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Remember the Firebombing of Dresden (What We’re up Against) | Mickey Z.

Photo credit: Mickey Z.Photo credit: Mickey Z.

Mickey Z. -- World News Trust

Feb. 4, 2013

Come you masters of war/You that build all the guns/You that build the death planes

- Dylan

As we mark the 68th anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden, I thought I’d offer another not-too-subtle reminder of what we’re up against.

The groundwork for the barbaric assault on Dresden was laid four years prior when Marshal Arthur Harris, the director of England's Bomber Command, decided to abandon the illusion of surgical strikes.

Nicknamed "Bomber," Harris mastered the ins and outs of committing war crimes from his malicious mentor, Winston Churchill.

The year was 1919. The Royal Air Force asked Churchill for permission to use chemical weapons "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment." Churchill, secretary of state at the war office at the time, promptly consented.

"I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes," he explained. Bomber Harris, an up-and-coming air force officer in 1919, concurred: "They [the Arabs and Kurds] now know what real bombing means, in casualties and damage."

“Simply a question of fashion”
Harris and Churchill teamed up again some 25 years later to execute a relentless terror bombing campaign during WWII for which neither offered any apologies nor demonstrated any qualms. "Now everyone's at it," Churchill said about the deliberate targeting of civilians. "It's simply a question of fashion -- similar to that of whether short or long dresses are in."

Bomber's attitude was best displayed when, during the later stages of the war, a motorcycle policeman stopped Harris for speeding. "You might have killed someone, sir," came the reprimand, to which Bomber Harris replied, "Young man, I kill thousands of people every night."

As for the Yanks in the European theater, under direct orders from President Roosevelt, U.S. bombers initially stuck to a policy of daylight precision (sic) bombing. Unlike their British counterparts, Americans did not have images of the Luftwaffe over London to motivate them towards unabashed mass murder so it took them a little longer to reach the point of targeting civilians as guiding principle.

The risks of daylight bombing runs did not pay off in accuracy -- only 50 percent of U.S. bombs fell within a quarter of a mile of the target. America soon joined its English allies in the execution of nighttime area bombing campaigns of civilian targets in Germany. The saturation bombardment of Bomber Harris and his U.S counterparts resulted in at least 635,000 dead German civilians.

Day or night, the great number of shells falling where they were not aimed easily debunked the myth of precision. A July 24-25, 1944, bombing operation named COBRA called for 1,800 US bombers to hit German defenders near Saint-Lo. The planes arrived one day early and bombed so inaccurately that 25 Americans were killed and 131 wounded-causing some U.S. units to open fire on their own aircraft.

The next day, with the American soldiers withdrawn thousands of yards to avoid a repeat performance, the bombers still missed their mark and ended up killing 111 GIs and wounding nearly 500 more.

"In order to invade the Continent," says historian Paul Fussell, "the Allies killed 12,000 innocent French and Belgian civilians who happened to live in the wrong part of town, that is, too near the railway tracks."

In 1945, Britain and America added fuel to the already simmering fire.

“A new kind of weather”
On Feb. 13-14, 1945, Allied bombers laid siege to the German town of Dresden -- once known as "Florence on the Elbe." With the Russians advancing rapidly towards Berlin, tens of thousands of German civilians fled into Dresden, believing it to be safe from attack. As a result, the city's population swelled from its usual 600,000 to at least one million.

Following up a smaller raid on Hamburg in July 1943 that killed at least 48,000 civilians, Winston Churchill enlisted the aid of British scientists to cook up "a new kind of weather." The goal was not only maximum destruction and loss of life, but also to show their communist allies what a capitalist war machine could do... in case Stalin had any crazy ideas.

An internal Royal Air Force memo described the anti-communist plans as such:

"Dresden, the seventh largest city in Germany and not much smaller than Manchester, is also [by] far the largest unbombed built-up area the enemy has got. In the midst of winter, with refugees pouring westwards and troops to be rested, roofs are at a premium, not only to give shelter ... but to house the administrative services displaced from other areas ... The intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it most ... and to show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do."

There was never any doubt on the part of the Allies exactly who they would be bombing at Dresden. Brian S. Blades, a flight engineer in a Lancaster of 460 (Australian) Squadron, wrote that during briefings, he heard phrases like "Virgin target," and "Intelligence reports thousands of refugees streaming into the city from other bombed areas."

Beside the stream of refugees, Dresden was also known for its china and its Baroque and Rococo architecture. Its galleries housed works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Botticelli.

On the evening of Feb. 13, none of this would matter to the Greatest (sic) Generation.

“The flames ate everything organic”
Using the Dresden soccer stadium as a reference point, over 2000 British Lancasters and American Flying Fortresses dropped loads of gasoline bombs every 50 square yards out from this marker. The enormous flame that resulted was eight square miles wide, shooting smoke three miles high. For the next 18 hours, regular bombs were dropped on top of this strange brew.

Twenty-five minutes after the bombing, winds reaching 150 MPH sucked everything into the heart of the storm. Because the air became superheated and rushed upward, the fire lost most of its oxygen, creating tornadoes of flame that can suck the air right out of human lungs.

Seventy percent of the Dresden dead either suffocated or died from poison gases that turned their bodies green and red. The intense heat melted some bodies into the pavement like bubblegum, or shrunk them into three-foot-long charred carcasses. Clean-up crews wore rubber boots to wade through the "human soup" found in nearby caves. In other cases, the superheated air propelled victims skyward only to come down in tiny pieces as far as 15 miles outside Dresden.

"The flames ate everything organic, everything that would burn," wrote journalist Phillip Knightley. "People died by the thousands, cooked, incinerated, or suffocated. Then American planes came the next day to machine-gun survivors as they struggled to the banks of the Elbe."

The Allied firebombing campaign murdered more than 100,000 people -- mostly civilians -- but the exact number may never be known due to the high number of refugees in the area.

The “other” collateral damage
Of course, humans were not the only casualties. As the bombing commenced, Otto Sailer-Jackson, who ran the Dresden Zoo, was forced to consider the standing Nazi order that if human life was endangered, all carnivores must be shot. However, before he could take the lives of his captive cats, a new wave of bombers set the zoo ablaze.

Sailer-Jackson recalled the scene:

"The elephants gave spine-chilling screams. Their house was still standing but an explosive bomb of terrific force had landed behind it, lifted the dome of the house, turned it round, and put it back on again ... The baby cow elephant was lying in the narrow barrier-moat on her back, her legs up to the sky. She had suffered severe stomach injuries and could not move."

Three hippopotamuses were drowned when iron debris pinned them to the bottom of their water basin. In the ape house, Sailer-Jackson found a gibbon that, when it reached out to the trainer, had no hands, only stumps. Nearly 40 rhesus monkeys escaped to the trees but were dead by the next day from drinking water polluted by the incendiary chemicals. For those animals that made it to the next day, the assault was far from over. A U.S. aircraft pilot came in low, firing at anything he could see was still alive.

"In this way," Sailer-Jackson explained, "our last giraffe met her death. Many stags and others animals which we had managed to save became victims of this hero."

Reminders…
Please allow me to remind you that this is the war almost universally deemed “good” and the generation anointed the “greatest.”

Please allow me to remind you that that in his wartime memoirs, “Sir” Winston Churchill seemed unable to work up much emotion in recalling the Dresden assault, writing: "We made a heavy raid in the latter month on Dresden, then a centre of communication of Germany's Eastern Front."

Please allow me to remind you that whenever you think this particular politician or that particular government is on “our side,” it’s a good time to ponder the events in Dresden 68 years ago.

Never forget, comrades: This is what we're up against.

#shifthappens

NYC Event Note: Mickey Z. will be part of a Feb. 9 panel called: “Game Over For the Environment: Keystone XL, Spectra and Direct Action.”

Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.

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