Today, May 5th, is National Liberation Day in the Netherlands to commemorate the capitulation of the Nazi forces in that country on May 5, 1945. It is a national holiday, although not a statutory day off and employers are allowed to work this out between themselves and their employees. Why mention this day at all? Well, I was born in the Netherlands during WWII, and remain deeply grateful for the fact that Americans and Canadians came over to slay the evil Nazi beast and set us free. Many of them gave their lives for this. This surely was a case of a just war – the grim and sadistic Nazi machine had to be stopped and sent back down the gates of hell from whence it came, goose-stepping and all. So many innocent people died as a result of this war. On both sides.
It wasn’t until much later that I heard about the over-enthusiastic bombing of primarily civilian targets under the direction of Arthur “Bomber” Harris and the RAF, such as the cities of Hamburg, Konigsberg and Dresden. Dresden was fire bombed towards the very end of the war by Harris and Co. when it harboured more than half-a-million civilian refugees from Silesia on the run from Stalin and the Red Army. Estimates remain inexact, but as many as 130,000 civilians may have been killed (incinerated, primarily) during a series of raids on that city. Civilians were targeted to “demoralize” the German fighting forces, but the fact that this happened so close to the end of the war – in February 1945 – with the German army already on the run, makes that a very weak argument. Going to war – even for a noble cause – is a filthy business that cannot be administered without contaminating yourself. Or so it seems.
The dead of Dresden lie in the streets in 1945. Waves of British bombers created a firestorm in which tens of thousands died. The temperature of the masonry in the city’s cathedral reached an estimated 1,000 Celsius. Reports speak of many victims melting in the intense heat, their bodies becoming welded to pavements.
It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.
RAF Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, October, 1943