On January 24, 1943, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill concluded their conference at Casablanca. I have a photograph of the two of them from that meeting on the wall of my office, with the slanting sun in Roosevelt’s face and Churchill standing in shadow — I like it a great deal, as it depicts both men in what looks like genuinely companionable contemplation. I admire both of them as historical figures. Which doesn’t make me any more comfortable with one of the results of the conference: the determination to carry out combined British and American round-the-clock bombing offensives against German targets, which would include cities.
My grandfather flew a B-24 in the war as part of the Allies’ European bombing offensive. Here is his plane, shot down.
He survived the crash, was taken prisoner, and escaped: he omitted to mention to his captors that he had been born in Germany and, though he immigrated to the U.S. as a kid, he sprechened pretty well, thank you, which helped him get along through the countryside till he was back behind Allied lines. I loved him, and am proud of him and his war service, and that doesn’t make me any more comfortable with the result of the conference either.
The British had a clear goal in bombing Germans at night, when they couldn’t pretend to see much of what they were hitting: they wanted to keep their planes and pilots in the air while exacting revenge for Nazi bombing of British cities and civilians. Arthur “Bomber” Harris referred to “the destruction of factories” as “a bonus.” And points to Harris for honesty.
The Americans maintained a squeamish commitment to daytime precision bombing — which was pretty much of a fiction, especially when partnered with British nighttime bombing. The raid on Hamburg that summer demonstrated, clearly, why: if the British get in there at night and set the city on fire, the smoke’s going to make it hard for Americans to see much in their precision targeted area (indicated on the map by a dotted line, around a lot of smoke).
I lived for a few years a short distance from “Bomber” Harris’s headquarters. I know perfectly well that if I had lived there fifty-five years earlier I would have wanted the Allies to kill as many Germans, civilians or otherwise, as they could. And that does not make me any more comfortable with the result of the conference, either.