The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing: Genocide and Total War in the Twentieth Century

The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing: Genocide and Total War in the Twentieth Century

The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing: Genocide and Total War in the Twentieth Century

The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing: Genocide and Total War in the Twentieth Century


War and genocide are the two principal forms of mass killing by governments; they have claimed more than 100 million lives in the twentieth century. The height of the slaughter was reached during World War II, and one legacy of that cataclysm is the continuing threat posed by tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. Through an examination of the Holocaust (the attempt to exterminate the Jewish people) and Allied strategic bombing (the attempt to exterminate German and Japanese civilians living in cities), Eric Markusen and David Kopf aim to promote understanding of and concern about what may be the most urgent present-day threat to human survival- the willingness of national governments to plan, prepare for, and carry out the extermination of masses of innocent people. Markusen and Kopf strongly disagree with scholars who regard war and genocide as separate phenomena. They find that despite important differences, there are in fact striking parallels in the psychological, organizational, and scientific-technological factors that contributed to the adoption of these programs for mass killing. The dehumanization of the victims made it psychologically easier to carry out their extermination; the preparations for slaughter within vast bureaucracies diminished the sense of individual responsibility for these lethal policies; and the rationalization of the killing was aided by intellectuals who justified their actions on the basis of allegedly scientific principles and data. The unsettling truth, according to Markusen and Kopf, is that the majority of those involved in governmental mass killings are psychologically normal and regard themselves as patriots, rather than as mass murderers. Moreover, they find that some of the same psychosocial factors that have accounted for genocide and total war also characterize the preparations of the superpowers for the possibility of future nuclear conflicts. The authors survey dangerous global trends that appear to support continued outbreaks of genocidal killing and conclude with reflections on the prospects for preventing such tragedies.


This book is a gift of decent, intrepid scholars who have dared to piece together the unbearable picture of enormous human death and suffering of civilian populations subjected to massive bombing in many countries in the 1930s and in World War II. These authors have the moral and intellectual authority to call human civilization to task for these crimes of genocide and hellish suffering. Their provocative, iconoclastic comparative analysis is likely to offend many readers with its conclusions that another project of mass killing had features in common with the Holocaust and that the Allied strategic bombing campaigns warrant being described as genocidal.

I do not envy the authors the criticisms they will receive from Holocaust scholars, centers, and institutions. I am also taking the position that the authors have made an important error in their choice of the metaphoric tool Holocaust as the symbolic machinery through which they wish to imprint on our civilization their important and valid assembly of information and interpretation of the murderous actions of governments in strategic bombing and total war. The authors argue persuasively that the underlying matrix of murder-enabling dynamics that has led government after government to make choices to kill, maim, and brutalize millions of innocent human beings in total war includes many of the same dynamic process factors in the mind collective that made the Holocaust possible. But I believe that that they go too far in the extent of their comparisons between the Holocaust and strategic bombing.

It is highly unconventional to criticize authors in a foreword to their book as strongly as I am doing. However, my criticism in this case also issues from my genuine convictions as to the excellence and significance of this work, to which I agreed, indeed am honored, to write the foreword. In effect, I say that I and many others are too small to join the authors in the greatness of their perception; and yet I also say that they have been somewhat insensitive to the symbolic wounds and needs that many of us have at this point in history, including those like myself who are fully in agreement with their basic thesis.

There is still another major ethical issue that this important book raises, which is whether in the battle against an intentionally genocidal power, genocidal mass murder of civilians is justified not as an outcome of a prejudicial-annihilatory policy but as an aspect of total war.

Part of me is seriously offended at the thought or suggestion that there should have been any turning back from overwhelming retaliation against both the government and people of the nation that committed the Holocaust against my peo-

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