Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Fire and the Darkness: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945 (Sinclair McKay)

The final stages of World War II’s European phase featured massive Allied bombing raids of several German cities, including Dresden, as part of the Allied strategy to destroy industrial and civic targets throughout the Nazi Reich. On the night of February 13th, 1945, the bombing of Dresden began with two rounds of British assaults, continuing the next day with American bombing raids. All told, approximately 25,000 died in the attack. 

Sinclair McKay’s book, The Fire and The Darkness, details Dresden’s story from before the attack through today, with heavy focus on the attack itself as told through the eyes of several individual accounts. Kurt Vonnegut was a Prisoner of War in Dresden during the raid and wrote Slaughterhouse Five based loosely on the raid. McKay mentions him at points through the book in addition to other eyewitness accounts. While reading this book, one also learns about the historical importance of Dresden as a cultural and religious hub in traditional German life and how the bombing and resulting Soviet influence in East Germany post-war changed parts, but not all, of that fabric. 

McKay’s well-researched, detailed account provides a balanced perspective of not only the attack itself but also its reaction from both German and Western perspectives. McKay provides views from both those who thought that the bombing was justified, as well as those who felt the excesses of the damage and large numbers of fatalities pushed the attack over the line of justified action.