Delenda Est Carthago

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

13.2.06

13 February 1945

Dresden is bombed.

On this night in 1945, 773 British bombers dropped 2500 tons of high explosives on Dresden, a German city on the Elbe 100 miles south of Berlin. Two-thirds of the bombs were incendiaries filled with highly combustible chemicals such as magnesium or phosphorus. This created a self-sustaining firestorm that destroyed 90% of the inner city. The "Florence on the Elbe," so named because of its architectural wonder and collection of art, was flattened.

Modern estimates of the number of civilians killed is about 135,000, the largest ever in a bombing run. The number of casualties at Hiroshima was 70,000, and for the entire Second World War, 51,509 British civilians were killed by bombs.

The bombing run was the brainchild of Air Marshal Arthur Harris of the RAF, who believed that nighttime bombing raids would undermine civilian morale, despite the failure of that tactic with regard to English civilians. Dresden remains a special case among the dozens of German cities bombed at this time because it quartered few German troops, had little war-related industry (some, but not much), and was virtually undefended by anti-aircraft guns.

I'm of two minds about the firebombing of Dresden. On the one hand, both sides were engaged in "total war," and if the Nazis were willing to destroy civilian targets, they exposed their own citizens to such retaliation. On the other hand, the bombing of Dresden has always seemed so idiotic to me, with absolutely no war-related objective in the least. It's frustrating to think that the Allies could be so amazingly petty, but they were, after all, human. People can and have defended the bombing, but it seems almost easier to defend the atomic bombs in Japan than this.

I've never been to Dresden. I was in Berlin, and saw a lot of the mementos of World War II. It would have been interesting to go to Dresden, although I would have probably been too young to appreciate it.

Go read Slaughterhouse-5 for a bracing portrayal of the bombing. Plus, it's, you know, one of the best books ever written, so it's got that going for it.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as I know, even more modern studies settle at about 25 000 to 30 000 dead.

14/2/06 8:51 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Shoot, Anonymous, I just went back and checked my most recent source, and you're right. My bad.

14/2/06 10:25 AM  
Anonymous Beta Ray Steve said...

Dresden makes me think. I wonder why they bothered to bomb Dresden, when they wouldn't bomb the rail lines going to the death camps? It puts the lie to the assertion that they were not military targets, since Dresden wasn't either.

14/2/06 10:59 AM  
Blogger Roger Owen Green said...

Actually, I knew that your numbers were off from a piece I did on Hiroshima in August (appropriately).
http://rogerowengreen.blogspot.com/2005/08/mushroom-cloud.html#links

But you're probably right about the hubris as motivation. Steve's right, too; we did jack about the Holocaust when we could have.

14/2/06 11:07 AM  

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