Review of Dresden by Frederick Taylor (Bloomsbury, 2005)
The flattening and firestorm of Dresden on the night of the 13th February and morning of the 14th of February 1945 continues to generate controversy. For many it has become a symbol of the extent to which the Western Allies overstepped the mark from a morally righteous war campaign to wanton destruction and mass murder. For others, Dresden was a legitimate target; a key transport node and a centre for armaments production and administration, and the next city that the Russians would face as their front moved forward. The controversy focuses on Dresden and not other German cities who suffered the same fate in large part because of its cultural cache -- known as ‘The Florence on the Elbe’ -- the fact that it was unprotected (its flak guns moved elsewhere), the lateness of the attack in the war wherein it was clear that the Allies were going to win, that the city was full of refugees fleeing East, that the centre of the city and its key heritage buildings were the target rather than factories, and Russian anti-Western propaganda after the war as the iron curtain closed and the cold war started. Frederick Taylor’s book seeks to chart what happened on the 13th and 14th of February 1945, when between 25,000 and 40,000 people died, and thousands more were made homeless as thirteen square miles of the city’s historic centre was destroyed, and to contextualise it within the long history of Dresden and of modern aerial warfare and the end game of the war, and to consider the moral philosophy of the bombing. He does so by drawing extensively on archival sources, interviews with Allied air crew and survivors of the firestorm, and by considering other accounts of the raid and their arguments. The result is a book that does more than detail a particular harrowing destruction of a city, but tries to make sense of it. Some of the history of the city was probably not needed and the moral philosophy could have been deepened and extended, but otherwise Taylor succeeds in his aim, providing a very readable, informative and largely non-partisan account and arguments.