Tuesday 5 August 2014

Reaping The Whirlwind

Dresden, February 1945: Our parents and grandparents received the news of Dresden's destruction with equanimity. We were at war. By 1945 the civilian population of Germany had ceased to be "collateral damage", they were now regarded as legitimate targets. Israel's deliberate targeting of civilians in Gaza is not without precedent.

SUCH A BRIEF RESPITE. Barely time to find water – let alone food. And all around the shelter fires blazing unchecked. She did not tell her children what she had seen in the streets. Could not admit, even to herself, what lay there. Where was God, she wondered, amidst all this death? As if in answer, the sirens wailed again, their harsh note of alarm rising and falling like the cry of some gigantic beast in pain. In the shelter they could already hear the ominous drone of the bombers. And then, the thud, thud, thud of the bombs.
God may have been absent from Dresden on St Valentine’s Day 1945, but the Devil was there and he had brought the fires of Hell with him.
My wife and I have been arguing about Gaza. She demands to know what benefit Israel could possibly derive from deliberately bombing and shelling innocent women and children? I asked her what benefit our grandparent’s generation derived from ordering the bombing of Dresden – a city packed with refugees posing no threat to either the British, the Americans or the Russians? By February 1945 the Allies were driving Adolf Hitler’s battered armies before them and in less than three months the war in Europe would be over. Why unleash a firestorm on one of Germany’s most beautiful cities? Why kill 25,000 people, most of them women and children, needlessly?
Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris justified the Allies’ terror bombing of German cities in explicitly biblical terms:
“The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”
Those words may sound harsh to New Zealanders living in the twenty-first century, but in the ears of our parents and grandparents they sounded both true and just. In the eyes of Hitler’s enemies, Nazism was an unmitigated evil which had to be destroyed – by any means necessary.
Once a nation thrusts itself into the unrelenting horrors of war, its over-riding priority is to end them, on the most favourable terms possible, as quickly as possible.
Almost exactly 100 years ago, at the outbreak of the First World War, Great Britain’s first lord of the admiralty, Winston Churchill, ordered the Royal Navy to institute a complete naval blockade of Germany. Of this ruthless strategic decision he would later write: “The British blockade treated the whole of Germany as if it were a beleaguered fortress, and avowedly sought to starve the whole population – men, women, and children, old and young, wounded and sound – into submission.”
These are not pleasant facts to dwell upon. The terror-bombing of civilians. The deliberate starvation of whole populations. And yet, these were, indisputably, the tactics employed by “our side” in both world wars. Unsurprisingly, when paying our respects to “the glorious dead” on ANZAC Day, we prefer to draw a veil across the inglorious death we inflicted in return.
I wonder, were it possible to travel back in time and confront our parents’ and grandparents’  younger selves about these measures; if we could demand to know their justifications for acquiescing, without protest, in these crimes against humanity: how would they respond?
I think they would look at us strangely. I think they would shake their heads in disbelief. I think they would reply, simply: “We are at war.”
That same incomprehension is similarly imprinted on the faces of Israelis when the world demands to know why their jets and artillery are pounding Gaza until the rubble bounces; why the whole of the Gaza Strip is being treated, in Churchill’s words, “as if it were a beleaguered fortress” and why “the whole population – men, women, and children, old and young, wounded and sound” are being ruthlessly bombed and shelled and starved into submission.
“Does the world not understand that we are at war?” Israel asks.
“They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.” So said the Prophet Hosea. If Bomber Harris could quote the Bible, can Israel not quote the Torah?
Gaza, July 2014.
Such a brief respite. Barely time to find water – let alone food. And all around the UN school fires blazing unchecked. She did not tell her children what she had seen in the streets. Could not admit, even to herself, what lay there. Where was Allah, she wondered, amidst all this death? As if in answer, the sirens wailed, their harsh note of alarm rising and falling like the cry of some gigantic beast in pain. In the shelter they could already hear the hideous screech of the jets. And then, the thud, thud, thud of the bombs …
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 5 August 2014.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, Israel is at war. They are the aggressor and occupier.

The Flying Tortoise said...

I abhor warfare as strongly as the most passionate pacifist.
It appears that the Jews of Israel and their children have gone from being the abused under Nazi Germany to being the abusers.
Let us not forget that Hamas and others in the Middle East deny Israels right to even exist.
I don't think there will ever be peace in the Middle East. As a Jew and a human being I am profoundly sad...

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Strategic bombing was usually justified on the grounds of un-housing and destroying the morale of the German worker rather than simply revenge.
What most people seem to forget is that Gaza is under occupation. The people have both a right and a duty to resist this. They are also at war, so perhaps they're allowed to do their version of strategic bombing?

Anonymous said...

Your analogy of Dresden and Gaza is so misleading as to be almost propaganda. The Palestinians have never been the invading fascist machine the Nazis were, they have been the victims from start to finish. The Zionist regime fits the bill as Nazis but no one is bombing them! The genocidal assault cannot be justified by the Guy Fawkes missiles Hamas have provocatively aimed at Israel. Yes though impotent those missiles have assaulted the Israeli's legitimate desire to feel secure in their own land, but this does not justify a slaughter and massacre of innocents because of the fools Hamas. Gaza and Israel are not equal or at war, rather Gaza is an open prison strictly controlled in every way, a ghetto, by the Israeli military. Israel has committed horrifically cruel war crimes against a defenceless people blowing to bits women children and babies. Israel has sown the wind as the World looks on in revulsion and disgust at this monster succoured by the war criminal state the US.

greywarbler said...

I agree with FT and GS. The Dresden bombing and others were terrible but there was some excuse. The war had to be pursued in WW2, Germany was not giving up, the war could not be stopped unilaterally. Ordinary people are secondary in the total concentration on war planning defence, attack, and supply of forces and civilians. with a slim moral standard of behaviour that is breachable.

Time and again Israeli generals have played with Palestine, talks have been abandoned because of some deliberate act that shatters trust. I have not heard the back story to the death of these three young Israelis, all from a religious school. Muslims use living sacrifices to cause havoc. The Israeli government seems mendacious and fanatical enough to offer three of their religious and idealistic males the chance to serve Israel by being killed by their own people to justify the severe attacks and genocide of Palestinians. I am sure Palestinians are regarded in the same way as Jews were smeared in propaganda films likening them to fleeing rats.

Was the Tokyo fire bombing justified. The civilians were making backyard munitions, and horribly bombed by USA. In Gaza there is so little space that anywhere must be used for dual or triple purposes.

Phil Sage said...

Chris, an excellent piece. I must admit to wavering between your and your wife's view. The comments above indicate your message has not been taken in properly. The situation of the Palestinians is tragic, but they are pawns. Your description of German naivety and Bomber Harris is sound. I wonder why Israel does not send its whirlwind to Iran and the sources of rockets and funding. Attacking Gaza almost seems like attacking Austrian cities rather than Germany.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Funny, when there is someone you don't like doing stuff you don't like and you can't quite bring yourself to condemn them for some reason, you call them pawns. Which is really, really insulting. That's what the government used to say about teachers – they were pawns of their union leaders. Which was really funny because whenever I went to a union meeting it was the teachers that were pushing the leaders rather than the other way round. I suspect that the Palestinian people pretty much know what they're doing.

Phil Sage said...

GS: Yes of course the Christians in Mosul should simply tell ISIS leadership to behave. Pew research (google it) tells us that well over 50% of Gazans disapprove of Hamas. When only one side has the guns it makes the comparison to a teacher union meeting somewhat ridiculous at first. But then I can easily imagine the majority of teachers being happy with status quo and the few with extremist positions motivated to go along and urge leadership to ever more extreme behaviour. So there is a parallel.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

If you found my comparison ridiculous, then you didn't read my statement properly. The essence is in the word pawn. You refuse the people of Gaza any agency at all. Having said that, yes more than 50 percent might disapprove of Hamas, but they did elect them in the first place, and it does not make them pawns. And while we're on the subject, the irony is that Israel encouraged to groups such as Hamas as a counterweight against the PLO. Now THEY are reaping the whirlwind.