In This Review

The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945
The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945
By Jörg Friedrich
Columbia University Press, 2006, 552 pp

This horrific and fascinating study of the Anglo-American air assaults on German cities during World War II, which was published a few years ago in Germany, requires a very strong stomach: Reader beware. It is about as thorough and methodical as a history book can be. Friedrich examines the weapons used; the firestorms that engulfed many German cities; the crews that carried out the bombing missions; Winston Churchill's determination -- until the winter of 1945 -- to destroy German cities; the Allies' strategy; the fate of the populations in their shelters, their rubble, their hospitals, and the cities to which they were evacuated, their defiance and despair, their anxiety and frequent emotional paralysis. He studies the fate of German monuments, works of art, libraries, and archives ("the largest book-burning of all time") -- all this in a matter-of-fact, dispassionate style. As the events of 2006 have once again shown the illusions of victory through airpower, Friedrich's book underscores that precision bombing is anything but a scientific enterprise that will spare the innocent, that nothing can justify this kind of warfare, and that the human capacity for barbarism, often kindled by the desire for revenge, thrives on technological and scientific prowess.