Air Wars and Empire: Gandhi and the Search for a Usable Past in Postwar Germany

A.G. Oppenheimer*

*Corresponding author for this work

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A manWho sets a house ablaze is anArsonist who is prosecuted and punishedUnder the law.A manWho turns entire cities toDebris and ash is aConquerorWho is hailed as a hero. This poem, published in an early postwar edition of the German-language pacifist journal Der Friedensbote , encapsulates a vision of modern war that circulated among German peace activists during the late 1940s and early 1950s. It is an image of war as arson on a massive scale, of strategic bombing campaigns that burned cities and civilians to ashes. Of course, the less than subtle allusion here is to the aerial assaults carried out on select German cities by British and American forces during World War II, which inflicted tremendous damage, population displacement, and loss of life in and around cities including Berlin, Cologne, Dresden, Hamburg, and throughout the Ruhr industrial basin. Some 131 locales were subject to and an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 deaths resulted from air assaults that used the tactics and weaponry of area and firebombing. Read with this recent history in mind, the stanza evokes images of the wartime Allies as criminals and Germans as their civilian victims.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-696
JournalCentral European History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012

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