Revisiting Dresden—Frederick Taylor’s Eye-Opening Account and Its Contemporary Implications

There is a longstanding myth from the Second World War that the Allies killed hundreds of thousands of civilians by the sudden and shameless aerial bombing of Dresden, a beautiful city remarkable for its history and culture. That the bombing was a shameful war crime against innocent civilian German non-combatants was told by Kurt Vonnegut in his novel Slaughterhouse-Five. He personally survived the bombing, present in a nearby POW camp. His tale, endlessly repeated as though true, seemed an unjustified blot on Allied war history. But like historians of the period, Vonnegut lacked access to the official East German records. He had not heard the contrary stories of other survivors unwilling to risk offending communist authorities perpetuating damaging propaganda about the West.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 provided German historians access to previously restricted East German records relevant to the Allied bombing of Nazi targets in Dresden, Germany. Frederick Taylor, a bilingual scholar, read several German accounts, yet untranslated into English, that dispelled the myth. He began a three-year investigation, reviewing new sources and having insightful consultations with German historians knowledgeable about the fateful day of the bombing on February 13, 1945. His book is a significant achievement, providing new insights and critically important data. The historical record corrects the myth that must now be put to rest.

Taylor found that Dresden was “by the standards of its time a legitimate military target.”[1] After an examination of official records and all other available sources, including a review of the official count of bodies and ashes of incinerated victims buried, he thinks the fairest estimate of the number of deaths due to the bombing is in a range between twenty-five thousand and forty thousand. This documented and verifiable number corrects the propaganda that soon gratuitously added a zero. Nevertheless, the loss of life in Dresden was a terrible result of war:

None of this is to minimize the appalling reality of such a vast number of dead, so horribly snatched from this life within the space of a few hours, or to forget that most of them were women, children, and the elderly. Wild guesstimates — especially those exploited for political gain — neither dignify nor do justice to what must account, by any standards, as one of the most terrible single actions of the Second World War.[2]

Taylor’s book is timely as questions are being raised today about how the law of international warfare might apply to combatants who intentionally hide in, behind, and under civilian populations. For example, Hamas risks civilian lives by placing its military headquarters and armaments in residential areas. Photographs now show Hamas positioned military arms and tunnels under civilian hospitals. When they fired unguided rockets from a pre-school or residential buildings, they claimed that the retaliatory response by their enemy with a precisely targeted guided missile strike, was an atrocious war crime against civilians.

Taylor finds the loss of life and damage to property due to the war against Germany abhorrent. He does not blame the Allies. Just as evil perpetuated by the Nazis was ended along with horrific loss of life, so it appears that the evil committed by Hamas against Israel will end along with a sad and grievous cost to human life. There is a stunning difference, however. In World War II, the Allies struck by surprise. By contrast, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have dropped leaflets by air to warn civilians below of what was coming, urging them to move to safer areas. The IDF is at war with Hamas, not Palestinian civilians.

The current situation in Gaza provides a telling contrast to the bombing of Dresden. It should provoke the Arab world into shame and condemnation. There is no justification for Arab silence in the face of Hamas’s cowardice, now on full display before the world. Hamas claims the IDF killed doctors, when the facts are that the IDF brought doctors to Gazan hospitals to help save lives. The brutality of the situation is plain: Hamas has taken the Palestinian population of Gaza hostage—not just 240 Israelis and migrant workers. The report that Hamas killed some Palestinian civilians moving south to safety rings true because Hamas values the propaganda value of civilian deaths. The death toll is further inflated by counting military casualties. Hamas hopes to be saved by an international outrage and intervention that believes the lies. But the Gaza’s Palestinian blood is on Hamas’s hands. Their barbaric, inhumane acts have been shamefully exposed, while their spokesman objects to the subhuman identity and lack of sympathy that Hamas deserves. Israel’s primary war aim is and ought to be the completely destruction of Hamas, leaving it buried forever along with the sad collateral damage for which Hamas alone will be responsible.

Taylor’s story of Dresden reminds us that the United States and its Allies were unwilling to negotiate a truce, observe a ceasefire, or even a fighting pause as a path to peace with Nazi Germany. The Nazi threat was so evil that it had to be completely eradicated so that the Nazis could neither govern Germany nor win the war. Victory in war against Nazi Germany meant the Allies had to make difficult moral decisions, like the necessity of bombing military targets hidden within civilian areas despite the cost in human life. It was a cost well familiar to the Americans, as 81,000 American soldiers died fighting in the Ardennes in December, 1944.[3] War was hell then and war is hell now. Hamas must be stopped. Its naive, unemployable apologists on campus should be warned that Never Again means Never Again.

[1] Citations to Taylor’s book are abbreviated: Taylor, xiii. Taylor notes that the 1944 handbook of the German Army High Command’s Weapon Office identified 127 factories in Dresden manufacturing material for the Nazi regime. Taylor details Nazi efforts to hide the fact that the publicly identified civilian products were actually made in small quantities to disguise the mass production of war material. 147-148.

[2] Taylor, 448.

[3] Taylor, 172.

Photo by Jim Forest — Flickr 


  • Michael J. Woodruff

    Michael J. Woodruff holds a B.A. in history from UCSB and a J.D. from UCLA. He practiced law in various locations, including Santa Barbara, CA; McLean and Fairfax, VA; Long Beach, CA; and Tucson, AZ. Woodruff directed the Center for Law & Religious Freedom from 1985 to 1990, focusing on Supreme Court first amendment cases. His leadership extended to serving as CEO and Acting Executive Director of the Christian Legal Society. Managing shareholder of Gammon & Grange, P.C., he specialized in constitutional, nonprofit corporate, higher education law, and more. His commitment to community service included roles at Truro Episcopal Church, The Falls Church Episcopal Church, and various boards devoted to human rights and the rule of law. Notably, he became the first General Counsel of The Salvation Army, Western Territory, before retiring in 2014. Woodruff is a published author, pianist, and avid explorer. Currently retired from the practice of law, he serves as Chairman of the Foothills Forum in Tucson where he resides in with his wife Teri.

4 thoughts on “Revisiting Dresden—Frederick Taylor’s Eye-Opening Account and Its Contemporary Implications

  1. Why this, now?

    Because Israel’s lackeys, in their clumsy attempt to defend the genocidal Jewish assault on Gaza, are saying

    “Well, the Allies bombed cities to rubble, killing millions of non-combatants. Their cause was justified. So is ours.”

    They don’t realise that it works both ways. Because the deliberate murder of Palestinian civilians, half of them children, is unjustified, this leads to reexamining the official story of world war two. The Allies were certainly not the good guys.

    The reason Zionist propagandists are so incompetent is they are used to aiming their lies at Americans, who live in a bubble. All bubbles eventually burst.

  2. “If only the apologists — student and not a few faculty — were unemployable. Unfortunately, they are among the “best and the brightest” in their respective fields, in their predominantly elite schools.”

    I’d go one step further and argue that the apologists are actually Hamas or “fellow travelers.” That the Saudis and others have actually funded the subversion of American academia, much as the Chinese are trying to do.

    The virulent anti-semitism is nothing new — it was around decades ago. It’s more than even “the Jews [being] the canary for the danger [to] civilization” or even Israel being the outpost of Western Civilization (which it is) — after campus leftists overthrew the governments of first Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and then South Africa, they needed a new target of their activism and it became Israel — and much like it had been the White South Africans treated badly in academia, it became the Jews being treated badly.

    But never forget that Hamas has infiltrated our academic institutions — people who arrived as foreign students and have become faculty, serving as an informal network for like minded foreign students today.

  3. Innocents die all the time; they have since forever.
    Sometimes they die through happenstance; tree branches fall, lightning strikes, cancer appears. Sometimes because of decades of neglect; arterial calcification, diabetes, liver dysfunction. Sometimes as the result of a deliberate & homicidal action taken by another. Sometimes simply as a collateral effect of an independent action: a speeding car runs a red light, a bomb explodes, an airliner bisects a skyscraper which burns and crumbles.

    Sometimes these death occur in the heat of anger, sometimes in war, sometimes in peace. Sometimes they occur by the hundreds of thousands and are memorialized…. and sometimes the dead are simply forgotten … not even meriting one of those tiny, bottom-of-the-page paragraphs in yesterday’s paper.

    But the truth is war, total war, in which each side seeks the utter destruction of the Other brings with it Death…and death in large numbers. This truth is eternal and will not change. And yet….time after time, every generation, in its bloodless, peacetime luxury of time & distance gazes into that hellish, violent past and rediscovers, all over again, for the Very First Time, that War kills innocents and that is horrible, terrible, no good, very bad.

    Of course it is.

    From the anachronistic perspective of the Now, warped by the most popular of Fleeting Moral Sensitivities, we decry those past barbarities….especially those committed by the Victors (our father, grandfathers, et al) whom we now believe — post Victory — always had a choice…and always made the morally wrong one, the bloody one, the one that exposed their Western Hegemonic Capitalistic Misogynistic Racist Heteronormative hatred & hypocrisy.

    No, Dresden didn’t need to be bombed. Nor Hiroshima, nor Nagasaki…nor the fire bombings of Tokyo….nor the Napalm in ‘Nam. Verdun, Gallipoli, the Somme, Antietam, Shiloh, Vicksburg, the list goes on: all the — Now Known to Be — horribly misguided, selfish, political exercises in human butchery begun and enabled by Robber Barons and Oligarchs, oh my. Those things never should have occurred; we now know so much better.

    Can’t we all just get along???

    But what they believe is a cartoon. Our multitudinous, infinitely disparate, scurrying competitive, striving thing which is life does not happen that way. It never happens that way. The ‘fog of war’ is no different from the ‘fog of peace’ except for the bodies and the blood. Nothing is ever as clear Today as it will be 50 years from today….and even then that clarity is misleading. Our moral enlightenment of the Now is only of the Now.

    A lot of people died in Dresden. And a lot of them were innocent, at least in the sense that they, themselves, personally were probably not killing other innocent people…not directly. But they were also The Enemy. They were a part of the Whole which drove the Holocaust, and began the War which destroyed 80M people. 80M. How many were truly, morally ‘innocent’? What does that even mean? Let God winnow the Dead.

    In the end we triumphed. Our lives, this world are both a direct function of that Triumph.
    And if it was blood-drenched, so be it. History moves on. If Kurt were still with us, we could ask him, truly, what would he have done…not from the standpoint of a man standing in a POW camp or sheltering in a meat locker listening to the bombs explode, but from the standing point of the man asked to make a choice about strategic bombing targets that both damage the Enemy and reduce his capability to damage ME.

    So too now in Gaza.
    Hamas (and its sponsors) wants — From the River to the Sea — the obliteration of the Jewish State. They act to do exactly that. Behind they leave the piles of bodies: tortured, brutalized, raped, incinerated & beheaded…men, women, and children. Israel acts now to destroy them…utterly & completely. Seeking undoubtedly a kind of 21st century Carthaginian Solution to the Hamas Problem. And in that pending destruction, countless, so-called innocents will also die. But just like the grandmother knitting in Dresden who died in the inferno created by Allied Bombs, the Gazans who die from Israeli artillery barrages are too are a part of the Enemy Whole. They become the by-product of the horribly violent & bloody push to destroy those who would destroy thee. There is no nice, polite….can’t we all just get along outcome here.

    There is only death and Victory.

  4. A splendid article by Mr. Woodruff. I thank him for writing it.

    I have just one point to disagree with, unfortunately, his last sentence, which leads into some troubling waters:

    “Its naive, unemployable apologists on campus should be warned that Never Again means Never Again.”

    If only the apologists — student and not a few faculty — were unemployable. Unfortunately, they are among the “best and the brightest” in their respective fields, in their predominantly elite schools. They will unfortunately continue, for the most part, to go into influential positions. A monstrous zombie takeover of their minds, especially among the students. It kind of makes me think of the “zombie ants” I’ve been hearing stories about. This is one of the most alarming things (apart from the awful violence) about the October 7 attack and now the Gaza war (I say the latter even though I support the Gaza war). If a lot of people don’t figure out how to fight this, then Israel may lose its American support as the younger generation comes into its own. In fact, I now believe that the entire West is in danger, as exposed by these horrific events. Whereas before, it seemed much more abstract and also kind of silly, as if not worth quite taking seriously. Somehow, the Jews once again have become the “canary” for the danger of civilization.

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