Dresden redux

One week ago, I posted a rather lengthy piece about the 60th anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden. In it, I mentioned that there are many myths about the firebombing (inflated death tolls, that Dresden had "no military significance," etc.). Lest anyone think I was exaggerating the emotions that Dresden still provokes today and the persistence of some of the myths about it, I became aware that my article had been linked to in the comments of a recent entry in Matt Yglesias's weblog by someone trying to debunk one myth being propagated in the comments thread. (Tip o' the hat to Andrew for using my blog to debunk myths on high traffic blogs!) In the original post, Matt points out an article that uses a particularly hyperbolic and offensive comparison to Dresden with regards to the educational system. Check out some of the comments. Most are about the educational system or the appropriateness of the analogy, but the ones about the Dresden raid itself are very heated, some even vitriolic. One caught my eye first, as he was repeating exaggerated claims as though they were fact:
Dude, in a half day, a half million people, mostly civilians, were killed. How is that not "the worst single event massacre of all time"? It tops both Japan atomic bombings and the Tokyo fires. If you can come up with a similar event on a similar time-scale, I'm all ears.
There it was, an estimate more than ten-fold higher than the highest credible estimates of the death toll, stated as fact. It was more than twice the highest exaggerated death toll I had ever heard.

Also, here was another fallacious statement (albeit by a person remonstrating with the person who posted above):
No one really knows how many people died in Dresden, Hiroshima, Tokyo, or Nagasaki because the bodies were completely burned it's all estimates.
No, this is incorrect as well. There are actually very good estimates of how many died in Dresden, compiled by the Germans themselves and intentionally exaggerated by Goebbels for propaganda. Later, the Soviet rulers of East Germany considered it convenient to allow Goebbel's exaggerations to be propagated, in order to make the British and Americans look brutal. This person is correct, however, when she says:
...by any metric Hitler's extermination programs and their side projects were worse.
Definitely. The reason fascists equate the Dresden bombing with the Holocaust is to downplay the scope of the Holocaust.

Finally, part of one comment in the thread was simply so spot-on that I have to include it:
Can we please, perhaps, just agree that invoking Hiroshima, The Holocaust, Dresden, The Rape of Nanjing, The Cultural Revolution, The Trail of Tears, The St. Bartholemew's day Massacre, Rwanda, The Black Plague, or The Extinction of the Dinosaurs are all rhetorically excessive when compared to just about any domestic social issue?

Such rhetorical excesses shed much heat but very little light. Their usual purpose is to demonize the subject of the attack without actually having to bother to do the heavy lifting of justifying the attack with, oh, say, actual persuasive evidence. Usually, when you see this kind of rhetorical excess, it is a sign that the person using it either has a weak argument, is intellectually lazy, or is just interested in polemics. Unfortunately, all too often these days, polemics work.


  1. Godwin's law and the invocation of Nazis



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