Did Hitler's crimes justify the Allies' terror-bombing of Germany?
Indeed they did, answers Christopher Hitchens in his Newsweek response to my new book, "Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War": "The stark evidence of the Final Solution has ever since been enough to dispel most doubts about, say, the wisdom or morality of carpet-bombing German cities."
Atheist, Trotskyite and newborn neocon, Hitchens embraces the morality of lex talionis: an eye for an eye. If Germans murdered women and children, the British were morally justified in killing German women and children.
According to British historians, however, Churchill ordered the initial bombing of German cities on his first day in office, the very first day of the Battle of France, on May 10, 1940.
After the fall of France, Churchill wrote Lord Beaverbrook, minister of air production: "When I look round to see how we can win the war, I see that there is only one sure path ... an absolutely devastating, exterminating attack by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland."
"Exterminating attack," said Churchill. By late 1940, writes historian Paul Johnson, "British bombers were being used on a great and increasing scale to kill and frighten the German civilian population in their homes."
"The adoption of terror bombing was a measure of Britain's desperation," writes Johnson. "So far as air strategy was concerned," adds British historian A.J.P. Taylor, "the British outdid German frightfulness first in theory, later in practice, and a nation which claimed to be fighting for a moral cause gloried in the extent of its immoral acts."
The chronology is crucial to Hitchens' case.
Late 1940 was a full year before the mass deportations from the Polish ghettos to Treblinka and Sobibor began. Churchill had ordered the indiscriminate bombing of German cities and civilians before the Nazis had begun to execute the Final Solution.
By Hitchens' morality and logic, Germans at Nuremberg might have asserted a right to kill women and children because that is what the British were doing to their women and children.
After the fire-bombing of Dresden in 1945, Churchill memoed his air chiefs: "It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed."
Churchill concedes here what the British had been about in Dresden.
Under Christian and just-war theory, the deliberate killing of civilians in wartime is forbidden. Nazis were hanged for such war crimes.
Did the Allies commit acts of war for which we hanged Germans?