When Kurt Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse-Five in 1969, it was as much an act of reportage as of imagination. The book, the basis for the 1972 film by George Roy Hill, was the first time many readers of its generation ever heard of the Allied campaign during the Second World War of bombing German cities.
As an American soldier Vonnegut was held prisoner in a German POW facility in the city of Dresden. He was one of the few to survive the firebombing of that city on February 13, 1945, in which 135,000 German civilians were killed. That’s more dead in one day than were killed by both of the atom bombs dropped on Japan a few months later.
Vonnegut died a few months ago, but I wonder what he would have thought about the recent decision of the Canadian War Museum to reword a display concerning the six-year bombing campaign. The Museum is responding to 18 months of complaints from veterans’ organizations who feel that the following statement paints them as war criminals:
"The value and morality of the strategic bomber
offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested. Bomber Command’s
aim was to crush civilian morale and force Germany to surrender by
destroying its cities and industrial installations. Although Bomber
Command and American attacks left 600,000 Germans dead and more than
five million homeless, the raids resulted in only small reductions in
German war production until late in the war."
It seems to me that these lines, backed by a respected panel of
historians, say only that there is a controversy, which is undeniable.
No one disputes the facts, unpleasant as they may be. But whitewashing
history does no one any good, least of all those who deaths deserve to
be honored with the truth.