Supporting the Troops

Between February 13 and 15, 1945 during World War II, the British Royal Air Force and the US Air Force firebombed the German city of Dresden. Dresden was a beautiful Baroque city near the eastern border of Germany. Firebombing by Allied forces consisted of dropping explosives which destroy structures, especially roof tops, followed by incendiary explosive designed to ignite a firestorm. The ensuing firestorm not only destroys building but is particularly lethal to people on the ground.

The purpose of the bombing, particularly near the train stations, was to prevent the Germans from rapidly exchanging troops from the Eastern and Western fronts. Despite this ostensible motivation, thereremains a critical question as to whether the destruction of life was proportionate to the net benefit to the Allied war effort. Recent scholarship suggests that 25,000 to 35,000 Germans on ground were killed.

Though Dresden was an important transit point, it did not contribute to the German war effort to the extent of other cities.  On this basis, many now claim that the bombing of Dresden was a war crime. In retrospect, at best the Allied commanders were too cavalier is balancing the level of possible civilian casualties and shortening the war. Perhaps there was more than a little revenge for the bombing of London poisoning the hearts of Allied commanders. This assessment is re-enforced by the comment of Arthur Travers Harris, Marshall of the Royal Air Force, who wrote, “I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.”

Nearly 60 years later, American troops needed to suppress insurgent actions in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which had become an insurgent haven. US troops urged as many civilians to leave the city as possible. At this point, it would have been possible to literally and thoroughly destroy the city from the air. However, to do so would have risked remaining civilian lives and made reconstruction both from a physical and political stand point more difficult. American troops went through Fallujah house-by-house and door-by-door to root out insurgents. About 1,000 insurgents were killed and 92 Americans gave their lives so that many Iraqi civilians would live.

We cite these disparate examples to illustrate the extreme care and sensitivity with which the Iraq War has been conducted. The number of American and Coalition casualties is higher than it otherwise would have been because of efforts to conduct a just war. This is what makes aberrations like the prisoner abuse by a minority at Abu Grab and an alleged massacre by US forces at Haditha so disappointing and so out of character.

After Dresden, Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, used the bombing to undermine the moral authority of the Allies for political purposes. He showed pictures of destruction and exaggerated the number of civilian casualties by a factor of 10. No doubt, the modern heirs to the Goebbels tradition will exaggerate Marine and Army mistakes. We hope that this exploitation will not be aided by American news sources that are so angry at President George Bush that any bad news will be exploited.

No one argues that the press should not aggressively follow and report the Abu Grab and other stories. However, to write about these without balancing the coverage with positive stories of American soldiers or without other context is knowingly misleading. When this happens, the American press fails in its responsibility to inform. It allows the modern Middle Eastern counterparts to Goebbels to exploit American errors.

Unfortunately, the goal of the angry Left is to embrace events like Abu Grab a metaphor for the Iraq War even if in the process it unfairly paints American soldiers as barbarians. By most accounts, the overwhelming fraction of soldiers have behaved honorably and nobly taking increases risks to save Iraqi lives. Some on the Left become upset when it is suggested that they don’t support the troops. Unbalanced reporting or excessive criticism of isolated errors by American troops without perspective renders them fairly susceptible to such criticism.

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