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Guest Post: A Not So Analytical Look at Dresden

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Tuesdays.

Matty P. is continuing our series A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden.)

When Michael asked me my opinion on Dresden, I was under the impression that my opinion should be universal and obvious. Killing civilians is bad. No circumstance could change that. The concept of war with regard to just war theory, the questions of when to go to war, and the discussion of viable targets could be considered admittedly complex but the targeting of innocents couldn't be argued. Or so I thought.

There’s a discussion on the wisdom of bombing Dresden. It’s been suggested that the city qualifies as a military target because it housed military barracks. I read one post that suggested that Dresden broke the spirit of the German people in much the same way Hiroshima and Nagasaki broke the will of the Japanese. And one forum spouted such gems as “War is hell” and “Who cares? They were Nazi’s.”

Michael addresses these concerns very analytically. With logic akin to a cost-benefit analysis he comes to the conclusion that killing civilians is a no-no. My response is more emotional.

As I was formulating this I thought, “Are you s***ting me? I have to be that guy who says: no, never, not under any circumstances?” We have rules of engagement, the Geneva Convention, and any number of monotheist, polytheist, and atheist philosophical belief sets that all dictate that killing innocents is wrong. This issue lack complexity.

First, the US abides and recognizes the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC). Which means every US citizen is mandated to recognize and follow these rules. Within the LOAC, there is a section about “distinction.” Simply put, distinction dictates lawful targets in armed conflict. For example; non-combatants, civilians, prisoners of war, and enemy wounded are not viable targets. Further, there is a specification that bombing military targets must not cause damage to civilian targets. ie. You cannot bomb an a military barracks if it will destroy a hospital.

Second, the Article 3 of the Geneva Convention states not that civilians and enemy wounded are not only discounted as enemy targets, but are guaranteed safety, personal property, and dignity. It even goes so far as to mandate that sick and wounded are to be allowed care by a humanitarian third party.

Third, I can think of no religion or philosophy espouse by any non-deviant human being that would allow the ending of innocent life. As a Christian, I cannot believe a merciful Christ who humbled himself to death would be fine with bombing 35,000-100,000 civilians simply because it broke Germany’s will to survive. I’ve no doubt the same is true of all schools of thought that value human life.

Finally, consider that the ordinance dropped contained magnesium and phosphorus. These are terrible to inflict upon enemy combatants, to say nothing of turning them on innocents. The fires were reported to burn so hot in Dresden that people flung themselves into the city’s fountains hoping the water would protect them. These people were boiled alive as the water evaporated. Eric C has asserted that taking a life should break your heart. How much worse is the murder of civilians?

two comments

I really like Matty P’s argument here. It reminds of an argument on Philosophy Bites that a society can be defined by what it refuses to discuss. For instance, if we refuse to discuss torture, we are drawing a metaphorical line in the sand.

Deliberately targeting civilians should be the same way.


“Who cares? They are not Us.”

The same could be said about Muslims, Arabs, and anyone else that needs to be disposed of. I’m not being racist, since the target groups could include anyone. Someone must die so that we can be safe.

(I am acting out an opinion; this is not my actual opinion)