Diary

Hammered home three times -- and it was wrong

As is the usually the case, I was listening to Rush’s podcast in the car this morning (Monday’s) and he put his foot in it a bit in regards to the strategy and tactics of the Allies in WW2, speaking in the context of belittling the stupidity of the commentary around this wikileaks dustup. If he hadn’t made the same incorrect point three times, I wouldn’t bother setting the record straight but he was repeatedly emphatic about it.

If any of you heard what I’m referring to you should know, the Allies in WW2 did not have an expressed strategic or tactical goal of “killing civilians.” On more than one occasion in fact air missions were altered or cancelled because of the possible effect on civilian populations. (In fact one of these situations inspired the storyline of the Jimmy Cagney movie 13 Rue Madeleine.) At the time of D-Day in fact there was a great deal of agonizing about the effects of the bombing campaign that went on to isolate the beachheads, and how it was effecting the French population. Rush specifically mentioned Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden as examples of the allies targeting civilians. In all three cases these were legitimate military targets and civilians were not the targets. (99% of what you’ve read about Dresden is wrong, incidentally, from the death toll of the attack in February, 1945, to the notion that the city had no military value. In fact, it was very much a high value target. Calling it a militarily valueless undefended city is as much revisionism as the spurious notion that Nazism wasn’t a left-wing movement.)

However it was also true that no one spent too much time worrying about civilian casualties as a rule of thumb. In fact you could make the case that the British night bombing campaign took a completely ruthless point of view in this regard. Although they did not specifically target the killing of civilians, the RAF was candid that among its objectives was “de-housing” the civil population, thereby negatively effecting munitions production. If the civilians didn’t take cover, too bad.

Rush’s contention that these attacks were specifically intended to incite enemy civilian populations to throw off their governments is wrong. He cited this as an objective of war aims in several conflicts. In point of fact, that thinking went out with Grant’s stated goal of “extermination” in the War Between the States. In WW2 the goal was to destroy the enemy’s capacity to make war. If having large collateral damage body counts forced regime change, fine. Whatever works.