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The Bombers and the Bombed by Richard Overy - History

The Bombers and the Bombed by Richard Overy - History


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reviewed by Marc Schulman

The Bombers and the Bombed is an excellent overview of the Bombing Campaign over Europe during World War II. While there have been many excellent books written over the past 60 years on the air campaigns of World War II none that I have seen presents such an excellent overview of the campaign. Many of the books that I have read over the years have tended to examine specific elements of the campaign, but none have presented the broad overview that this book presents,

It opens up with vignette telling the story of an almost lost story of World War II, the British bombing of Bulgaria towards the end of the war. That bombing campaign, whose aim was political, shows both the effectiveness and the limitation of the bombing campaigns. The book then goes through a very thorough history of the development of first the British Bomber Command followed by the development of the US Eight Bomber Command.

One of the strongest points that come across from the book is how convinced those in charge of strategic bomber were that their efforts could be decisive and how wrong they were. One of the most interesting fact that is pointed out, is how the British Air Commander were quite cognizant of the fact that the German bombing of Great Britain had only served to strengthen British resolve, and yet they were sure it would have the opposite effect on the German people.

Much has changed since World War II and today’s smart bombs overcome one of the major failures of Strategic Bombing during World War II- its inaccuracy, However The Bomber and the Bombed serves as a warning to all those who believe air campaign alone can win wars.

For anyone looking for an overview of the air campaign in Europe- I highly recommend this book

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A few weeks before the end of World War Two, Winston Churchill drafted a memorandum to the British Chiefs of Staff:

'It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed . The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.'

How could a nation so proud of its high moral standards drop bombs on women and children?

More than half a century later, the strategic bombing campaign continues to nag the national conscience. Some historians go as far as to suggest that by bombing cities the British 'descended to the enemy's level' (John Keegan). This is, of course, an exaggeration. The bombing of Dresden cannot be equalled with the horrors of Auschwitz.

Many felt that the Germans deserved to reap the whirlwind they had sown. Yet Bomber Command's policy of targeting residential areas clearly contradicted Chamberlain's pre-war statement in parliament that it was 'against international law to bomb civilians as such and to make deliberate attacks on the civilian population'. How could a nation so proud of its high moral standards drop bombs on women and children?

The history of the British bombing campaign in World War Two shows us how easily war can erode moral standards. In the first months of the war, Bomber Command was anxious to avoid the risk of killing civilians, and constrained itself to leaflet dropping and attacks on naval targets. But after Dunkirk, the heavy bombers remained the only means by which Britain could fight the Nazis in continental Europe.


The painful memories of the Lancaster Bomber veterans: ‘We were looked at as if we were murderers’

Russell ‘Rusty’ Waughman is 98 years old and describes himself as ‘just an ordinary bloke’. Born in County Durham in 1923, he was a poorly child who was confined to a wheelchair with tuberculosis at one point. For 27 years, he worked for a packaging company near Kettering, and he still lives in the house he bought for ‘£1,650 with all the extras’ in 1956.

But for a period of seven months in 1943 and 1944, he inhabited a parallel universe as the pilot and skipper of an Avro Lancaster, the four-engined bomber that flew its final pre-production trials 80 years ago this summer. It went on to become the emblem of RAF Bomber Command and its night-time operations over Germany.

Waughman, the recipient of a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and the Légion d’Honneur, flew 30 ops and once nursed his damaged aircraft home safely to Lincolnshire after a mid-air collision with another Lancaster over Belgium.

He is one of 38 veterans (from Australia, Canada, Jamaica and New Zealand, as well as the UK) interviewed for a new documentary film about the Lancaster, currently in production and due for release early next year.

Lancaster features rarely seen archive film and spectacular air-to-air footage of Britain’s sole remaining airworthy Lancaster, from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. But at its heart are the testimonies of the men who flew the aircraft in wartime. The film-makers’ previous documentary, Spitfire, was a comparatively upbeat story about the iconic fighter planes that won the Battle of Britain in 1940 and the heroic ‘few’ who flew them. Lancaster, says Anthony Palmer, who co-directs the film with David Fairhead, ‘is a much darker story and a much bigger story’.

This is because the campaign to bomb German cities remains one of the most contentious Allied actions of the Second World War. The men who dropped the bombs have lived with a stigma that no other wartime service has had to carry. As one veteran – who flew 77 operations – puts it in the film, ‘If you mentioned [after the war] you were in Bomber Command, you were looked on as though you were a murderer.’

Following the German Blitzkrieg of 1940-41 on London, Coventry and other British cities, in which 43,000 civilians were killed, Britain pursued a policy of ‘area’ – blanket – bombing of German cities that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians (there is no definitive figure). The death rate among the air crew was colossal. Of a total of 125,000 Bomber Command crew (every one a volunteer, with an average age of 22) who flew on combat missions, 55,573 were killed. But after 1945, the questionable ethics of area bombing and the high civilian death toll became a source of official disquiet and the veterans of Bomber Command were never given the recognition they feel they deserve.

No campaign medal was struck, no national memorial erected to those 55,573 until nearly a lifetime had passed and most veterans had already died (the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, central London, was unveiled by the Queen in 2012, having been built with funds raised by the public).

The controversy was reignited recently when the Canadian writer Malcolm Gladwell described Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, the wartime head of Bomber Command, as a ‘psychopath’ in his new book The Bomber Mafia. Harris is staunchly defended by the veterans, while historians such as Richard Overy, a leading authority on the wartime bombing strategy, use more measured language than Gladwell to reach critical conclusions of their own about the man who had this warning for the Nazis: ‘They sowed the wind and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.’ But where does that leave the actions and reputations of the men who carried out the directive of the Air Ministry to destroy the ‘morale’ of the German people?

‘We tell our story with no agenda and we tell it through the eyes of the guys who were there, we don’t have experts in our film,’ says Fairhead, Lancaster’s co-director. As independent film-makers, Fairhead and Palmer are no strangers to obstacles and frustrations, and indeed, due to the coronavirus pandemic, are still seeking funds to complete the documentary to their satisfaction. But when they embarked on the project in 2018, their main enemy was time – as the youngest of the surviving veterans was 95.

‘It was by a miracle we got all but one of the interviews done before Covid,’ says Fairhead. ‘You look back now and think, how close was that? Because we’d never have been able to get to go to see them [during lockdown]. We’ve already lost 14.’

The film-makers travelled up and down the country – from Portsmouth to Edinburgh – with a vital bit of equipment in the back of the car: an upright chair. ‘We try not to build the whole thing up,’ says Palmer. ‘They say, “Well, what shall I wear? Shall I wear a suit? Shall I wear my medals?” No. Wear whatever you want. The only thing we don’t like them doing is sitting in a great big comfortable sofa because they just drift and they look very vulnerable. So we take our own chair just to be sure. It’s just a conversation.’

The aggregate of these conversations is an archive of nearly 100 hours of personal testimony in which veterans tell their stories for the last time – and in some cases for the first time. While memories of wartime tend to be honed in the telling and retelling, the Lancaster interviews are often startling in their honesty. ‘The way the veterans tell their story is different because of their age,’ Palmer reckons. ‘If you’d interviewed them when they were 75, they would have been more matter-of-fact about it. But aged 98, 99, there’s a lot more emotion in their memory.’ At moments, it feels as if these men are getting things off their chest at others, as if they are confronting uncomfortable truths.

Among the most memorable interviewees are Rusty Waughman and George Dunn, who both agreed to talk to The Telegraph. They are indomitable characters – Waughman warmly humorous, Dunn engagingly straight-talking – and both still live largely independently Waughman in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, and Dunn in the same bungalow in Saltdean, near Brighton, he has lived in for 50 years.

Waughman flew with 101, a ‘special duties’ squadron that carried secret equipment to jam enemy radio signals. This made them especially vulnerable to attack and 101 suffered a higher casualty rate than any other squadron – up to 60 per cent for a brief period in April 1944, he says. ‘The adrenalin used to pump frantically. When you got used to flying, after your fourth or fifth operation, you didn’t expect to live. Our losses were such that people just disappeared. We didn’t see bodies, we just saw empty beds.’

Dunn, who spent his civilian life working for the removals firm Pickfords, flew on the Hamburg raids, known as Operation Gomorrah, in the summer of 1943, which killed between 34,000 and 40,000 civilians, and on the raid on the secret research station at Peenemünde, where V2 rockets were being tested, in which 40 bombers were lost and 500 enslaved workers from the nearby labour camp killed. He recalled feeling apprehension rather than outright fear. ‘We were young men. I was only 19. You just accepted it. We hadn’t got a clue what it was going to be like.’

Crucially, they didn’t face the uncertainty alone. Something transformative took place in the cramped fuselage once the crew had climbed in: they coalesced into a single organism and their world shrank to that reality. In the words of the historian Richard Overy, ‘Their moral reference points were their immediate comrades on board and the other flyers around them, not whatever might be happening, invisibly, on the ground.’

This bond started with the ‘crewing up’, a process that one film interviewee likens to a Monty Python sketch. Newly trained personnel, who were mostly strangers to each other, were bundled into a hangar and told not to come out till they had formed into crews. Dunn captures the haphazard nature of it: ‘We were all milling around and talking and this chap came up and looked at me. “Oh hello,” he said, “I see you’re a pilot.” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Are you crewed up yet?” I said, “No.” “Well,” he said, “I’m a bomb aimer. I’m looking for a pilot.” I said, “Well, fair enough, we’ll go from here, shall we?”’

Somehow it worked. Every crew ended up thinking they were the best and individuals rarely let the collective down. But in case fear got the better of them, the RAF had a deterrent in the form of a designation known as ‘LMF’ – Lack of Moral Fibre. Effectively, it branded you a coward if you refused to fly.

‘Just because you were panic-stricken and fearful and couldn’t operate because of your mental health, they made you LMF, which is not right at all,’ says Waughman. He was threatened with it himself after aborting a mission due to malfunctioning equipment. On another occasion, his flight engineer insisted on flying a seven-hour operation despite having ‘the runs’, just in case he received the dreaded LMF designation. ‘The effluvia was quite something,’ remarks Waughman drily.

It could work the other way. Dunn was judged too brave on one of the Hamburg raids, after he tried to fly through a severe electrical storm, which iced up the wings and knocked out the airspeed indicator. Eventually, he had to turn back, but not before suffering some terrifying moments. ‘The following morning, I was called into the flight commander’s office and given quite a severe dressing down. In his words, “for endangering the lives of the crew and a valuable aircraft”. So what do you do?’

Dunn, who like Waughman was awarded the DFC and Légion d’Honneur, completed his tour of 30 bombing raids just two weeks after his 21st birthday. ‘People ask me now, “How on earth could you have flown a four-engined aircraft at that age?” We just did it.’ He has no doubt that the bombing campaign was justified in the context of a ‘total war’ against such an enemy. ‘Having seen what had gone on in London and Coventry and all that – we didn’t think of it as revenge but they’re there and they’ve just got to accept it,’ he says. ‘You couldn’t afford to let that cloud your judgment.’

For Waughman, it wasn’t until many years after the war that the enormity of what happened was brought home to him. In 1999, he was invited to Berlin to mark the 50th anniversary of the Berlin airlift, in which he had taken part (having previously flown in bombing raids on the city). On a tour of the city, he was shown a building in which hundreds of children had died in an Allied raid. ‘You suddenly realise: I could have done that,’ he says. ‘These days, now, you think, how many people have I killed?’

He and Dunn speak bitterly of Churchill ‘and all the politicians, so-called’ who found it politically expedient after the war to disown what the air crews were asked to do. The veterans have circled the wagons around their own deeds and reputations, and Sir Arthur Harris, the man who sent them up into the dark and dangerous skies night after night, is on the inside of that circle. But at the time, he wasn’t universally popular within the RAF. His other moniker, besides ‘Bomber’, was ‘Butch’ or ‘Butcher’, thought to be a reference to the heavy losses suffered by air crews.

Much as the veterans would hate to be cast as victims, there is a case to be made that they were. As well as the heavy attrition rate and their treatment after the war, they were misled over the area bombing policy. Interviewees in the film recall that the pre-ops briefings always emphasised the military or economic nature of the targets and skated over the intended loss of civilian life. Against Harris’s wishes, the bigger picture was shielded from them, as it was from the wartime British public. Nevertheless, says Dunn, they weren’t so naive as to think that civilians weren’t going to be killed: ‘Let’s face it, take Essen for example, the Krupp works – if you’ve got big factories, you’ve got people to work in them. And those people are going to be living nearby.’

The biggest loss of civilian life in one night was in Dresden on 13-14 February 1945, when 25,000 perished. It was the single most controversial raid of the bombing war on Germany and, to this day, Dresden is a byword for the questionable morality of the strategy. Tellingly, Churchill omitted all mention of it from his history of the Second World War.

Watching from 50 miles away that night, as a firestorm turned the sky red over the city, was a schoolgirl called Ursula Van Dam. Now 92, she married an Englishman after the war and ran a hairdresser’s in Hull. Her home town of Chemnitz was also bombed by the RAF, as she describes in the film and in a FaceTime call from her Cambridge bungalow.

‘There was a restaurant in the woods, a sort of lodge,’ she says. ‘We said, “We’ll go in there, in the cellar. Who would drop a bomb on a forest?’” A bomb landed near the cellar and blew the door off. ‘The door came flying down into the cellar where we were lying. It was so close. We thought we had had it.’ For Van Dam and her family, who were half-Dutch, the terror was manifest but it was wrapped in hope. ‘We were pleased [about the raids] because it meant the beginning of the end.’ On the terrible loss of civilian life in Germany, she says simply, ‘It was Hitler’s fault. He was a monster.’

Rusty Waughman left the RAF in 1952 after his first wife developed a terminal illness – a tragedy that he describes, without irony, as ‘fortunate’ because the trauma of losing his wife blotted out his memories of the war. Yet it was not done with him. He suffered from perforated ulcers ‘for many, many years’, which a service medical confirmed were related to his wartime experiences. Anxiety still wells up in his everyday life: ‘I should be doing this. Have I got time to do this? Going out shopping was ridiculous: will there be a parking space when I get there? It does leave scars.’

The memory that really haunts him is of a raid on Essen when ‘the flak and the fighters were massive’ and he suffered what nowadays would be called a panic attack. ‘It was like needles being pushed into your head. My knees were shaking. I couldn’t see properly.’ He lowered his seat so he could no longer witness the horror unfolding in the sky and recited a prayer he had barely thought of since he was six: ‘Now I lay me down to sleep I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep…’ It did the trick. ‘I never had that fear or terror ever again.’

But the terror hasn’t really gone away. It has become part of who he is. Part of who they all are. ‘When I go to bed at night – it’ll happen tonight – as soon as I pop my head on the pillow I can see flak bursting,’ he says. ‘It only lasts for a few minutes. I know what it is. It doesn’t bother me.’

To be seen on screen: veterans in Lancaster

Wendy Carter | WAAF | Teleprinter operator

‘I was devastated, so , so devastated I wasn’t able to say, “Goodbye darling, God bless.” So it was almost my fault. But that was war.’

Wendy Carter, whose granddaughter is a serving RAF pilot, grew up in St Albans and joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) aged 17½. After training as a teleprinter operator, she was posted to RAF Upwood, where she fell in love with a young Lancaster pilot, Bruce Smeaton. He was lost on a raid over Berlin in 1944 – a tragedy that still haunts her.

Neil Flanigan | RAF | Instrument fitter

‘One accepts certain things in war that you don’t accept in life and you don’t think about it… It’s sad to talk about these things, very moving.’

Neil Flanigan was the 39th man from Jamaica to volunteer for the RAF. He was a man the air crew relied on more than anybody – an instrument fitter with responsibility for maintaining the flying instruments and bombsights. After the war he was awarded an MBE for his community work.

Jack Dark | RAF | Navigator/bomb aimer

‘It was out of this world really, seeing all the anti-aircraft coming up and the flares and the fires on the ground. I don’t think I used to think much of what was happening down there.’

Born in Horsham, Jack Dark joined the RAF in 1942, aged 18. He trained as a navigator/bomb aimer and later operated an airborne radar called H2S. He was on the infamous Dresden raid. After the war, he rejoined Horsham Council, where he worked until his retirement.

Jack Watson | RAF | Flight engineer, ‘pathfinder’ squadron

‘My wife said to me, “You haven’t told me any of this. I didn’t know this.” I said, “Well, we haven’t talked about it.”’

Jack Watson grew up in Guildford and served as a flight engineer with a special ‘Pathfinder’ squadron. He flew 77 ops, including the Nuremberg raid of March 1944 , on which 96 aircraft were shot down, the highest loss rate of the war. After the war, he became a printer.

Lancaster is scheduled for limited cinema release in early 2022 and will be shown on the Sky Documentaries channel


History at 30,000 Feet: Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Bomber Mafia”

An American bomber over Osaka in 1945. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Just one month before the Imperial Japanese Army’s attack on Nanjing (Nanking), where a large number of non-combatants were killed in the now infamous 1937 massacre, a Japanese corporal named Hamazaki Tomizō wrote in his war diary: “Look upon the land and the sea, Chiang Kai-shek, you did not know the resolve of the Imperial Army and defied us! Now we’re closing in around your neck …” In the months leading up to the assault on the Chinese capital, Japanese soldiers whipped themselves in to a righteous anger about their enemies. Why wouldn’t they surrender? Japanese troops had been ordered by the emperor to “strike a great blow” against the Chinese Nationalist regime in Nanjing, and soldiers widely believed that they could break the morale of the Chinese in a widespread campaign of terror, thereby hastening the end of the war and saving Japanese lives. The Chinese Nationalist government never surrendered, even after eight long years of brutalization and occupation. The parallels between the Japanese imperialist war in China and the justifications and decision-making described in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Bomber Mafia are unsettling.

Gladwell’s argument is as simple as it is frustrating. He posits that during the war the US bomber command faced a choice between precision bombing and mass terror bombing. To dramatize this conflict, he narrows his gaze exclusively to General Haywood Hansell and his peers (the so-called “Bomber Mafia”), who advocated for precision, and Curtis Le May, who supported mass bombing. LeMay replaced Hansell and oversaw a firebombing campaign that incinerated vast areas of urban Japan in order to break the morale of the Japanese and force them to surrender. Even the “hard choice” to purposefully kill civilians was supposedly for the best, as it shortened the war and “brought everyone—Americans and Japanese—back to peace and prosperity as quickly as possible.” Gladwell’s book is a history written from 30,000 feet, and miles away from the violence. He is fascinated by US airmen and their quest to improve the technology of bombing in order to win the war through unconventional thinking and determination. What happened to the victims of the “longest night of World War II,” is of little concern for Gladwell.

Gladwell’s book is a myth that American have told themselves about a complex and deeply problematic history. Even long time soldiers often questioned the value of wartime tactics or war itself. As Lieutenant General Sasaki Tōichi, who commanded a regiment in Nanjing during the massacre, wrote in his diary, “What are we fighting for? What’s the point? Can anyone ever really win a war?” Myth-makers rarely engage in serious interrogation of the assumptions behind convenient stories. Gladwell’s book recycles an argument as old as air power itself, stating that, by killing vulnerable people, we can end a conflict quickly. In effect, however, we are not saving lives overall, but our own lives. In any case, by listening to the targets of the Allied air war, we can see that this assertion is not straightforward and, in the end, may be immoral. But ignoring the civilian impacts is not a problem unique to Gladwell’s book, as it affects the historians we all read on the history of WWII.

Aerial bombing was long thought of as a form of psychological warfare. Airman across all belligerent nations believed genuinely in the value of shock theory (and airmen, as “shock and awe” bombing campaigns from Baghdad to Gaza show, still do). Even before WWII, colonial powers across the globe, the Japanese included, conducted terror campaigns from the air against both “natives” and fellow Europeans. Air power advocates insisted that by subjecting civilians to overwhelming firepower, one could cause a collapse like that of Germany in 1919. Both German psychiatrists and air war theorists in the interwar period made such connections between WWI shell shock and Germany’s capitulation. Bombing the worker, as Sheldon Garon pointed out, was in theory going to radicalize him, and turn him against his government. Thus, air forces would be aimed at the poor and urban districts, killing those who could not evacuate, with the hope of fomenting revolution. As Richard Overy showed in The Bombing War, however, the process toward area bombing in WWII was gradual, and rooted in the experience of the Royal Air Force, America’s ally and chief interlocutor in air strategy.

As Gladwell points out, the attempt to break the will of the enemy by mass killing was truly put to the test in WWII, and many were eager to “prove” it worked, from US strategists to Nazi doctors. In an interview with the Third Reich’s Health Leader (Reichsgesundheitsfuehrer) Leonardo Conti, American interviewers referred to the bombing campaign as a “war of vegetative neuroses.” Conti agreed. He added “this was the greatest effect of the air war on the people. The increase in all these neurogenic conditions is the greatest and most debilitating effect. It created unseen enemy in our midst. An enemy that undermined every individual effort to the total war.” A Japanese psychiatrist, quoted in a postwar report, described a similar situation to the German one, “the [people] lost their grip on reality and in many cases became quite apathetic. They were dazed and this feeling has persisted up to the present.” Psychologically damaged people, the logic went, cannot fight, do not show for work, and radiate disquiet and misery, thus lowering morale. And it was this outcome that was what the WWII bombers fleets were hoping to affect: a form of psychological warfare via napalm.

family leaving Tokyo after an air raid, 1945. Source: Asahi News.

The impact of bombing, however, becomes increasingly unclear the closer we examine civilian experiences, which is perhaps why the myth-makers of the bombing war rarely wish to engage with them. A central approach of Gladwell’s book is to present the story of aerial bombing as a concatenation of decisions made by well-intentioned American staff officers, inventors, and other “obsessive” wonks. He is aware, however, that the US armed forces were already testing napalm on model Japanese homes well before the putative turning point at which Curtis LeMay pivots the American air assault towards “dehousing workers.” Furthermore, why did the American government and mass media, as John W. Dower argued so persuasively in War without Mercy, spend so much effort dehumanizing Japanese people if the point of burning their cities was to “save lives”? Gladwell occasionally acknowledges this problem throughout his book, discussing for example bomber pilots’ disgust at the smell of burning human flesh while flying low over target cities—but these are ephemeral concerns in a book otherwise focused on the genius of the bomber command. Other historians will get into the weeds of why some of Gladwell’s arguments about the “bomber mafia” are factually wrong. What we want to emphasize is what is lost when we argue history from above, trapped in a kind of bell jar of strategic debate, to discuss a war that ultimately targeted those below.

First, by listening to survivors we learn that victims of air raids were caught in a deadly cycle of increasing anger and violence. Air raids did not subjugate Japanese people (unless they were dead). Ishikawa Chieko, a student drafted into the labor corps of military factory, committed herself to the war effort as US bombers attacked her hometown of Chiba:

We got off at Soga station at 9:05am at the main entrance. The women workers all lined up to greet us. Incidentally, the other day a group of B-29s flew over just as we were setting off on parade. We’re going to build planes to nail those bastard B-29s.

American military leaders must have had some inkling of the fact that attacking civilians triggered outrage, because German terror bombing had already inspired desire for retaliation across Britain. Birmingham war diarist Bertram Elwood wrote:

[I have] a full knowledge of what bombing means. I know what a terrible, filthy weapon it is. … I have picked up bodies and bits of bodies whilst the bombs are still falling. I have seen little children laid out in a row, their faces dumbly turned to the cold light of the moon or cuddling each other, mute in death. I have seen all these things and I still say—bomb the Germans bomb them hard bomb them indiscriminately. I say this not out of hatred or revenge but because I think it will help shorten the war.

The impact of the air attacks was therefore not necessarily to shorten the war and save lives, but in many cases to increase the desire to kill other people.

Second, by eliminating the voices of those who experienced the air raids, we lose sight of how awful the “good war” really was. In Gladwell’s book, he seemed most out of sorts in the Tokyo Air Raid Museum, where he did not engage with a single survivor’s account he seemed lost in translation, wondering why there was no equivalent of the British Imperial War Museum in Japan. Consequently, like many foreign observers, Gladwell errs in assuming there is no war remembrance culture in Japan. In fact, Japanese people published en masse wartime diaries and later memoirs describing how terrible wartime losses were—and they wrote in much greater volume and detail than in Britain or the United States. Like many who suffered at the hands of the air strategists whom Gladwell finds so captivating, Mochizuki Masako, a 36 year old housewife in Tokyo’s Honjō Ward, wrote how she had to locate her relatives among the dead:

The army was piling the bodies on top of each other, one by one, in the bed of a truck. I looked at each corpse’s face as I walked by and—at the very bottom—there was my sister and [my niece] Noriko … My sister had kneeled down and put her left hand over Noriko’s face, which was turned up to the sky, and had wrapped her right hand around the girl’s back, leaving the two locked in an embrace. For some reason, their hair was not burned their hairstyles, gold fillings, and kimono inside their thighs were all fine … the flesh inside their thighs was still pink … We could only hold each other and say, “Why, why, why did this happen to them?” and then fall silent, crying, unable to leave them.

In Gladwell’s restricted story of the bombing war as a tale of disruptors and eccentrics, the consequences of their actions are blithely dismissed, whether it is intentional or not. Japanese citizens struggled with the fact that the techniques and technologies of war had changed, turning cities into nightmarish landscapes, as recorded by Yoshida Takeshi, who had been a 6 th grade schoolboy at the time:

The bodies I saw [in one neighbourhood] were not burned. The clothes had been blown off by wind from the bombs, but their skin had not been burned. I thought they looked like dolls. In [another neighbourhood], the corpses were totally black. They didn’t look like people—more like figures sculpted from ash. The internal organs, however, came bursting from inside the ash raw and bloody.

The firebombing was so extensive that urban residents saw rats scrambling over the power lines on the streets, and other refugees’ trouser legs were black with clinging insects escaping the heat. Streets melted and bricks burned. After watching the northern city of Aomori being totally destroyed in a single attack, Narita Kazuko remembered the “horrible smell [of corpses] that came down to Namioka town [15 miles away], and the disgust I can feel even to this day.” Again, this was not just a Japanese experience: in Coventry, one survivor recalled that the entire city smelled of Corrider lime: “It was evidently some form of disinfectant,” he wrote, “because of the deaths and the rats.” If we force ourselves to confront the reality of an air war on the ground, Gladwell’s obsessives are less like Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and bear a more uncomfortable resemblance to some of the worst war criminals of the twentieth century.

Third, willful ignorance about the impact on civilians reinforces the view that their stories are irrelevant to the history of WWII, which exacerbates the marginalization of bombing victims. For years after the war, many families refused to speak about their losses, which permitted the proliferation of histories about the war in which victims were merely background noise. But the problem of survivor silence may be even more acute in countries like Britain, where the celebration of the “Blitz spirit” by writers like Gladwell have unwittingly contributed to a veil of silence around wartime suffering. Patricia Bovill, who was only six years old during the November 1940 Hull blitz, remembered being buried alive, rescued, and then vomiting over her pyjamas in the hospital, while her parents were killed instantly in the air raid. Even more painful, however, was her grandparents’ refusal to help her know her parents. “I would like my children to know more about their grandparents,” she wrote after the war, “but my grandparents were devastated by it and couldn’t bring themselves to talk about it.” Like many others through the years, Gladwell finds himself besotted with what Angus Calder called the “myth of the Blitz,” in which the British people faced bombing with steely fortitude—and here writers almost invariably confuse “Britain” with the wartime government’s propaganda about London. Another unintended consequence of marginalizing survivors’ voices is that we throw away the most important lessons learned during WWII. Yamaki Mikiko, as a young woman, saw off pilots to almost certain demise in the Philippines and Okinawa. Like many survivors, Mikiko came to see their complicity in the war’s brutality, and the inevitable end toward which the myth-makers and propagandists were leading us: “War is death. There is no such thing as a ‘valuable death’, a ‘pointless death’, an enemy’s death, or an ally’s death. War is simply murder, for some reason or another.”

In an effort to counter the terrifying effects of bombing, the Germans, Japanese, and the British all made extraordinary efforts to evacuate and shelter bombed populations. The Gestapo, the Kenpeitai, and British domestic intelligence constantly monitored civilian morale. Civil Defense officials in all countries expected massive numbers of psychiatric casualties and much civil unrest. In 1938, British experts predicted an “aerial holocaust, [which] it was assumed would not only kill civilians it would also send them mad.” Japan was no exception. Following the 1924 Kanto earthquake, Japanese military authorities dreaded and planned for such a collapse, though they convinced themselves that superior Japanese “spirit” would prevent “Western diseases” like war neurosis. Gladwell noted such fears but dismissed them out of hand, writing that the hospitals stayed empty. The reason for British psychiatric hospitals’ low admission rates had more to do with them being staffed by older WWI doctors who had little patience for “histrionics”. Gladwell nevertheless puts more faith in wartime British propaganda films and myths about the “Blitz spirit” than historical accounts. This dismissal is more than just a sleight of hand. Gladwell ignores the enormous suffering wrought by the bombs and opts instead for a triumphalist view, where the post-war’s peace and prosperity was a happy outcome of area bombing.

As soon as Japan surrendered, US survey teams belonging to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS), fanned out in jeeps across the devastated country to “prove” that their bombing campaign saved lives by killing civilians. Walking in pairs or alone, armed often only with a pen and a clipboard, they went among the ruins and, using bilingual forms, asked people about their experience of being bombed. This surreal scene encapsulates much of the hubris and folly of the bombing campaign and its aftermath. Brazenly walking about asking bombing victims how they felt about the experience resembled a strange kind of customer satisfaction survey. The USSBS morale surveys were part of a larger effort to evaluate the impact of the fire raids and atomic bombings on the ground. The teams included engineers, medical doctors and other specialists, but by far, the largest contingent that was sent to Japan was the morale unit. The evaluation of enemy morale was supposed to be a part of a science-based assessment of one of the more amorphous and deadly ideas that drove total war in the 20 th century: that bombs from the air could break the enemy’s “will to fight.”

Destroying wills meant destroying minds. One psychologist noted that “the people of the bombed areas are highly sensitive to all flashes of light and all types of sounds. Such a condition may be said to be a manifestation of the most primitive form of fear. To give instances: they are frightened by noises from radio, the whistle of trains, the roar of our own planes, the sparks from trolleys, etc.” Another wrote, approvingly, “Whenever a plane was seen after that, people would rush into their shelters. They went in and out so much they did not have time to eat. They were so nervous they could not work.” When speaking to post-war American surveyors, Japanese citizens did not articulate any hatred for their former enemies, but they also expressed little surprise about the price of American air strategy. One survivor told an interviewer, noting his lack of shock at American conduct, “I had heard that Americans were brutal because they took lunches to view lynching at which whites poured gasoline over Negroes who had attacked white women.” In one of the USSBS interviews, a survivor told psychologist Alexander Leighton, “if there is such a thing as ghosts, why don’t they haunt the Americans,” to which Leighton added, “perhaps they do.”

The ghosts did haunt some Americans, but they do not seem to haunt Gladwell. This is because he did not look for them. In The Bomber Mafia, Gladwell declares that “United States and Japan probably had less contact with each other and knew less about each other than any two wartime combatants in history.” This is manifestly untrue, but it may be safe to say that Gladwell does not know Japan, and did not seem to try to be informed about the country and its historical experience of the war in any meaningful way. The Japanese have no central memorials or Imperial war museums, but neither do the Germans. The Central Memorial to the Victims of War and Dictatorship, the Berlin Neue Wache, is nothing like the spaces in Washington or London. Perhaps it is because the Japanese do not remember the war—but this is only believable to someone who is completely unaware of Japan’s peace museum culture, which is more extensive than any country in the West. In fact, the museums, archives, and records of Japan’s experience are absent because it has little to do with the meetings of generals and inventors whom Gladwell is so enamored by.

So why discuss the horrors of the air war at all? Because Gladwell really aspires his book to be about morality. He wants to show that he does care for the terrible price paid by innocent civilians, but in the book, all he manages to offer are gestures of concern. The book is really about his boyish fascination with the machines of war and the men who handle them in difficult times. To obfuscate the moral quandaries of the air war, Gladwell resurrects the questionable argument of the bombing campaign ending the war and preventing the US invasion of Japan, but the Soviet invasion of Manchuria—a much more plausible explanation for the surrender—is not mentioned. Whether the indiscriminate, systematic mass killing of non-combatants was justified in order to stop Nazism and Japanese imperialism is a debate that will never end, particularly in America. But looking away from the non-combatants whom the US armed forces killed is not a responsible way to have that debate.

It is astonishing that we can still write books about the efficacy of bombing without ever reading the accounts of those who experienced it. Perhaps we are afraid of what we will find. One does not exorcise our ghosts writing books like Gladwell’s. Gladwell does not look at the dead, and many of his readers will happy to look away with him, and celebrate the genius of the air forces, even if celebrating the genius of German or Japanese air forces is profoundly disturbing. These cognitive dissonances can only be maintained through the power of myth. On 11 November 1941, Bristol blitz survivor V.A. Maund went to the cinema to see a film called “One Night in Lisbon,” which was a pro-British US film starring Fred MacMurray. Bristol had already been burned by German firebombing, which included the destruction of her local library and other landmarks. “An American idea of a London air raid,” she wrote in her diary, “is funny to those who have experienced the real thing. May they always be able to keep their illusions.”

Aaron William Moore is the Handa Chair of Japanese-Chinese Relations at the University of Edinburgh. His book Bombing the City, examines civilian accounts of WWII air raids in Britain and Japan. Ran Zwigenberg is Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Jewish Studies at Pennsylvania State University. His book Hiroshima: The Origins of Global Memory Culture, analyzes comparatively the historical memories of the Atomic Bombings of Japan and the Holocaust.


The Bombers and the Bombed : Allied Air War Over Europe, 1940-1945

From acclaimed World War II historian Richard Overy comes this startling new history of the controversial Allied bombing war against Germany and German-occupied Europe. In the fullest account yet of the campaign and its consequences, Overy assesses not just the bombing strategies and pattern of operations, but also how the bombed communities coped with the devastation. This book presents a unique history of the bombing offensive from below as well as from above, and engages with moral questions that still resonate today.

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LibraryThing Review

This magisterial account of the bombing campaign in Europe asks two very good questions: how did liberal democracies come to bomb civilian populations and what did the bombing accomplish. Overy . Читать весь отзыв

LibraryThing Review

The quality of scholarship and analysis is excellent, but you should be advised you have to plow through mountains of statistics that belonged in an appendix. Also needed major editing, the paragraphs . Читать весь отзыв


Book Review: The Bombers and the Bombed

This new history of the Allied bombing of Europe offers insights into the military and civilian leaders who planned the aerial campaign and the civilians on the ground who reeled under its impact. Richard Overy’s interest is in military, technological and ethical issues, and he gives us rich details of the Allied bombing of Nazi Germany, about which an abundance of literature is already available. But he also covers the air campaign’s effect on occupied countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, about which little has previously been published in English. The author points out that in many cases the Allies had to bomb the very people they hoped to liberate, civilians who were usually poorly prepared and unprotected from the devastation that fell upon them.

This is a useful look at how British and American bombing strategy evolved, lessons were learned and the effort shifted gradually from military targets in 1941 to city-busting in 1945. Aviation enthusiasts may feel Overy’s book could use more detail about aircraft and, especially, more personal narratives from crew members. This is not the place to learn how a Short Stirling differs from a B-17G Flying Fortress, or what life was like for a radio operator or tail gunner churning through flak-filled skies over the Reich. The “bombers” in the title aren’t airplanes but men—the men who oversaw the air campaign. Britain’s aptly nicknamed Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris is a recurring figure throughout the narrative, while Eighth Air Force commander Jimmy Doolittle makes only brief appearances.

Nearly all the photos in the book’s center depict bomber crews preparing to take off or bomb damage in the targeted cities. The only full-fledged airplane photo is a familiar if disturbing image of a B-24 Liberator on fire, about to go down.

This is not a beach book. Nor is it a men-and-machines history in the manner of Masters of the Air, by Donald Miller. To Overy’s credit, however, his book also is not Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945, by Randall Hansen, which overtly brands American airmen as war criminals.

The Bombers and the Bombed is a solid reference work containing a wealth of information, without being overly opinionated throughout. Still, Overy does give us his conclusion. And as many others do, he believes strategic bombing was largely ineffective and that bombing civilians proved counterproductive, while also undermining the moral position of the Western powers.

Originally published in the September 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.


THE BOMBERS AND THE BOMBED

Historians still argue over how much, if at all, strategic bombing contributed to defeating Hitler. This magisterial overview will not end the debate, but it skillfully illuminates all sides.

Demonstrating his exhaustive research, Overy (History/Univ. of Exeter 1939: Countdown to War, 2011) begins the first chapter, “Bombing Bulgaria,” with a description of a destructive campaign that undermined the pro-German government, which managed to persist until the Soviet army arrived. Few readers will ignore the lesson. Throughout World War II, British Bomber command believed that it could devastate the war-making capacities of the Nazis. Within months, losses forced a switch to nighttime bombing, which made accuracy nearly impossible. Overy delivers an insightful analysis of how all nations reversed their abhorrence of killing civilians when it became unavoidable. The British were not taking revenge for the Blitz their conversion had already occurred. The United States assumed its more heavily armed bombers (with lesser payloads) could defend themselves during the day and hit targets precisely. Both beliefs proved wrong, but America stuck to daylight bombing despite terrible losses. Both nations exaggerated the damage that their bombers caused, but good evidence exists that a major effort against Nazi oil production caused crippling shortages during 1944 and 1945. Overy provides an eye-opening and often distressing account of the bombing of Europe’s occupied nations, whose defenses were far less prepared than Germany’s. More bombs fell on France and Italy than England. “The moral response to bombing and being bombed was historically complex and sometimes surprising,” writes the author.

Readers looking for dramatic accounts of specific bombing missions should read a selection of books by British military historian Martin Middlebrook. For a far more expansive view that includes those on the receiving end, Overy is the choice.



Overy, after being educated at Caius College, Cambridge, and becoming a research fellow at Churchill College, taught history at Cambridge from 1972 to 1979, as a fellow of Queens' College and from 1976 as a university assistant lecturer. He moved to King's College London, where he became professor of modern history in 1994. He was appointed to a professorship at the University of Exeter in 2004.

In the late 1980s, Overy was involved in a historical dispute with Timothy Mason that mostly played out over the pages of Past & Present over the reasons for the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Mason had contended that a "flight into war" had been imposed on Adolf Hitler by a structural economic crisis, which confronted Hitler with the choice of making difficult economic decisions or aggression. Overy argued against Mason's thesis by maintaining that though Germany was faced with economic problems in 1939, their extent cannot explain aggression against Poland, and the outbreak of war was caused by the Nazi leadership. For Overy, the problem with Mason's thesis was that it rested on assumptions that were not shown by records, information that was passed on to Hitler about Germany's economic problems. [2]

Overy argued that there was a difference between economic pressures induced by the problems of the Four Year Plan and economic motives to seize raw materials, industry and foreign reserves of neighbouring states as a way of accelerating the Four Year Plan. [3] Overy asserted that the repressive capacity of the German state as a way of dealing with domestic unhappiness was somewhat downplayed by Mason. [2] Finally, Overy argued that there is considerable evidence that Germany felt that it could master the economic problems of rearmament as one civil servant put it in January 1940, "we have already mastered so many difficulties in the past, that here too, if one or other raw material became extremely scarce, ways and means will always yet be found to get out of a fix". [4]

Overy's work on the Second World War has been praised as "highly effective [in] the ruthless dispelling of myths" (AJP Taylor), "original and important" (New York Review of Books) and "at the cutting edge" (Times Literary Supplement). [ citation needed ]


Area bombing

LAURENCE REES: How should we feel about the whole question of 'area bombing' by RAF Bomber Command? That is to say the deliberate targeting of civilian areas.

RICHARD OVERY: Well, I think this is a very difficult question and there are two separate questions, of course. One is why this had happened, which is an historical question: what are the circumstances that lead them towards area bombing? And why do they continue it for as long as they do? And to those questions we need to have proper historical answers, in other words we don&rsquot throw our hands up in the air and say how terrible it all is, we say, well, let&rsquos understand what it was they thought they were doing. And I think historians have not done that enough.

LAURENCE REES: Well, Bomber Command did it because - essentially - they weren&rsquot good enough to do anything else at the time.

RICHARD OVERY: No, well, technically they faced all kinds of problems. They could have made different choices in the 1930s about what they were going to focus on and they might have produced a much more effective bomber force by the 1940s which would have been able to do what it was they said they wanted to do. They didn&rsquot produce it, of course. So we can speculate historically about what they might or might not have done. Actually passing a moral judgement on it: was it the right thing to do? This seems to me to be a rather different question it&rsquos a question that we are projecting backwards.

LAURENCE REES: Not neccessarily. Some Americans at the time saw area bombing as going out and massacring women and children. This was in comparison to their own attempts at precision bombing. So therefore there was a sense even at the time that this was not acceptable.

RICHARD OVERY: Yes, and there was a lot of critical pacifist opinion too about this. I think Churchill&rsquos post-Dresden reigning back, asking: are we beasts and so on should not be exaggerated. Churchill had supported this all the way through and knew perfectly well we were killing very large numbers of people. Why I say the moral issue is separate is not because I think that we should say that it wasn&rsquot a war crime or it was a war crime, it&rsquos just that you&rsquore asking a historian to do a different kind of thing. You&rsquore asking me to go back and make a moral judgement about this, not asking me to say why it was that they did it. Now, clearly, in moral terms it was indefensible, the whole strategy is indefensible and from the summer of 1941 they do make the decision to de-house. They call it de-housing because nobody would write a directive that says we want to kill very large numbers of Germans. Harris doesn&rsquot have that problem. He writes an airborne leaflet later in 1943 in which he says: what we&rsquore doing is killing you. He knows that what he&rsquos doing is killing large numbers of people. Of course it was de-housing workers around factories and the idea was that you were not attacking all people and de-housing everybody, you were just attacking the people in industrial cities. Harris had a list of them and he ticked them off one by one as they obliterated them.

But deliberately targeting houses and amenities which were civilian in character was clearly insupportable by any conception of international law or the rules of warfare, and Chamberlain had always made it clear right the way through to the point at which he left office in 1940 that that was unacceptable.

LAURENCE REES: Well, there is a sense in which it might be considered morally defensible. If a nation state is threatened with its own destruction, can't it be 'moral' to do whatever is necessary to preserve the nation state, because ultimately we believe our system is better than theirs?

RICHARD OVERY: Well, I don&rsquot think that is a defensible moral position and I&rsquom talking once again as a moral philosopher, I&rsquom not talking as an historian. It&rsquos clearly not defensible because although you can dress it up as the idea of total war, total war is a war between whole societies, so therefore everybody is a target. There was lots of self-serving discussion about this in the 1930s and during the war, about the nature of war having changed, but in fact the nature of war had not changed and it was quite clear from all the agreed rules for the conduct of warfare that undertaking operations which deliberately targeted women, children, non-combatants and so on was not acceptable. What you needed to do was to find a way of fighting regular warfare better. The Russians do, they bomb a hundred kilometres behind the front line. But they don&rsquot bomb German cities. Now, of course, there is a strong sense in the 1930s in Britain that all this total war rhetoric, apocalyptic literature and so on, is trying to create an atmosphere in which you do think in morally relative terms and destroying the enemy is a top priority. But there were other ways in which you could have conducted British attitudes during the war. There were other things you could have done with your air power which the British don&rsquot think about.

You could have focused much earlier on on producing high speed, high performance dive bombing aircraft with the capacity to destroy like the Mosquito, destroy very small targets. The Mosquito had lots of advantages, it could hardly be detected by radar, it could fly very high and so on, and you could have done that. You could have strengthened your conventional armed forces on land and produced a much more effective fighter bomber at a much earlier stage, and therefore not had to rely on heavy bombing because your land campaigns were so hopeless. The problem with the British is that they&rsquod been defeated in Singapore, Greece, Crete, and they were on the point of being defeated in Egypt. They&rsquod been expelled from the continent and there is, it seems to me, a moral expediency then. You say we can&rsquot do this, therefore what can we do? Well, we can bomb their cities. And since this is total war and total war is a fascist invention then we&rsquoll bomb their cities.

LAURENCE REES: But why did we end up with the ability - via bombers - to do the very thing that we were simultaneously saying was against international law and would therefore be deeply morally questionable?

RICHARD OVERY: It&rsquos a very interesting question. Why do the Americans focus on producing the B17 and Roosevelt gives it the go-ahead? Roosevelt seems to have very few scruples about bombing, he recommends it all the time. I think that these are questions we don&rsquot actually have a full answer to yet and it&rsquos one of the areas I think historians have tended to skirt round. The two democratic states, both of which had leaders, Roosevelt and Chamberlain, who took initiatives throughout the 1930s to try and outlaw bombing as a form of warfare, end up sanctioning the development of heavy bombers that can only be used for one thing attacking other people&rsquos cities. For Chamberlain, of course, the idea was that the bomber really would only attack blast furnaces, and if you had to unleash it that&rsquos what it would be doing. The B17 was also designed so that it can hit a submarine pen or whatever it is.

LAURENCE REES: But, in reality, morality in a war like this is considered something of a luxury. The truth is we would have done whatever was necessary for own preservation.

RICHARD OVERY: Yes. Well, Churchill throws his weight behind bombing. And it does seem to me he doesn&rsquot think very heavily about what it actually means to the populations on which his bombs are raining. There seems to be a strong rhetorical streak to Churchill&rsquos view of let&rsquos take it to the Germans and it&rsquos interesting that right at the end of the war after the news at Dresden and so on he begins to say: have we actually done something wrong? And it&rsquos quite extraordinary. He doesn&rsquot really think about this sufficiently. But imagine for a moment Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff sanctioning when British troops arrived at the first German city. Saying, well, now you can shoot 40,000 of the inhabitants, line them up against a wall. Shell them till they&rsquore dead. This would have been the most atrocious war crime, like the rape of Nanking and so on.

But dropping 4,000 tons of bombs from the air and incinerating 40,000 people doesn&rsquot seem to provoke the same kind of soul searching. And I think that that is, again, something historians need to answer a lot more: why was air power regarded both functionally and morally in different terms from the way in which you&rsquod expect somebody to behave at ground level?

LAURENCE REES: And what&rsquos interesting is that I know that many of the Nazi concentration camp commanders and guards - people like Hoess at Auschwitz - subsequently say things like 'I faced exactly the same decisions as a pilot dropping bombs on Hamburg'. And this is a problem for us, isn&rsquot it, to try and unpack all this?

RICHARD OVERY: That&rsquos an interesting example you use, because I was thinking of the fact that if ghettos had been bombed from the air to eliminate them, I&rsquom not confident we wouldn&rsquot think of it differently from the way we think about people being lined up, stripped and put into gas chambers. And I think we need to explore this culturally and psychologically in quite a number of different ways because people do treat attacks from the air differently from the way they treat the behaviour of people on the ground, and I think if they hadn&rsquot they would not be have been able to sanction, the British and Americans, the fire bombing of Japan or the area bombing of Germany. There&rsquos a psychological and a moral sleight of hand that goes on.

LAURENCE REES: But, of course, one essential difference between British bombing policy and the extermination of the Jews, is that what the British were trying to do with bombing was to bring the war to a swift conclusion. As soon as the Germans surrender, the bombing stops. Whereas the destruction of the Jews would not have stopped instantly if the Allies had given up. If the Nazis had won it would have gone on and on.

RICHARD OVERY: Yes. Of course it is different and I&rsquom not kind of saying it&rsquos the same as the Holocaust at all. Because the difference is not just that cities are defended but the difference is that Germany has the opportunity to say, we give up. Of course we know they&rsquore not going to give up, and as the British and the Americans know, they were not going to give up.

They can all leave the city or Hitler can put his hands up and say, alright, that&rsquos enough, but, these are not realistic options. We might say that these were options or choices that they have, but they&rsquore not very realistic options. What&rsquos more difficult to explain, perhaps in terms of bombing, is the willingness, for example, to carry on bombing Italian cities in 1943-45 and causing around about 60,000 deaths, the same as the Blitz, or French cities, causing again about 60 or 70,000 deaths.

Now, here again one might talk about more expediency, strategic necessity and so on, but you don&rsquot find much evidence, except in the French case, of Western powers losing much sleep over this, yet these are issues that you need to think very hard about. In fact, in the end Churchill and De Gaulle start trading numbers asking, you know, what will you accept? Will you accept 20,000? Will you accept 10,000? It&rsquos quite absurd: how many Frenchmen do you want us to kill? And it seems to me that they have a very blunt instrument. It&rsquos the only instrument they have and so what they want to do is to beat the enemy to death and if that means killing a lot of other people at the same time then that seems to be an unfortunate by-product. And I think as historians what we need to answer is this question of why was there so little soul searching or thinking either about the consequences of the bombing or how else we might do it?

LAURENCE REES: And why wasn&rsquot there?

RICHARD OVERY: Well, I think partly because of the mindset of total war. And I think that if you look at the planning and discussions among air officers in the 1930s there&rsquos an extraordinary change that takes place in democratic societies, and I think it&rsquos because they are democratic societies that think in terms of mass society of the people. And the people have become the target, the people are vulnerable, the people might give up. The British and Americans don&rsquot have a large or very good army and you get round this and you attack the society. The idea that society crumbles and the front line gives up. I think that that was always a delusion.


Watch the video: Richard Overy: Why War? (June 2022).