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Allies destroyed Dresden, but never bombed Auschwitz
American war crime in the "good war"

February 11, 2005 | Page 8

THIS YEAR marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. JOE ALLEN looks at the truth about this war that the media won't include in its celebrations.

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FOR MOST people, the Second World War was the "good war," where the line between "good" and "evil" was clearly drawn. The Allies, led by the U.S., Great Britain and Russia, represented the "good"--versus the "evil" of the Axis powers of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Japan.

This "image" of the Second World War still has a powerful hold on many Americans. The Bush administration will likely use the 60th anniversary of the end of the war--particularly as the anniversary of D-Day in June approaches--to justify its "war on terror" and disastrous occupation of Iraq.

But just beneath the surface of the "good war" are the same obscene policies that are present in all conflicts between the Great Powers for control of the world. Two anniversaries--the January 27 liberation of the Auschwitz death camp and the February 13 Allied bombing of the German city of Dresden--demonstrate this clearly.

The question is this: Why did the Allies burn Dresden--a city of little military value--to the ground, when they never attempted to destroy Auschwitz, where more than 2 million people were exterminated by the Nazis?

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AUSCHWITZ WAS the most infamous of the Nazi concentration camps. It was both a death camp for extermination and a slave labor camp for the production of war materials. Why didn't Britain and the U.S. use their massive bomber fleets to destroy this factory of death?

It wasn't because they didn't know about Hitler's plans. As early as the summer of 1941, the British and American governments had a clear picture of the planned genocide of Europe's Jews by the Nazis.

It wasn't because the Allies didn't know where Auschwitz was located. In April 1944, the U.S. and Britain had their first aerial reconnaissance photos of the entire Auschwitz complex, along with the nearby slave labor camps of Birkenau and Monowitz.

It wasn't because their bombers couldn't reach Auschwitz. Southern Poland, where so many of the concentration camps were located, was within range of Allied bombers based in Italy. In fact, Auschwitz was "accidentally" bombed in September 1944--by American planes that were supposed to be attacking Monowitz because of its synthetic oil processing facilities.

The decision not to bomb Auschwitz can't be separated from the Allies' general opposition to all plans to rescue for European Jewry. This reflected not only the anti-Semitism widespread within the U.S. and British governments, but also the possibility that Hitler might be willing to make a deal.

The attitude of the U.S. government toward rescuing European Jews was best summed up by R. Borden Reams of the State Department's Division of European Affairs in May 1943. "While in theory, any approach to the German government would have met with blank refusal, there is always the danger that the German government might turn over to the United States and to Great Britain a large number of Jewish refugees," Reams said. "In the event of our admission of inability to take care of these people, the onus for continued persecution would have been largely transferred from the German government to [the Allies.]"

John McCloy, the assistant secretary of war during the Second World War, was for many years seen as the main figure in the government blocking any proposals to bomb Auschwitz. But shortly before his death, he revealed that President Franklin Roosevelt himself vetoed such proposals.

"I didn't want to bomb Auschwitz," McCloy recalled. "It seemed to be a bunch of fanatic Jews who seemed to think that if you didn't bomb, it was an indication of a lack of venom against Hitler. "Whereas the President had the idea it that that would be more provocative and ineffective. And he took a very strong stand."

If the U.S. and Britain acquiesced to the bombing of Auschwitz, it would have meant accepting some responsibility for the lives of millions of Jews--something they were adamantly opposed to. For the Allies, the war effort came before saving the lives of Jews.

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IN THE final months of the war, while the atrocities of the Nazis were revealed to the world as one concentration camp after another was liberated, the Allies' bombing of German civilians reached horrific levels. The destruction of Dresden was one of the worst--if not the worst--examples.

On February 13 and 14, 1945, the British Royal Air Force (RAF), followed by the Americans, carried out a massive bombing raid against Dresden. The bombing caused a firestorm so fierce that it could be seen from 200 miles away. It literally burnt to death somewhere between 25,000 to 100,00 civilians.

The classic account of the destruction of Dresden is Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five, which reflected his own experiences.

Vonnegut was a prisoner of war, captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge and taken to a camp near Dresden. He was part of a work detail in Dresden when the raid began. He survived with his fellow POWs and a few guards, who had taken shelter in a slaughterhouse well below ground.

The destruction of Dresden--an old and beautiful--and the incredible death motivated Vonnegut to write one of the great antiwar novels of all time.

Why did the Allies want to destroy a city crammed with refugees trying to escape the Allied bombing of the rest of Germany--a city known as a cultural capital, with little or no military value?

In fact, the city's marginal war industries were not targeted in the Allied raid. Civilians were the major target. This was not unusual. Allied countries targeted civilian populations throughout the war. This is one of the dirty secrets of the "good war"--that the British began the terror bombing of cities in May 1940, before the Nazis targeted London and other British cities.

Much of the strategy for targeting civilians was developed by a British officer, Arthur "Bomber" Harris--the head of the bomber command of the RAF. Harris tried out his theories first in British colonies that were attempting to throw off British rule--most notably, Iraq in the 1920s.

For Harris, one of the primary purposes of bombing was to "break the will of the enemy." Actually, bombing had the opposite effect--of stoking anger at the aggressors--but this didn't stop Harris from using warplanes to go after civilians.

Before Dresden, an equally horrendous raid took place on Hamburg on July 27, 1943--when Allied bombers killed 50,000 people mostly women, children and elderly people. According to historian Sven Lindquist, author of A History of Bombing, "The British air attacks on Hamburg killed more people than all German air attacks against English cities put together."

Harris' theories were easily adopted by American commanders. Responding to concerns about civilians deaths in Dresden, Gen. "Hap" Arnold said, "We must not get soft--war must be destructive, and to a certain extent, inhuman and ruthless."

Dresden was incinerated as a result of the "casual destructiveness" of Allied military doctrine, says historian Michael Sherry, author of The Rise of American Air Power.

The destruction of Dresden was hidden from the U.S. public for nearly 20 years after the war. It was Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five that brought it into public discussion during the Vietnam War--when the U.S. carpet-bombing of Vietnam horrified people around the globe.

Despite the image of the Second World War as a "good war," Dresden should tell us something different--about how "inhuman and ruthless" the Allies' war policies really were.

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