Did Hitler's crimes justify the Allies' terror-bombing
Indeed they did, answers Christopher Hitchens in his Newsweek response
to my new book, Churchill,
Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: "The stark evidence of the Final Solution
has ever since been enough to dispel most doubts about, say, the wisdom or
morality of carpet-bombing German cities."
Atheist, Trotskyite, and newborn neocon, Hitchens embraces the morality of
lex talionis: an eye for an eye. If Germans murdered women and children,
the British were morally justified in killing German women and children.
According to British historians, however, Churchill ordered the initial bombing
of German cities on his first day in office, the very first day of the Battle
of France, on May 10, 1940.
After the fall of France, Churchill wrote Lord Beaverbrook, minister of air
production: "When I look round to see how we can win the war, I see that there
is only one sure path … an absolutely devastating, exterminating attack by
very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland."
"Exterminating attack," said Churchill. By late 1940, writes historian Paul
Johnson, "British bombers were being used on a great and increasing scale to
kill and frighten the German civilian population in their homes."
"The adoption of terror bombing was a measure of Britain's desperation," writes
Johnson. "So far as air strategy was concerned," adds British historian A.J.P.
Taylor, "the British outdid German frightfulness first in theory, later in
practice, and a nation which claimed to be fighting for a moral cause gloried
in the extent of its immoral acts."
The chronology is crucial to Hitchens' case.
Late 1940 was a full year before the mass deportations from the Polish ghettos
to Treblinka and Sobibor began. Churchill had ordered the indiscriminate bombing
of German cities and civilians before the Nazis had begun to execute the Final
By Hitchens' morality and logic, Germans at Nuremberg might have asserted
a right to kill women and children because that is what the British were doing
to their women and children.
After the fire-bombing of Dresden in 1945, Churchill memoed his air chiefs:
"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."
Churchill concedes here what the British had been about in Dresden.
Under Christian and just-war theory, the deliberate killing of civilians in
wartime is forbidden. Nazis were hanged for such war crimes.
Did the Allies commit acts of war for which we hanged Germans?
When we recall that Josef Stalin's judges sat beside American and British
judges at Nuremberg, and one of the prosecutors there was Andrei Vishinsky,
chief prosecutor in Stalin's show trails, the answer has to be yes.
While Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were surely guilty of waging aggressive war
in September 1939, Stalin and his comrades had joined the Nazis in the rape
of Poland, and had raped Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, as well.
Scores of thousands of civilians in the three Baltic countries were murdered.
Yet, at Nuremberg, Soviets sat in judgment of their Nazi accomplices, and
had the temerity to accuse the Nazis of the Katyn Forest massacre of the Polish
officer corps that the Soviets themselves had committed.
Americans fought alongside British soldiers in a just and moral war from 1941
to 1945. But we had as allies a Bolshevik monster whose hands dripped with
the blood of millions of innocents murdered in peacetime. And to have Stalin's
judges sit beside Americans at Nuremberg gave those trials an aspect of hypocrisy
that can never be erased.
At Nuremberg, Adm. Erich Raeder was sentenced to prison for life for the invasion
of neutral Norway. Yet Raeder's ships arrived 24 hours before British ships
and marines of an operation championed by Winston Churchill.
The British had planned to violate Norwegian neutrality first and seize Norwegian
ports to deny Germany access to the Swedish iron ore being transshipped through
them. For succeeding where Churchill failed, Raeder was condemned as a war
criminal and sent to prison.
The London Charter of the International Military Tribunal decided that at
Nuremberg only the crimes of Axis powers would be prosecuted and that among
those crimes would be a newly invented "crimes against humanity." This decree
was issued Aug. 8, 1945, 48 hours after we dropped the first atom bomb on Hiroshima
and 24 hours before we dropped the second on Nagasaki.
We and the British judiciously decided not to prosecute the Nazis for the
bombing of London and Coventry.
It was an understandable decision, and one that surely Gen. Curtis LeMay concurred
in, as LeMay had boasted at war's end, "We scorched and boiled and baked to
death more people in Tokyo that night of March 9-10 than went up in vapor in
Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined."
After the war, a lone Senate voice arose to decry what was taking place at
Nuremberg as "victor's justice." Ten years later, a young colleague would declare
the late Robert A. Taft "A Profile in Courage" for having spoken up against
ex post facto justice. The young senator was John F. Kennedy.
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