ISH Home
Europe at War:
Postwar Europe:
1945 and after
Rebuilding Europe:
Unifying Europe:
European Union
Further reading

Germany during World War II:
1939-45 - Bomber Command

The British RAF unit responsible for the bombing of Germany has continued to provoke debate in both countries.

 “They are wonderful men ..... They flew seven nights a week over Germany and were knocked out of the sky like ninepins at the start. They shortened the war by six months and saved hundreds of thousands from the gas chambers by bringing it to a halt.” 'Scotty' Scott, 70, campaigner for a memorial to be built for the crews of RAF Bomber Command, quoted in the Guardian newspaper 20th August, 2006.

“The tremendous courage and sacrifice of Bomber Command is something to admire. On the other hand, area bombing was a very serious mistake and a moral crime. Somehow you've got to hold those facts together. Any memorial is worthwhile, but to think of applauding Bomber Command in mass murdering civilians night after night would be wrong.” AC Grayling, a philosopher who assessed the moral case for the bombings in his book, Among the Dead Cities quoted in the Guardian newspaper 20th August, 2006    

“The Nazis were to good as a black hole is to light. The effects of British and American bombing on Germany and the lands the Germans conquered were dreadful and it is right that they should be recorded and remembered. But the Allies’ real crime would have been to hold back from using any of the means at their disposal to destroy Hitler and those who sustained his war. The argument over exactly what Bomber Command achieved will never be settled. One undeniable success, an awkward one to acknowledge nowadays, is that it altered Germany’s personality. Saturation bombing may not, as intended, have broken the Germans’ spirit. But it helped powerfully to bring about their post-war conversion to peaceful democracy.” Patrick Bishop, author of  ‘Bomber Boys’, quoted on RAF Bomber Command website,

“The bombing of Dresden was an example... of the brutalisation of man in war...History written by individual nations in which each one selects what he has done well cannot be allowed to continue. If we really want to unify this Europe, then history must be unified as well.” German President, Roman Herzog, 1995, quoted in ‘Europe’, N.Davies.

·         Identify the arguments for and against the actions of Bomber Command.

·         In your opinion was the bombing of German cities justified?

·         Explain President Herzog’s comment that “history must be unified”.

·         Is it possible to ‘unify history’?  

Over 90% of Dresden city centre was destroyed

The bombing campaigns and the ongoing controversy illustrate the difficulty of maintaining a consistent ethical stance in warfare, and indeed to many of those  involved agonising ovar ethics was a luxury that could not be indulged. Compromises and hard choices become inevitable as one is drawn into violence to prevent an even greater ‘evil’. Pacifists would argue that violence can never be justified. The ‘Realist’ theory maintains that moral concepts cannot be applied to the behaviour of states. However, the lengths that individuals, armies and states go to in order to justify their actions and to present them favourably, demonstrate that even amid the hard realism of war there remains a desire to occupy the moral high ground.    

Religions and philosophers have developed ‘Just War Theories’ attempting to identify the justifiable and unjustifiable uses of armed forces. These can be divided into establishing the circumstances in which it is right to fight a war and secondly, justifiable conduct during war. In groups compile two lists. You may wish to consider some of the following issues....(just cause, proportionality, legitimate authority, probability of success, last resort... and during a war ...legitimate targets, proportionality, military necessity, prisoners, weaponry)

Circumstances in which it is right to fight a war

Justifiable conduct during a war









Contact Richard Jones-Nerzic