoric.