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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe, 1940-1945 (Viking), by Richard Overy

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In August 1939 Britain’s military concluded that it was “clearly illegal to bombard a populated area in the hope of hitting a legitimate target,” yet by May 1940 the RAF was bombing German cities with little regard for hitting military targets. British historian Richard Overy explores the shift in The Bombers and the Bombed and explodes several assumptions. One, that Britain began leveling German cities in response to the Luftwaffe’s blitz, is a falsification based on hazy memory and propaganda. The RAF struck German civilian centers before the Luftwaffe began its assault. Second, the success the U.S. and U.K. claimed for its European bombing campaign was actually mixed and hard to measure. And its advocates have always overstated the value of strategic bombing, whether of Vietnam or Iraq. Overy fills his account with telling details. Who knew that in the 1920s, America’s aviation hero, Milwaukee’s own Billy Mitchell, advocated dropping gas bombs on civilians?