Saturday, 13 February 2010

The 65th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden - how do we write history?

Over on Holy Disorder Dr B has written a post about the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden, a sign perhaps that he is beginning to get better.
This morning on the radio there was an interview with someone from bomber command trying to claim the moral highground for the bombers - he deplored that there was no memorial to the bomber pilots in Britain whereas we had a memorial to women's contribution to the war.
His derision of the role of women in the British war effort irritated me no end as you can imagine, but it is also interesting that we think that the "real work" of war is more about bombing civilians, destroying cities, churches and galleries than ploughing fields, typing papers, caring for children making sure food is prepared. Decrying as insignificant the supposedly "soft" role that women performed is also an ignorant approach, given historical studies that put forward the idea that one of the things that may have finally held Germany back in the second world war was the persistent refusal of the Third Reich to involve women in the labour force.
However, leaving my feminist rant to one side, what shocks me about the debate in Britain on "Bomber Harris" and on the whole bombing policy of Germany, is the way that those who continue to question the policy of bombing were called "revisionists" by the person interviewed on the radio this morning and this went unchallenged. In terms of the Second World War the "revisionists" are those who claim that the Holocaust didn't happen, putting those who question Allied bombing policies in the same camp is really not on. I am very concerned also at the ideological approach to history. This was war, it was not all good or right, wrong decisions were taken. Any memorial to those who did the "heroic" bombing surely needs to be held together with a memorial to those non-heroic victims in Dresden, Coventry, London, Hamburg, Berlin and elsewhere who lost their lives to those heroic bombs and the ensuing destruction. Memorials errected only to the supposed heros do not tell us the whole story of the horror and futility of war for ordinary people.

When I first read Stephen's post about Dresden this morning I actually thought about Rolf Hochhuth's book A German Love Story - Eine Liebe in Deutschland. It's years since I read it and as with many of my favourite books it seems to have disappeared from my shelves, must have lent it to someone. The book charts a love story between a Polish prisoner of war and a German woman in Brombach, it is based on fact and on Hochhuth's interviews with people and also has fascinating wider picture excerpt from Churchill's war rooms as he plans for the bombing of german cities. It is a hard read - the reader struggles with the story, the reportage and the history, feeling buffetted by the different prose forms and time lines. It holds together the atrocities of war, the personal tragedy of war and leaves the reader with more questions than answers. Hochhuth is best known for his polemical play The Deputy, Der Stellvertreter, which charts Kurt Gerstein's story. Until I started writing this I did not know that his play "Soldiers" which implicated Churchill in bombing of civilian targets was initially banned in Britain.