25 APRIL 1992, Page 20


unpleasant Teutonic attempts at moral equivalence

MAYBE Nicholas Ridley was right. In the last couple of weeks, the editor of The Spectator has been receiving dozens of let- ters, including a petition of 70 signatures, from Germans. Although they are sent from all over the world — Canada, Ameri- ca, Sweden, Germany and so on — they seem to have been centrally organised. For they almost all incorporate the following lines: 'Dresden has just mourned the deaths of 300,000 to 500,000 victims of the senseless bombings of 13-15 February 1945, when the war was already won by the Allies. Yet there are people in England who want to erect a monument to the man identified with this war crime of World War II: "Bomber" Harris!'

It may sound a bit rich for Germans, who invented and developed saturation bombing, to whinge that we perfected it, but there are more sinister implications behind this letter-writing campaign than just the suspicion that Germans can't appreciate irony. Included with one of the letters was a leaflet advertising the 'neither anti-Jewish nor pro-German' Institute for Historical Review, which publishes ,such 'non-ideological and non-political' pam- phlets as The Auschwitz Myth, Not Guilty at Nuremberg and Rudolf Hess: Prisoner of Peace. Some of the other titles defy satire, such as The Holocaust: Let's Hear Both Sides. The authors of these 'non pro-Ger- man' works include such old English coun- ty surnames as Staglich, Butz, Rassinier, Weber, Leuchter and Tupitsch.

Although the letters include a fair sprin- kling of the underlinings, capital letters, multiple exclamation marks and purple ink one automatically associates with the para- noid, most are lucid, and remarkable only for their complete lack of contrition for the part their Fatherland played in the events which eventually led to what hap- pened to Dresden. Some writers, like the unfortunately named Herr Streicher, con- fine themselves to describing Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris as 'a mass mur- derer', whilst others, like Mr Klaus Riedel, included Winston Churchill in their list of 'war criminals'. Still another, Herr Walter Muller, enquires: 'What would you say if the Germans erected a monument in memory of Mr Eichmann, the responsible man for murdering the Jews?'

A British Columbian correspondent demands that Dominic Lawson — who was, after all, born 11 years after the end of the war — must 'give proof' of what type of fuel Hitler used to kill his enemies in the death camps, or, 'if burned in open pits, where are the charred bones (bones do not burn very easily)?' Canadians com- prise a high proportion of the writers perhaps they believe that as the maga- zine's proprietor is Canadian, their letters have a better chance of being printed. If so, with a little more homework they might have discovered that the editor, who is Jewish, might think it ill behoves Ger- mans to make allegations about 'Allied genocide' whilst simultaneously decrying 'the so-called Holocaust with all its improbable details'.

According to Martin Gilbert's Second World War, some 39,773 bodies were •offi- cially identified at Dresden, with at least 20,000 others unaccounted for. Even twice

that would be a high total, but nothing like the half-a-million figure constantly repeat- ed in these letters in a manner worthy of Dr Goebbels. Moreover, the war was by no means 'already won' by February 1945. Fanatical German resistance cost the Allies tens of thousands of lives between the bombing of Dresden and Armistice Day. V-2 bombs continued to land on Britain until late March and the Germans were still defending Bremen — which held out long after the Russians had reached Berlin, a full ten weeks after the Dresden raid.

Far from being 'senseless', the bombing of Dresden was designed, as Chief of the Air Staff Sir Charles Portal told the Chiefs of Staffs' Committee on 31 January 1945, 'to hamper enemy efforts to transfer forces between the Western and Eastern fronts'.

Rather than 'innocent women and children whose only crime was to be born in Ger- many', the targets in Dresden were the vast railway marshalling yards through which German troops would have to pass in order to hold up the Russians, who had that very day crossed the Oder. Captain Basil Liddell Hart considered the Dresden raid to have been instrumental in breaking German civilian morale and will to resist.

When the Queen Mother unveils the statue of 'Bomber' Harris outside St Clement Danes on 31 May, she will also be

honouring the 55,000 members of Bomber Command who gave their lives in the sec-

ond world war. This is higher than the number of British officers who fell in the first world war, and equal to the total American losses in Vietnam. Yet after the war Bomber Command was humiliated and ignored. Unlike every single other senior British commander, Harris never received a peerage, and no distinctive medal was struck for his airmen. And, as Lord Mackie of Benshie recently wrote, 'The members of Bomber Command Association are erecting a memorial to 55,000 of our dead comrades and their commander, in our own RAF church, in our own country, and this we are surely entitled to do without offence.'

A precondition for wiping out a sense of guilt is establishing moral equivalency, and that is what The Spectator's German corre- spondents are trying on here. By lies and exaggeration they are trying to make the Allies seem as evil as the Nazis. If a Ger- man can convince himself that Dresden was a crime every bit as foul as Auschwitz

— hence the concentration on the inno- cence of the women and children and the repetition of the ludicrous half-million fig- ure — he is well on the way to absolving his forefathers and nation. Shorn of the moral dimension, it will all boil down to statistics.

Only then can a German clear his con- science and, as 11 per cent did in Baden- Wurttemberg last week, vote for the neo-Nazi Republican Party. In combating this historical whitewashing, 'Bomber' Har- ris may posthumously be fighting his most important battle yet.