Thursday, August 24, 2006

Real Shock And Awe

This letter to the editor was in the print edition of the August 21 Weekly Standard:


REGARDING Christopher Hitchens's "Scorched Earth" (July 31): The real consequence of an indiscriminate bombing campaign was the changing of the German (and Japanese) mind after 1945. As a German born and raised in Hamburg, I am pretty sure that the air campaign extinguished German romantic militarism.

The bombing bore two lessons for generations to come: First, those who did not prevent Hitler from rising to power in 1933 perished along with the Nazis--a lesson that made Germans very wary of extremist parties in statu nascendi ever since. Second, the war came home to German women, instead of being fought merely in the trenches. As such, for the first time since the Thirty Years' War, the female half of Germany drew on firsthand experiences when cautioning against militaristic slogans. In the years following 1918 that had not been the case, resulting in young Germans falling prey to heroic tales the Nazis were telling them about Langemarck and Verdun.

After 1945, it was different. I have known many Hamburg citizens who could not stand a cozy fireplace any longer, even decades later, for the terror of the fire bombing made a fireplace unbearable to them. The reply an American general gave to a reporter in March 1945 when asked why the Allies bombed small cities with no strategic value has turned out to hold true: We want Germany to remember for a hundred years the consequences of waging war against us.

It is, I might cautiously add, an experience that our present enemies are missing. A strategy that makes allied soldiers and pilots tiptoe and hop around mosques and kindergartens is a very humane and sensitive one. It might, though, fail to drive home a lesson that Japanese and Germans learned the brutal way: Citizens who do not care about what their neighbor does, citizens who do not rise to the occasion when there is time to do so, will pay dearly for it. Terrorists hiding among the populace count on precisely such complacency.

In Germany and Japan, the allied bombing campaign made it clear to everyone that missing courage may not be a means of getting out of the way; to the contrary, it may draw those who do not stand up against megalomaniacal hotheads into the abyss as well. That is a lesson the Allied warplanes, amidst their bombs, pounded the Germans and Japanese with, and though I hate to admit it, given the sacrifices of those who did not favor the wars of Hitler or Hirohito, it did indeed work.

Washington, D.C.

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