Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942–45.
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.
Randall Hansen has written a lucid, comprehensive, and exhaustively researched book about the British and American strategic bombing of Germany in the Second World War. It covers the narrative of the campaign, including the various phases and objectives of the bomber offensive, as well as the military motivation and rationale for the tactics used. The German side is also well covered, from the contemporary German estimates of the economic damage done by the bombing to accounts of what it is like to be bombed, from over 100 interviews with civilian bombing survivors.
The book is illuminated by entertaining digressions into related topics, such as Churchill’s work habits, the origins of radar, and the social history of the Ruhr Industrial Area. There are several mistakes and confusing passages, most due to poor fact checking. We are told that the German raid on Coventry killed 5,000 (the true number was 568) and that the famous British aircraft, the Mosquito, was made of plywood (the aircrew would never have lived to tell the tale).
The legality of the Allied bombing is given only cursory treatment, in contrast with the military effectiveness of the different phases of the campaign, which is well evaluated. The question of the morality of the campaign gets an extensive discussion at the end of the book, and it is here that Hansen’s reasoning is arguably fallacious. The premise is that the deliberate mass bombing of civilians was an outrage which could only be justified if there were sound military reasons for carrying it out, such as the total collapse of the German war effort. Hansen says that he could even justify the terrible raids on Hamburg (July 1943) if they had “led to a quick and immediate end to the war.” But this is an impossibly high standard of proof which even the most optimistic bombing advocates never envisaged. The fallacy lies in Hansen’s attempt at justification, since a utilitarian argument (success) can be used to override something that is morally wrong in itself (atrocity).
It is appropriate that the book is written by a Canadian: 25 percent of British Bomber Command aircrew were Canadian, and 10,000 lost their lives.