When is a War Crime NOT a War Crime?
“Dresden”…I am not sure what makes it different. As a general rule, the Winners dont commit War Crimes. If Nazi Germany had won the Second World War, there would have been no trials in Nuremburg. If Japan had won the Second World War, Admiral Tojo would not have been hanged.
Even from the perspective of a neutral Irishman, the balance is that the Americans, French, Russians and even the British were the good guys and the Japanese and the Germans were the bad guys.
We are of course Euro-centric. The horrific things that the Japanese did in China dont really register with Europeans. Americans, indeed Western Allied Nations get irritated at the suggestion that the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a “war crime”. The argument goes that the nations on the high moral ground cannot commit a war crime, that the Japanese government was warned of the mass killings that the atom bomb would produce and that the atom bomb would actually bring the war to an end more quickly. Lives, especially the lives of Americans getting closer to Japan….island by island. The role of an American President is to protect American lives.
Certainly it is worth pointing up that the Japanese Army committed atrocities in China and the Philippines but hard to say that women and children had to pay for it.
And of course a few weeks ago, the seventieth anniversary of the Liberation of Auschtwitz was commemorated. But hard to say that the women and children of Dresden had to pay for it.
Or indeed that seventy years later, the women and children on the Gaza Strip have to pay for it.
In February 1945, the Russian allies in the East were making advances. But needed air strikes on Dresden, already a hub for German refugees. Today we talk about surgical strikes. But there was nothing surgical about Dresden. It was butchery. Thousands died in the firestorm.
I have little time for elderly British veterans of WW2. Their privations on a Normandy beach, above the clouds over the English Channel and in a North African desert are little to do with me. I dont identify with it. Because these men are not that much different from the men who served in the British Empire in India, Malaya, Aden, Kenya, Cyprus and….West Belfast.
War Stories leave me cold. I like heroes to be silent. So a surprise to see a sprightly British veteran (now 95 years old), who was a prisoner of war in Dresden on British TV News this week. He had no doubt he had witnessed and survived a war crime. I think his frankness shocked because he was off the narrative that it was all part of the “necessary evil” of War.
Of course Goerring, Tojo, and the rest were the bad guys who were put on trial by the good guys. Victors Justice? Of course. But had the bad guys won, there would have been even more Victors Justice.
To the men of RAF Bomber Command, “Bomber” Harris was a hero, who was too long denied a statue in London. The implication was that polite British Society was embarrassed by Harris and his Command. That Bomber Command in 1944-45 was regarded less favourably than the heroes of Fighter Command in 1940.
There can be little doubt that Bomber Harris would have faced trial and a “guilty” verdict and execution if the Nazis had won the War.
Yet there is nothing new here. War is like that. Brutality in prison camps like Confederate Andersonville in Georgia. Civilians suffering as Sherman marched to the Sea.
So Dresden serves a purpose. Actually two purposes…one purpose is to show the brutality of War. And the second is to show Dresden as a blot on the Allied War Record.
As I have said before, the most convincing type of Conflict Resolution is Outright Victory and Outright Defeat. “Dresden” is a kinda fig leaf which attempts to undermine the honesty of this obvious position. The memorial at Auschwitz is clear. No ambiguity.
The memorial at Dresden is different. In commemorating their own tragedy, the memorial refernces “Austwitz”, “Coventry” and London and other places. As a tragedy, as a war crime…some are allowed to “stand alone”. Dresden must only be commemorated in Dresden in a way that allows context.
This is the price of Outright Defeat. This is the price of Conflict Resolution.