Sins of Omission

Firebombing the Fatherland

While teaching at UCLA, I heard a student ask one of my teaching assistants why the United States dropped The Bomb on Japan and not on Germany.  The T.A. immediately responded, “Another example of racist America.”  A doctoral student, he did not seem to know that Germany surrendered more than two months before we had even test-exploded an atomic bomb.  Later, I learned that he also did not know that the Manhattan Project was conceived for producing an atomic bomb for use against Germany, not Japan, and that the Allies killed far more German civilians in the bombings of German cities than in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Although this information had little effect on the T.A.—he was a confirmed Maoist—I think it would on most students, if only the information were made available to them.  While American college students have been subjected to readings, lectures, and discussions about the dropping of the atomic bomb since junior high school, I have rarely found a student who could tell me about the more devastating firebombing of the Fatherland.

Britain led the way.  Refusing to fly daylight bombing missions because of the greater exposure to German interceptors and antiaircraft artillery fire, the RAF bombers flew only at night.  Unable to precision-bomb in the darkness, they practiced indiscriminate saturation bombing and intentionally targeted civilian...

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