Firestorm, the documentary is one of those gems you find on Netflix, the greatest movie distribution outlet ever. Firestorm was directed by Michawl Kloft and Kevin Brownlow, and it bravely tells the story of the bombing, and in particular, the firebombing of Germany by England and by the US from the points of view of those that suffered through it. Those who suffered through it also bravely includes interviewing the pilots and the bombadiers who executed the policy. What’s truly amazing is how little this portion of the war was ever discussed with us, or ever reported on, or written about of even faced by Americans and the English. A policy to bomb the centers of war production, eventually targeted the neighborhoods of engineers and factory workers. This moral slippery slope slid into full on murder civilians territory, and ironically, the bombing missions earned the sobriquet “The Moral War.” No wonder England is the father of George Orwell. A key engineer who misses a day at the factory because he is by a child’s side, one who has been wounded, is a few less bombs to be made that day. Ergo, killing any German citizen would be justified with the traditional shibboleths that somehow, the routines of someone that little girl knew that might work in the factories would be disrupted. Sometimes war brings out visceral responses. You see what the Nazi’s have done and you can barely feel any sympathy for the monsters. They all become Nazis. If the people in Germany are so ignorant then they deserve to be bombed in their homes, to starve, to burn, to bury a dead child.
German historian Jorge Friedrich, makes the point that bombing neighborhoods made the strategic bombing missions The War the Armed Versus The Unarmed.
At some point the two populations were fighting a war of who can be the most resilient. Quiet fore-bearance became a survival trait. I am sure some of the quiet forebearance was simply numbness, the kind of numbness you experience when everything you have ever known is broken, when your home is ash, when your loved ones are dead or worse, when you spend an afternoon a week pulling bodies out of rubble in your home town.
Coventry, Glasgow and London were the primary German targets of this tit for tat revenge laden death struggle. The residents of Coventry moved into the surrounding woods and slept the at night when it was likely that the British would bomb. It took the British a few years to figure out how to bomb every night and create terror in the populations below them. They learned that flares were ersatz incendiaries, and they decided to create incendiaries that burned white hot for 30 minutes and set fires to everything they touched that would burn. The British knew that the Germans didn’t have a million free hands in the forty five minutes it took for a wave of bombers to pass overhead and drop their payload. So the Moral War became the first fire bombing of cities and in fact Germany was firebombed before Japan was. It was Hamburg that experienced the first horizontal hurricanes that swept people into the flames.
While the German population abide the horror, German flak guns shot down 350 planes. While the Allies dropped over 1.3 million bombs on Germany and killed children, the Germans had well organized and sizable bomb shelters, many of them still stand. Germans had disciplined blackout laws and bomb shelter habits. German authorities played PSAs and films before movies showing people how to survive if bombed. Lots of these PSAs were looking a lot like the disingenuous patriotism that comes from the bullhorns of poseurs and super nationalists and true believers. Imagine running you and your whole family into a sweltering claustrophobic bombs shelter knowing that the bombs rocking the
ground above you are destroying everything you know. Imagine coming out this hole and seeing the school gone or streets you once recognized you now can’t even find; imagine that bodies you recover were people you knew. Imagine how much angrier each bomb made you feel, how much more it made you want to survive and get revenge.
One of the funniest scenes in the movie is where a Jewish man whose Father has been taken to a concentration camp recalls the day that his Mother watched the bombing on a German city, and saw the distant fires and heard the exchange of bombs, the throaty rat tat tat of flak guns, the definitive snap and boom of compression waves felt miles away, the acrid smell of fires, the distant glow, the winds that carried muffled screams. She stood outside and shook her fist and said “give it to them. Give them more.”