It is wrong to judge Dres­den bombing through the prism of hind­sight

The Herald - - OPINION -

I WON­DER if Dan Mcphail’s fa­ther would ap­pre­ci­ate that his per­fectly valid be­lief that (how­ever sadly) you could “save lives by killing 100,000 peo­ple”, would be con­demned by his son as pro­pa­ganda wor­thy of Dr Goebbels (Let­ters, May 17).

Mr Mcphail has of course an im­mense ad­van­tage over those who had to make such ap­palling de­ci­sions in 1945 – he knows ex­actly when the wars in Europe and the Far East did in fact end.

One con­sid­ered es­ti­mate in early 1945 was that it could last until Novem­ber, if Ger­man troops were able to stall the Soviet ad­vance ef­fec­tively.

Ja­pan’s au­thor­i­ties were given fair warn­ing at Pots­dam in July 1945 but chose to ig­nore it. An in­va­sion of Ja­pan’s main­land might well have caused far more deaths and de­struc­tion than Hiroshima/ Na­gasaki did in Au­gust, both in Ja­pan and through­out SE Asia in their prison camps, and could have en­dured far longer than only “two weeks”.he seems to favour con­ven­tional bombing but in the next sen­tence ac­cepts that over Tokyo it caused as many deaths as Hiroshima’s atomic bomb.

In early 1945, Lon­don was un­der at­tack by V1 and V2 rock­ets, and it was not known how ad­vanced Ger­many’s nu­clear weapons de­vel­op­ments were.

Dres­den was not merely pro­duc­ing nice porce­lain milk­maids, it had ma­jor in­dus­trial fac­to­ries still sup­ply­ing Ger­many’s mil­i­tary, and it was an im­por­tant trans­port and com­mu­ni­ca­tions hub; many ex­perts be­lieved it gen­er­ated a more im­me­di­ate ef­fect to de­stroy the lat­ter fa­cil­i­ties rather than the fac­to­ries. They may have been wrong, but that does not jus­tify de­scrib­ing it as “par­tic­u­larly dis­grace­ful be­cause 25,000 peo­ple were killed for lit­tle strategic or tac­ti­cal pur­pose”.

Such de­ci­sions in the heat of war based on par­tial data will in­evitably turn out some­times to be wrong, over-op­ti­mistic or sub­ject to the law of un­in­tended con­se­quences, but I would not dream of be­ing so sel­f­righ­teous as to con­demn such de­ci­sions with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight more than 70 years later – or even in 1944 from the rel­a­tive safety of the House of Lords, like Bishop Bell. Churchill did have ev­ery right to con­demn them, and even he had grave reser­va­tions about Har­ris’s Dres­den bombing. John Bir­kett,

12 Horse­leys Park,

St An­drews.

THE sug­ges­tion by Dan Mcphail of the Phoenix Friend­ship Club that the atomic bomb­ings of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki may have short­ened the war by a mere two weeks should not go un­chal­lenged.

Any­one with the least knowl­edge of Ja­pan and its cul­ture, which has com­pletely dif­fer­ent as­sump­tions from ours, would know that as­ser­tion to be en­tirely false.

The stark­est ex­am­ple of the difference is that the last two Ja­panese sol­diers, Sec­ond Lieu­tenant Hiro On­oda and the Tai­wanese Pri­vate known as Teruo Naka­mura, held out sep­a­rately until 1974 – 29 years af­ter Ja­pan had sur­ren­dered.

By Au­gust 1945 Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt and his mil­i­tary plan­ners were well aware of the re­sis­tance which awaited al­lied forces in­vad­ing Ja­pan.

Early in 1945, it had taken 70,000 marines and an ar­mada of more than 500 ships five weeks to take the eight square miles of Iwo Jima from its 21,000 Ja­panese de­fend­ers. Fol­low­ing that up to half the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of Ok­i­nawa had died dur­ing the cap­ture of that is­land– many of them in Ja­panese army mas­sacres and in­cited mass sui­cides.

With­out the drop­ping of the two atom bombs, Ja­pan would have fought on with vastly more loss of life, civil­ian and mil­i­tary.

Otto Inglis,

6 In­veral­mond Grove,

Ed­in­burgh.

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