“Alighted”

by Chris Bertram on March 18, 2010

Oliver Kamm in the Times

In his first book, The Destruction of Dresden, he [David Irving] concluded that at least 135,000 had died. That figure quickly made its way into culture. Kurt Vonnegut, who as a prisoner of war had survived the bombing of Dresden, alighted on Irving’s figure and made this alleged atrocity — complete with a long quotation from Irving — a central theme of his novel Slaughterhouse-Five. But the statistic was bogus and was revealed as such during Irving’s unsuccessful libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books in 2000.

So what’s Kamm’s thought about Vonnegut here? That Vonnegut, who was there, wouldn’t have written the novel if he’d known that “only” 25,000 people had been incinerated? That the central event of the novel, the execution of Edgar Darby, would have lost its absurdity if a smaller casualty figure had been accepted? Incidentally, the “long quotation” from Irving appears on pp. 136-7 of the novel and is not, in fact, a quotation from Irving but rather from two forewords to “an American edition” of Irving’s book by officers of the American and British air forces. People who write columns excoriating other people’s shoddy research really should be more careful.

{ 120 comments }

1

Hidari 03.18.10 at 8:27 pm

What does one term someone who started as a troll and has now progressed to making his living as a troll? An uber-troll?

Here’s what Kamm says:

‘That figure quickly made its way into culture. Kurt Vonnegut, who as a prisoner of war had survived the bombing of Dresden, alighted on Irving’s figure and made this alleged atrocity — complete with a long quotation from Irving — a central theme of his novel Slaughterhouse-Five.’

Now, Slaughterhouse Five is under copyright, but it can he seen, I think, here.

Do a search for ‘Irving’. There are three references. Now look back from the hard facts of what Vonnegut wrote to what Kamm claims he wrote.

The key point here is that Kamm is self-evidently pontificating pompously about a book he has not read or even skimmed through. He is a remarkable man, Kamm. Too stupid to google the words ‘Slaughterhouse Five Irving’, and yet too arrogant to think any his readers would be capable of this promethean feat. A feat which he himself had obviously found to be simply beyond his intellectual capabilities.

2

the teeth 03.18.10 at 8:36 pm

I think the intent was something like:

The Dresden firebombings are part of our popular consciousness almost entirely due to Slaughterhouse-Five. The casualty numbers in that book are inflated. And thus we all imagine that Dresden was absolutely horrific, when really it was only somewhat unpleasant, one of the Distasteful But Necessary things you do during wartime.

3

Hidari 03.18.10 at 8:38 pm

And now here’s an interesting thing. Kamm, on his blog.

‘Vonnegut’s philosophy and history are simplistic. Dresden was hellish — but there were not 135,000 deaths. The true figure was probably no more than a fifth of that. Vonnegut’s number came directly from the now discredited work of the Holocaust denier David Irving. (In Slaughterhouse-Five, Irving is cited by name, and a long passage, by a retired air marshal, from the foreword to Irving’s book The Destruction of Dresden is reproduced.) * To a PoW digging up cadavers, accurate numbers will ever after seem pedantic. But the issue is important to historical truth and also to the ideas that Vonnegut dramatised.’

And so Kamm got it right, in 2007, he says, and suddenly lost that knowledge in 2010?

Or else a Times fact checker in the 2007 version put Kamm right about the book he has not read?

Or…Kamm is changing what he states and correcting mistakes without admitting it?

Let you be the judge!

http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2007/04/catastrophic_vi.html

*Note: Kamm doesn’t know, or care, that this foreword opposes Irving, but the basic attribution is at least correct.

4

Bloix 03.18.10 at 10:28 pm

Is there any reason this commentary was published today? What’s the hook for this?

On the other hand, although Kamm does make mistakes in his reference to Slaughterhouse Five, his factual point – that Vonnegut accepted the 135,000 figure – is correct. In reliance on Irving, Vonnegut contended that Dresden was the single most destructive event in terms of lives lost in history, which in his eyes put it at the very pinnacle of absurdist suffering. He called it “the greatest massacre in European history.” He wrote, “not many Americans knew how much worse it had been than Hiroshima.” These statements are important to the structure of the book, which puts his nobody of a protagonist at the center of an event of world-historical importance – and they’re not true.

Even if the 135,000 figure were correct, it would be hard not to bridle at the “greatest massacre” statement – perhaps the Germans weren’t able to kill so many people in one place between sunrise and sunset, but Auschwitz-Birkenau alone had the capacity to gas and burn 20,000 people per day. So the truth is that what Vonnegut viewed as the most horrible day in human history was not so much worse than an ordinary day at Birkenau.

But on the third hand, Vonnegut directly addressed the argument that Dresden pales in comparison to the Holocaust, or in comparison to the evil of the Nazis generally, and he refuted it to his own satisfaction, at least. The passages he quoted from the introduction to Irving’s book made just this argument. He refuted it by the simple exposition of suffering. He implicit argument (and not very implicit at that, since Vonnegut was never subtle) is that suffering is not a measurable substance, that one does not weigh suffering in a balance and decide that the infliction of suffering on some is justified by some other person’s greater infliction of suffering on others. Slaughterhouse Five is not about justification. It’s about recognition. It demands that the suffering be acknowledged and not explained away in the same breath. To Vonnegut, the statement that the Holocaust justified Dresden was a monstrous obscenity.

Kamm concludes:
“But Dresden was not a crime. It was a terrible act in a just and necessary war. Through exhaustive investigation, potent myths about its consequences now stand refuted.”

This is precisely the sort of magisterial pontification that made infuriated Vonnegut and that fueled the ferocious anger of every page of Slaughterhouse Five. It’s just extraordinary that Kamm can write this without ever acknowledging that others might see it differently without being Holocaust deniers and Nazi apologists.

5

Phil 03.18.10 at 10:30 pm

And is “alighted on” supposed to be a more literary version of “lighted on”?

6

sg 03.18.10 at 11:20 pm

Did Kamm not consider referencing the other work on Dresden when writing an article about justification for acts like it? There’s more recent scholarship which covers Irving’s fabrications (there being others in connection with Dresden), and the debate about numbers and how they were used. It would have been quite easy to look it up, and the book I read which summarised the debate (which is called, funnily enough, Dresden, so presumably not hard to find) was engaging and accessible for amateurs.

Or was he just rehashing a 2007 post due to lack of fresh content?

7

The Raven 03.18.10 at 11:22 pm

“[…] Dresden was not a crime.”

A military assault made, apparently, for the specific purpose of attacking the cultural heritage of Germany was not a crime. Unh-hunh. Right.

Keepin’ us corvids fed!

8

Hidari 03.18.10 at 11:34 pm

A question for Kamm: is he really and honestly suggesting that if Vonnegut had, for example, not survived the bombing of Dresden but had, in fact, survived the allied bombing of Tokyo on the 9th-10th March 1945 (which really was ‘worse’ than Hiroshima, and during which the civilian death toll was estimated at being 100,000, a figure which is almost certainly an underestimate, so maybe 135,000, maybe more, who knows?) and that Slaughterhouse Five had been about that bombing raid instead, his objections would cease?

Of course not. Of course not. It is the anti-war message of the book he objects to: not the specific facts discussed.

9

Chris Williams 03.19.10 at 12:57 am

The hook is that a number of German historians have gone through all the records again, and concluded that the evidence for around 25,000 fatalities is overwhelming, rather than compelling as most of us thought already.

Raven #7, if you’ve got any evidence that Dresden was targeted specifically for its cultural value, rather than (say) Churchill’s well-documented anxiety, expressed in late Jan and early Feb 1945, to materially aid the advance of the Red Army by a series of terror attacks on cities in Eastern Germany, then I’d like to see it.

10

Bernard Yomtov 03.19.10 at 1:17 am

#4,

If the numbers don’t matter, as your (or Vonnegut’s) third hand argument suggests, then why cite them? Either the scale of death is a measure of the enormity of a crime or it isn’t.

If you want to describe an event as unusually terrible because of the number of victims, you can hardly complain when someone describes a different event as worse because it had even more victims.

11

Ginger Yellow 03.19.10 at 1:43 am

“The Dresden firebombings are part of our popular consciousness almost entirely due to Slaughterhouse-Five.”

In the UK, anyway, where Kamm is from, I’d argue that the quondam hagiography of Bomber Harris played a much larger part.

” if you’ve got any evidence that Dresden was targeted specifically for its cultural value, rather than (say) Churchill’s well-documented anxiety, expressed in late Jan and early Feb 1945, to materially aid the advance of the Red Army by a series of terror attacks on cities in Eastern Germany, then I’d like to see it.”

How are these mutually exclusive? The terror attacks were made effective in large part by carpet bombing cities of high cultural but little direct military value. Nobody was safe.

12

Chris Williams 03.19.10 at 1:50 am

Dresden did have some military value, if only as a rail junction which might be put out of action for a few days by an attack on the city. But I was replying to Raven’s statement “for the specific purpose of attacking the cultural heritage of Germany ” which as far as I understand it clearly wasn’t the case. But if Raven (or anyone else) can point me to any evidence that it might have been, I’d be happy to check it out.

13

Donald A. Coffin 03.19.10 at 2:06 am

I suspect that had Vonnegut known the correct number of casualties, he would have written much the same book. Suppose that, on p. 83 of the linked document in comment #1, instead of 135,000, Air Marshall Saundby had written “35,000.” How would that have changed his argument, or Vonnegut’s response?

And, besides, in 1969, did anyone know the correct number? Did anyone know that David Irving had got it wrong (honest mistkae) or made it up (fraud)? Was what Vonnegut wrote, written in knowledge that it was wrong? Or was he supposed to have somehow intuited that what people thought they knew about civilian deaths in Dresden was wrong?

14

Bloix 03.19.10 at 2:14 am

Bernard Yomtov-
Here’s my suggestion. Go the link that Hidari (#1) has generously provided us, and search “Irving.” It will bring you to the quotation from the introduction to the Irving book, which explicitly makes the argument that the suffering of the Germans in Dresden should awaken no compassion because pales in comparison to the deaths of “five million” (meaning the Holocaust – five being an alternative to six that one used to see fairly frequently). In his usual flat style, Vonnegut leaves no doubt that he is disgusted by this argument. The suffering of the people of Dresden is not made less real or less painful because more people suffered somewhere else.

Hidari (#8) – I don’t think Kamm is complaining about the message of Slaughterhouse Five. He is saying, accurately, that Vonnegut popularized a factoid, concocted by a Nazi apologist, that has since been proven to be false. He’s also saying, accurately, that there are people – Germans, mainly, but not exclusively – who use the bombing raids and other sufferings of Germans (e.g., the mass expulsions from East Prussia) to minimize German culpability- “we suffered, too!” He doesn’t charge Vonnegut with this revolting rhetorical slight of hand.

15

ice9 03.19.10 at 2:29 am

I read that one reason for the Dresden raid was to test the theory of the “firestorm via concentrated incendiary attack ” on an intact city. But I may have read that in Slaughterhouse-5. And Vonnegut could stab me in the eye with a pencil, from the grave, and I’d still consider it an act of valuable literary art. So I don’t know.

ice9

16

Aulus Gellius 03.19.10 at 2:51 am

I really hate to side in any way with Kamm here, and it’s certainly true that the Holocaust doesn’t excuse Allied wrongdoing, and that it’s pretty stupid to say someone quotes someone he doesn’t quote.

But that being said, I think his point about Vonnegut is, in summary: Irving made a false claim about how many were killed at Dresden. That claim became a widely believed fact in our culture. An example of this, and maybe part of the means by which the belief spread, is that Vonnegut put it in his novel.

That’s it. That’s all he says. And it seems to be true, as far as it goes. I, for one, thought I knew that the number of people killed at Dresden was immense by WWII standards, and specifically higher than those killed at Hiroshima. And I thought so because I read Slaughterhouse-Five. Now of course this doesn’t mean Vonnegut “wouldn’t have written the book” if he’d known the real numbers. Nor does it make the novel worthless, any more than “On Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” is ruined because Keats confused Cortez with Balboa. But Kamm doesn’t say it does. He’s pretty clearly just using Slaughterhouse-Five to elaborate the specific claim, “That figure quickly made its way into culture.”

17

Aulus Gellius 03.19.10 at 2:52 am

To clarify quickly: when I say, “that’s all he says,” I mean that’s all he says about Vonnegut. Obviously, he says some other, more objectionable things in the article.

18

J. Otto Pohl 03.19.10 at 4:27 am

There is a tendency in the US, UK and former Soviet states to justify and support any and all Allied crimes by demonizing the Nazis and the German people in general. I have noticed this especially here in Kyrgyzstan where all of Stalin’s crimes are justified and supported because he was head of the USSR when it defeated Nazi Germany. The argument being that the Nazis and German people as a whole and anybody who sided with them in part such as Latvians, Estonians and Crimean Tatars were so evil that anything done in the name of defeating them or punishing them was justified. I think this is the debased relativist morality that Kamm embraces and that Vonnegut clearly rejected. I for one am firmly in Vonnegut’s camp. The Holocaust does not justify the murder of other innocent civilians even if they do share an ancestral culture and language with Hitler. In this sense it does not matter if the number of “collatoral damage” victims at Dredsen is 25,000 or 135,000. The moral point is the same. But, it should also be born in mind that Dredsen was only one in a series of Allied crimes that included the Katyn massacre, the deportation of the Volga Germans, Kalmyks, Chechens and Crimean Tatars, the mass rape of German women, the forced expulsion of Germans from East Prussia, Silesia and the Sudetenland and other war crimes and crimes against humanity. Arguing that the Nazis were worse and therefore all of these crimes are justified is very poor moral reasoning. But, it appears to be a very popular argument.

19

Nicholas Whyte 03.19.10 at 6:11 am

Vonnegut may have believed that “Dresden was the single most destructive event in terms of lives lost in history”, but that is not why he set the book in Dresden; he set the book in Dresden because he was there himself.

20

mcd 03.19.10 at 6:20 am

Somehow, I think it will eventually turn into, “and so you see why the invasion of Iraq wasn’t so bad after all…”

21

daelm 03.19.10 at 7:47 am

chris williams:

“if you’ve got any evidence that Dresden was targeted specifically for its cultural value, rather than (say) Churchill’s well-documented anxiety, expressed in late Jan and early Feb 1945, to materially aid the advance of the Red Army by a series of terror attacks on cities in Eastern Germany, then I’d like to see it.”

I don’t think the issue of motivation is settled at all – the debate about reasons is ongoing, and while Dresden being a target for reasons of cultural value seems unlikely to me, what is also on the table is that the raid was a weapons test. That’s pretty common, even up until today (white phosphorus, anyone?) and it’s one of the points that gets argued when Dresden comes up. While specific reasons in either camp vary, the general dichotomy seems to be between a gaggle of justifiable reasons for the fire-bombing and a gaggle of unjustifiable reasons. This, of course, assumes a value for ‘justifiable’ that may not be shared by everyone.

On the harshest side of the debate you dislike, is the argument that justifiability requires provable threat, and that the acts in deterrence of that threat be proportionate to the threat itself. The claim, whatever the specifics, is that the fire-bombing of Dresden doesn’t fit either criterion.

As mcd points out, all of this is moot – it’s just preliminary work to get to justifying the dozen years of starving blockading, bombing and invading Iraq.

d

22

Chris Bertram 03.19.10 at 7:50 am

#16 Obviously, if all Kamm had written was that one of the ways in which Irving’s bogus figure spread to the popular imagination was in S5, then I wouldn’t have posted an objection. (Since that’s true.) It was the “alighted and made” construction that I objected to, since it suggests that spreading the bogus number (not that he knew it was bogus) was a key part of Vonnegut’s motivation in writing the book.

23

Chris Bertram 03.19.10 at 7:54 am

Incidentally, it is unsurprising that someone who thinks that it is morally permitted deliberately to kill large numbers of civilians in order to secure a political objective (which is what Kamm thinks about Hiroshima) should find Vonnegut’s book uncongenial.

24

daelm 03.19.10 at 8:08 am

From a historical point of view, Dresden is merely the of Arthur Harris’s re-direction of Bomber Command’s activities around 1942/43. His explicit goal was “(destroying) the morale of the enemy civil population and in particular of the industrial workers” through massive bombing of civilian targets.

To this end, the first mass incendiary bombings began test runs in 1943, I think, and the consequent uncontrollable ‘firestorms’ (raging inferno’s fuelled by the specific type of incendiary devices, and the density and volume of the bombing) were first seen and documented.

Firestorms, of course, were regarded rather as an unexpected bonus, and the creation of them a desirable outcome in the campaign to ‘demoralise’ the civilain population. I imagine that having granny melt off her skeleton while screaming in unimaginable agony can be demoralising to her immediate family and will probably cause them to ‘go slow’ on the armaments production line. Won’t it? I mean, it’s obviously true, isn’t it? I mean, this is the same logic that worked brilliantly in Vietnam…ummmmm…and Iraq….right? ‘Cause all the terrorists have seen the error of their ways now, and have given up. Specifically because we followed this engagement pattern. Right?

Lucky us, that we have extraordinary-military-genius-as-a-cultural-heritage to call on. Otherwise we’d be crap at wars. And the other boys would laugh at us, and take out lunch and call us a pansy.

d

25

daelm 03.19.10 at 8:28 am

and if you think i’m being overly sarcastic, or overstating the case in my comment above, then consider this:

1. civilian targets
Operation Order No. 173 planned the destruction of Hamburg, called Operation Gomorrah. Cute name. Also quite clear what was intended. The final day of bombing alone saw 1,200 tons of incendiary weapons dropped on industrial worker housing.

2. firestorms
described like this, by Allan Forbes in the Boston Review, referring to Hamburg: ‘A thermal column of wind… heat in excess of 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit, melting trolley windows and the asphalt in streets…their feet stuck in the melted asphalt; they tried to extricate themselves with their hands, only to find them stuck as well….sucked all the oxygen out of the city; a 15 year-old girl reported that the brains of people in shelters “tumbled from their burst temples and their insides [extruded] from the soft parts under the ribs.” ‘

3. being called a pansy
RAF briefing notes state one of the Dresden bombing’s objectives as follows: “(to show) the Russians when they arrive, what Bomber Command can do.” (or they might take our lunch, call us a pansy and generally look down on us).

d

26

Chris Williams 03.19.10 at 8:36 am

daelm, where did I write that it’s a debate I ‘dislike’? It’s not exactly pleasant, but it is something that can be researched, and when I research it I do so through the evidence that’s available. I have yet to see anything in that which justifies the idea of ‘weapons test’, although I have seen (both directly and through secondary sources) convincing evidence that it was designed to (a) kill lots of Germans, in order to serve them right, and (b) thus spread terror among the survivors and make them more likely to surrender while (c) facilitating the advance of the Soviet Army in the area. Most of this was business as usual for Bomber Command. If you (or anyone else) have got any evidence (rather than mere speculation) about any other reasons, I’d be interested in reading it, so as to see if I need to change my mind before I next give my ‘bomber offensive’ lecture.

Incidentally, the first large incendiary raid, on Lubeck (picked not because it was a key military target, but because it was made of wood) happened in March 1942.

27

daelm 03.19.10 at 8:46 am

daelm, where did I write that it’s a debate I ‘dislike’?

i didn’t say you disliked the debate – or rather I didn’t mean that – i meant you seemed to have a preferred side in the debate. i assumed that you’re on the ‘justified’ side. it doesn’t matter, though, and you’re welcome to be on either side. :)

yes, Lubeck was 1942. that was the test run to see how this kind of massive incendiary carpet bombing worked, if i remember right. stangely, none of the effects observed at Lubeck seemed to put anyone off.

d

28

alex 03.19.10 at 8:50 am

FWIW, at the beginning of WW2, British high command was reluctant to order bombing attacks on Germany, for fear of causing damage to private property. It might be worth reflecting on what happened to make them change their minds.

OTOH, you could just draw a line that goes Tonypandy – Dardanelles – ‘Air Control’ – Hamburg – Dresden – Hiroshima – Vietnam – Iraq, and sit back feeling smug.

29

daelm 03.19.10 at 8:52 am

chris, the point that i and others make is that the ‘reasons’ you’ve listed were applied very much in passing, to an already existent programme of excessively violent terror, to confer on it the minimal amount of legitmacy requried to carry each part out. even Chruchill was disgusted and thought Dresden was excessive and refused to honour its authors. and that’s something from a man who was prepared to gas ‘wogs’ as an object lesson to other ‘wogs’.

the programme, of course, is the one designed by Harris, to demoralise, (apparently by way of incineration) the working civilan population of Germany. that’s terror.

d

30

Chris Williams 03.19.10 at 8:56 am

Fair dos. It’s worth pointing out that the operation order for the Hamburg attack didn’t just plan the destruction of Hamburg – it ordered it. And it’s also clear from it that it was intended as a terror (AKA ‘morale’) attack. Here it is:

MOST SECRET
Bomber Command Operational Order No. 173
Copy No. 23 Date 27th May 1943
INFORMATION
1. The importance of HAMBURG, the second largest city in Germany, with a population of one and a half millions, is well known and needs no further emphasis. The total destruction of this city would achieve immeasurable results in reducing the industrial capacity of the enemy’s war machine. This, together with the effect on German morale, which would be felt throughout the country, would play a very important part in shortening and in winning the war.
2. The ‘Battle of Hamburg’ cannot be won in a single night. It is estimated that at least 10,000 tons of bombs will have to be dropped to complete the process of elimination. To achieve the maximum effect of air bombardment, this city should be subjected to sustained attack.
Forces to be employed
3. Bomber Command forces will consist of all available heavies in operational squadrons until sufficient hours of darkness enable the medium bombers to take part. It is hoped that the night attacks will be preceded and/or followed by heavy daylight attacks by the United States VIIIth Bomber Command.
INTENTION
4. To destroy HAMBURG.

31

daelm 03.19.10 at 8:58 am

alex, you can track back before that line too. (Churchill wanted to gas the wogs when the chance arose, as I pointed out. there are lost of similar examples.)

the point is that there are always those who will gravitate to new, cool machinery and seek to make it go, without any moral compass to guide their use of it. and they’ll be baying for ‘wogs’ to test it on. in our history, they tend to make those arguments for their own reasons. we tend to support them for ours. and where all these interests collide, atrocities become the norm.

i can feel smug for you, if you like. i can’t see your point though – tell you what: i’ll feel smug about 14hoo, after my meeting, if that’ll help you.

d

32

alex 03.19.10 at 9:24 am

My point is that it is not enough to feel superior about people who order terrible things to be done, because that way lies the assumption that they are Not Like Us, and that We would behave SO MUCH better if put to the trial. It is rather more likely that such smugness will increase the probability of crimes bred from just such a sense of superiority – I point you, for example, to the shining knights of democracy and freedom who entered Iraq so nobly in 2003.

The men who ordered the firebombing of Germany in 1942/3 had lived through the Battle of France, Dunkirk, the Blitz and much more. When they took their decisions, German troops were still far inside Russia, and still holding Western Europe in an iron grip. It is only with the greatest caution and circumspection that we should approach their acts. Sub specie aeternitatis they were crimes, but nobody actually lives sub specie aeternitatis.

History indicates that there is almost nobody who does actually behave that much better, under such circumstances. The round of atrocity and reprisal easily becomes endless. Those that do surpass this are exceptional heroes, and ought to be honoured – but to pretend that we know we’d be like them is rather to insult them.

33

Chris Williams 03.19.10 at 9:30 am

My response ‘fair dos’ to daelm was to his comment at 27, not at 29.

Harris didn’t devise the plan: it was in place before he took over Bomber Command. Also, WSC wasn’t disgusted by Dresden per se, so much as the international reaction to it: his response was to retrospectively label area bombing as an ‘act of terror and wanton destruction’. Harris was at least consistent in his views, and willing to defend them: both Churchill and Portal persisted in misrepresenting what they were actually doing.

34

Chris Williams 03.19.10 at 9:43 am

PS – sorry, I assumed daelm was a ‘he’ just then. My bad.

35

rea 03.19.10 at 10:02 am

Baah! An obvious attempt to slime Vonnengut by associating him with Irving, even though Irving’s work on Dresden was widely accepted at the time, and Irving’s public Holocaust denial came later, well after SH5 ws published.

36

Cranky Observer 03.19.10 at 11:08 am

> 2. The ‘Battle of Hamburg’ cannot be won in a single night. It is estimated that at least
> 10,000 tons of bombs will have to be dropped to complete the process of elimination.
> To achieve the maximum effect of air bombardment, this city should be subjected to
> sustained attack.

Not that it really affects this argument, but keep in mind that Bomber Command had been saying things such as “complete elimination” since 1939 and had been completely unable to deliver on its promises. It wasn’t until late 1944 that the combined forces of Bomber Command and the US 8th air force could select a target and expect to do large-scale damage to it as a matter of plan. What happened in Hamburg was an accident of weather and timing that Bomber Command was unable to replicate when it tried.

Cranky

37

Chris Williams 03.19.10 at 11:40 am

Not entirely accidental – they’d been saving up Window (foil strips to foil radar) for a big offensive, on the basis that it would probably be most effective for a few weeks until countermeasures were developed. They used it for the first time in the Hamburg raids. Hamburg was also selected because it was easy to find, being coastal. Thus, the raid was a conscious stepping up of their power. Once they moved on to more difficult targets (Ruhr, then Berlin), their effectiveness (as measured in their own terms) declined.

38

Laleh 03.19.10 at 11:54 am

daelm at 31- “(Churchill wanted to gas the wogs when the chance arose, as I pointed out. there are lost of similar examples.)”

I was surprised to learn recently that it wasn’t just an intent to “gas the wogs” – the British did use gas against Ottoman troops in Gaza (of all places). See

Yigal Sheffy, “Chemical Warfare and the Palestine Campaign, 1916-1918”
The Journal of Military History – Volume 73, Number 3, July 2009, pp. 803-844

39

Barry 03.19.10 at 12:49 pm

I’d add that Kamm is guilty of a meta-error, as well. This is a many who’s been in ‘9/12 mode’ for years, and has justified a lot based on that, and has insulted many people based on that.

Vonnegut lived ****through**** the bombing of Dresden; he only survived due to being in an extremely good shelter, and lots of luck. He then retrieved bodies for (how long? days? weeks?). Anybody not deeply and permanently affected by that would be a sociopath. By the standards of the ‘decents’, Vonnegut should be excused pretty much everything, including supporting whatever lies he felt like supporting, and savagely insulting anybody who disagreed. Regardless of whether Vonnegut was factually correct or not. After all, it’s only ‘decent’. Please note that (unless I’m mistaken) Kamm did not live through 9/11, and then do clean-up on bodies at Ground Zero; his reactions are to something that he saw on TV.

In addition (from memory), Vonnegut wrote in the introduction to ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ that he couldn’t find out simple facts like the number of bombers used in the raid, because it was still classified. Vonnegut did not have full information; this was a period when the British 20-year classification records had just been opened, and historians were working through the mass of material.

But Kamm is unwilling to grant Vonnegut the consideration that Kamm expects for himself and his fellow ‘decents’, despite personal horror on a scale 10x as worse.

40

Barry 03.19.10 at 12:50 pm

Sorry, “This is a man who’s been in ‘9/12 mode’ for years”

41

Harold 03.19.10 at 12:56 pm

I understood that Churchill at least initially justified the use of gas on the grounds that it was not fatal — as people still justify tasers and tear gas.

I was under the impression that Dresden occurred because of bureaucratic momentum, rather than as a result of a thoughtout strategy — though it seemed to legitimize further atrocities.

42

Barry 03.19.10 at 1:07 pm

“I was under the impression that Dresden occurred because of bureaucratic momentum, rather than as a result of a thoughtout strategy —though it seemed to legitimize further atrocities.”

Probably more military momentum – remember that the British and US forces had been working very, very hard for years building up and using massive forces, on a scale which only a few years before was only believed by readers of Verne and Wells.

43

daelm 03.19.10 at 1:20 pm

chris, we’re wholly agreed. Hamburg was a terror attack, it was intended as a terror attack, it was carried out as a terror attack and was part of a programme of terror attacks. this was just more openly discussed and admitted then than now.

the last point is critical, because it’s my contention (and obviously others’, more professional than i) that the programme of such attacks became a norm and slippery slope. once done, precedent replaces justification, and thus a continuity, that leads to things such as Dresden occurs.

the reason this is important is that it de-legitimizes the arguments from weak justifications (in the Dresden case, these are such things as ‘supported Russian troops’ and so on)/. you have to make the defense of Dresden (and Hamburg, and even Hiroshima and Nagasaki) on their real nature: as explicit acts of terror, aimed at civilian populations. this is wholly proper. the important point is that, since the act is so grave, we can reasonably ask, ‘is there another way’.

this is how such decisions are believed to be made in the West, and while history doesn’t bear that out, it is important for us to hold ourselves to our principles. it’s obviously more important that we abide by them, but failing that, it’s critical that we judge ourselves by them, without fear or favour or lie.

as for Harris being the originator of the terror plan, i thought (and still think) he was – i’ll have to check. Churchill was disgusted with the bombing of Dresden for a variety of reasons, but it’s safe to assume that at least in part it was squeamishness at the outcome. remember, until the Japanese bombings, these were (in the public eye, including his) unsurpassed acts of terror and destruction. that Churchill thought Harris had gone too far is indicated by his withholding honours from him and his private reprimand of Harris, one that (if I remember right) he was convinced to withdraw. basically, while he was quite okay with the programme in principle, he thought Harris had taken it too far and enjoyed it too much. yes, this would partly have been because of the public relations impact, but it’s not unlikely that it was also a degree of squeamishness about the actual events, too.

alex:
i’ve partly answered your question above, but i’ll draw it out.

when you say:

“My point is that it is not enough to feel superior about people who order terrible things to be done, because that way lies the assumption that they are Not Like Us, and that We would behave SO MUCH better if put to the trial.”

…you’re reading something into my comments that isn’t there. i have been in military service (as anyone who read my other comments on other threads knows) and I have been in a pretty morally compromised service, too. i am entirely aware that people do bad things. they should, however, be held accountable for those bad things and the lot should not be swept under the carpet of victory and jingoism. the only way to do that is for us to us to call things what they are and not pretend that the glory of the good men mediates the nastiness of the bad men.

Thoreau said, ‘let us call things by their true names’. that has nothing to do with being superior or inferior, but with being accurate, and accuracy – as I saw at the Truth Commission in my own country – is a great deal more important to victims and perpetrators than superiority or inferiority. there is no closure, no healing, no forgiveness and no moving on for anyone unless there is laser-like precision about events and their nature. unless there is admission, disclosure and completeness.

antjie krog is a south african poet. she covered the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a journalist, and wrote an account of it called ‘In the Country of My Skull”. i heard it was very good, but for a long time i could never read it. apart from the light it shone on my own upbringing, which had been the beneficiary of so much of these activities, and my military service, which had brought me into direct contact with the forces that did these things and politicized me, the reason was actually plainer. the first paperback edition came with a cover photo of a heavyset black woman holding something up to scrutiny in the Truth Commission chambers. i can never remember her name, but i always remember what she was holding: it was a piece of her son’s skull or scalp. it was all she had of him and she wanted to know where the rest had been disposed of – she wanted to know the truth of what happened. every time i saw that picture (for a long time) i would choke up and i couldn’t read the book. when i eventually did, it was clear that applicant after applicant hadn’t come there for justice, but for truth. for accuracy. and what was required was ALL the truth. when a man, someone’s son, someone’s brother, had been killed for the sheer convenience of it, and the killers had then cracked a beer open and grilled a steak next to his body, that needed to be known. further, people needed to know the reasons – they needed to know that a son or daughter had died for nothing. that it had been random. that it had been of no account. and they needed to know that this was true. these needs are as valid for the perpetrators as for the victims.

Western culture, European culture, ‘white people’ – whatever – are the beneficiaries of a system of violence and terror, as much as we are the heirs to Bach. but we deny this, and in our denials lay the seeds of future atrocities. it’s really, really important
that we live in the light of our own scrutiny and not shy away from the truth of our own history. Hamburg, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, etc etc.

they need to be discussed, and clearly described, and clearly owned for what they are. doing so doesn’t diminish the good men, as you seem to worry – in fact, it’s only because we make these distinctions that we can honour good men, knowing that they ARE the good men.

so, when you say…

“History indicates that there is almost nobody who does actually behave that much better, under such circumstances. The round of atrocity and reprisal easily becomes endless. Those that do surpass this are exceptional heroes, and ought to be honoured – but to pretend that we know we’d be like them is rather to insult them.”

…i would reply that maybe the history we’re reading is different, firstly, because there are plenty of stories of heroism in war, where soldiers behaved well when they could have behaved badly. the first world war is rife with accounts of soldiers firing up rather than at a helpless enemy. in my experience, and history bears me out here, people are far more likely to do the right thing than the wrong thing on an individual level. to claim otherwise is not just to ‘insult heroes’, by making them abnormal and unrepresentative, but also to insult humans in general. we’re not the lost cases you make us out to be (perhaps unknowingly), forever tied to inevitable atrocities, redeemed only occasionally by mutants amongst us who do the right thing. heroism’s common. it’s just often at an individual scale, and so easily gets swamped by the scale of institutional atrocities. and it’s institutional atrocities that have bearing here, because institutional atrocities are prone to the cycle of repetition you describe, in part at least, because we obscure what they are – because we don not apply the standard of strong description and strong justification that they require.

d

(chris, it’s ‘he’.)

44

PHB 03.19.10 at 1:31 pm

Irving was a respected historian through the mid 80s. Hitler’s War was controversial but sold remarkably well for a history book. Irving was interviewed on the BBC and the book was universally treated as an honest work of scholarship, albeit one that might be overly sympathetic to the NAZIs. It was published long after Slaughterhouse 5.

At the time holocaust revisionism did not exist in any meaningful form. It was the popularity of Irving’s book that gave the neo-NAZIs the idea that the tactic might work at all. Irving’s claim that Hitler was unaware of the Holocaust was replaced by outright denial that the Holocaust occurred. Irving then re-wrote his earlier book to exclude all mentions of the Holocaust.

It was not until after Irving became an outright holocaust denier that his earlier ‘scholarship’ came under close examination. While there is now no shortage of proof that he intentionally falsified and misrepresented evidence, that case was not made until much, much later.

Kamm’s attack appears to me to be made in bad faith. Slaughterhouse 5 is not a book that many people (other than Glen Beck and his audience) would mistake for a factual account of the bombing of Dresden.

45

belle le triste 03.19.10 at 1:40 pm

One clue it might not be intended as a purely factual account is that Billy Pilgrim is kidnapped by aliens. Kamm is a careless reader even when he isn’t actually consciously distorting the arguments of others, so he may not be aware of this aspect to the book. (Which is great, of course, unless you’re a professional warmonger.)

46

ogmb 03.19.10 at 2:09 pm

It’s really quite simple. By virtue of being on the good side one cannot possibly commit atrocious acts. It’s not our acts that define our goodness, it’s our partisanship with goodness that sprinkles our acts with the golden glitter of impeccability.

47

Chris Williams 03.19.10 at 2:15 pm

Did anyone else notice that recent research which implied that purchasers of ‘green’ products are more inclined to overtly selfish behaviour? This zero-sum theory of morality would go a long way towards explaining a number of things, notably the wacky excesses of Decent thought, the Antinomian heresy, etc. I’m not sure that it would throw a huge amount of light on the conduct of WW2, though: military necessity has a logic of its own, and the cognitive processes and actions of states can only broadly be interpreted in the same categories that we use when assessing individuals.

48

ogmb 03.19.10 at 2:23 pm

Did anyone else notice that recent research which implied that purchasers of ‘green’ products are more inclined to overtly selfish behaviour?

I don’t know the research but I’ve known this for many years by watching the scores of shoppers at the Berkeley Bowl who blocked access to the grocery section by parking their shopping carts right opposite the fish counter…

49

ajay 03.19.10 at 2:28 pm

I was surprised to learn recently that it wasn’t just an intent to “gas the wogs” – the British did use gas against Ottoman troops in Gaza (of all places).

Also against the Germans on the Western Front. And the Germans and the French and the Americans used it too. I thought it was common knowledge that armies used gas in the First World War… obviously not.

50

Bloix 03.19.10 at 2:44 pm

#19 and #22 –
Of course Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse Five because he was there himself. But the bogus number clearly played an important role in his conception of the book. Billy Pilgrim is a ridiculous, utterly ineffectual figure in a situation of unparalleled horror. He’s completely detached from what he sees. He has no ability to influence anything. He barely experiences his own experience. The theme of the story is heightened by Vonnegut’s use of what he believed to be a fact — that this day was one of unparalleled destruction in all of human existence.

#43 &44 – In S5, there is an “I” character who is distinct from Billy Pilgrim. This “I” character, who talks directly to the reader, tells us that he has written the book we are reading. He distinguishes between the parts of the book about Billy and the parts about the war, and claims that his account of the attack on Dresden is true. I would guess that vast majority of readers take the “I” to be Vonnegut, and they take the claim to be an honest one. I know I do. It would no sense for the “I” to be an unreliable narrator. And I expect that the vast majority of readers have no difficulty distinguishing between the fiction about Billy and the factual account of the bombing of Dresden.

51

roac 03.19.10 at 2:49 pm

Chiming in with no. 42 here: What is instructive about the history of Bomber Command is that the enterprise took the horrific path that it did because of the universal laws of bureaucratic behavior. Having promised that it could win the war by precision nighttime bombing of military targets only, and having spectacularly demonstrated that it couldn’t do any such thing, it was forced to turn to area bombing because that was what it could do. So it had to argue that it could win the war that way in order to justify the continued existence of the organization. When I say that that is instructive, I mean that it is an observation whose applicability is not limited to wartime.

(It seems to be the current consensus that in the end, the bomber boys actually did hit on a war-winning strategy, namely taking out Germany’s synthetic oil production. At least Speer, who was in the best position to know, thought so. But they had been wrong so often that nobody believed them.)

52

Tom Elrod 03.19.10 at 2:55 pm

I’m reminded of what Robert McNamara said in Fog of War about the bombings in Japan during WWII, something to the effect of: “Had we lost of war, we would have been tried as war criminals.”

You can say things like “Had we been in the same situation, we may not have acted differently,” which, while true, doesn’t excuse it by any stretch. The people who made these decisions knew perfectly well what they were doing. That they could justify it away is at the heart of the anger of SH5.

Vonnegut, by the way, mentions Dresden is a bunch of his novels. It is clearly a major event in his life and something which fundamentally defined his view of the world. So, as many here have said, the correct numbers would not have changed the book in any real significant way.

I also like Kamm’s use of the phrase “alleged atrocity.” Uh-huh.

53

ogmb 03.19.10 at 3:39 pm

Bloix @18: He’s also saying, accurately, that there are people – Germans, mainly, but not exclusively – who use the bombing raids and other sufferings of Germans (e.g., the mass expulsions from East Prussia) to minimize German culpability- “we suffered, too!” He doesn’t charge Vonnegut with this revolting rhetorical slight of hand.

You seem to be ignoring Kamm’s opening salvo:

The crimes of Nazi Germany were so great that the politically malevolent have periodically sought to diminish them. One method is Holocaust denial, which can be argued consistently only by ignoring or faking the historical evidence.

A subtler means is to exaggerate the death toll due to Allied bombing. The firebombing of Dresden is the principal instance where those claims have often been aired.

So Vonnegut, in cahoots with Irving, deliberately exaggerated the death toll out of political malevolence.

54

politicalfootball 03.19.10 at 3:43 pm

Bloix, I find the bulk of your analysis of S5 to be perceptive and correct, and I’m puzzled why you’re stuck on the number killed, and the Dresden location, as being essential to Vonnegut’s theme. If Vonnegut had access to more recent research, do you think it would have changed the essence of the book, or that its essential themes would have been less valid?

55

Tom Elrod 03.19.10 at 4:06 pm

So Vonnegut, in cahoots with Irving, deliberately exaggerated the death toll out of political malevolence.

ogmb, is this your opinion or your paraphrase of Kamm? Because I really don’t think Vonnegut is politically malevolent and should certainly not be ethically equated with Irving. He’s a pacifist, which is a political position that (if believed honestly and without apology) simply does not compute for most people, and certainly not for people in positions of power.

56

Guano 03.19.10 at 4:22 pm

The bombing of Dresden was a topic of conversation in the UK a long time before Slaughterhouse 5 was written. It cropped up in church sermons and school morality discussions in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The conclusion was usually that these things happen in war so we should do our best to avoid wars. This is probably not part of Mr Kamm’s worldview.

57

bianca steele 03.19.10 at 5:43 pm

roac@50: When I say that that is instructive, I mean that it is an observation whose applicability is not limited to wartime.

I would tend to agree, but on the other hand, bureaucratic organization is often considered as a specifically military vice.

58

Barry 03.19.10 at 5:46 pm

belle le triste 03.19.10 at 1:40 pm

“One clue it might not be intended as a purely factual account is that Billy Pilgrim is kidnapped by aliens. “

Depends; if they ‘probed’ him and gave him a perpetual motion machine, that’d be fiction. If the aliens kidnapped him and forced him to drink tequila and made him learn spanish, that’d be a possible alien abduction :)

59

bianca steele 03.19.10 at 5:55 pm

Moreover, “universal laws of bureaucratic behavior” might seem to be a sort of conspiracy theory (though not by me).

60

Bloix 03.19.10 at 6:15 pm

#54 – “So Vonnegut, in cahoots with Irving, deliberately exaggerated the death toll out of political malevolence.”

No, Kamm doesn’t say that. Kamm thinks Vonnegut is naive and simplistic and not very bright. (These are criticisms that Vonnegut’s chosen style clearly invites.) He accepts that Vonnegut’s understanding of the war comes from his personal experience, but he denies that Vonnegut’s experience should be a guide for the rest of us. He doesn’t say that Vonnegut was “in cahoots” with Irving or that he was malevolent – to the contrary, he says that the Irving figure was not revealed to be false until 2000. He’s infuriatingly pompous and condescending in his treatment of Vonnegut, and he makes factual errors, but the important assertion that he makes – that Vonnegut served as a conduit that introduced Irving’s falsehood into the popular consciousness – is true.

And that makes Kamm’s point. Because Vonnegut did pick up on it, Irving’s fraud was successful. And the goal of Irving’s fraud was to diminish the sense of outrage at German war crimes by providing for support for the argument that “everyone did it.” That wasn’t Vonnegut’s point at all, of course – but he did greatly expand the awareness of the allied bombing campaign, which necessarily introduced a moral ambiguity into discussions of the war.

Kamm is saying that moral ambiguity creates a platform for people of bad faith to stand on. By exaggerating the destruction at Dresden, Irving over-stated the extent of the moral ambiguity created by the bombing raids, and thereby enlarged the platform available for the Nazi apologists to erect the scaffolding of their arguments. And that’s true.

What’s false about Kamm’s argument is that he refuses to admit the existence of any moral ambiguity at all. Look at his last paragraph: “But Dresden was not a crime. It was a terrible act in a just and necessary war. ” But there’s nothing in the article to explain why Dresden was not a crime. He seems to be arguing that it is not possible for a crime to be committed during a just war. I would say that the exact opposite is true: every war, no matter how just, is filled with crimes. Vonnegut would go farther: he would say that there is no such thing as a just war, because war is all crime. Either my position or Vonnegut’s is defensible, I think; but Kamm’s is not.

61

Guano 03.19.10 at 6:52 pm

I think that debates about the morality of the bombing of Dresden occured before Irving’s book was published (1963?) The exact number of people killed was irrelevant to the debate: it was the horror of fire-bombing and the fact that the city was crowded with displaced people.

62

Substance McGravitas 03.19.10 at 6:52 pm

the important assertion that he makes – that Vonnegut served as a conduit that introduced Irving’s falsehood into the popular consciousness – is true.

The important assertion he makes is in sentence one of the article: “The crimes of Nazi Germany were so great that the politically malevolent have periodically sought to diminish them.” Which is a very odd sentence. But taking it for what I think it means, it takes a very strange person to imagine that the murder of X million people is diminished by the murder of X thousand or X hundred thousand. In identifying Irving’s game he plays it. Beating up on Vonnegut is just a byproduct of the schoolyard scuffle.

63

Ceri B. 03.19.10 at 6:55 pm

Kamm would have liked Dresden better if Irving’s number turned out to be true. He wants from the dead in Dresden, and Iraq and Afghanistan, and from every living observer everywhere, just what his comrades in Darkness at Noon want from the people they torture. Not just submission, but active endorsement and approval. All of us need to agree (and to believe) that our faction is the best in the world, the most humane and the most terrible. Everything we do to others is necessary, because we are the best in the world and never inflict any needless suffering. And everything we do is proper and good, because we are the best in the world and know how to use every instrument to its fullest to inspire shock and awe, to bring back a recently neglected phrase.

For fans of dread overlordship like Kamm, the real problem with inflated claims of Allied harm is that when refuted, they lead people to feel that there’s things we could have done but didn’t, and since we did something, it has to have been the best to do, but since overpowering others is the best to do and we didn’t overpower as much as we might have, then there might have been a weakness in our resolve or our use of our instruments, but that would make us less than best.

64

rea 03.19.10 at 7:38 pm

A mere 10 9/11’s, not 50–what a basis for self congratulations!

65

piglet 03.19.10 at 7:54 pm

Chris 30: “The total destruction of this city would achieve immeasurable results in reducing the industrial capacity of the enemy’s war machine. This, together with the effect on German morale, which would be felt throughout the country, would play a very important part in shortening and in winning the war.”

This statement is both accurate and quite understandable given the historical situation. Somebody should mention that Germany had declared Total War on the world, and was unlikely to be prevented from succeeding with less than extreme force. It is unfortunate that some of us reflexively suspect an attempt to whitewash Iraq any time WWII is mentioned. We can debate the moral justification of certain allied acts during WWII and perhaps label some of them as “atrocities” if we can muster the ethical conviction, while at the same time recognizing that Nazi revisionists do engage in willful exaggeration of these acts in order to minimize the Nazi guilt. But we shouldn’t even start playing the game of whether war X can or cannot be cited in justification of war Y.

In order to counter the Iraq war apologetics of people like Kamm, what needs to be pointed out is the fundamental fact that Iraq in 2003 had not threatened anybody, that the attack on Iraq was a war of aggression, and that the UN framework of international law declaring war of aggression a crime against humanity had been put in place precisely as a result of the experience of WWII.

66

toby 03.19.10 at 8:05 pm

So it goes.

67

Aulus Gellius 03.19.10 at 8:13 pm

I don’t see that Kamm’s even accusing Vonnegut of being naive, at least in this article. He doesn’t seem to have much to say about Vonnegut at all; he just uses him as an example and partial explanation of how this idea of what happened at Dresden spread, and was used as a proof of Allied badness.

The point, I think, is just that Vonnegut is a famous writer: the fact that he included Irving’s number shows how widely Irving’s claims spread. It really makes no sense to portray this article as an attack on Vonnegut, or showing that Kamm dislikes Vonnegut, or has even read Vonnegut.

68

Substance McGravitas 03.19.10 at 8:18 pm

It really makes no sense to portray this article as an attack on Vonnegut

“Kurt Vonnegut, who as a prisoner of war had survived the bombing of Dresden, alighted on Irving’s figure and made this alleged atrocity — complete with a long quotation from Irving — a central theme of his novel Slaughterhouse-Five.” If you’re gonna go “Pfft, ALLEGED atrocity, and with evidence from a crazy Nazi” that seems to me to be a criticism of Slaughterhouse-Five.

69

toby 03.19.10 at 8:22 pm

I read the article and thought it a rather disreputable attempt to smear Vonnegut by association with Irving.

However, Irving was only fully outed quite recently. When Vonnegut was writing, Irving’s book would have been regarded as the most authoritative study of the Dresden bombing. Irving used to be highly regarded as a military historian, and two eminent historians of World War II went into the witness box on his behalf during his failed libel action against Dorothy Lipstadt.

“Slaughterhouse Five” still stands as a great novel, and you do not have to be a pacifist to appreciate it. Kamm’s seems to be more concerned to down everything Vonnegut wrote afterwards:

“In his great work Vonnegut depicted the sombreness and absurdity of human existence. Beyond that work came a coarsening of his art into caricature. “

That actually may be right – I cannot remember anything Vonnegut subsequently wrote, but “Player Piano”, “Cat’s Cradle” and “God Bless You, Mr Rosewater” stick in my mind.

Picasso did not paint anything really great after “Guernica”, and no one seems to hold that against him.

70

b9n10nt 03.19.10 at 8:22 pm

“The crimes of Nazi Germany were so great that the politically malevolent have periodically sought to diminish them.”

Yes, but who are these politically malevolent? In the wake of millions of displaced, murdered, imprisoned, impoverished, and traumatized Iraqis and Americans, the politically malevolent in the West are NAZI apologists? Really?

# 61: “Somebody should mention that Germany had declared Total War on the world”

Yes, and then someone should mention that “Germany” is an imperfect mental object of a really-existing world. Just for balance.

71

Bloix 03.19.10 at 8:31 pm

#61- all right, the important assertion he makes about Vonnegut. I thought that was implicit but perhaps it should have been explicit. I’ve always had an unfortunate tendency to belabor the obvious, but in this case perhaps the obvious required belaboring.

Look, it’s true as a matter of historical fact that Nazi apologists have attempted to gin up exaggerated figures to show that Germans suffered, too. This doesn’t change the very different historical fact that Germans did suffer. The fact that the 25,000 Germans who were incinerated at Dresden were not 135,000 incinerated Germans doesn’t change the deadness of the 25,000, but it does make them less useful as props for Nazi apologists. It should be possible to make this point, as Kamm rightly does, without belittling the crime that killed 25,000, as Kamm wrongly does.

72

piglet 03.19.10 at 8:49 pm

69: “Yes, and then someone should mention that “Germany” is an imperfect mental object of a really-existing world. Just for balance.”

Maybe then “World War II” is also just a mental object, which is true as far is it goes. Oh, I see maybe this was just a troll. So apologies for feeding it.

73

Hidari 03.19.10 at 8:52 pm

‘Picasso did not paint anything really great after “Guernica”, and no one seems to hold that against him.’

Not only do I not hold that against him, I don’t hold it against him because it is not, in fact, true.

74

Chris Bertram 03.19.10 at 9:05 pm

As for Vonnegut’s post-S5 career, I enjoyed Breakfast of Champions, Galapagos, Hocus Pocus, and Timequake. Of those, perhaps only Galapagos has real literary merit, but opinons will differ.

75

someguy 03.19.10 at 9:30 pm

Chris Bertram,

“Incidentally, it is unsurprising that someone who thinks that it is morally permitted deliberately to kill large numbers of civilians in order to secure a political objective (which is what Kamm thinks about Hiroshima) should find Vonnegut’s book uncongenial.”

I seriously doubt Kamm believes any such thing. He is pretty clear that he thinks that a very persuasive body of evidence exists that the Atomic bombings saved lives by ending the war early.

I believe he wishes the public debate on the subject was better informed of this pertinent information and that fewer people were gulled by the ridiculiosly concocted notion, that the A-Bombs were dropped on Japan, as is it sought to surrender, in order to intimidate the Soviets.

Unfortunately once these things have been established in a certain section of the public mind they seem almost impossible to dislodge no matter how extensively they have been debunked.

76

Chris Bertram 03.19.10 at 9:51 pm

someguy: so you _agree_ that Kamm thinks it was morally permissible deliberately to kill a large number of civilians in order to end the war?

77

Bloix 03.19.10 at 9:55 pm

On the decision to drop the atomic bomb, see http://crossroads.alexanderpiela.com/files/Fussell_Thank_God_AB.pdf, by a veteran whose war was utterly unlike that of Kurt Vonnegut.

78

bianca steele 03.19.10 at 10:03 pm

If @65 is at all representative, and correct that Kamm’s primary and really sole interest is Iraq, Kamm ought not ever to discuss anything else, for fear of doing harm to his own side in those conflicts.

79

Platonist 03.19.10 at 10:22 pm

“Picasso did not paint anything really great after “Guernica”, and no one seems to hold that against him.”

Not only is this, as Hidari says, utterly untrue, the truth is closer to the contrary.

You would have had a better case (only better: Les Demoiselles) had you said: Picasso did not paint anything really great until Guernica. I much prefer his mature work to his blue period and rote cubist bores.

80

magistra 03.19.10 at 10:23 pm

I think that debates about the morality of the bombing of Dresden occured before Irving’s book was published (1963?).

George Bell, the bishop of Chichester, was objecting to area bombing back in 1943, before the attack on Dresden. And in 1956, the ‘twinning’ of the cities of Coventry and Dresden brought what had happened in both cities during the war to widespread attention in the UK.

81

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.19.10 at 10:30 pm

@71 …but it does make them less useful as props for Nazi apologists.

But as 62 noted, this line of Nazi apologetics doesn’t make sense anyway. Would you agree? So, then, why do Kamm and you act as if it did? As 62 excellently put it: “In identifying Irving’s game he plays it.”

82

roger 03.19.10 at 10:37 pm

I think it is a small victory that, through innumerable people who felt just as Vonnegut did, war can’t be conducted with WWII ferocity by a great power without a revolt. When the U.S. employed wwii style bombing of Vietnam, the outcry was too great, and cost the U.S. too much credibility, to pursue that option again. Shock n awe was a very brief episode in Iraq; and though the U.S., of course, razed Fallujah (Just as Russia razed Grozny) at a cost in lives we don’t now know, but with exemplary barbarity, it was still a pale shadow of WWII.

The propaganda arm of the establishment has always chaffed at this. Kamm, a mean and mealy figure, reproduces the clubman’s opinion – this is his function. But I’d bet that – for the foreseeable future – the immoral side will continue to lose. Kamm’s career will continue to unfold in the comic, rather than the horrific, mode.

83

someguy 03.20.10 at 12:30 am

Chris Bertram,

He thinks not dropping the bombs would have caused more suffering and that while terrible it was not a crime.

I think there is a big difference between it was terrible but not a crime justified/the correct decision because it saved many more lives and

“it is morally permitted deliberately to kill large numbers of civilians in order to secure a political objective .”

Nothing false about your statement. I just think it is important to note that the political objective is to save a much greater number of lives.

84

b9n10nt 03.20.10 at 12:58 am

Piglet:

To me it seems that killing Nazis as a biological military resource is a just means to end end war. So, to the extent that Nazi’s = “Germany” = Germans,the fire bombing of German cities is justified. But, of course, no state is identical to the population that comprises it. To this extent, the fire bombing was pure terror.

Pretty banal, no? I thought this was being overlooked in the statement I responded to. As soon as we start referring to states as organic entities (aka “Germany comitted agression”) we must remain alert that this is a useful literary conceit and not descriptive. And isn’t this distinction between civilians and states a necessary prior to any discussion of just and unjust acts in war?

85

Bloix 03.20.10 at 3:07 am

#81 – the fact that a bad faith argument “doesn’t make sense” has nothing to do with whether it broadly influences the public debate of an issue. Bad faith arguments that “don’t make sense” frequently become the conventional wisdom. If a bad faith argument can be refuted, not merely because it “doesn’t make sense,” but because it is based on fraudulent assertions of fact, then it’s perfectly appropriate to do so. That’s not playing anyone’s game.

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alex 03.20.10 at 8:46 am

@82 – if only that were true. The USA was carpet-bombing SE Asia from the mid-60s; by the early 70s the geographical area covered was growing larger, not shrinking. It took an awful long time [i.e. never] for any evidence of public revulsion to have an impact. Despite what the neocons would have you believe, the USA did not leave Vietnam because of the hippies, but because the NVA kicked their asses.

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ogmb 03.20.10 at 10:23 am

Bloix @60: No, Kamm doesn’t say that. Kamm thinks Vonnegut is naive and simplistic and not very bright.

1. “The crimes of Nazi Germany were so great that the politically malevolent have periodically sought to diminish them.”

Diminish Nazi crimes ≡ political malevolent (note plural)

2. “One method is Holocaust denial, which can be argued consistently only by ignoring or faking the historical evidence.”

Holocaust denial ≡ ignoring or faking historical evidence (note ignoring is a deliberate act)

3. “A subtler means is to exaggerate the death toll due to Allied bombing.”

subtler means ≡ same M.O., applied more insidiously (note the offence is to exaggerate, not to falsify, the death toll)

4. “Perhaps the most assiduous promoter of an inflated total of victims has been David Irving. In his first book, The Destruction of Dresden, he concluded that at least 135,000 had died. That figure quickly made its way into culture. Kurt Vonnegut, who as a prisoner of war had survived the bombing of Dresden, alighted on Irving’s figure and made this alleged atrocity — complete with a long quotation from Irving — a central theme of his novel Slaughterhouse-Five. But the statistic was bogus and was revealed as such during Irving’s unsuccessful libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books in 2000.”

There is nothing at all that says that Vonnegut is naive and simplistic and not very bright. It says the bogus number was revealed in 2000, but says nothing about whether V. knew or did not know about the falsification before its revelation. But it doesn’t matter due to Kamm’s prior construct. He speaks of multiple offenders in the first sentence, but cites only Irving and Vonnegut. He sets up the M.O. in sentence 2, where Holocaust denial can only be explained by (willfully) ignoring or faking the evidence. He transfers this M.O. to the exaggeration of the Dresden death toll in sentence 3. And the rest is simply to present the politically malevolents, and tie them together as fast as possible. Irving is the one identified as the forger, but Vonnegut is in cahoots by entering it in the popular culture, by creating a “potent myth” about a

Kamm has a simple logical problem to overcome. It’s that a war crime that killed 135,000 doesn’t become a legal act of war by only succeeding to kill 25,000 — what matters is the intent. Kamm needs to take the exaggeration of the death toll and turn it into an forgery of the whole incident, a “potent myth” geared towards deliberately diminishing the crimes of the Nazis, concocted by a lying historian and an untrustworthy popularizer.

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ogmb 03.20.10 at 10:29 am

… by creating a “potent myth” about a terrible accident in a just and necessary war.

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Tom M 03.20.10 at 12:51 pm

If Dresden was, as Kamm claims, … a militarily important transport hub and a great many Nazi troops and a lot of equipment passed through the city. then why was it bombed in February, 1945, using a technique developed much earlier in the war? IIRC, in SH5, Vonnegut “alleges” that the people in the city believed that Allied bombing would not occur to their city.
Hamburg was bombed in July, 1943, when the war was arguably (the Germans surrendered in Stalingrad and North Africa in February 1943) in doubt; by February 1945, there was very little doubt of the outcome. For Kamm to have to claim Dresden’s importance as a rail hub to justify its bombing at such a late stage of the war speaks to the real importance of the city. The atrocity of Dresden, for me, wasn’t the bombing but the timing.

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Beryl 03.20.10 at 6:19 pm

I can’t find my old notes, but it is my recollection that the bombing of Dresden was also cited by DDR and Communist publications as an example of “Western” barbarity, the narrative being that the Western allies were already foreseeing the need to force the Soviet zone into extensive postwar reconstruction. In other words the bombing was done not so much to defeat the Nazis as to sabotage the Communists. And, at least for a while, Communist sources cited Irving (and his figures) to this effect.

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Bloix 03.20.10 at 6:24 pm

ogmb, you need to click on the link that Hidari gave us @3 to see what Kamm thinks of Vonnegut. I think you’re drawing links that can’t fairly be drawn.

As for numbers, of course they are important. Do you view the Allies and the Nazis as moral equals? Well, perhaps you do, and you think that Dresden was as great an atrocity as Auschwitz and that Churchill was as monstrous a war criminal as Hitler. But if you don’t then you are acknowledging that scale matters.

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piglet 03.20.10 at 9:34 pm

b9n10nt 03.20.10 at 12:58 am Piglet: “To me it seems that killing Nazis as a biological military resource is a just means to end end war.”

How nice and clear your moral universe seems to be. Do you think all the German soldiers that were killed, and to whose killing nobody objects to, were Nazis? Of course not all were, and although some were involved in crimes or atrocities, not all committed any crime that justified killing them (same is true for the Japanese of course). A common rhetorical triteness speaks of “innocent civilians” as if soldiers were by definition guilty. Some are but many more are forced to take part in butcheries that they have no personal responsibility for. Somebody so certain of his/her superior morality might want to think a bit more about the ethical dilemmas of WWII.

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piglet 03.20.10 at 9:37 pm

roger 82: “I think it is a small victory that, through innumerable people who felt just as Vonnegut did, war can’t be conducted with WWII ferocity by a great power without a revolt.” What alex 86 said.
This statement about war having become less atrocious post WWII is entirely false and delusional.

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roger 03.20.10 at 10:54 pm

Alex, well, we don’t disagree that America carpet bombed Vietnam. As I said, it caused an outcry, and yes, that outcry was of concern to the American establishment. No matter how tough Nixon and Kissinger talked, they were very concerned in 1971-72 to look like they were ending the war and making peace with the Soviets. Why? On your account, they had no reason to.

We do disagree about the limits of the bombing. Hippies are one thing – which I am not going to underestimate. But it wasn’t hippies I was talking about (although what you really saw was a falling apart within the service itself, as draftees reflected the revulsion against the war). There’s no monocausal explanation of why the U.S. lost the war, but the wwii mindset would have surely allowed laying waste to hanoi with atom bombs – after all, John Foster Dulles offered two atom bombs to the French for breaking the siege of Dien Bien Phu. If your account was true and there was a complete disregard for world public opinion, definitely those bombs would have been dropped.

Why weren’t they? You think fear of China? I don’t think so – or rather, that fear would be to my point. The U.S. was never going to risk seeing its own cities bombed the way cities were bombed in Europe in WWII. Public opinion was reinforced by the strong deterrent that the American leadership took at its guide: never let American cities suffer what we did to Japanese cities in WWII.

As for kicking ass. Kicking ass is definitely not what the NVA did in the war. They weren’t so foolish. They persisted, they probed, they relied on the improbability of the South Vietnamese government ever gaining legitimacy with the people. It is the opposite of the kicking ass strategy of the decisive battle, the occupation – it is, rather, the idea that you defeat your opponent by operating on the very conditions of battle – what a battle is, how it is staged, etc.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.21.10 at 10:38 am

Bloix,
first of all, I agree with you that numbers matter; everybody does, this is not the issue.

I don’t think that “bad faith” has anything to do with this. My point is that the proposition “the allies did bad things, therefore some (or all) Nazi’s actions were justified” (or some variation of it) is wrong no matter what the numbers are, and you, by addressing it the way you do, validate this proposition; you are playing the game.

This reminds me of the recent torture debate, where supporters argued (in good faith, I’m sure) that torture is acceptable because it produces results and saves lives. Many of the opponents responded by insisting that “torture doesn’t work” – playing the game too.

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engels 03.21.10 at 12:11 pm

So Henri so how would a ‘true’ opponent of torture like yourself argue against it? Not by saying its ‘wrong’, I assume, because as you’ve said on many previous threads matters of right and wrong are purely subjective, a matter of different, equally valid ‘perspectives’ over which there can be no rational argument…

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.21.10 at 2:17 pm

From my perspective torture is wrong because it’s barbaric, and I assume most people share this perspective.

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Guano 03.21.10 at 2:58 pm

As I’ve commented above, the bombing of Dresden was an issue before Irving’s book and before Slaughterhouse-5. The number of people killed was not the issue. The question was whether it had been strategically necessary or a way of frightening the Germans (and the Russians) and the fact that it was firebombing that sucked oxygen out of the air in the centre of the city and asphyxiated people. Phrases like “Shock and awe” and “WMD” were unknown in the 1950s, but there was the same concern that this was very different from killing soldiers, or from destroying weapons’ factories and railway junctions. The bombing of Dresden could never easily be put into the “distasteful but necesssary” category.

So Kamm is wrong if he thinks that this debate started with Slaughterhouse-5 and was about numbers: it was about strategies of terror-bombing supposed to cause demoralisation leading to an enemy admitting defeat. These debates continued with the Vietnam War and with “Shock and Awe” in Iraq. The Americans seem to have been a bit shocked and awed themselves to find that subjecting Iraqis to shock and awe doesn’t necessarily lead them to demoralisation and accepting defeat.

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BenSix 03.21.10 at 3:05 pm

roger

I think it is a small victory that, through innumerable people who felt just as Vonnegut did, war can’t be conducted with WWII ferocity by a great power without a revolt.

But there hasn’t been conflict on anywhere near the scale of World War 2. Great powers have no pressing urge to scrap: they’ve weapons that could utterly eviscerate eachother. As you say, in Iraq, Vietnam and elsewhere, there’ve been tactics used that are just as callous: has there been a fundamental shift, or just no wars that might render them “necessary”? (Guess this question’s pretty much unanswerable – interesting to ponder, though!)

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engels 03.21.10 at 5:26 pm

So campaigners against torture should never say that it is wrong, or that it doesn’t work, they should just sit back and ‘assume’ that most people share their perspective?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.21.10 at 6:54 pm

No, I believe they should say that torture is wrong whether it works or not. And that the Nazis were wrong whether the allies killed 20000 or 200000 in Dresden.

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Bloix 03.21.10 at 10:52 pm

#95- “My point is that the proposition “the allies did bad things, therefore some (or all) Nazi’s actions were justified” (or some variation of it) is wrong no matter what the numbers are, and you, by addressing it the way you do, validate this proposition; you are playing the game.”

This is not what the Nazi apologists say. They don’t try to justify what the Nazis did. They say, “yes, there were many horrible things done by both sides, we were bad and so were you, it’s time to move on.” The answer has to be, “the horrible things your side did were beyond anything known in all of history. They were uniquely evil. If you cannot accept that as a fact, we have nothing to discuss.”

If we were talking about Japan, it would be easy to see how persuasive this can be. The average Japanese knows a lot about Hiroshima (90 – 140,000 killed) and very little about the Rape of Nanking (300,000 civilians killed.) In the Japanese popular mind, their country made mistakes; their enemies committed war crimes against them. But in fact the Japanese killed many millions of civilians in Indonesia, China, the Philippines, and elsewhere, and they don’t acknowledge it. This is the sort of situation that the Nazi apologists are working toward.

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ogmb 03.22.10 at 10:18 am

ogmb, you need to click on the link that Hidari gave us @3 to see what Kamm thinks of Vonnegut. I think you’re drawing links that can’t fairly be drawn.

No I don’t, I go by what Kamm writes in his op-ed.

As for numbers, of course they are important. Do you view the Allies and the Nazis as moral equals? Well, perhaps you do, and you think that Dresden was as great an atrocity as Auschwitz and that Churchill was as monstrous a war criminal as Hitler. But if you don’t then you are acknowledging that scale matters.

This might be the dumbest piece of moronic bullshit I’ve read on CT, and that’s saying something.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.22.10 at 11:17 am

But in fact the Japanese killed many millions of civilians in Indonesia, China, the Philippines, and elsewhere, and they don’t acknowledge it.

You seem to be looking for a balance in the level of attention paid to ‘our’ vs. ‘their’ atrocities. I don’t know about Japan, but with the Nazis, I don’t think there’s a reason to worry.

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chris y 03.22.10 at 12:04 pm

As for numbers, of course they are important. Do you view the Allies and the Nazis as moral equals? Well, perhaps you do, and you think that Dresden was as great an atrocity as Auschwitz and that Churchill was as monstrous a war criminal as Hitler. But if you don’t then you are acknowledging that scale matters.

This is perfect nonsense in so many ways. Firstly, it is perfectly reasonable to think that Dresden was nothing like as great an atrocity as Auschwitz and that Churchill was in no sense as monstrous as Hitler, but still believe that Dresden was an atrocity which should and could have been avoided. If Oliver Kamm picks my pocket and I call the police on him, is he going to accuse me of thinking he’s the moral equivalent of a multiple murderer because I did so?

Secondly, the people who organised the Dresden raid weren’t told to go and kill 30,000 people or 130,000 people, they were told to go and flatten the place. The actual number of casualties might have been half what it was or ten times what it was, contingent on all sorts of factors, but the point is that the people commissioning the raid didn’t care. The fact that the correct body count was the ‘lower number’ rather than the ‘higher number’ is in no way a virtue, because no effort was made to achieve this outcome.

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engels 03.22.10 at 12:57 pm

So they can say it’s wrong but they can’t say it doesn’t work, despite the fact the second is a fact whereas the first is, as you’ve said on many occasions, just a matter of opinion, like preferring a certain flavour of ice cream?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.22.10 at 1:27 pm

What if it does work? Or, if you definitely believe it doesn’t work now, what if tomorrow someone invents a new torture method that does work?

Why is it banned internationally, is it because it doesn’t work?

Also, I don’t think “a matter of opinion” is a good way to put it; rather, it’s a result of the evolution of human society. In your ice cream analogy, it would be (the best I can make of it) something like ‘being disgusted by certain flavors’, like, say, by shit-flavored ice cream, even if it’s perfectly nutritious.

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engels 03.22.10 at 2:12 pm

Henri, if I’d said something like ‘there’s nothing wrong with torture, it just doesn’t work as a tactic’ then your last comment might make sense. But I didn’t so it doesn’t.

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alex 03.22.10 at 2:13 pm

@94 – “Kicking ass is definitely not what the NVA did in the war. They weren’t so foolish….”

And yet, when the USA turned around, it found a dam’ great bootprint on its ass. You need to distinguish between actually kicking someone’s ass, and swaggering around yelling “I’m gunna kick your ass!” while doing no such thing in practice. The reason the USA was hunting around for ways to extricate themselves from VN by the early 70s was that they were conspicuously failing to win. They really did try hard, for much longer than all of WW2 [and expended more bombs doing it], first. Your ‘outcry’ took an awful long time to get going.

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engels 03.22.10 at 3:03 pm

‘Why is it banned internationally[?] [I]s it because it doesn’t work?’

I don’t know for sure why it is banned internationally. Do you? It seems like it could be part of the explanation. Compare: why is chemical warfare banned but not nuclear warfare? Is it because nuclear warfare is less wrong or barbaric? Are you sure you’ve thought this through?

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piglet 03.22.10 at 3:04 pm

Since Vietnam has been brought up, not that it really matters for the original discussion but I think the facts are rather that the share of Vietnamese civilians killed by US warfare was way higher than the share of German or Japanese civilians killed through WWII, despite bombing raids and Hiroshima. I don’t mean this as another exercise in counting bodies. The point is that I think the statement by roger 82 is false, and I believe it is important to get this right. There is really no reason in the world to believe that war machines (and their respective home fronts) have become more sensitive to civilian suffering as a result of WWII. (At best, they may have become more adept at hiding the suffering from public view.)

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roger 03.22.10 at 3:33 pm

piglet, civilian casualties in Vietnam – which are hard to get – are spread out from 1954-1975. Civilian casualties inflicted on Japan, for instance, are spread out from 1941-1945 – as before that period, there was no attack on the Japanese island. So, your framework of comparison is simply way off. If we move to the Chinese, Korean, Philippino, etc. civilians killed by the Japanese between 1936 – 1945, again you would reach much much higher figures than were killed in the Southeast Asian wars altogether, although from a greater population pool.

A quick look at Wikipedia – which relies on one historian for the figure – puts the number of North Vietnamese civilian deaths at @ 650,000. From 1944-1945 – one year – Japan suffered on a low estimate 300,000 bombing deaths – from Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki – in one year. At a comparable rate, North Vietnam would have suffered almost 1 million 800,000 civilian casualties. It is simply the distance, I suppose, separating WWII from us that makes it seem like a tv show. It wasn’t.
.

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ajay 03.23.10 at 11:41 am

There is really no reason in the world to believe that war machines (and their respective home fronts) have become more sensitive to civilian suffering as a result of WWII. (At best, they may have become more adept at hiding the suffering from public view.)

So, you think that a Bomber Command-type area bombing raid on, say, Baghdad would have been generally accepted by the US government and the US public? Not just accepted, but lauded? Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, of course.

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Guano 03.23.10 at 12:33 pm

By chance I was talking the other day to an elderly relative who had been asked in the early 1970s to comment on a scientific paper written by someone in North Vietnam (for the North Vietnamese government) about the effects of the American bombing on people’s health. He was sworn to secrecy (by the author). More bombs fell on North Vietnam in one year than on Germany throughout the whole of WWII, they created craters of stagnant water and that led to leaps in the rates of malaria and water-borne diseases. There was a health emergency, though the Vietnamese were organised enough to keep it under control.

This happened, and citizens in the West weren’t able to stop their governments from doing it. Citizens in the West were only vaguely aware that this is what was happening, but it was this vague awareness that led to people asking questions. This made it more difficult to continue the bombing or escalate as it would become clearer that the strategy was to cause civilian suffering.

Some of the post-9/11 rhetoric does seem to suggest that some politicians thinking is that the West should show lots of force, and show how many weapons we’ve got and how much damage they can cause, and that this will make terrorists too afraid to attack us. It hasn’t worked, of course. And there has been an enormous amount of questioning of the motives of “The War on Terror” precisely because of an awareness that this is what war involves, so politicians have had to wrap it up in other reasons like WMD. I think that there are still politicians who think this way and who think that they can look manly and tough and win elections this way, but there is also a public awareness of the dangers of this. I think we’ll see further further episodes where these get played out again.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.23.10 at 2:14 pm

Engels, well, why do you think banning barbaric practices (like torture or child labor) should be similar to banning categories of weapons?

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engels 03.23.10 at 2:43 pm

Well I don’t really think they’re similar. Anyway to be clear I agree torture should be banned whether or not its use is of military benefit. But I don’t think it has any military benefit. And I dislike the ultra-leftist (or whatever it is) idea that anyone who points this out rather than sticking to purely moral arguments is ‘playing the game’. And it seems an especially bad position for someone who also claims that there is no right or wrong about morality and it is entirely a matter of your ‘perspective’.

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piglet 03.23.10 at 3:11 pm

roger, I referred to the share of civilian vs. military deaths, not the absolute numbers. Nobody here is ignorant of the fact that WWII killed many more people than any other war in history. Do us a favor and read and understand other people’s comments before rejecting them. When I deny that subsequent warfare was “more sensitive to civilian suffering”, I am not suggesting that they reach WWII’s scale of destruction. What I do suggest is that the WWII allies were, on the whole, dedicated to upholding the distinction between civilian and military targets even when the other side declared “total war”. That German casualties were overwhelmingly military. That events such as Hiroshima and Dresden stand out precisely because they were not representative. In Vietnam, otoh, there was no practical distinction between military and non-military targets and this was by and large supported by the home front. To suggest otherwise is simply delusional. True, there was no nuclear bomb but do I need to remind you that in that war the US employed chemical weapons on the largest scale ever? Millions of civilians suffering from exposure to Agent Orange, hundreds of thousands killed, hundreds of thousands of birth defects etc.?

ajay 113: does scale matter at all in your considerations? Iraq was never a serious adversary to the US war machine and both Iraq wars were over in few weeks, each time practically without any meaningful military resistance. Still, the US did employ extreme force and the amounts of explosives dumped over Baghdad rival those employed in WWII. The number of civilian deaths is highly disputed of course.

The 1999 war against Yugoslavia is also instructive. Again, Yugoslavia was no serious adversary and practically incapable of military resistance. Still, the damage inflicted was considerable and civilian targets were not spared. The Yugoslavian television was deliberately targeted, in violation of international law. To my knowledge, even in WWII enemy media were never deliberately targeted. Among the targets in Yugoslavia were electric, water and sewer plants and other civilian infrastructure as well as chemical factories (of no military relevance), the destruction of which caused toxic exposure to the civilian population. Although the death toll of that war was small in comparison, most of the casualties were civilians.

Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon deliberately flattened civilian residential neighborhoods in Beirut, far from the border region where Hezbollah operated. Israel has consistently used tactics of blockade, illegal under international law, in its warfare against Hamas, deliberately cutting the civilian population off from vital food and medical deliveries, bombing civilian infrastructure including the only power plant, etc. etc. etc. If you have really never heard of these facts, ajay, better start paying attention before making your sweeping claims. In none of the examples cited above have the perpetrators paid a significant price for doing what they did.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.23.10 at 4:43 pm

Well, “torture is wrong” is such a basic sentiment that I’m not really worried about sounding pompous and dogmatic. If this is in contradiction with something else I said, I guess I’ll have to live with it.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.23.10 at 5:19 pm

Actually, I take it back, engels. I now realize that you have a good point: if I am indoctrinated to dislike torture and someone else is indoctrinated to like it, then me saying “torture is wrong” doesn’t do anything, while you engaging on the lowest-common-denominator level is, in fact, a (sort of) meaningful act. Same logic is probably applicable to Kamm’s numerology. Yes, you got me.

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conall 03.24.10 at 10:01 am

What do you call a historian who changes his/her narrative in the light of newly discovered (authentic?) documentation? It’s time you bloggers stopped claiming things about Irving and look at what he is now saying about the Dresden death toll, and the accusation of being a ‘holocaust denier’.

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