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This book is about the bomb war on Germany in the years 1940 - 1945. It is one of the most important and most often discussed in the recent years in Germany. You can put it in a row with "Crabwalk" by Nobel-Prize-winner Guenter Grass and "Natural History of Destruction" by W. G. Sebald, but to me, this one is even more important. Hopefully, there soon is an English translation available.
Some reviewers, for instance in the "New York Times", wrote they fear that the Germans "intend to turn a people of perpetrators into a people of victims". That is not true. What is true is the fact that younger readers (like me in my early thirties) learn something about WWII. The author, Joerg Friedrich, is far from being a right wing extremist: He is a journalist and in his previous books he tackled the crimes committed by Nazi-Germany and how many "big shots" got away with it. And if there is a danger, than it is to leave some hard-to-swallow points to right wing extremist, those who do not explain who started the war and what terrible crimes Nazi-Germany committed. Having said this, let us have look at the contents of the book.
The book "The Blaze" or "The Fire" treats a topic of WWII I had never heard of, although I have more than 5 meters of books and magazines about the Nazi past on my bookshelf. It is about the "firestorm". Well, I knew that many German cities were destroyed. But until I read this book, I imagined the bomb war like this: The Allies (British and US-American) threw bombs on nazi-headquarters, weapon-production-plants, infrastructure like railway stations and so on. By this, unfortunately it was caused also what we nowadays call euphemistically "collateral damage" either because the target was missed, some buildings nearby were affected or the wrong target was chosen (e. g. they thought they'd bomb a steel plant that was in fact a school). This picture is wrong, or only a small part of the picture. You ever wondered why the "economic miracle" in the 1950s could happen, although all the German cities looked so destroyed? Well, because more than 90 % of the industry remainded uneffected, whereas the most import 130 cities were destroyed completely. Deliberately.
In 1942, Winston Churchill decided to terrorize the German people for centuries by both devastating the German (not: Nazi) culture and the country - destruction of inner cities, castles, palaces, monasteries, churches, cathedrals, libraries - and killing about one million civilians. For no military reason but terror for the future. (In the end, the number of dead civilians by the bomb war was only 650 to 800 thousands.) It was even planned to use WMDs (chemical or biological) on Germany, but this would have inhibited the occupation. It was even planned to burn down the Black Forst: Nazi trees! As one reviewer on amazon.de pointed out, the last one to declare war on nature was Caligula.
It was no payback for nazi crimes. (By early 1942, the holocaust was not yet know to the allies, it just started.) There were even German architects that helped the Americans to build up models of German cities in the Nevada desert. They imitated the typical architecture in North and South, East and West. First, they threw bombs to destroy the roofs and the window panes. And then there were fire bombs thrown into. This in several places in the city, so that they unified in a ring that enclosed all asphyxiated all life within. The civilians (women, elderly people and children - the young men had to go to war) had leave the cellars as soon as they could not hear the bombers anymore. Often this was too late.
Is that true? Well, the book was immensly discussed. But the discussion went only about whether it is allowed to say it but not about the content. And the Germans bombed other cities as well, for instance Coventry, London and Rotterdam. But this was not even mentioned in the Nuernberg trial on war criminals, because the prosecuters reagarded it as "neglegible" compared to the bombs on Germany. The British saw the bomb war were critical in the 1950s. "Bomber" Harris was not even given the honours other generals got and his pilots were not even given the orders all the other soldiers received. Some of Winston Churchill's biographers even pointed out that he should have benn put in the
dock of the Nurmberg trial on war crimes as well. Just one more.
The chapters of the book are as follows: weapon - strategy - country - protection - we - me - stone. Mr. Friedrich describes the cities and their culture and history that is lost forever. I could learn a lot about many cities I had not known before. And in between, quotes of interviews with the survivors are given (like in many TV-documentations on WWII).
Did it even help to precipitate the surrender, the end of the war? No. Just the opposite, unfortunately. 1. The planes bombing the cities were not there to bomb the weapon industry at the same time. 2. It even forged the Germans closer to the nazi party than ever: They organized the food and water supply, while the civilians sat in the air protection cellars with the Americans bombing by day and the British by night. It gave the nazis perfect "ammunition" for propaganda. Even those who vehemently opposed the nazis were shocked by the destruction of their cities. And in the air protection raids the people were under PERFECT control of the nazi party: in every cellar was one controlling what was said. And, moreover, slave workers and jews were not allowed to go to air protection raids (read: "Friedrich" by Hans Peter Richter).
And a revolution? Led by whom?, I have to ask. Women? Children? Or slave workers?
Examples: Dresden and Pforzheim were only destroyed because till then they were undestroyed. Or Swinemünde, a spa city on the Baltic Sea crammed with refugees from east Prussia was bombed: the spa park where women and children settled, followed by deep flying planes shooting at the fleeing. But Peenemünde nearby, the city where the nazis viciously tried to build a "wonder weapon" (V2) and where more than 20.000 slave workers died, was NOT attacked. In my home town (mentioned in the book), there was a military plant in a smalltown on the outskirts. But this plant was NOT attacked. Instead, the whole inner city looked like ground zero; even the cathedral was deliberately attacked 3 times (and destroyed).
Well, this all is not much compared to the crimes Nazi-Germany committed. But if you are interested in Germany and the Germans today, it is important to read the book. You wondered why the Germans so vehemently opposed the Iraq war? Read the book. That's why.
This book is even about modern warfare in general. In a "Total War", the civilians are part of the military supply and can be regarded as a "legitimate target" - no matter if they supported or opposed the dictatorial system, if they were even born in 1933 or if they had the chance to wave a white flag - in a cellar, you can't (and moreover, you would have been shot right on the spot by nazi-officers anyway).
And: If even the GOOD side in JUST war (and I do not know any war that was more just than the Allied's war on Nazi-Germany) make such "mistakes" - then we have to be very reluctant when the question is raised: War or not? War may be the ultima ratio to prevent more bloodshed or genocides - but must not be a "method of politics".
In a TV show in 2002, Winston Churcill was (not representatively) elected the "Greatest Briton ever". In late 2003, a museum on him opened in London; the facts mentioned in this reviewed book are not put forward in the "10 most important facts about Churchill" on the museum website (althogh knowledge to all historians). And already in 1955, Winston Churchill was awarded the "International Karl Prize" of the City of Aachen for "special achievements on European understanding".