Friday, February 27, 2009

Really-Existing Socialism

It's two weeks too late, but I've been prompted to commemorate the destruction of Dresden.

The other day I was surprised to discover that the library I work in has an original edition of Walter Weidauer's "Inferno Dresden : Ueber Luegen und Legenden um die Aktion "Donnerschlag" (Inferno Dresden: lies and legends about Operation Thunderclap). It was published in East Berlin in 1965, and is noteworthy for providing a historical perspective of the firebombing of Dresden grounded in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik's "really-existing socialism" (a term that residents of the DDR considered as blackly humorous as did non-residents).

So far I've only read the author's preface and looked through the illustrations. Naturally the illustrations include dead German soldiers outside Moscow in 1941 along with a caption about the fascists freezing to death, and some reproductions of death sentences pronounced by the fascists on sensible deserters from the Wehrmacht. There are even a few illustrations relating to the bombing of Dresden, including the spectacular rebuilding of the city into ugly concrete shitheaps by the happy and industrious socialist citizens of the DDR, with the generous support of their Soviet comrades.

The author is keen to stress that we need to keep the example of Dresden in front of us, as there are forces in the West keen to see a similar bombing campaign against the cities of the DDR, this time using atomic weapons. All I can say is, I wish he'd be more specific about these forces because they sound bloody dangerous. Some time is also spent demolishing Western historians of the raid for the egregious distortions and lies with which they attempt to make the socialist saviours of civilisation from the fascist menace look bad.

So far, my main thought has been that it must have been such an unspeakable prick of a thing to visit the bookshop or library knowing that this kind of old cobblers was going to be characteristic of every single title available. It'd be like a new circle of Hell - those who enjoy reading and didn't do enough to prevent bolsheviks taking over get to be surrounded by huge numbers of books, all of them spouting laughable bolshevik propaganda.

I'm torn between the fact that this book is going to be very high in amusement value, and the fact that its subject matter is the mass murder of tens of thousands of people. To counteract the humour value of the above story, here's Kurt Vonnegut on his experience of the raid. An exerpt:

For “salvage” work, we were divided into small crews, each under a guard. Our ghoulish mission was to search for bodies. It was rich hunting that day and the many thereafter. We started on a small scale – here a leg, there an arm, and an occasional baby – but struck a mother lode before noon.

We cut our way through a basement wall to discover a reeking hash of over 100 human beings. Flame must have swept through before the building’s collapse sealed the exits, because the flesh of those within resembled the texture of prunes. Our job, it was explained, was to wade into the shambles and bring forth the remains. Encouraged by cuffing and guttural abuse, wade in we did. We did exactly that, for the floor was covered with an unsavoury broth from burst water mains and viscera.

A number of victims, not killed outright, had attempted to escape through a narrow emergency exit. At any rate, there were several bodies packed tightly into the passageway. Their leader had made it halfway up the steps before he was buried up to his neck in falling brick and plaster. He was about 15, I think.

It is with some regret that I here besmirch the nobility of our airmen, but, boys, you killed an appalling lot of women and children. The shelter I have described and innumerable others like it were filled with them. We had to exhume their bodies and carry them to mass funeral pyres in the parks, so I know.

The funeral pyre technique was abandoned when it became apparent how great was the toll. There was not enough labour to do it nicely, so a man with a flamethrower was sent down instead, and he cremated them where they lay. Burnt alive, suffocated, crushed – men, women, and children indiscriminately killed.

For all the sublimity of the cause for which we fought, we surely created a Belsen of our own. The method was impersonal, but the result was equally cruel and heartless. That, I am afraid, is a sickening truth.

57 comments:

Simon said...

No the truth is the Germans started it the British, Commonwealth & Americans ended it.

Psycho Milt said...

The mass-murdering of civilians, you mean? We certainly proved our superiority over the Jerries in this respect, but we didn't end it by any means - the Soviet Union continued with it for quite a while after we'd stopped. Still, your comment does provide a handy reminder that our side has some pretty laughable propaganda as well.

ISeeRed said...

"Our side has some pretty laughable propaganda as well." Like what?

Psycho Milt said...

Well, the comment's right there and it's not a long one. But seeing as you're having trouble, this bit is laughable propaganda:

...the British, Commonwealth & Americans ended it.

Simon said...

It is fairly simple the bombing of cities were military operations to help win the war.

Overall the Allies were able to militarily defend British cities and the Germans weren’t.

Psycho Milt said...

Tue but irrelevant to my post.

Grant said...

PM, Mass murder?
I thought the British were at war with the Germans at the time of the Dresden raids.
Put simply: All war is bad. Somtimes necessary, but always bad.
G

Psycho Milt said...

Indeed, which is Kurt Vonnegut's point. Re the mass murder, I consider the mass killing of civilians by military personnel to be mass murder - is there some sense in which it isn't?

Anonymous said...

can we just agree that the propaganda was laughable, and that war particularly the bombing of cities is pretty horrible?

Simon said...

“I consider the mass killing of civilians by military personnel to be mass murder”

And the mass killing of enemy soldiers at the front is what?

Anonymous said...

"And the mass killing of enemy soldiers at the front is what?"

Umm gee, that's a tough one. Let's see... not a war crime probably.

Danyl said...

...the British, Commonwealth & Americans ended it.

Seems like there's someone missing from that list - the country that killed the most Germans, took the most casualties and ended up occupying two-thirds of Europe after the end of the conflict.

I think that's what Milt means by propaganda.

Simon said...

You mean the same Soviets who signed a non aggression pact in 1939 with the Germans thereby preventing an effective two front land campaign against the Germans until June 1944.

coge said...

Once again history was written by the victorious. On a singular personal level war is merciless butchery.

Lucyna Maria said...

War is hell, PM.

Mass murdering Germans get back what they inflicted on others (Here's an example of the mass murder of civilians in Warsaw by Germans). Many Polish airmen volunteered to bomb Dresden as payback for Warsaw.

There is a difference between what the Germans did in Warsaw and what the allies did in Dresden - the Germans personally murdered thousands upon thousands of civilians (including babies), while as Dresden was carpet bombing as part of war.

I do find your obsession with the victims of Dresden a little disturbing.

Danyl said...

You mean the same Soviets who signed a non aggression pact in 1939 with the Germans thereby preventing an effective two front land campaign against the Germans until June 1944.

Once again, I can't help but feel there's something missing from this narrative . . .

KG said...

"Once again, I can't help but feel there's something missing from this narrative . . ."
Yeah--the carpet bombing of London and Coventry, for starters.

Anonymous said...

At least no-one, especially not Sir Arthur Harris, said the bombing campaign was "proportionate" and was aiming to "save innocent civilian lives".

Bomber command crew losses were proportionately larger than those in the trenches in WWI, and much larger than the Battle of Britain - on a single night Bomber Command lost more aircrew than Fighter Command lost during the Battle of Britain. Only 25% of RAF bomber crews could expect to survive an operation.

In spite of all this, Bomber Command remains the only UK/Commonwealth command or campaign not to have been granted a campaign medal.

WAKE UP said...

What would you rather we had done Milt - send Neville Chamberlain in again?

Anonymous said...

sorry - 25% could expect to survive a tour of 25 ops. Hack rate on a single op could be up to 10%.

WAKE UP said...

Disagreement/s aside, I think that there's a subtext here that's worth examining, and that is that Milt's unease over Dresden is actually an indicator of the basic decency of our society. I didn't like it a lot either (and we can argue about its neccessity as a separate issue), but the point I want to raise is that when we find ourselves having to do something like that, we get quite exercised about that, because it's outside our ...ummm... sensibility, shall we say, whereas in some cultures (and back then, particularly in latter-day Nazi Germany), it's just business as usual.*

Same thing applies to latter-day unease over Hiroshima. So rest easy Milt, you're allowed to feel what you feel. But that's where it ends.

The reality was: we didn't start the war, and were reluctantly forced into it; at the end, the lunatics running Germany were prepared to sacrifice ALL of Germany in scorched-earth last gasps; ditto the Japanese (Saipan etc, and the suicide culture), who would not have surrendered to anything less than the force majeure the bomb represented; and both were prepared to take as many of us with them while they went on...and on.

In the end, we only scorch-earthed Dresden and Hiroshima; both countries were lucky - if their mad leaders had had their way, NOTHING would have been left of either.

War is hell, Milt, and while you're entitled to your feelings about, sometimes you just have to man up. Which is why Harry Truman's approval rating remaains right up there.

(* this is why I'm also not wildly fussed about Abu Ghraib-Guantanamo. Granted, they shouldn't have happened, but in context and proportion to the way our society generally behaves, they are minority aberrations (particularly Abu Ghraib) that we can, and should, worry about, examine and fix. But it pays to keep in mind that in most of the countries complaining about this (and supplying the inmates), torture is an accepted item of daily discourse. There's a pile of stinking hypocrisy surrounding that issue).

Psycho Milt said...

Lucyna: yes, for some reason I find the fact that such killings have been carried out by murderous totalitarian dictatorships somehow seems less surprising than the fact that we've done such things ourselves. Call it a quirk.

The post is actually about the odd nature of socialist history writing - the quote from Vonnegut is there really only as a reminder that the subject matter isn't genuinely humorous.

Grant said...

What Wake Up said. An excellent comment.
G

Psycho Milt said...

War is hell, Milt, and while you're entitled to your feelings about, sometimes you just have to man up.

It's this very concept that incinerating women and children in a cellar is somehow "manly" that's the problem. A little less of such "manning up" about the place would do no end of good.

Lucyna Maria said...

Everyone has blood on their hands, PM.

NZ regularly murders unborn babies in many of our public hospitals - something like 18,000 a year for the "greater good". But who cares really, we can't see them - they are not being killed in front of us just like those people in Dresden weren't incinerated in front of those flying high above them dropping bombs.

Murder is happening today, right now and what is everyone doing?

Nothing.

We are all complicit in the murder of innocents.

Lou Taylor said...

When man has a gun in his hand, defending his place in the world, then there aren't really any rules, only survival.

Having been shot at whilst unarmed, the first thought that goes through your mind is ....shit I wish I had a gun.

FAIRFACTS MEDIA said...

Wake Up's comments are spot on.
It is indeed a mark of our civilisation, our democracy that the West and its people have concerns over matters like Dresden.
True it was deserved at the time, all's fair in love and war, but I am sure the horrors of Dresen will have impacted on the German Nazi government surrendering when they did.
Certainly the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima will have impacted on the decision of the Japanese to surrender when they did, thus saving many millions of lives in any conquest of Japan.
The issue of civilian casualties is always an issue of war, especially in democratic western countries where public opinion matters.
Civilian casualties is less of an issue in places where there is no free media and free people keeping a beady eye on government.
We saw this in Vietnam and we saw this in Gaza today.
Most notably Hamas , as did the Viet Cong, knew how to exploit such 'collateral damage' for propaganda purposes.
Thus, we see the Israelis takling extra care to minimise civilian casulaties.
This including even ringing and leafletting people, so the total killed appears not as great as Hamas claimed, and quoted in the media, perhaps more a few hundred than the thousaand=plus reported.
As we see, public outrage over civilian casualties can impact on the outcome of a war.
Iraq being another example, where the loss of solders' lives also was an issue.

So whilst PM is right in raising the issue of civilian casualties at Dresden, it was indeed a necessary part of WW2.
It was just how things were done back then.

Fortunately, we have moved on and it is perhaps issues that were raised by Dresden, like what PM raises, that has led to this progress.

Psycho Milt said...

True it was deserved at the time, all's fair in love and war, but I am sure the horrors of Dresen will have impacted on the German Nazi government surrendering when they did.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. It was not deserved at the time because the civilian population of no country deserves to be incinerated in its houses; we know all is not fair in war because we spent months following the end of hostilities hanging our enemies' leaders for "war crimes;" and the Nazi leadership didn't give a rat's ass about who was getting killed as long as it wasn't them, so no it didn't influence their decision to surrender in the slightest.

KG said...

It's all very well carrying on about the horrors of war and using hindsight to judge actions.
A little more consideration of the horrors of defeat should that have been the outcome wouldn't go astray.
A question I ask of people who throw up their hands in horror at the allied bombing campaign (but very seldom, strangely at the German one) is what exactly would they have done to avoid the horrors of camps such as Auschwitz and Dachau spreading to the defeated allied countries? Held a conference? Offered Hitler the Jewish and homosexual and gypsy people on a plate?
What?

PhilBest said...

So the lesson, Psycho Milt, surely is this. When an Adolf Hitler comes to power in a significant nation, better deal with him straight away, eh?

Every time you end up fighting a total war with a powerful enemy who doesn't give a rats arse about his own civilians (in contrast to us, the good guys), you should learn this lesson and not let it get so far out of hand next time.

Would it be more moral to wait for such war to come upon us, and then fight it according to a high code of ethics that might result in our losing to nightmarishly evil forces; or to fight it with "whatever it takes" and win; or to pre-empt it in the first place?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If you want to use it, so can I.

Anonymous said...

When you look at the stats Dresden was not unusual. The number of bombs dropped were not high, the operation was not in any way different and the casualties were not out of line with other bombings in Germany.

It was a total war. Such wars cannot be fought without the mobilisation and compliance of an entire population. That also requires that major population centres become major centres of logistical support. That makes them targets.

I entirely sympathise with your points PM, but it may be harsh or amoral, but if only one allied soldier or concentration camp victim lived because of the bombing, then I think it was worth it. I frankly value their lives far more highly than those in Dresden.

insider

Anonymous said...

By all accounts Bomber Harris was a hard and implacable man that did not lose any sleep over Dresden. The Nazis never lost any sleep over Coventry et al and Stalin never lost sleep over any mortality of any amount of innocents at any time. It was Greek meets Greek all round. When you fail to reign in tyrants by standing up to them in your own country or making their options an unacceptable risk, you delegate the course of the near future to people like this. Their mission is to kill people and reduce the enemy to ashes -- and they sleep at night. Dresden had no military objective and was an idea to assuage Stalin's demand for more actions by the allies. Down the chain it goes to operational level and an evil was visited on people.

The question to be answered is it right to kill? If the answer is yes, what does sex, age or uniform matter? Evil does not limit itself, it must be limited by force. There is a time to kill, but when you cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war you will find the dogs have some real bad traits. Viciousness and merciless cruelty are two of them. Whatever disposition or experiences lead Harris into his paradigm I do not know, but he will wake to be judged individualy like the Dresden victims and the rest of us - with our 18000 annual abortions with their 'legal' 'procedures'

George

Psycho Milt said...

KG and Phil Best: I'm neither a pacifist nor a conscientious objector; I just prefer us to deal honestly with what's involved in large-scale military conflict. Do you prefer dishonesty?

KG said...

PM, I didn't suppose you were a pacifist, neither did I suggest it.
But dealing with the consequences of war "honestly" involves a damn sight more than focussing on civilian casualties, by whatever side.
We can pick over the scenes of horror endlessly, analyse them endlessly but the fact remains that we're doing so with 2009 mindsets and knowledge about a 1939-45 conflict.
The allies did what was necessary, and won. Could that have done what was necessary with less loss of life? Possibly. But in a fight for one's life fine calculations about proportionate or acceptable force are irrelevant.
A lot of us are sick to death of hearing bout allied 'atrocities' such as Dresden and Hamburg, while London, Coventry, the Katyn massacre, Nanking etc are so seldom mentioned.
In short, we're fucking sick of guilt-tripping, breast-beating idiots who constantly rub our noses in our white man's imperialism and warmongering while ignoring the appalling record of others, because airing that record doesn't suit their wet multiculti utopian dreamworld.
So we killed lots of German civilians during WW2--big deal.
So civilians die during wars. Big deal.
War is what homo sapiens does. Not for nothing did Robert Ardrey describe us as "the killer ape"--and no amount of social conditioning or social engineering will change that.
But if a people wish to live in peace and an aggressor has other ideas then I believe that any response--ANY RESPONSE is justified.

KG said...

"For all the sublimity of the cause for which we fought, we surely created a Belsen of our own"
No we didn't.

Anonymous said...

I am sure the horrors of Dresen will have impacted on the German Nazi government surrendering when they did.

Yep. They increased both the leadership and the general populace's determination to keep fighting and not to surrender. Can you translate terrorflieger?

Doesn't mean it wasn't the "right thing" to do of course.

When you look at the stats Dresden was not unusual.

Wrong. Weather, wooden buildings, and bad civil defense planning. Industrial output was barely affected, but the disruption to transport & troop movements was intense. And part of the point was to "show the Soviets what Bomber Command can do".

But if a people wish to live in peace and an aggressor has other ideas then I believe that any response--ANY RESPONSE is justified.

Psycho Milt said...

No we didn't.

I'm sure Kurt Vonnegut, who was there, would bow to your superior knowledge on this one...

Danyl said...

KG wrote: "Once again, I can't help but feel there's something missing from this narrative . . ."
Yeah--the carpet bombing of London and Coventry, for starters.


This is pretty funny. Just to sum up, here's how Simon and KG would describe Germany-Soviet relations between 1939 and 1945:

1939: Non-aggression pact signed.
1940: Germany bombs Coventry in United Kingdom
1940-41: Continual air war against London.
1941 - 1944: Soviets (somehow) continue to prevent two front land campaign against Germany.

Commando comics have a lot to answer for.

KG said...

Danyl, I was talking about the 'bombing civilians" narrative.
Careless on my part.

KG said...

"I'm sure Kurt Vonnegut, who was there, would bow to your superior knowledge on this one..."
It's not a matter of knowledge--it's a matter of conflating the deliberate extermination of Jews, homosexuals and other "undesirables"in purpose-built killing factories with the military actions used to stop it.
I know you find it hard to forgo the smartarse quip PM, but do try.:-)

Simon said...

Commado comics? That is good coming from someone who compared the Western lefts 80 support of genocidal communism to the rights skeptism over climate change.

Soviet sings on aggression Pact with Germany giving them a free hand against France & GB. While GB holds out with support from America Germany turns against Russia. The Western Allies rebuild then went go on to win World War 2 despite Soviet Leadership.

Psycho Milt said...

I know you find it hard to forgo the smartarse quip PM, but do try.:-)

My motto is "Stick with what you do best."

it's a matter of conflating the deliberate extermination of Jews, homosexuals and other "undesirables"in purpose-built killing factories with the military actions used to stop it.

Vonnegut isn't doing that; he's pointing out that despite the moral superiority of our cause, we ended up generating a large-scale requirement for big holes to tip the stinking corpses of thousands of innocents into, just like Josef Kramer did at Belsen. His point is not "we're just like the Nazis," it's more like "we shouldn't get too big-headed about it," and it's a very fair point.

WAKE UP said...

Milt, you've started a fascinating discussion here, most of which I've covered in my earlier post...

...but if you're going to keep going on about Dresden in particular, as if it, of all the war, must be judged in isolation (even if you're just being an agent provocateur - though I suspect not), then you force me to add, unequivocally, that what happened to Dresden and Berlin, Nagasaki and Hiroshima pales to the correct proportion when you add up the total of what happened to/in Czechoslovakia, Austria, London and Coventry, France, Belgium, the concentration camps, the Warsaw ghetto and Poland, and on and on.

Dresden and Hiroshima also had the added effect of bringing the war to a close.

Can't have it both ways - as in the famous cartoon of the two dog soldiers in the foxhole, and one is saying to the other, "If you knows of a better 'ole, go to it!

Psycho Milt said...

Actually I'm more clued up on Hamburg than Dresden, as that's where I lived, but Dresden has more written about it.

If it makes you feel better to imagine that incinerating German and Japanese civilians in their homes "had the added effect of bringing the war to a close," go ahead. It remains however merely a comforting fiction.

Barnsley Bill said...

Either I am missing the point or most commenter's to this post are complete wankers (the most notable exception being Danyl).
Thanks for this post PM, it was the best you have written this year. Dresden was a terrible, pointless waste of munitions and humanity.
"I know we did but so did they" makes commenter's sound like those Labour Kunts we just voted off the island.
I will discuss this one further by email as I fear commenting here will only sail past most peoples heads.

Heine said...

I'd like to read more about the suffering the Soviet Union bought upon Europe, both during the war and during the cold war era.

Good post PM.

Psycho Milt said...

Cheers BB.

I'd like to read more about the suffering the Soviet Union bought upon Europe, both during the war and during the cold war era.

Which was what the post was meant to be about - thanks for noticing! To everyone else: pretend I didn't quote Kurt Vonnegut and just read the rest...

KG said...

"Dresden was a terrible, pointless waste of munitions and humanity."
The whole fucking war was a terrible, pointless waste of munitions and humanity. But the blame for that doesn't rest with the allies.
"I know we did but so did they" makes commenter's sound like those Labour Kunts we just voted off the island."
I nominate that for idiot comment of the week.
So what's your point? Or isn't a "wanker" supposed to ask?

PhilBest said...

Psycho Milt, I agree with you that we need to be honest about War, and we need to be a whole lot more honest about the value to humanity of quick and early removal of Adolf Hitler regimes before they get world wars off the ground. Modern PC thought is erring tragically on the side of "no intervention".

If the world had listened to Winston Churchill in 1919, the Bolsheviks would have been eliminated at the cost of yet another unpopular and costly war, and Churchill would have gone down in history as an evil warmonger. But it really helps, doesn't it, to know what the world would have been spared? Not that the PC writers of history have ever given Winston Churchill credit for having been right at that time as well as all the other times he was right.

One of the most sickening things I have read lately, was that B. Hussein Obama has returned to the British government, the bust of Winston Churchill that had adorned a White House mantlepiece for decades. As far as I am concerned, that settles the case that he is not fit to wipe Winston Churchill's arse.

WAKE UP said...

Milt, it never ceases to amaze me that every time I open my input with even a mild compliment to your worthy self, and then proceed to debate with you in a civilised manner, you go for the jugular in your reply (I feel like Neville Chamberlain must have, after the real Hitler showed up post-Munich:) Maybe you'd be some use in an all-out war after all! :)

However Bill, from bloody Barnsley: I demand an immediate statement that your "wanker" comment does not apply to me, and I'll let you off the apology.

With a gentle reminder to you both that ad hominem attack is not a debate.

And a second gentle reminder that if you are going to continue to try to frame the debate on Dreseden only on the lines that Dresden Is The Only Thing That Happened In The War That Should Be Discussed In Isolation From All Other Context, rational debate about it is impossible.

ps - I left the Scandinavian nations off the list of places wrecked by the Nazis; and also Stalingrad - which may be of even more significance, given some of the "anti-Russia post-war" posts here, which are actually irrelevant to the Dresden-in-wartime debate.

Psycho Milt said...

PhilBest: the Brits at least did listen to Churchill. This site lists the British order of battle in the Soviet Union, 1919. Like other foreign armies before and since, they didn't have a lot of success.

Wake Up: you've lost me - where's the ad hominem?

You've lost me with this bit too:

And a second gentle reminder that if you are going to continue to try to frame the debate on Dreseden only on the lines that Dresden Is The Only Thing That Happened In The War That Should Be Discussed In Isolation From All Other Context, rational debate about it is impossible.

I didn't intend to have a debate on operation Thunderclap. Foolishly, I imagined that Vonnegut's comments on it were self-evident and uncontroversial, and included them mainly to take the sting out of the fact that my post was taking the piss out of a book dealing with the deaths of a large number of people.

Ollo Chubb said...

Dresden was mass murder. It was totally unnecessary in a strategic sense. Most in Dresden were refugees fleeing the red army and the annihilation of their country which was in full swing at the time, FFS it was Feb 1945. The allies did not need to do this and in doing so made themselves as evil as the Germans and Soviets.
I'm not excusing the NAZI regime and their atrocities. The Allies (yes, us) committed them too.

Ollo Chubb said...

http://www.globalfire.tv/nj/08en/history/dresden.htm

PhilBest said...

I apologise on reflection for my over the top insult of President Obama at 12.57. I am still upset about the insult to the memory of Winston Churchill, but I always criticised people who used over the top language about Bill Clinton and I regret doing the same now in the heat of the moment.

WAKE UP said...

Last word from me: everybody go check "George Duncan's Massacres and Atrocities of WW2".

I'm personally not wasting another word on this (non)debate, and I suggest that anyone else who reads the above won't either.

OECD rank 22 kiwi said...

Kurtz: "We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their airplanes because it's obscene!"

The world might be a better place if this anomaly was corrected.

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