Were the Nazis the only criminals?




Dresden Mon Amour








"A signal is needed against the one-sided mourning in Germany," declared Peter Lauer, a sixty-four-year-old schoolteacher taking part in a neo-Nazi counterdemonstration to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden, on February 13 of this year. "We must also mourn the German victims." The emotionally charged anniversary was also marked by an official ceremony and a mass processionin which many of the marchers bore white roses as a symbol of opposition to the presence of Lauer's group, the largest neo-Nazi gathering in decades. But while Lauer identifies himself as a supporter of the rightist National Democratic Party (NPD), which now holds twelve seats in the local Saxon parliament, his sentiment does not represent merely Germany's fringe. Indeed, this year's anniversary of the end of the war has seen not only official commemorations of the enormous death toll brought about by the Nazi regime but also much attention paid to German suffering and German civilian casualties incurred during the Allied bombing of cities like Dresden. This development, which can be charted along a number of different lines (historical, literary, popular, etc.), was previously unimaginable.

For over half a century, German discussions of the Third Reich have focused almost unremittingly on the crimes committed by the Nazis, and in doing so have tended to implicate not only Hitler's most fervent supporters but the German population as a whole—for its passivity, for its basic endorsement of the regime, for its incapacity to recognize the heinous nature of the National Socialist cause. Even if these discussions have occasionally been punctuated by sharp challenges—such as the infamous Historikerstreit ("historians' dispute") of 1986, when a strident effort to normalize the German past was put forward by conservative historian Ernst Nolte—Germans have generally felt deeply and irreversibly entrenched on the side of the perpetrators. As a result, a sense of bereavement for their own people has not come easily. In the late 1960s, the psychoanalysts Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich wrote presciently of Germany's "inability to mourn." In the years since, the self-imposed silence often elicited by mention of the war or the Holocaust has similarly impaired any candid expression of German loss.

But in fall 1997, in what was one of the first prominent, unflinching examinations of German suffering during the Allied air campaign, the acclaimed German novelist W. G. Sebald gave a series of lectures in Zurich under the title "Air War and Literature" (published in English translation, after Sebald's untimely death in 2001, as On the Natural History of Destruction). Pitched in a semipolemical vein, Sebald's remarks took to task German writers of the previous generation, and the German public along with them, for falling under the spell of a kind of "individual and collective amnesia," a willful forgetting that kept them from addressing this vital part of their postwar identity. As Sebald told it, from the end of the war into the late 1990s very few literary testimonies were written, and those that were faced severe delays in publication—as in the case of Heinrich Böll's dark war novel Der Engel schwieg (The Silent Angel), which was written in the late 1940s but didn't appear until 1992—or barely reached an audience. Despite the fact that so many Germans were profoundly affected by the unprecedented devastation—according to Sebald's calculations, some six hundred thousand civilians died in the air raids, and by the war's final days 7.5 million citizens of the former Reich were without a home—the topic was essentially closed to debate. Germany, in Sebald's words, was "always looking and looking away at the same time."

As a result, the subject of German loss had no place in the dominant postwar narrative of reconstruction and rebirth, the so-called Wirtschaftswunder ("economic miracle") for which the Federal Republic of Germany would soon become famous. Not unlike the protagonist of R. W. Fassbinder's politically minded 1979 film Die Ehe der Maria Braun (The Marriage of Maria Braun), a woman whose relentless zeal for upward mobility mirrors the development of the nation, postwar Germany was largely content to paper over its tarnished image, to rebuild directly atop the ruins, and to avoid, at all costs, looking back. As Sebald put it, "The darkest aspects of the final act of destruction, as experienced by the great majority of the German population, remained under a kind of taboo like a shameful family secret, a secret that perhaps could not even be privately acknowledged."

As we know from period documentary footage, mainly photographs and newsreels, a number of German cities were completely leveled in World War II. The Allied air campaign left them buried beneath mountains of ruins; Dresden alone had as much as 42.8 cubic meters of rubble per inhabitant. The Allied bombing of Dresden represents, for many, an especially tragic example, given that it occurred so late in the war, that it destroyed the city's most precious cultural institutions, and that Dresden, unlike Hamburg, was not considered a vital military target. In his survey of the destruction, Sebald includes, as he typically does in his fictional work as well, an array of uncaptioned photographs, providing a visual dimension to his words. The poignant images—decimated cityscapes dotted with heaps of rubble, charred body parts strewn across a city street, bombed-out buildings evoking statuelike severed torsos or ancient ruins—betray not only the horrifying scale of the destruction but also the sweeping effort to repress these horrors. In a number of instances, Sebald includes a diptych, the first an image from the aftermath of the bombings, the second a shot of the city reconstructed. (A recent German publication, Dresden Vaterstadt, a father-son photographic collaboration by Jochen and Harf Zimmermann, takes a similar approach—presenting snapshots from 1949 juxtaposed with those taken from the same vantage point in 2004—to show the complex course of urban development and to remind viewers what the city had looked like before it was rebuilt.) "People's ability to forget what they do not want to know," Sebald avers, "to overlook what is before their eyes, was seldom put to the test better than in Germany at that time. The population decided—out of sheer panic at first—to carry on as if nothing had happened."

While very few works of the so-called Trümmerliteratur, or "rubble literature," published in the immediate postwar period meet Sebald's exacting standards for an unrestrained confrontation with German experience of the air raids, there are several that pass the initial test. He mentions, with qualified praise, literary works by the German authors Böll, Arno Schmidt, and Hermann Kasack, as well as non-German eyewitness reports by Stig Dagerman and Janet Flanner, among others. Also on his list is one of the most riveting accounts of the war, novelist Hans Erich Nossack's threadbare, laconic rendering of the firebombing of Hamburg, Der Untergang: Hamburg 1943, first published in Germany in 1948, as part of a collection of the author's shorter pieces titled Interview mit dem Tode (Interview with Death), and published in English translation this past winter as The End. Nossack recorded his observations of the decimated city in November 1943—during the actual attacks, he and his wife happened to be vacationing in a village beyond the city outskirts, across the Elbe River—just a few months after Operation Gomorrah, as the Allied air campaign was called, had taken its toll. Nossack opens in the matter-of-fact style he maintains, with a few notable exceptions of allegorical and poetic flourish, throughout much of his account: "I experienced the destruction of Hamburg as a spectator. I was spared the fate of playing a role in it. I don't know why. I can't even decide whether that was a privilege. . . . For me the city went to ruin as a whole, and my danger consisted in being overpowered by seeing and knowing the entirety of its fate." He then explains, with acute self-awareness and unusual foresight, the nature of his undertaking:

I feel that I have been given a mandate to render an account. Let no one ask me why I presume to speak of a mandate: I cannot answer that. I feel that my mouth would remain closed forever if I did not take care of this first. Also, I feel an urgency to set it down right away, even though only three months have passed. For reason will never be capable of comprehending as a reality or preserving in memory what happened there. I am afraid that, if I do not bear witness now, it will gradually fade like an evil dream.

As if possessing a sick, prophetic sense of the blanket of silence that would soon come to shroud the event, Nossack then proceeds to transcribe his impressions of the devastation around him. Like his fellow wartime diarist Victor Klemperer, whose multivolume Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten (I Will Bear Witness) gives a Jewish eyewitness account of the war years, Nossack sees his role as a kind of moral imperative.

Nossack's chronicle addresses, and even anticipates, many of the same issues that Sebald would treat in his lectures more than half a century later: the "uncanny silence," the almost immediate desire to move forward, the guilt, fear, and shame that promptly set in. The End portrays, in a number of revealing instances, how the trauma from the attacks manifested itself: "People were simply without a center, the roots were torn out and swayed back and forth in search of some soil." A woman Nossack observes, surrounded by rubble, insists on frantically scrubbing her windows. In a related moment, he notes how Hamburg's citizens, reverting to their established bourgeois habits in the wake of the bombing, sit on their verandas and drink coffee. Even those who lost family and friends appear, in Nossack's account, bent on erasing—or repressing—the experience. "How often, when I ask one of the victims about someone who I know was their friend, do I hear the answer: He's finished for me." One finds in Nossack's narrative that along with the palpable sense of doom (the original German title, Der Untergang, means at once "the collapse," "the demise," and "the downfall"), there are also hints of a new beginning. Unable to dismiss or repress these urges, and clearly made uncomfortable by them, Nossack instead confronts them as they impinge on his project. "Why go on? I mean, why record all this? Wouldn't it be better to surrender it to oblivion for all time? For those who were there certainly don't have to read it. And the others, and those who will come later?"

Nowhere in Nossack's short work does one detect anger at what has occurred or anger directed at those who dropped the bombs. Although he refers to the air raids as "punishment" (in German the word he uses is Gericht, which comes from juridical language and means "tribunal" or "judgment"), he is also quick to insist, "I have not heard a single person curse the enemies or blame them for the destruction. When the newspapers published epithets like ‘pirates of the air' and ‘criminal arsonists,' we had no ears for that." It's almost as if he quietly accepts the bitter hand dealt by the Allied attacks and sees them as a justified response to the Nazi megalomania: "We felt our fate to be the end." It is, perhaps, this remarkable candor and humility that first prompted Sebald to champion Nossack as the sole German writer who "was ready or able to put any concrete facts down on paper about the progress and repercussions of this gigantic, long-term campaign of destruction."

If, as Sebald suggests, the German public was incapable of countenancing Nossack's unvarnished account at the time of its initial publication, the American public was no better equipped. Translator Joel Agee notes in his foreword to the English edition that when he first tried to find a publisher for the work in the early '70s, during the Vietnam War, he was told that "Americans just weren't prepared to sympathize with a German description of the suffering of Germans in World War Two." Now, however, sixty years after the end of the war, Americans may be more willing to accept the idea of German suffering. Even more important is the unmistakable affinity that Nossack's text has with other accounts of terror and trauma, and that, in the wake of our own experience with air attacks at home, we are now, sadly, able to appreciate. Anyone who witnessed 9/11 firsthand is apt to relate to Nossack's somber, almost surreal landscape, "the smell of charred household effects, of rot and decay, hanging over the city," coupled with "the population's readiness to help."

The American edition of The End includes, as an appendix, a selection of the wartime photographs of Hamburg surreptitiously taken by acclaimed photojournalist Erich Andres. There are, as one might expect, images of the spectacular ruins, some of them still smoldering while the city's inhabitants traverse the rubble; there is also the shocking image of charred corpses lying next to a scorched bucket, the same photo that Sebald incorporates into his text. But the shot that may speak most directly to an American audience still haunted by the specter of photographs of missing loved ones plastered on the walls and lampposts of New York City shows a soldier writing in chalk on a bare concrete wall. In the adjacent photo appear the words "Hilde, where are you? We're alive" (this is echoed in Nossack's text: "Where are you, Mother? Please let me know. I now live at this and that place").

When Sebald wrote his Zurich lectures, and when he articulated his claim that "we [Germans] have not yet succeeded in bringing the horrors of the air war to public attention through historical or literary accounts," military historian Jörg Friedrich had yet to publish his monumental, highly controversial work Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg, 1940–1945 (The Fire: Germany in the Bombing Campaign, 1940–1945, the English translation of which is forthcoming from Columbia University Press). In a radical departure from previous scholarly norms and standard areas of emphasis—Friedrich himself previously worked on research projects dealing with Nazi war crimes and the Holocaust—The Fire sets out to document the full magnitude of the Allied air raids as experienced in German cities across the Reich. When the work appeared in Germany in 2002, critics were quick to call foul, not so much because of what Friedrich had attempted to do but because of how he had done it. By personalizing the story, by providing eyewitness accounts in lurid, painful detail (an act of "hysterical expressivity," as one German critic called it), and by employing the type of language previously reserved for discussing victims of the Holocaust, Friedrich opened himself up to charges of historical revisionism and cozying up to the radical Right.

Yet Friedrich's book is also brimming with statistics, which he often wields the way a talented trial lawyer marshals evidence. Consider, for example, his discussion of the Hamburg firebombing, an odd mixture of straight information and rhetorical flourish: "The approximately 40,000 fatalities in the July 1943 campaigns are, together with those in Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, emblems of the most extreme kind of violent warfare ever inflicted upon a creature. Not because of the streams of blood spilled, but rather because of the way that living beings were erased from the world with a deadly wind. In fire bombing as in nuclear war very little blood flows. Rescue workers in Hamburg report that the hurricane-like, blazing gusts of air reached hundreds of people one later found lying naked in the streets. Their skin was allegedly of a brown texture, their hair in good condition, their mucous membranes in their faces dried up and incrusted." Friedrich was castigated for such passages and also for failing to emphasize sufficiently that Germany had itself pioneered the bombing raids, in cities such as Warsaw (1939), Rotterdam (1940), and Coventry (1940). In reaction, in a recent piece in the German daily Die Welt, published just days before the sixtieth anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden, Friedrich made a point of noting the German precedent but added a critical rejoinder. In his words, "It was only since 1943 that the incineration of cities from the air had amounted to deliberate mass killing. The fire bombing of Hamburg killed 45,000 [sic] people overnight, more than the Luftwaffe had achieved in nine months of dropping bombs on England." Just as the Historikerstreit applied great pressure to the issue of moral equivalency—with the effort from the Right to compare the crimes of Hitler with those of Stalin—so, too, the issue resurges in Friedrich's work.

What Sebald lamented about the lack of open discourse on the air war appears to have been blown apart with the publication of Der Brand, and in the three years since, the topic of German suffering has been addressed with more fervor than Sebald may have been able to imagine. Authors as diverse as Günter Grass and Uwe Timm have taken up variations of the subject in their work—the Russian sinking of a Nazi cruise ship carrying German refugees in the case of Grass, and the indoctrination and ultimate sacrifice of young, naive Germans at the hands of the SS in Timm—and contemporary filmmakers have similarly seized on the occasion to shift their focus to formerly taboo terrain. Though it has the same title as Nossack's book, Oliver Hirschbiegel's blockbuster film Der Untergang (Downfall) is not about the Allied air raids in Hamburg, but about Hitler's final moments under siege in Berlin. Much of it takes place in the depths of Hitler's bunker, where the increasingly deluded Führer, played with mesmerizing skill by Bruno Ganz, loses his grip. The film follows Hitler on his suicidal path, but it also shows how those around him—especially his young, naive secretary, Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara)—are made to suffer. We witness the poisoning of the Goebbels children, the mass suicides, the destruction of those who act out their ideological will to sacrifice, and, finally, the salvaged hopes for rebirth among those who survive Hitler's wrath. In his review of the film, J. Hoberman likened it to a German Kammerspiel, or "domestic drama," a tradition that tends to emphasize the intimate nature of characters and their social relations over external politics and larger concerns. Although it has been criticized for humanizing Hitler, what Downfall really does is domesticate German suffering, an effect it may share with Friedrich's work.

While this debate raises real, well-placed fears of vulgar revisionism, and of playing into the hands of neo-Nazi slogans such as the "Bombing Holocaust" (even Nossack's text has found its way, in excerpted form, onto the American right-wing website Stormfront, the "White Nationalist Community" platform from which David Duke airs his weekly speeches), it also has led to positive developments. German authors, filmmakers, historians, and the public at large have been challenged to face a part of German history that needed to resurface. Even if some of the consequences may be frightening, bottling up this agonizing chapter of history is no longer an option. Toward the end of In My Brother's Shadow: A Life and Death in the SS, Uwe Timm observes, "They [the Germans] did not know because they would not see, they looked away." A mere eight years after Sebald voiced grave concerns about Germany's propensity to repress the past, to always be "looking and looking away at the same time," it is now no longer possible to look away.

Noah Isenberg is chair of humanities at the New School in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Nation, the New Republic, and other publications.


Features  History


The Mongol devastations

The destruction of Dresden and Hiroshima marked the beginning of the Cold War. The Allies wrestled for control of the world while the civilian population was taken hostage.

By Jörg Friedrich

"The train tracks crossing the city," states the US governmental report on the effect of the Hiroshima bomb, "were back in working order by August 8, two days after the attack." Only then did the gamma waves and neutrons manifest themselves in human bone marrow and start taking deadly effect. Even thin cement slabs near Ground Zero had stopped the radiation. The majority of the 80,000 deaths were caused by heat radiation, shock waves and flying debris.

40 year old Shugita Chiyoko, searching for her husband among the body parts strewn under the Shosoji Temple on August 7th, only recognised him by his feet. "My husband had a very high arch." The neighbours were amazed. "'We've been married for 20 years,' I said. 'I can tell by his feet that it's him.' Around his ankles were the leggings he'd worn when he left that morning. The rest was cut off."

Only in 1950 did American physicists start researching nuclear heat waves, measured in calories per square centimetre (cal/cm2). President
Truman had had the thermonuclear, or hydrogen, bomb built in January. Its destructive potential, measured during the first test in November, was the equivalent of ten million tonnes of TNT, compared with twenty thousand tonnes for the Hiroshima bomb. But the real advantage of the new weapon lay in its thermal effect. Since the heat waves outstripped the shock waves, the data from the 1945 explosions were reviewed.

Artikel erschienen am Do, 10. Februar 2005


Mit der Zerstörung Dresdens und Hiroshimas beginnt der Kalte Krieg. Die Alliierten ringen untereinander um die Aufteilung der Welt. Die Zivilbevölkerung wird zur Geisel

von Jörg Friedrich

Die Eisenbahnlinien, die die Stadt durchquerten", schreibt der US-Regierungsbericht zum Effekt der  Hiroshima-Bombe, "waren am 8. August, zwei Tage nach dem Angriff, so weit instand gesetzt, daß der  Durchgangsverkehr wieder aufgenommen werden konnte." Dann erst machten sich Gammastrahlen und  Neutronen im menschlichen Knochenmark bemerkbar und wirkten rasch tödlich. Schon dünne  Betonschichten nahe Ground Zero wehrten den Stich der Nuklearstrahlen ab. Die Mehrzahl der 80 000  Toten ging an Hitzestrahlung, Druckwellen und Trümmerschlag zugrunde.  

Die vierzigjährige Shugita Chiyoko, die am Morgen des 7. Augusts ihren Mann unter den am Tempel  Shôsôji ausgebreiteten Körperresten sucht, erkennt ihn nur an den Füßen wieder. "Mein Mann hatte  einen auffallend hohen Spann." Die Nachbarinnen erstaunen, "und ich habe gesagt, "wir leben seit  zwanzig Jahren zusammen als Mann und Frau. Da seh' ich an den Füßen, daß das mein Mann ist. An den  Fußknöcheln waren die Wickelgamaschen übrig, die er am Morgen beim Weggehen anhatte. Der Rest  war wie abgeschnitten'."  

Erst 1950 befaßten sich US-Physiker mit den Glutwellen, gemessen in Kalorien pro Quadratzentimeter,  (cal/cm2). Präsident Truman hatte im Januar die thermonukleare, auch Wasserstoffbombe genannte  Waffe bauen heißen. Ihre Zerstörungskraft entsprach beim Ersttest im November dem Äquivalent von  zehn Millionen Tonnen TNT, gegenüber zwanzigtausend Tonnen der Hiroshima-Bombe. Der Vorzug des  neuen Verfahrens bestand allerdings in der Thermalwirkung. Weil die Hitzewellen die Druckwellen  überflügelten, studierte man aufs neue die alten Branddaten von 1945.



The fire storm that enveloped the area around Hiroshima had a radius of 1.5 km and a thermal output of roughly 10 cal/cm2. A one million tonne bomb would achieve 22 cal/cm2. But fire damage was hard to predict, as too many other variables are involved. What role is played by wind, temperature, humidity and the individual incendiary properties of each city?

Data to answer such questions had only existed for ten years. The Luftwaffe had pioneered bombing raids over
Warsaw, Rotterdam and Coventry. But it was only since 1943 that the incineration of cities from the air had amounted to deliberate mass killing. The fire bombing of Hamburg killed 45,000 people overnight, more than the Luftwaffe had achieved in nine months of dropping bombs on England. Only eight weeks earlier,the fire in Wuppertal had resulted in 3,000 deaths, an unprecedented figure until then.

The fire in Wuppertal burnt in the air circulation pattern particular to enclosed river valleys. In Hamburg it was the dry summer heat; in Heilbronn, Dresden and Pforzheim it was winter snow. Tokyo was built almost entirely of wood and paper, Darmstadt of sandstone, Munster of brick. Hildesheim and Halberstadt were criss-crossed by narrow streets lined with half-timbered houses, Mannheim was divided into classic quadrants, Dortmund and Duisburg were made up of sprawling 19th century blocks. The thermonuclear planners delved into the fund of knowledge left by the area bombing of the Axis powers. This was the only way to understand how individual cities burn.

The historic fires in San Francisco, Hamburg and London had nothing in common with the procedure whereby in only 17 minutes (Würzburg) or 21 minutes (Dresden), cities were showered with hundreds of thousands of incendiary bombs. These sparked thousands of fires, which within three hours became a flaming sea, several square kilometres wide. Large natural fires normally have a single source, and are driven for days by the wind. But war statistics showed that such winds played a minor role in fires caused by bombs. The real destructive power was not in the wind that drives the fire, but in the fire itself, which unleashes its own hurricane on the ground.

In Hiroshima maß der Feuersturm, der ein jegliches in seinem Umkreis verschlang, 1,5 Kilometer im  Radius, seine thermische Vehemenz ca. 10 cal/cm2. Eine Ein-Millionen-Tonnen-Bombe würde bereits 22  cal/cm2 erreichen. Allerdings ließen sich Feuerschäden schwer vorausberechnen, denn zu viele Variablen  mischten sich darin. Welchen Einfluß übten Wind, Temperatur, Feuchtigkeit aus, welche die individuelle  Entzündlichkeit einer Stadt ihre Brandeigenschaften?  

Solchen Fragen boten sich erst seit zehn Jahren Erfahrungswerte. Die Einäscherung von Städten aus der  Luft verband sich, nach den Pionierversuchen der deutschen Luftwaffe in Warschau, Rotterdam und  Coventry erst seit Mitte 1943 mit dem Vorsatz zur Massentötung. Der Feuersturmangriff auf Hamburg  vernichtete über Nacht mehr Einwohner als die Luftwaffe in neun Monaten über England, etwa 45.000.  Acht Wochen zuvor erst hatte der Brand von Wuppertal die bisher präzedenzlose Anzahl von über 3000  Toten erzielt.  

Wuppertal brannte in der spezifischen Luftzirkulation eines Talkessels aus, Hamburg in zundertrockener  Hochsommerhitze, Heilbronn, Dresden und Pforzheim im Winterschnee. Tokio war nahezu vollständig  aus Holz und Papier gebaut, Darmstadt aus Sandstein, Münster aus Ziegeln. Hildesheim und Halberstadt  gliederten sich in winkligen Fachwerkgassen, Mannheim in klassizistischen Quadraten, Dortmund und  Duisburg in die wuchernde Blockbebauung des 19. Jahrhunderts. Die Thermonuklearplaner vertieften  sich in die Archaik des Flächenbombardements gegen die verflossenen Achsenmächte, weil allein daraus  das Brennverhalten von Städten zu erlernen war.  

Die historischen Stadtbrände von San Francisco, Hamburg und London wiesen keine Ähnlichkeit auf mit  der Prozedur, binnen 17 Minuten Würzburg und binnen 21 Minuten Dresden mit Hunderttausenden von  Stabbrandbomben zu bewerfen, die Zigtausende gleichmäßiger Entstehungsbrände zündeten, damit sie  in drei Stunden sich zu quadratkilometerweiten Flammenmeeren verbündeten. Die natürlichen  Feuersbrünste hatten gewöhnlich eine einzige Quelle, die tagelang windgetrieben voranmarschierte. Die  Treibwinde, so lehrten die Weltkriegsstatistiken, spielten bei den vertikal eingeschütteten  Flugbrennstoffen eine Nebenrolle. Die wahre Vernichtungskraft steckte gar nicht in dem Wind, der das  Feuer jagte, sondern in einem solchen Feuer, das seinen eigenen Bodenorkan entfesselte.  



Neither buildings nor people can escape the logic of the elements of fire and air. A fire starts, it sets the air in motion, fire and air form a vortex extinguishing life and all that belongs to it: books, altars, hospitals, asylums, jails and jailers, the block warden and his child, the armourers, the people's court and all the people in it, the slave's barracks and the Jew's hideout, the strangler as well as the strangled. Hiroshima and Dresden, Tokyo and Kassel were transformed from cities into destructive systems. The agent of change is the bomb war, and the bomb war is its construction site. Work continues to this day, it’s a work in progress. There is hardly a nation not working at it, and the numbers are growing.

When 40 years ago, a handful of atomic scientists studied the complex chemistry and mechanics which the war generation had used to raze cities, they were seeking what no one had experienced since the war: military mass destruction in real time, the laboured route from Warsaw to Hamburg to Nagasaki.

The effectiveness of the methods – a carpet of bombs dropped from a thousand choreographed planes on holy Cologne in 1942, the flash of energy in 1945, brighter than a thousand suns, deadlier than 200,000 tonnes of TNT – sent a message: it works! And that which works, anyone can do. And if everyone can do it, it is highly unlikely that nobody will. This 'if' is purely a matter of belief and luck; it is actually the realm of hope and prayers. The 'how' on the other hand is a practical occupation. Since Hiroshima and
Dresden, this 'how' has been worked on feverishly. How could similar death zones be made to be safer, more manageable, more cost-effective and larger?

The downfall of the two cities also tells an ugly story about the 'if' of the weapon of mass destruction. With the know-how in place, the grounds for deployment practically took care of themselves. In 1939, a few weeks after
Otto Hahn's splitting of uranium had brought him closer to the laws of matter, research was launched into whether something like this could be used in a bomb. To describe this new source of energy, physicists Carl-Friedrich von Weizsäcker and Siegfried Flügge used an image: that the chain reaction in a cubic meter of uranium oxide would be sufficient to catapult Berlin's Wannsee lake into the stratosphere.


Dieser Motorik der Elemente können Mensch und Gehäuse nicht ausweichen. Es fängt Feuer, das Feuer  setzt die Luft in Schwung, die Luft das Feuer und beider Wirbel löscht das Leben aus und seine  Zeugnisse: Die Bücher, die Altäre, die Hospitäler, die Asyle, die Kerker und die Kerkermeister, den  Blockwart und das Blockwartkind, die Waffenschmieden und den Waffenschmied, den Volksgerichtshof  samt dem Volk, die Sklavenbaracke und das Judenversteck, die Würger nebst dem Würgeropfer.  Hiroshima und Dresden, Tokio und Kassel wurden transformiert von Städten zu destruktiven Systemen.  Der Transformator ist der Bombenkrieg und der Bombenkrieg seine Baustrecke. Gebaut wird bis heute,  er ist ein work in progress, kaum eine Nation, die nicht daran feilte. Und es werden mehr.  

Die paar Atomprogrammierer, die vor vierzig Jahren die komplizierte Alchimie und Mechanik  nachprüften, welche die Weltkriegsgeneration zum Städteschleifen verwandt hatte, suchten darin das e i  n e, das so kein zweiter mehr erfahren hat: die Echtzeit, den einzigen Lebendversuch der kriegerischen  Massenvernichtung, die mühsame Strecke Warschau - Hamburg - Nagasaki.  

Doch indem die Methoden funktionstüchtig waren - ein Bombenteppich 1942 aus tausend reibungslos  choreographierten Maschinen auf das heilige Köln, und 1945 ein Energieblitz, heller als 1000 Sonnen und  tödlicher als 200 000 Tonnen Trinitrotoluol - versenden sie ein Signal: es geht! Was geht, kann  irgendwann jeder. Und ob, was jeder kann, keiner je macht, ist nicht besonders wahrscheinlich. Das "Ob'  ist pure Glaubens- und Glücksache. Es ist eigentlich nur dem Hoffen und Beten zugänglich. Das "Wie'  aber ist ein Realberuf. Seit Dresden und Hiroshima wird fieberhaft das "Wie' bearbeitet. Wie wären  ähnliche Todeszonen sicherer, handlicher, billiger und größer herstellbar?  

Der Untergang der zwei Städte erzählt auch eine häßliche Geschichte über das "Ob' der weapon of mass  destruction. In dem das Know-how beisammen war, regelte sich der Grund für seinen Einsatz ziemlich  von selbst. Als Otto Hahn 1939 mit seiner Uran-Spaltung den Gesetzen der Materie näher kam, begann  wenige Wochen später die Prüfung, ob so etwas nicht in eine Bombe einzubauen sei? Die Beschreibung  der nunmehr verfügbaren Energie publizierten die Physiker v. Weizsäcker und Flügge mittels des Bildes,  daß die Kettenreaktion in einem Kubikmeter Uranoxyd dazu ausreiche, den Berliner Wannsee in die  Stratosphäre hinauf zu schleudern.  


The Wehrmacht understood immediately saw that this image was on its head. Far more practical would be to drop a force like the Wannsee onto a city like Berlin. Either way this was a practical application of Einstein's formula E = mc2. Einstein, who fled to the USA to escape the Nazis, understood better than anyone the identity between understanding the world and destroying it. After Hahn's uranium experiments, phenomenal capacities for energy and destruction were available to all. In his day, immense resources, a monstrous character and access to uranium were required. Everything is much simpler today; you can just buy it.

When the monster Hitler battered France in May 1940, taking Belgium on the way, he also gained access to the world's uranium chamber: the Belgian Congo. This prompted
Einstein to write President Roosevelt, advising him to counter the destructive potential in his formula. America should build an atom bomb as a preventive measure. To stop the annihilator Hitler from possessing it first, the free world must have a monopoly on it. Their bomb would arrive before his - to some extent, the weapon expression of his character: a machine of hell to overthrow the prince of hell. The only problem was that the bomb had to be built before the war was decided.

While the industrial giant USA embarked on the most formidable development project of all time, the military giants Germany and Russia competed for victory. Germany seemed to have the advantage in the autumn of 1942 as it stood at the heights of Caucasus and the banks of the Volga. Just next door lay Kazakhstan and Iran. Aside from these two front lines, thousands of kilometres apart, the Germans had another front about four kilometres over their heads. In the sky above Germany, the men of Prime Minister
Churchill and Air Marshall Harris were fighting doggedly and with heavy losses. Since 1942 they had stopped bombing key military targets and started burning cities.

Because Germany had more factories than England had bombers, precision strikes on steel and hydrogenation plants were less painful than precision strikes on sparse aircraft. At the beginning of 1942, the 400 or so bombers did not present an insurmountable force for Germany's anti-aircraft guns and fighter pilots. Understandably, the bombers took refuge in the darkness of the night sky where they were more difficult to see. But they couldn't see much either, at most the vague outlines of a city.

A city like Hamburg, with 1.5 million inhabitants, cannot be bombed in 30 minutes with 3,000 tonnes of bombs. More time and more tonnage are needed. The British had to learn to burn cities. As one of their foremost fire strategists, Horatio Bond, explained, the navigational problem of "hit or not hit" could be solved by dropping 600,000 incendiary bombs on Dresden. The detonation bomb intended for the Krupp factory in Essen which lands instead on the Krupp hospital is a waste in military terms. Not so the incendiary bomb, because the hospital spreads the fire. All of the bombs pay off, because the city itself multiplies their effect. But the city fights them too, by extinguishing and choking the flames. The Royal Air Force and the US bombing fleet took three years to halfway master the technique of airborne fire bombing: the preparation of an inextinguishable inner city fire.

Auf Anhieb begriffen die zuständigen Wehrmachtsstellen die Verkehrtheit dieses Bildes. Denn viel  praktischer wäre, eine Wucht wie den Wannsee auf eine Stadt wie Berlin herabzuschleudern. Eines wie  das andere eine Nutzanwendung von E=mc2 , Einsteins Formel. Einstein, vor dem Nazi-Terror in die USA  geflüchtet, kannte besser als irgendeiner die nunmehrige Identität von Welterklärung und  Weltzerstörung. Jeder verfügte nach Hahns Uran-Experiment über sagenhafte Energiekapazität wie  sagenhafte Vernichtungskapazität. Dafür waren seinerzeit noch ungeheure Mittel erforderlich, zudem ein  Ungeheuercharakter, sowie Zugang zu Uran. Heute geht alles einfacher; man kann es auch kaufen.  

Als das Ungeheuer Hitler im Mai 1940 Frankreich schlug, und unterwegs auch Belgien, öffnete sich ihm  womöglich die Welt-Urankammer Belgisch-Kongo. Einstein schrieb darum dem Präsidenten Roosevelt  einen Brief und riet, seiner Formel nun ihr Destruktivpotential zu entnehmen. Amerika möge eine  Atombombe bauen, zur Prävention. Damit nicht der Allesvernichter Hitler sie als erster besitze, müsse  sie das Monopol der freiheitlichen Welt sein. Ihre Bombe käme der seinigen zuvor, gewissermaßen als  der Waffenausdruck seines Charakters; eine Höllenmaschine zum Sturz des Höllenfürsten. Das einzige  Problem war, die Waffe noch herzustellen, bevor der Krieg entschieden war.  

Während der Industriegigant USA sich in das gewaltigste Entwicklungsprojekt aller Zeiten stürzte,  rangen die Militärgiganten Deutschland und Rußland um den Sieg. Deutschland mochte insoweit als  bevorteilt gelten als es im Herbst 1942 auf den Höhen des Kaukasus und am Ufer der Wolga stand.  Nebenan lagen Kasachstan und Iran. Außer diesen Abertausenden von Kilometern entfernten Linien  hatten die Deutschen noch eine zweite Front, etwa 4 km über ihrem Haus. Dort kämpften verbissen und  verlustreich die Mannschaften Premier Churchills und Air-Marshall Harris'. Seit 1942 wechselten sie von  der Bombardierung rüstungswirtschaftlicher Schlüsselziele zur Inbrandsetzung von Stadtflächen.  

Weil Deutschland mehr Fabriken besaß als England Bomber, waren Präzisionsangriffe auf Stahl- und  Hydrierwerke leichter zu verschmerzen als Präzisionsangriffe auf das spärliche Fluggerät. Für  Flakkanoniere und Jagdflieger stellten Anfang 1942 knapp 400 Bombenvehikel keine unbezwingbaren  Objekte dar. Begreiflicherweise flüchteten sich die Bomberschwärme in die Dunkelheit des  Nachthimmels. Dort waren sie schwerer zu sehen, sahen indes auch nichts genaues, allenfalls die  Konturen einer Stadt.  

Eine 1,5 Millionen-Stadt wie Hamburg kann man nicht in 30 Minuten sprengen mit 3000 Bombentonnen.  Das ist zu kurz und zu wenig. So mußten die Briten erlernen, die Städte abzubrennen. Wie einer ihrer  Hauptfeuerstrategen, Horatio Bond ausführte, löste das Abladen von etwa 600.000 Stabbrandbomben  über Dresden das Navigationsproblem: "hit or not hit". Die Sprengbombe, die anstelle der Kruppschen  Fabrik in Essen das Kruppsche Krankenhaus trifft, ist militärisch vergeudet. Die Brandbombe nicht, denn  das Krankenhaus gibt den Brand weiter. Alle Munition zahlt sich aus, die Stadt selbst multipliziert die  Waffe. Aber die Stadt bekämpft sie auch, löscht und erstickt die Flamme. Es kostete die Royal Air Force  und die US-Bomberflotte drei Jahre bis man die Technik der Brandstiftung aus der Luft halbwegs  beherrschte: Die Zubereitung eines nicht mehr zu löschenden Innenstadtfeuers.  



Between February and August 1945, in Dresden, Pforzheim, Würzburg, Halberstadt, Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, Tokyo etc., a total of 330,000 people died in conventional incendiary attacks, 120,000 in nuclear ones. Four fifths of Japanese victims were buried without being identified. Dr. Shigenori, military air defence commander, wrote: "Countless bodies, clothed and naked, black as coal, were floating in the dark waters of the Sumida River. It was unreal. They were dead people, but you couldn't tell if they were men or women. You couldn't even tell if the objects floating past were arms, legs or burnt wood." Before they died, they had jumped into the water to escape the fiery air which braised their lungs and set their clothes alight. People ran from the burning zones with their belongings strapped to their backs, failing to notice when these caught fire. One mother slung her baby over her shoulder and only noticed when she stopped to catch her breath that the child was engulfed in flames. Those who jumped into the water were no better off. The liquid was bubbling like the air, and the swimmers cooked in it.

Had the Hiroshima bomb hit Tokyo instead, there would have been four times the number of dead. Theoretically, 1,000 bombers each loaded with 10 tonnes of conventional munition could also have achieved 300,000 dead, but it would have been more laborious and far less certain of success. In Germany in 1945, death rates in the tens of thousands were only achieved three times: in Dresden, Pforzheim and Swinemünde.

The difference between the methods of destruction is, put simply, that nuclear weapons themselves produce the pressure and heat energy that pulverises buildings, sears people and generates fire. The combination of burning and explosion in conventional operations takes a less direct path via the materials of the city. These must react to the various impulses of the finely tuned munition: roofs are torn up, windows shatter. Otherwise, the houses wouldn’t become ovens, nor the cellars crematoriums; fire requires draught. The stone facades must channel the heat down to the foundations where the people are cowering.

There were cities like Berlin that did not work right. The width of the streets, the firewalls, the abundance of greenery and canals opposed the fire-injections and responded wrong. But Dresden's narrow streets, decorative old town and wooden buildings fed the fires according to plan. The carefully selected triangle between the Ostragehege park and the main railway station functioned as a "fire-raiser". The old cities, bent with age, testimonies to the distant past, were best suited to such attacks. Freiburg, Heilbronn, Trier, Mainz, Nuremberg, Paderborn, Hildesheim, Halberstadt, Würzburg: this avenue of German history shared the lot of Dresden in these months. For the allied fire bomb strategists, the study of their material composition was a science in itself.

In Watford, England, as well as in Eglin Field, Florida, and Dugway Ground, Utah, dummy towns were built complete with German and Japanese materials and inventories. This sort of thing requires thoroughness. Only real Japanese floor matting can be used, only the right number of real German toys in the German house. More woollen coats are stored in Germany than in Japan, in solid cupboards of oak, pine and beech. How many books, which curtains, what type of cushions? The German roof beams provide the crowning touch. Then the practise can start.

Vom Februar bis August 1945, in Dresden, Pforzheim, Würzburg, Halberstadt, Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya,  Yokohama, Tokio etc. starben insgesamt 330.000 Personen in konventionellen Brandangriffen, 120.000  in nuklearen. Vier Fünftel der japanischen Opfer wurden unidentifiziert verscharrt. "Im dunklen Wasser  des Sumida-Flusses", schreibt der militärische Luftschutzleiter Dr. Shigenori "trieben zahllose Körper,  bekleidete und nackte, alle kohlschwarz. Es war irreal. Das waren tote Menschen, aber man konnte nicht  feststellen, ob es Männer oder Frauen waren. Man konnte nicht einmal sagen, ob diese vorbeidriftenden  Gegenstände Arme, Beine oder verbrannte Holzstücke waren." Als sie noch belebt waren, hatte der  Sprung ins Naß vor der kochenden Atemluft retten sollen, welche die Lungen verschmorte, die Kleider  entzündete, aus denen Stichflammen schlugen. Menschen rannten aus den Flächenbrandzonen, ihre  Habe auf die Schultern geschnallt, und merkten nicht, daß diese Funken fingen. Wie die Mutter, die  rücklings ihr Baby mit sich schleppte, erst in einer Erschöpfungsrast sah, daß Feuer es umhüllte. Das  Wassertauchen half nichts. Dies Element brodelte wie die Luft, und die Taucher wurden darin gekocht.

Hätte Tokio die Hiroshima-Bombe getroffen, würde die Tötungszahl sich dort vervierfacht haben.  Rechnerisch hätten 1000 Bomber mit je 10 Tonnen konventioneller Munition beladen, ebenfalls 300.000  Tote erzielt, aber umständlicher und in der Praxis weit ungewisser. De facto gelang es in Deutschland  1945 nur dreimal, fünfstellige Vernichtungszahlen zu erreichen, in Dresden, Pforzheim und Swinemünde.  

Der Unterschied der zwei Vernichtungsmethoden ist, kurz gesagt, daß die Nuklearwaffe die  Selbsterzeugerin der Druck- und Hitzeenergien ist, die Gebäude zermalmen, Menschen versengen,  Feuersbrünste generieren. Der Brand- und Sprengmix konventioneller Operationen geht den Umweg  über die Materie der Stadt. Sie muß auf verschiedene Impulse der feinabgestimmten Munition stofflich  reagieren, z.B. Dächer abwerfen und Fensterglas zersplittern. Anders werden die Häuser keine Kamine,  Feuer braucht Zug, und die Keller keine Krematorien. Denn das Fassadengestein muß die Hitze ins  Fundament leiten, wo die Menschen kauern.  

Es gab Städte wie Berlin, die nicht richtig arbeiteten. Die Straßenbreiten und Brandmauern, die reiche  Begrünung und Wasseräderung widersetzte sich den Injektionen und antwortete darauf verkehrt.  Dresdens Enge, Altstadtschnörkel und Bauholzigkeit verarbeiteten die eingespeisten Impulse hingegen  plangemäß. Der sorgsam gewählte Viertelkreis mit dem Ostragehege im Winkel und der Krümmung vor  dem Hauptbahnhof funktionierte als "fire-raiser". Es war die altersgebeugte Gestalt der aus historischer  Ferne gekommenen Stadt, die sich am besten dazu eignete. Freiburg, Heilbronn, Trier, Mainz, Nürnberg,  Paderborn, Hildesheim, Halberstadt, Würzburg, diese Allee der deutschen Geschichte, teilten in diesen  Monaten das Los der sächsischen Residenz. Ihrer Materialbeschaffenheit widmeten die alliierten  Brandstrategen eine eigene Wissenschaft.

Im britischen Watford sowie im amerikanischen Eglin Field, Florida, und Dugway Ground, Utah,  entstanden Dummy-Ortschaften aus den Baustoffen und Inventarien der deutschen, bzw. japanischen  Siedlung. So etwas erfordert Gründlichkeit. Es müssen die echt japanischen Bodenmatten sein, sowie Art  und Anteil deutschen Spielzeugs in deutschem Haus. Dort werden auch mehr Wollmäntel aufbewahrt als  in Japan und zwar in massiveren Schränken aus Eiche, Kiefer, Buche. Wieviel Bücher, welche Gardinen,  was für Polster? Die Krone ist das deutsche Dachgebälk. Dann wird geübt.  


The practise is a success when the right combustibles meet the right materials. That is the most difficult part, because it has to be carried out from four kilometres up in the night sky.

Red and green lights mark the death zone as if drawn with a coloured pen. To drop all the munition into this lit frame, a new flight technique was developed in August 1944 over
Königsberg, known as "the fan". The oncoming squadron crosses a designated point, in Dresden a sports field. That is the hinge. When the point is crossed, the aeroplanes fan out from each other, to the north-east and the south-east. Each plane breaks off at its own angle, and knows a distance measured in seconds from the hinge, called the overshoot. Each pilot is allotted a different overshoot. When it shows on the display, the bomb bay opens.

The fan flies at three altitudes. With exact wind calculation, the munition from all three altitudes fall in parabolic trajectories over the target segment, equally distributed. Then it’s saturated. When an air force has achieved such a feat, it does not ask too probingly whether mass destruction is worthwhile from military perspective. There's nothing wrong in showing what you can do. What does not count now will count later, and then it should be done well. One can only rehearse for future wars in current ones. That hardens people in a different way.

When soldier Jack Couffer walked among the houses of the
Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah in 1943, which, according to the Air Force "correspond to the type of housing in which 80 percent of the German industrial population lives", he started imagining things. "I looked in the empty windows and imagined with terrible clarity that the houses were inhabited, bursting with life, with people walking through the narrow alleys on their way to and from the factories, street traders, shoppers, children playing. It is easier to set a sterile place like that on fire if you whisk such fantasies away". The coming air war was no longer to be won with scruples. Five years later Curtis Le May, warhorse in the campaigns over Germany and Japan and then head of the US Strategic Air Command, comforted himself with the thought that as there were no longer any civilians, there was no longer anyone to protect. Otherwise he could not have run the office that developed the "Reaper" and "Trojan" plans in 1949 – 1950, in which 100 atom bombs were to be dropped on 70 Russian cities causing 2.7 million deaths. The plan was based on assessments General Le May had brought home from Japan. "We knew when we burned a city back then, that we would kill many women and children. The aim of the strategy is to destroy the enemy's war-making potential. All that had to be obliterated." The Japanese had a complex and broad-based manufacturing system. "You only needed to walk through one of our roasted targets and take a look at the ruins of the countless tiny houses. Some kind of drill press stuck out of every pile of rubble. The entire population was involved in building aeroplanes or war munition. Men, women and children." That’s why they were slaughtered in the Second World War. "There are no innocent civilians. Nowadays you fight a people, not armed forces."

When whole populations have to be exterminated, it is no wonder that 10,000 US nuclear warheads were amassed at the time of the Berlin and Cuba crises. Four hundred would have been enough to wipe out a third of the Russian population, which was 200 million in 1960. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara wanted to keep US casualties below 20 percent in the event of a skirmish. More would not be acceptable. As a result, 10 percent – a loss of 18 million – would be accepted.

Die Übung gelingt, wenn den richtigen Brennstoffen die richtigen Brandmittel zuteil werden. Das bereitet  die größte Schwierigkeit, weil vier Kilometer hoch vom Nachthimmel aus zu besorgen.  

Die Todeszone markieren rot-grüne Lichter, wie mit dem Farbstift gezogen. Um alle Munition in diesem  Leuchtrahmen unterzubringen, wurde im August 1944 eine Flugtechnik über Königsberg kreiert, genannt  "der Fächer": Die eintreffende Staffel kreuzt einen verabredeten Punkt, in Dresden ein Sportplatz. Er ist  das Gelenk. Denn ist der Punkt überflogen, fächert der Kurs der Maschinen nordöstlich und südöstlich  auseinander. Eine jede knickt ab in eigene Winkel und kennt eine in Sekunden gemessene Distanz vom  Gelenk, overshoot genannt. Jedem Piloten ist ein anderer overshoot gegeben. Ist angezeigt, öffnet sich  der Bombenschacht.  

Der Fächer fliegt dreistöckig. Bei exakter Windberechnung fällt die Munition aus allen Etagen in  parabolischer Bahn auf das Segment, egal verteilt. Dann ist es gesättigt. Hat eine Luftwaffe diese  Vollendung erreicht, fragt sie nicht bohrend, ob Massenvernichtung sich gerade militärisch lohnt. Es  schadet nicht, zu zeigen was man kann. Was jetzt nicht zählt, braucht man später und dann will es  gekonnt sein. Nur im Krieg ist der nächste Krieg zu üben im Original. Das härtet anders ab.  

Als der Soldat Jack Couffer im Dezember 1943 durch Dugway Grounds Häuser schlenderte, die, nach  Air-Force Angaben "des Typus verkörpern, worin 80 Prozent der deutschen Industriebevölkerung wohnt"  überkamen ihn Vorstellungen. "Ich schaute in die leeren Fenster und stellte mir in schrecklicher  Deutlichkeit diesen Ort bevölkert vor, berstend von Leben, mit Leuten, die durch die schmalen Gassen  von und zur Fabrik gingen, Straßenhändler, Einkäufer, spielende Kinder. So ein steriler Ort ist  emotionsloser abzufackeln, wenn man solche Phantasien wegschiebt". Der künftige Luftkrieg war mit  Skrupeln nicht mehr zu bestreiten. Curtis Le May, der Haudegen der Kampagnen über Deutschland und  insbesondere Japan, half sich fünf Jahre später, inzwischen Befehlshaber des Strategic Air Command der  Vereinigten Staaten, mit der Ansicht, daß es den Zivilisten nicht mehr gäbe und folglich auch keine  Schonung. Anders hätte er auch nicht ein Amt verwalten können, das 1949/50 den Abwurf von 100  Atombomben über 70 russischen Städten mit mindestens 2,7 Millionen Toten planten. ( Pläne "Reaper'  und "Trojan') Die Veranlagung dazu trug Le May aus Japan nach Hause. " Wir wußten, wenn wir damals  eine Stadt verbrannten, daß wir eine Menge Frauen und Kinder töten würden. Der Zweck der Strategie  ist die Zerstörung des feindlichen Kriegsführungspotentials. Das mußte alles ausradiert werden." Die  Japaner hatten ein weitverzweigtes Fertigungssystem "Man brauchte nachher nur durch eines dieser von  uns gerösteten Ziele zu spazieren, und sich die Ruinen der zahllosen winzigen Häuslein anzusehen. Aus  jedem Schutthaufen schaute irgendeine Bohrpresse heraus. Die ganze Bevölkerung war darin verwickelt,  Flugzeuge zu basteln oder Kriegsmunition, Männer, Frauen und Kinder." Darum hat man sie auch im 2.  Weltkrieg abgeschlachtet. "Es gibt keine unschuldigen Zivilisten. Man bekämpft ein Volk und keine  Streitkräfte mehr."  

Wenn ganze Völkerscharen zu vertilgen sind, verwundert auch nicht die Massierung von 10 000  amerikanischen Nuklearsprengköpfen in der Zeit der Berlin- und Kuba-Krise. Vierhundert davon reichten  aus, ein Drittel der russischen Bevölkerung auszulöschen, die 1960 zweihundert Millione n Köpfe zählte.  Eigenverluste der USA wollte der der seinerzeitige Kriegsminister Robert Mc Namara, im Falle eins  Schlagabtauschs, auf unter 20 Prozent halten. Mehr sei nicht hinnehmbar. Demzufolge wären 10  Prozent, das heißt ein 18-Millionen-Personen-Verlust, noch hingenommen worden.  


Einstein had long lived in horror of his bomb, which was supposed to erase evil from the planet. It was evil itself and the evil was his creation. The special weapon against Hitler lost its addressee before it was ready. And already in November 1944, secret service intelligence suggested that it was a false alarm. Hitler's weapon of mass destruction didn’t exist. The Germans were lagging way behind in these arts and would not achieve much more in this last of their foreseeable wars. General Eisenhower was already in Aachen, and Marshall Zhukov was on the Vistula. Both the same distance from Berlin.

While the armies raced against each other to take Hitler's last bastions – the economic one in the Ruhr region and the political in Berlin - the atomic physicists were racing against the end of the war. It looked as though the military campaigns would be over before the bomb was ready. If Hitler – the bomb’s cause and intended object - was no longer a viable target, Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed that, under certain circumstances, Japan might serve the purpose. But these circumstances were being taken care of, one after another. Like the Third Reich, the Empire of the Sun was militarily and economically knocked out, cut off from the sea and without a supply of oil, metal and foodstuffs. It was defenceless against Le May's fire attacks. Moreover, the US de-coding service, which had broken the diplomatic code to the Japanese Embassy in Moscow, reported breathlessly that Tokyo was imploring Stalin to intercede for peace.

The uranium bomb was also non-essential because the fire hurricanes were capable of equally respectable damage. Moreover, it had just been established in Germany that surgical strikes on oil lines and transport routes caused far more military damage. With the German fighters grounded for lack of fuel, attacks could be carried out with practically no losses. This also made conventional mass destruction unnecessary. The relatively ineffective emergency stopgap would not, thankfully, be necessary; now there was something better. It was clear that the Allies would be victorious,
Hitler and Albert Speer knew it as well. On January 30th, Speer, the Minister for Armaments and War Production, announced to Hitler that the country's economy would be demolished in four to eight weeks. "After this collapse, the war can not be continued, also from a military perspective." An accurate calculation.

But none of the war lords were clear on what kind of a political circumstance was to be established after these eight weeks on the shattered continent. At least
Stalin knew what he wanted. Hitler knew things were out of his hands. All he could do was drag as many people as possible with him into death and leave all that remained standing in Germany to be decimated. Hitler's instructions to Speer and the regional Nazi leaders dovetailed with those of the two remaining war leaders; Churchill and Roosevelt unleashed with their 3,000 aeroplanes an "around-the-clock-bombing", which Basil Liddell Hart, the greatest British military historian of his day, termed "the Mongol devastations". Two thirds of the bomb tonnage of the five year air war fell in February, March and April of 1945, most of it on militarily insignificant targets. The tiniest part of this tonnage, the precision strikes on the 16 major train routes connecting the Ruhr region with the rest of Germany, had the greatest effect.

The Western Allies had assigned most of their resources to building up their strategic air forces. Their future empire was to be based on this weapon, even better when combined with a nuclear load. Even if there was no suitable recipient for the nearly complete super bomb other than the mortally wounded Japan, War Secretary
Henry Stimson, the bomb's greatest advocate, already saw himself in possession of the "most terrible weapon ever known in human history". The bomb had cost two billion dollars. A huge amount of money at the time, but little compared with the sums invested in the worst, or possibly second worst, despot in human history. The lord of the Gulag received ten billion dollars in war goods and supplies to conquer the lord of Auschwitz. The investment paid off.

At the price of over 20 million dead,
Stalin had defeated the strongest army ever assembled, which in four years had put a total of eight million men on a breadth of front spanning a maximum of 2,500 km. No other military leader was capable of such a defence. But it was only possible thanks to 17 million tonnes of supplies from his Western partners. For them, the postwar balance sheet looked as follows:

On the assets side were the two billion dollars invested in the military trump card, the atom bomb. On the other side were liabilities of 10 billion dollars, which had promoted the monster Stalin to ruler of the continent. The way the war had progressed, the downfall of Hitler’s Germany could only lead to the hegemony of the Soviet Union over Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. And how the impoverished peoples of Southern and Western Europe – Italy, Greece, France – would situate themselves with respect to the political ideology of the invincible Soviet Union was uncertain. The outcome, unavoidable as it was, was not what the two leaders wanted. Neither Churchill nor Roosevelt could come to terms with this disaster.

Längst hatte es Einstein vor seiner Bombe gegraust, die das Übel vom Planeten schaffen sollte. Sie war  das Übel und das Übel war sein Geschöpf. Die Spezialwaffe gegen Hitler verlor den Adressaten, noch ehe  sie fertig war. Zudem besagte schon im November 1944 geheimdienstliches Wissen, daß falscher Alarm  geschlagen war. Hitlers Massenvernichtungswaffe existierte gar nicht. Die Deutschen hinkten in ihren  diesbezüglichen Künsten weit zurück und würden es in diesem letzten ihrer absehbaren Kriege nicht  weiter mehr darin bringen. General Eisenhower stand bereits in Aachen und Marschall Schukow an der  Weichsel. Beide in gleichem Abstand zu Berlin.  

Während die Heere miteinander zum Wettlauf gegen Hitlers letzte Bastionen antraten, die wirtschaftliche  an der Ruhr und die politische in der Hauptstadt, rannten die Atomphysiker gegen das nahende  Kriegsende an. Die Feldzüge waren vermutlich eher fertig als die Bombe. Nachdem Hitler als deren  eigentliche Ursache und Paßform fortfiel, hatten sich Roosevelt und Churchill darauf verständigt, daß sie  unter Umständen auch auf Japan paßte. Doch diese Umstände erledigten sich einer nach dem anderen.  Wie das Nazi-Reich war auch das Reich der Sonne rüstungswirtschaftlich ausgeknockt, von der See her  abgeschnitten und ohne Zufuhr von Öl, Metallen und Nahrung. Statt dessen stand es wehrlos den  Feuerattacken Le Mays offen. Überdies lasen die amerikanischen Dechiffrierdienste, die den  diplomatischen Code zur japanischen Botschaft in Moskau geknackt hatten, atemlos, daß Tokio Stalin  anflehte, einen Frieden zu vermitteln.  

Die Uran-Bombe war auch insoweit entbehrlich, als die Brandorkane inzwischen ähnlich respektable  Schäden erzielten. Überdies stellte sich in Deutschland soeben heraus, daß chirurgische  Präzisionsschläge gegen Öl-Anlagen und Transportwege militärisch weit schädlicher wirkten. Nachdem  die deutsche Jagdwaffe ohne Sprit am Boden klebte, konnte man so gut wie verlustfrei zielen. Damit  erübrigte sich auch die konventionelle Massenvernichtung. Auf diesen bisher wirkungsarmen Notbehelf  konnte man getrost verzichten; man wußte jetzt etwas Besseres. Man wußte wie die Allianz siegen  würde, Hitler und Speer wußten es auch. Am 30. Januar eröffnete der Rüstungsführer dem  Wehrmachtsführer, daß die deutsche Wirtschaft in vier bis acht Wochen demoliert sei. "Nach diesem  Zusammenbruch kann der Krieg auch militärisch nicht fortgesetzt werden." Eine ganz zutreffende  Kalkulation.  

Nur, was für ein politischer Zustand nach den acht Wochen auf dem Trümmerkontinent zu etablieren sei,  war allen War-Lords unklar. Stalin wußte zumindest, was er wollte; Hitler, daß ihn das alles nichts mehr  anging. Er konnte nur noch soviel Leute wie irgend möglich mit hinab in seinen Tod reißen und im  übrigen die Reste entzwei schlagen lassen, die in Deutschland noch senkrecht standen. Hitlers  entsprechenden Anweisungen an Speer und die Gauleiter schlossen die zwei übrigen Kriegschefs sich  zwanglos an: Churchill und Roosevelt entfesselten mit ihren nun 3000 Flugmaschinen ein "around-the- clock-bombing", das der größte britische Militärhistoriker seiner Zeit, Basil Liddle-Hart, einen  Mongolensturm nannte. Zweidrittel der Bombentonnage ihres fünfjährigen Luftkriegs fielen im Februar,  März und April 1945, das allermeiste davon auf militärisch unbedeutsame und bedeutungslose Ziele. Der  winzigste Munitionsteil, die Präzisionsschläge gegen die 16 Bahnausfallstrecken aus dem Ruhrgebiet,  übte die größte Wirkung aus.  

Dem Aufbau strategischer Luftstreitkräfte hatten die West-Alliierten ihre meisten Mittel zugeteilt. Auf  diese Waffe sollte ihr Imperium sich künftig stützen, zumal wenn kombiniert mit nuklearer Ladung. Auch  wenn außer dem todwunden Japan ein geeigneter Empfänger für die fast fertige Superbombe fehlte,  wähnte ihr Hauptpromoter, Kriegsminister Stimson, sich nun alsbald am Drücker der "most terrible  weapon ever known in human history". Die Herstellung hatte 2 Milliarden Dollar gekostet. Damals viel  Geld, doch wiederum wenig, verglichen mit der Summe, die investiert war in den schrecklichsten bzw.  zweitschrecklichsten Despoten der Menschheitsgeschichte. Damit der Herrscher des Gulag den Herrscher  von Auschwitz besiege, hat man ihm Kriegs- und Versorgungsgüter für 10 Milliarden Dollar geliefert. Die  Investition ging auf.  

Um den Preis von über 20 Millionen Toten rang Stalin den gewaltigsten je angetretenen Kampfverband  nieder, der mit insgesamt 8 Mio. Mann binnen vier Jahren eine Frontbreite von maximal 2500 km  spannte. Kein anderer Herrscher auf Erden war zu solch einer Abwehr fähig. Und auch das nur dank der  17 Millionen Tonnen Lieferungen seiner westlichen Partner. Diesen bot sich für die Nachkriegswelt  folgenden Eröffnungsbilanz dar:  

Die Aktiva von 2 Mrd. $, welche in ihrem militärischen Haupt-As, der Atombombe steckten, standen den  Passiva ihrer 10 Mrd. $ gegenüber, die das Monster Stalin zum Herren des Kontinents befördert hatten.  So wie der Krieg gelaufen war, konnte der Untergang Hitler-Deutschlands nur in die Hegemonie der  Sowjetunion über Ost-Südosteuropa münden. Und wie ferner sich die verarmten Völker des Südens und  Westens - Italiens, Griechenlands, Frankreichs - zur politischen Ideologie der unbesiegbaren  Sowjetunion stellte  war ungewiß. D e n Ausgang, unausweichlich wie er gekommen war, hatte das westliche Duumvirat  nicht gewollt. Weder Churchill noch Roosevelt konnten sich mit dem Desaster arrangieren.


At the Crimea conference of the big three in Yalta, Churchill recalled why his country had marched against Hitler. "Great Britain entered the war to defend Poland against German aggression. We stand beside Poland because it is a question of honour. Great Britain will never accept a decision which does not give Poland the security of ruling on its own territory."

Stalin, whose forces had now been in Polish territory for three weeks, responded that he understood Churchill's code of honour. "For Russians, however, the Polish question is not only one of honour, but also of security." Russia had previously sinned against Poland, he said, and the Soviet government was keen to make good. "But the core of the problem lies significantly deeper. In the course of the last 30 years, the Germans have marched twice through Poland to attack our country. Why could the enemy march so easily through Poland until now? Above all because Poland was weak." Stalin had by then installed his own followers to form a government that would make the Polish strong, free and independent.

"The British government", said Churchill, "believes that this government does not represent even one third of Polish people." Stalin responded that he would like to speak in his capacity as a military man. "As a soldier, what do I demand from the government of a country liberated by the Red Army? I demand that this government guarantee peace and order in the hinterland of the Red Army, prevent a civil war behind our front, and not stab us in the back." In his view, neither the men of the government who had fled to London in 1939 nor their underground fighters had done that. They had attacked Russian weapons depots, had already murdered 212 Red Army soldiers, and violated his orders concerning the operation of radio broadcasts. When they are arrested, they complain. "If these forces continue attacking our soldiers, we will shoot them."

Because these forces were already acquainted with Stalin when he and his partner Hitler divided Poland and liquidated its officer corps, they blamed the Russians for the annexation of their territory in 1939. East Poland had now been re-conquered; it was and remained White Russia. Stalin did not want his current partners to steal from him what Hitler had given him in the past. He offered the Poles one third of Germany as compensation. To keep this territory in the long run, they should get used to being protected by him.

"The Polish question has given the world headaches for five hundred years," sighed Roosevelt. In Churchill's view, it was necessary to ensure this would not continue. "Absolutely!" agreed Stalin. His headaches had diminished somewhat. All the ground in the East and South-East that Hitler had once subjugated was under Soviet control within a short period of time. And there was no one in sight to challenge him for it. Since advancing onto German territory in September, his Western allies were making extremely slow progress.

When the Germans started a counter-offensive from the Eiffel into the
Ardennes killing 76,000 men, the nerves of the Western chiefs of staff were frayed. In Italy, their troops had been crawling for a year and a half up the boot and had hardly made it past Ravenna. Churchill wrote Stalin inquiring "whether we can count on a major Russian offensive on the Vistula front, or elsewhere, during January. I see the situation as urgent." The Red Army, which had beaten the Wehrmacht colossus from the Volga back to Warsaw with incomparable martyrdom, had to quickly relieve the pressure on the inexperienced troops on the allied Western front.

Auf der Krim-Konferenz der Großen Drei in Yalta erinnerte Churchill daran, weshalb sein Land gegen  Hitler marschiert sei. "Großbritannien ist in den Krieg eingetreten, um Polen gegen die deutsche  Aggression zu verteidigen. Es interessiert sich für Polen deshalb, weil das für Großbritannien eine Sache  der Ehre ist. Großbritannien kann sich nie mit einem Beschluß zufrieden geben, der Polen keine solche  Stellung sichert, daß es Herr im eigenen Haus ist."  

Stalin, nun, am 6. Februar, seit drei Wochen selber Herr im polnischen Haus, entgegnete, er verstehe  Churchill und seine Ehrensache. "Für die Russen ist die polnische Frage jedoch nicht nur eine Frage der  Ehre, sondern auch eine Frage der Sicherheit". Rußland habe früher gegen Polen gesündigt; die  Sowjetregierung mühe sich, dies wiedergutzumachen. "Doch der Kern des Problems liegt bedeutend  tiefer. Im Verlauf der letzten 30 Jahre sind die Deutschen zweimal durch Polen marschiert, um unser  Land anzugreifen. Warum konnten die Feinde bisher so leicht durch Polen marschieren? In erster Linie,  weil Polen schwach war." Stalin aber hatte bereits Gewährsleute als Regierung installiert, die Polen  stark, frei und unabhängig machten.  

"Die britische Regierung" bemerkte Churchill "ist der Meinung, daß diese Regierung nicht einmal ein  Drittel des polnischen Volkes repräsentiert." Stalin sagte, er wolle mal in seiner Eigenschaft als Militär  sprechen. "Was verlange ich als Militär von der Regierung eines von der Roten Armee befreiten Landes?  Daß diese Regierung Ruhe und Ordnung im Hinterland der Roten Armee gewährleistet, die Entstehung  eines Bürgerkriegs hinter unserer Front verhütet, und uns nicht in den Rücken schießt." Die Männer der  1939 nach London geflohenen Regierung und ihre Untergrundkämpfer täten das alles nicht. Sie  überfielen russische Waffendepots, hätten schon 212 Rotarmisten ermordet und verletzten seine Befehle  zum Betrieb von Rundfunksendern. Wenn man sie verhaftet, beklagten sie sich. "Wenn diese Kräfte  diese Überfälle auf unsere Soldaten fortsetzen, werden wir sie erschießen".  

Da diese Kräfte Stalin schon kannten, als er mit seinem Partner Hitler Polen zerteilte und dessen  Offizierskorps liquidierte, verargten sie den Russen ihren damaligen Landraub. Dies Ostpolen hatten sie  sich jetzt zurückgeholt und es war und blieb Weißrußland. Was Hitler seinerzeit Stalin zugeschanzt hatte,  wollte der sich von seinen jetzigen Partnern nicht wieder abjagen lassen. Er bot den Polen ein Drittel von  Deutschland als Kompensation. Um dies auf Dauer zu behaupten, mußten sie sich erst recht seinem  Schutz anvertrauen.  

"Die polnische Frage" seufzte Roosevelt, "hat der Welt fünf Jahrhunderte Kopfschmerzen bereitet". Man  müsse sich bemühen, meinte Churchill, daß dies nicht so weiter ginge. "Das muß man unbedingt",  schloß Stalin. Seine Kopfschmerzen hatten nachgelassen. Aller Boden, den Hitler einmal ost-südöstlich  sich unterworfen hatte, unterstand binnen kurzem sowjetischer Kontrolle. Niemand in Sicht, sie ihm  streitig zu machen. Seine Westverbündeten machten, seit sie im September auf Reichsgebiet  vorgestoßen waren, äußerst schwache Fortschritte.  

Als die Deutschen im Winter eine Gegenoffensive von der Eiffel in die Ardennen starteten und dabei  76.000 Mann töteten, pochten den westlichen Generalstäblern die Nerven. In Italien kroch man seit nun  eineinhalb Jahren den Stiefel hoch und kam kaum über Ravenna hinaus. Churchill schrieb Stalin, "ob wir  im Januar mit einer größeren russischen Offensive an der Weichselfront oder anderswo rechnen können.  Ich betrachte die Angelegenheit als dringend". Die Rote Armee, die in vergleichslosem Martyrium den  Wehrmachtskoloß von der Wolga zurück nach Warschau gestemmt hatte, mußte schleunigst Druck von  den unerprobten Mannschaften der alliierten Westfront nehmen.  

Four weeks later in Yalta, Churchill expressed his admiration for the power of the operation which had begun on January 12. "The winter offensive was the fulfilment of our duty of comradeship," said Stalin, adding that he had recognised "that the Allies needed them desperately." They got a lot:

In 18 days, according to deputy chief of staff
Aleksei Antonov, the Soviets had advanced up to 500 kilometres in the general thrust of the attack. "On average, we advanced 25-30 km in 24 hours." 400,000 Germans had been killed or taken prisoner.

The Western powers remained where they had stood for the last four months, on a line roughly between Aachen and Saarbrücken. The respective distances of the Allied and Soviet troops from Berlin, more or less equal until the second week of January, had now changed dramatically. Marshal Zhukov
was poised on the Oder near Küstrin, 70 kilometres from the German Reichskanzlei.

"How Poland was freed, and how the Red Army drove its enemy from the country," said Churchill cryptically to Roosevelt, "is a development of major importance". In Roosevelt's cabinet it had been discussed for some time. At the end of October 1944,
Averell Harriman, the US ambassador in Moscow, reported to War Secretary Stimson "how the Russians are attempting to force their rule on the countries they have 'liberated', and the use they make of their secret police in doing so." For Harriman there was no difference between the Gestapo and the GPU, the Soviet secret police. US liaison officers had reported similarly on the cold contempt of Poland's liberators, their plundering, murders and rapes. Churchill wrote to Roosevelt in April that it was necessary to get as far east as possible to curtail Stalin's excesses.

From autumn to the following spring, the Western Allies came to see that their "war comrade", who had won the liberation campaign, had his own way of reading the events. Making him see things differently was impossible. In late March and early April, the other Allies were just warming up their military muscles with the encirclement of the Ruhr region. No wonder; they outweighed the German forces 12 to 1. The German Western Army stopped fighting. Their tanks stopped moving. Petrol and the will to fight ran out at the same time. But in the military twilight of February – March, the West took a nervous look at the Soviet military steamroller, rolling forward with no regard for casualties, and loaded the bombs. The occidental Mongol devastations could begin.

Vier Wochen später bekannt Churchill in Yalta seine Bewunderung für die Kraft der am 12.01. begonnen  Operation. "Die Winteroffensive ist die Erfüllung einer Kameradschaftspflicht gewesen", sagte Stalin. Er  habe erkannt, "daß die Alliierten sie dringend brauchten". Sie haben viel bekommen:  

In 18 Tagen, berichtete Vizestabschef Antonow, seien die Sowjets in der Hauptstoßrichtung bis zu 500  km vorgerückt. "Damit betrug die durchschnittliche Vormarschgeschwindigkeit 25-30 km in 24 Stunden".  Den Deutschen seien 400.000 Mann an Toten und Gefangenen abgenommen worden.  

Die Westmächte standen wie angenagelt, wo sie schon seit etwa vier Monaten standen, auf einer Linie  ungefähr zwischen Aachen und Saarbrücken. Der bis zur zweiten Januarwoche gleiche Abstand nach  Berlin hatte sich dramatisch verschoben. Marschall Schukow wartete an der Oder bei Küstrin, 70 km vor  der Reichskanzlei.  

"Wie Polen befreit, und wie der Feind der Roten Armee aus dem Land gejagt wurde", wandte sich  Churchill hintersinnig an Roosevelt, "das ist eine neue Tatsache von großer Bedeutung". Im Roosevelt- Kabinett wurde sie seit längerem erörtert. Ende Oktober hatte Averell Harriman, US-Botschafter in  Moskau, Kriegsminister Stimson davon unterrichtet, "auf welche Art und Weise die Russen versuchen,  den von ihnen "befreiten' Ländern ihre Herrschaft aufzuzwingen, und welchen Gebrauch sie dabei von  der Geheimpolizei machen". Zwischen Gestapo und GPU bestehe gar kein Unterschied. Ähnliches hatten  US-Verbindungsoffiziere berichtet: Über die kalte Verachtung der Befreier Polens, ihre Plünderungen,  Morde und Vergewaltigungen. Man müsse soweit als irgend möglich ostwärts gelangen, schrieb Churchill  im April an Roosevelt, um Stalins Gewohnheiten einzuschränken.  

Den Westalliierten dämmerten in der Spanne von Herbst bis Frühjahr, daß der "Kriegskamerad', der den  Befreiungsfeldzug entschied, eine eigene Lesart davon pflegte. Eine bessere war ihm nicht beizubringen,  weil sich die anderen Teilnehmer ihre militärische Muskulatur erst mit der Einkesselung der Ruhr, Ende  März/Anfang April, anwärmten. Kein Wunder bei einer Mannstärke von 12 gegen 1. Das deutsche  Westheer hörte zu kämpfen auf. Die Panzer fuhren nicht mehr. Sprit und Esprit waren gleichzeitig  verbraucht. Doch in dem militärischen Zwielicht des Februar/März, der Nervosität und Verlustangst des  Westens, die auftrumpfende Menschen- und Materialwalze des Ostens vor Auge - was galten ihr Verluste  - werden die Bomben scharf gemacht. Der Mongolensturm des Abendlands erhebt sich.  

Stalin had nothing comparable to this airborne might. While his men could walk 30 kilometres a day, Churchill's bombers could fly at 300 kilometres per hour. The Russian army took 18 days to get from the Vistula to the Oder. But the British planes reached Dresden from the British Midlands in just five hours! After a 40 minute operation, the city is a heap of rubble, strewn with 35,000 dead. At a distance of 110 kilometres from the first lines of Marshall Konyev's troops which were in the process of liberating Upper Silesia, this is, to put it mildly, the demonstration of a capacity. If not a military capacity, then at least the capacity of a military. Konyev, the conqueror on the ground, did not profit militarily from the attack and took no notice. Zhukov would later castigate the barbarianism of his allies in Dresden; from that point on, they were his arch enemies. But what were they in February 1945? And what was Zhukov for them in September 1939? An ally of Hitler's in the subjugation of Poland. In one and the same war, enemies became partners, partners rivals and then partial enemies once more. The Cold War fronts replaced those of the World War as if by an invisible hand. The interfaces are Dresden in Europe and Hiroshima in Asia. In these theatres of slaughter, it is no longer possible to distinguish between partnership and enmity.

In Yalta, where bluffs were camouflaged in rhetoric and threats wrapped in hugs, Russia requested the help of its Western comrades in the storming of Berlin. Perhaps a final courageous ground initiative in the Rhine valley or Italy to join and engage the German troops. Or an air attack on the rail systems in Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden that would disrupt the transfer of Wehrmacht forces from the Western to the Eastern front. There was more courtship than need in the request and it didn’t cost anything to ask. The Western colleagues promised air support, although this was the last thing they were interested in providing. Yes, they smashed every railway station and train wagon they could find. But to stop troops that were taking off for the East before their eyes? Why, to let themselves be shot by them?

The British documents on Dresden give troop transports as the target of the attack. But this was not the objective of the night attack. At noon the next day, the Americans superficially bombed the railway installations, which were the first to be repaired. But they did not start a fire storm. The British flew a perfect fire storm attack, not at all interested in the important shunting areas and bridges. The paltry weapons parts produced in Dresden appear nowhere in the otherwise very detailed RAF inventories. They were irrelevant when compared with what Zhukov possessed: five times as many tanks, seven times as much artillery an 17 times the number of aeroplanes. The local military barracks remained unscathed by all these waves of attacks.

Like the bombing of Hiroshima, Dresden's destruction has ever since been bound up with the question: "Why?" Two attacks with maximum overkill, each on a hopelessly defeated people! In the final spurt between the German and the imminent Japanese capitulations, the atomic physicists perfected their work with a test explosion whose lightning a blind woman claimed to have seen. Some of them started to grumble: "Why?" What had begun as an attempt to stop Hitler's world domination was being directed at the last convulsions of a checkmated aspiring power. Certainly, the last Samurais would have prepared a bloody welcome for the invading forces. But what was forcing the marines onto the treacherous beaches? America could rely on the strangling grip of its sea blockade, its airborne superiority and its precision bombing. Time was on its side.

Perhaps, said the sceptics, we could simply demonstrate the omnipotence of the wonder weapon, without using it on people. We could drop it over the ocean! Scientific director
J. Robert Oppenheimer, in contrast, saw through the logic of mass destruction: "It needs the impression". Threats don't impress, willingness does. If you don't kill 100,000 defenceless people, nobody will believe you. Technical know-how must be accompanied by an iron will. A nation must act with a clear conscience, the proof will suffice for a generation.

The puzzle of who President Truman wanted to impress has been solved by the records. He was hoping the test explosion would coincide with the opening of the Potsdam Conference in July. Oppenheimer named the test after the godhead:
Trinity. But the three gods disagreed on many points, such as Russia's entry in the Japanese War. At Yalta, in a moment of weakness, Stalin had promised to attack the Japanese protectorate in Manchuria, the industrial paradise just north of Beijing. The strongest defence troops were stationed there.

But after all that had happened with Stalin in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania, his comradeship was turning into something sinister. The two Atlantic empires now wanted less of it, but couldn't rid themselves of their Eurasian third, the devourer of continents. What was stopping Bolshevism from taking over China, and then Korea? Russia had always had its eye on Japan; invasion losses were of no importance to it. The only thing that could keep the giant in check were the apocalyptic 'Little Boy' – the slim uranium bomb – and
'Fat Man', the pot-bellied plutonium bomb.

Decisive was not Japan’s capitulation; that was already decided. But it had to capitulate as quickly as possible, and exclusively to the USA. The sequence of events speaks louder than words: August 6:
'Little Boy' on Hiroshima. August 8: the Soviets invade Manchuria. August 9: 'Fat Man' on Nagasaki. August 14: Japan capitulates to the USA. August 21: Japan capitulates to Russia. August 28: Japan capitulates to Mao Tse-Tung. The war ends.

But the principle of mass destruction has no natural end. After killing 100,000 random souls, no command prohibits the killing of ten million. It is not a matter of principle, but of what you can accept. Mao Tse-Tung, who forged Red China in 1949 out of the collapse of Japan, said he could easily replace 300 million losses. In a population of one billion, that’s 30 percent. One would take the Maos and McNamaras for blusterers, were it not for the fact that the tools for putting their words into practise do indeed exist.

In figures, Dresden and Hiroshima were short steps in the war of mass destruction. They lie just one generation back, and have deterred repetition, because they were seriously realised. Not that there was no other way out. From a military perspective, both cities burned to cinders needlessly. When Churchill gave the order to set Dresden alight, he thought of the hordes of refugees from Breslau and Silesia: "Tan the Germans' hide as they retreat from Breslau", "create panic and confusion on the administrative and evacuation routes", "terror with military pretence", as he wrote six weeks later. In this way the Royal Air Force was somehow a player in the collapse and reconstruction of the architecture of power in Central Europe. It gave the signal, even it could not control the ensuing events.

The forced partnership with Stalin's fractious rogue state also made necessary the spectacle of the two atomic mushrooms. The liberators of East and South-East Asia curbed the oppressor at their side, to prevent him from gaining ground in this hemisphere as well. Yet another signal that had little effect. China was lost, and so was North Korea, over which the next war would have to be fought. Tiny, specious advantages, acquired with the curse of a weapon of mass destruction that will never go away, but is
set to grow. Its first deployment went without a hitch. The know-how was there, and there was no alternative. Some people are probably still saying that.

from here

The article originally appeared in German in Die Welt, on 10 February, 2005.

Jörg Friedrich was born in 1944. Since the 70s he has written extensively on the legal history of the Second World War, and the NS war crimes. His Book "Der Brand", on the Allied bombing of Germany, achieved international acclaim. Jörg Friedrich lives as a freelance author in Berlin.

lp and jab.

Diesem Muskel der Lüfte hatte Stalin nichts entgegenzusetzen. Marschierten seine Mannschaften 30 km  am Tag, flog Churchills Bomberflotte 300 km die Stunde. Statt in 18 Tagen von der Weichsel zur Oder,  in 5 Stunden von den British Midlands nach Dresden! Nach vierzig Minuten Operation ist die Stadt eine  Schutthalde, mit 35.000 Leichen übersät. 110 Kilometer entfernt von den Angriffsspitzen Marschall  Konjews, gerade im Begriffe Oberschlesien zu befreien, ist dies, nüchtern formuliert die Zurschaustellung  einer Kapazität. Wenn nicht einer militärischen Kapazität, dann zumindest der Kapazität eines Militärs.  Konjew, der Eroberer vor Ort, hat davon nicht militärisch profitiert und auch keine Notiz genommen.  Schukow hat später die Dresden-Barbarei seiner Verbündeten gegeißelt, ab da waren sie längst seine Erzfeinde. Was aber waren sie im Februar 1945? Was war Schukow ihnen im September 1939? Ein  Verbündeter Hitlers bei der Unterjochung Polens. So wurden in ein- und demselben Krieg ganz offenbar  aus Gegnern Partner, aus Partnern Rivalen und halb wieder Gegner. Die Fronten des Kalten Krieges  schieben sich wie von Geisterhand über die des Weltkriegs. Die Schnittstellen sind Dresden am  europäischen und Hiroshima am asiatischen Schauplatz. Es läßt sich bei diesen Schlachtplätzen nicht  mehr auseinander halten, was noch Partnerschaft und was schon Gegnerschaft ist.  

In Yalta, wo Bluff in Tarnsprache und Drohungen in Umarmungen gewickelt sind, erbat Rußland  westliche Kameradschaftshilfe beim Sturm auf die Hauptstadt. Vielleicht endlich eine beherzte Bodeninitiative im Rheintal oder Italien, die deutschen Truppen bindet und verschleißt. Gern auch ein  Luftschlag auf Bahnanlagen in Berlin, Leipzig und Dresden, der den Transfer von Wehrmachtsverbänden  von der West- an die Ostfront stört. Die Nachfrage verriet mehr Kollegialität als Bedarf und kostete  nichts. Die Kollegen von drüben sagten Lufthilfe zu und hatten kein geringeres Interesse als  ausgerechnet daran. Zwar zerkleinerten sie soeben jeden Bahnhof und jeden Waggon, der sich finden  ließ. Truppen aber, die vor ihren Augen abzogen gen Osten würde man vernünftigerweise nicht  aufhalten. Warum, um sich von ihnen totschießen zu lassen?  

In den Dresden-Akten der Briten steht der Truppentransport als Angriffsziel, aber er war nicht das Ziel  ihrer Nachtangriffe. Am folgenden Mittag bombten die Amerikaner oberflächlich die Bahneinrichtungen,  die als erstes wieder flott gemacht waren. Doch inszenierten sie keinen Feuersturm. Die Briten flogen  einen perfekten Feuersturmangriff und desinteressierten sich völlig für die wichtigen Rangier- und  Brückenanlagen. Die armseligen Rüstungsteile, die Dresdens Industrie lieferte, tauchen nirgends in den  sonst hier detaillierten Inventarverzeichnissen der Royal Air-Force auf. Sie waren anbetrachts der  fünffachen Panzer, - siebenfachen Artillerie - und siebzehnfachen Flugzeugübermacht Schukows  belanglos. Die lokalen Kasernen blieben von allen Angriffswellen unberührt.  

Dresdens Untergang ist wie der Hiroshimas seither verbunden mit dem Fragewort "warum'? Zwei mit  maximalem Overkill geführte Schläge auf je ein chancenlos geschlagenes Volk! Als die Atomphysiker, im  Endspurt zwischen der deutschen und der drohenden japanischen Kapitulation, ihr Werk krönten mit  einer Testexplosion, deren Lichtblitz eine blinde Frau zu sehen meinte, verfielen welche ins Grübeln.  "Warum"? Was Hitlers Weltherrschaft zu stoppen begonnen ward, fuhr in die letzten Zuckungen eines  mattgesetzten Gernegroß. Zwar hätten die letzten Samurai einem Invasoren blutigen Empfang bereitet.  Doch was zwang die Marines an den tückischen Strand? Amerika konnte dem Würgegriff seiner  Seeblockade vertrauen, seiner Luftherrschaft, dem precision-bombing. Die Zeit arbeitete gegen die  anderen.  

Vielleicht, meinten die Zweifler, könnte man den Japanern die Allgewalt der Wunderwaffe vorführen, nur  nicht in einem Menschenexperiment. Eventuell auf See! Robert J. Oppenheimer hingegen, der  physikalische Bauleiter, durchschaute auch das logische Gebäude der Massenvernichtung: "It needs the impression". Man beeindruckt nicht mit Drohungen, sondern mit Bereitschaft. Wer 100.000 Waffenlose  nicht tötet, dem glaubt man das nicht ohne weiteres. Dem technischen Können muß sich die Härte des  Willens zugesellen. Eine Nation muß dies guten Gewissens fertigbringen, dann reicht der Beweis für ein  Menschenalter.  

Das Rätsel, wen Präsident Truman beeindrucken wollte, hat die Aktenkunde bereits gelöst. Er wünschte  den Urknall der Testbombe zum Auftakt der Potsdamer Konferenz im Juli. Den Test taufte Oppenheimer  mit dem Namen der Gottheit. Trinity, Dreieinigkeit. Allerdings waren die drei Götter sich uneinig in  vielem, so in der Frage des Eintritts Rußlands in den Japan-Krieg. Im Schwächemoment von Yalta war  Stalin das Versprechen abgenommen worden, Japan in seinem Protektorat Mandschurei anzugreifen,  dem Industrieparadies unmittelbar nördlich von Peking. Dort standen auch die stärksten Abwehrtruppen.  

Doch nach allem, was man inzwischen in Polen, der Tschechoslowakei, Ungarn und Rumänien mit Stalin  erlebt hatte, wechselte seine Kameradschaft ins Unheimliche. Die zwei Atlantikimperien wünschten sich  nun weniger davon, wurden aber den eurasischen Dritten nicht mehr los, den Umschlinger der Kontinente. Was hinderte den Bolschewismus, sich China anzueignen, Korea? Rußland hatte schon  immer ein Auge auf Japan gerichtet, Landungsverluste waren ihm Hekuba. Das einzige, diesen Giganten  in Schach zu halten, waren die apokalyptischen Hitlerknacker "Little Boy'- die schlanke Uranium-Bombe -  und "Fat Man' - die bauchige Plutonium-Bombe.  

Entscheidend war nicht, daß Japan kapitulierte, das war schon entschieden. Sondern es mußte  schnellstens kapitulieren und exklusiv gegenüber den USA. Die Reihenfolge der Ereignisse sagt mehr als  Worte: 6. August "Little Boy' auf Hiroshima; 8. August Sowjeteinfall in die Mandschurei; 9. August "Fat  Man' auf Nagasaki; 14. August Kapitulation gegen die USA; 21. August gegen Stalin; 28. August gegen  Mao tse Tung. Kriegsende.  

Das Massenvernichtungsprinzip hat kein natürliches Ende. Beseitigt es 100.000 Beliebige, gilt kein Gebot  mehr, bei zehn Millionen auszusteigen. Das ist keine Prinzipienfrage, sondern eine der Hinnehmbarkeit.  Mao tse Tung, der 1949 aus Japans Fall Rotchinas Aufstieg schmiedete, meinte 300 Millionen Verluste  leicht ersetzen zu können. Bei einem Milliardenvolk sind dies 30 Prozent. Man würde die Maos und Mc  Namaras für Schwadroneure halten, existierten die Werkzeuge nicht, damit im Notfall Ernst zu machen.  

Dresden und Hiroshima sind, in Zahlen, kurze Schritte in den Massenvernichtungskrieg gewesen. Sie  liegen erst ein Menschenalter zurück und haben vor der Wiederholung darum abgeschreckt, weil sie  ernstlich realisiert wurden. Nicht weil es keinen anderen Ausweg gab. Beide Städte verglühten militärisch überflüssigerweise. Als Churchill Dresden anzünden lies, dachte er an die Flüchtlingsheere aus Breslau  und Schlesien: "Den Deutschen beim Rückzug aus Breslau das Fell gerben", Panik und Konfusion auf den  Verwaltungs- und Evakuierungswegen herstellen", Terror unter militärischen Vorwänden", wie er sechs Wochen später schrieb. So war die Royal Air-Force irgendwie Mitwirkende am Zusammenbruch und  Umbau der Herrschaftsarchitektur Mitteleuropas. Herrin des Fanals, wenn schon nicht mehr Herrin der  Ereignisse.  

Die gleiche Notgemeinschaft mit Stalins unbändigem Schurkenstaat nötigte auch zu dem Schauspiel der  zwei Atompilze. Die Befreier Ost- Südostasiens dämmten den Unterdrücker an ihrer Seite ein, damit er  nicht auch noch in dieser Hemisphäre Fuß fasse. Ebenso ein Fanal, das wenig eintrug. China ging  verloren und Nordkorea, um das der nächste Krieg geführt werden mußte. Winzige Scheinvorteile,  erkauft mit dem Fluch der Massenvernichtungswaffe, der nicht mehr weicht, sondern wächst. Ihr  Ersteinsatz lief glatt. Man wußte wie, und hatte nichts anderes. Das mag sich noch mancher sagen.   







Houston Chronicle



A city in flames

Der Spiegel



A war of words

Der Spiegel



Dresden Bombing Is To Be Regretted...

Der Spiegel


Matthias Matussek

My personal VE Day

Der Spiegel


Frederick Taylor

The Germans Are Obsessed Too

The Guardian


Michael Burleigh

Mission accomplished



Laura Miller

"Dresden: Tuesday, Feb. 13, 1945"





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The Times


Peter Millar

Review: War: Dresden by Frederick Taylor

Die Zeit


Volker Ullrich

Bomben auf Dresden

The Independent


David Cesarani

Dresden, 1945: a legitimate target

The Age


Gideon Haigh

Dresden: Tuesday, Feb. 13, 1945

Frankfurter Rundschau



Gewaltschraube des Krieges





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