The anniversary of the Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany in 1945 prompts us to post these thoughts on means and ends.
If the desired objective to be achieved through action is morally licit, the means employed to achieve that end must also be morally licit. In other words, the ends do not justify the means.
The bombing of Dresden (a civilian population center) was, by the definition of war crimes at the International Military Tribunal (at Nuremberg after the war), a war crime. Sadly, Dresden was no isolated case but part of the Allied bombing campaign that specifically targeted German cities and towns in the last 3 years of the war. So, to those who believe that the Allies were prosecuting a “just” war, we must say that that did not give license to the Allies to commit war crimes (atrocities) during their conduct of the war.
There are, of course, those who rationalize immoral means to justify these being used, or having been used in the past. But, it seems to us that to play the role of moral arbiter, a person or persons must be able to effectively, objectively and honestly deal with moral complexity.
For those who may not know much about what happened in Dresden over the nights and days of 13 February to 15 February 1945, there are well researched articles online now easily found through search engines. Dresden’s population had swollen in the weeks preceding the massive bombing raids with refugees fleeing the advancing Red Army. 2 things worth noting are that “official” death toll estimates put out by the Allies are absurdly, incredulously low (25,000?!), and that photographs taken in the days after the bombings (by the Germans) of the piles of dead civilians at Dresden were later used by the Allies as showing “Holocaust victims”.
In wartime, truth is the first casualty (an old adage). And, so it is with war crimes committed by the victorious Allies being trivialized, minimized, or ignored and those of their defeated adversaries being exaggerated. When I first read true in-depth accounts about Dresden (on the 50th anniversary back in 1995), it made me begin to more seriously question the history of the entire second world war period that we are served up in high school and college. Regrettably, much that passes for “history” is propaganda.
As we have written on this topic before, and at much greater length, we will end now.
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