DRESDEN 1945: The Devil's Tinderbox by Alexander McKee

DRESDEN 1945: The Devil's Tinderbox

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A worthy but not particularly significant or effective attempt to ""bring out the terrible truth"" about the Allied fire-bombing of Dresden at the close of World War II--widely condemned at the time and made indelible in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. The passing years, moreover, have brought only further disrepute to WW II strategic bombing (viz. Max Hastings' 1979 Bomber Command). But military historian McKee, appalled at word and sight of Dresden, still smarts at British Bomber Command justifications and deems the single monograph, Clifford Irving's 1982 Destruction of Dresden, too ""balanced."" His response, however, has two distinct problems. The attempt to interweave myriad individual stories is not particularly telling or involving: the writing is fiat, much of the detail has neither personal nor historical import, some of the extensive eyewitness testimony is potent but lots isn't. We do see how Dresden came to be packed with refugees fleeing the Russian advance, and various Allied prisoners; we hear from British airmen who didn't understand what the raid was all about (""My personal feeling is that if we'd been told the truth at the briefing, some of us wouldn't have gone""); we have the ""unanimous"" word of victims ""that the fire-storm proper did not begin during the first wave of attack, as has been thought, but during the second, much heavier attack."" The mass of material supplies some clarification of what occurred. Not even that can really be said of the book's second major aspect, its denunciation of British ""area bombing"" (routinely traced to German WW I raids on London, interwar theory, and dread of another loss-of-the-flower-of-youth) and of the Dresden decision itself, pushed by Bomber Command head Sir Arthur Harris and tacitly approved by Churchill, ""Had they been Germans, and guilty of such deeds against their enemies,"" McKee writes of the airmen's denials, ""they would almost certainly have faced a trial for war crimes."" Both the lead-up and the attempts to disclaim responsibility are well-known, however; and much of the continuing controversy is an internal British one. McKee contends that much remains to be told in the US: from initial unwillingness to condemn an ally to Cold War reluctance to give propaganda to the Russians. The book may re-focus interest on the issue; its holding and staying power is another matter.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 1984
Publisher: Dutton