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The horror of the air war, in one stark map
This graph shows how badly German cities were hit by Allied bombing raids.
- Despite Göring's assurances they wouldn't get through, Allied bombers rained destruction on Germany in World War II.
- This 1947 map takes stock of the devastation: Berlin and Hamburg half destroyed, some smaller cities wiped out.
- The history of the air war over Germany is a chilling reminder of the peculiar horror of mechanized warfare.
Demoralising the enemy
Aerial view of Cologne cathedral, relatively unscathed amid the ruins of the city. Bottom left: the train station. Top left: the Rhine.
Image: Royal Air Force (1944), public domain.
"If just one English bomber reaches the Ruhr, my name is no longer Hermann Göring, but Hermann Meier," the Luftwaffe commander boasted in August 1939.
Over the following five and a half years, millions of Germans cursed 'Hermann Meier' as Allied bombing churned up city after German city. The air raid sirens that announced yet another wave of British or American bombers were nicknamed, with vicious relish, 'Meier trumpets'.
On this map of Germany, drawn up in 1947, black pie slices indicate how much of each city was flattened in the war—mostly by aerial bombardments. It reflects the dizzying scale of destruction in Germany, a fact not often dwelled upon in histories of the Second World War. Understandable, since Germany started it—both the war and bombing civilians—the overall sentiment is: They had it coming.
The history of the air war is nevertheless instructive, for it shows the special kind of hell that is mechanized warfare. As in earlier wars, both sides became inured to slaughter as the fighting dragged on. But in modern conflicts like WWII, science and industry drive a frantic arms race to make the killing ever more efficient.
Before the war, targeting civilians was considered off-limits. But as the fighting started, moral compasses soon went haywire. Under the guise of 'demoralizing the enemy', killing large numbers of civilians became an accepted military objective. The Germans blitzed Warsaw in September 1939, Rotterdam in May 1940, and London soon thereafter. By early 1941, the German air war on Britain had claimed 41,000 lives and caused widespread destruction. London lost more than a million buildings in the war; the center of Coventry was wiped out in one night; and 95 percent of houses in Hull were damaged or destroyed.
The Royal Air Force retaliated, but its main strategy remained: Precision bombardments on strategic targets – industrial sites, rail and road infrastructure and the like. Then came the Butt Report (sic). Published in August 1941, it revealed that only one in three RAF bombers that managed to drop their payload over Germany did so within 5 miles (8 km) of its target. That shocking statistic eventually led to a change of strategy: In February 1942, under the new leadership of air marshal Richard Harris, RAF Bomber Command switched to 'area bombing' a.k.a. carpet bombing. Harris' tenacious pursuit of the new strategy, sometimes in the face of contrary evidence, would earn him the nicknames "Bomber Harris" and "Butcher Harris".
Destroying 25,000 houses per month
The destruction is concentrated in the industrial cities in the west and the largest cities throughout the country.
Image: G.W. Harmssen, Reparationen, Sozialprodukt, Lebensstandard (1947), in Deutsche Geschichte in Dokumenten und Bildern.
Cologne was the first major German city to get 'area bombed': On the night of May 30, 1942, over 1,000 RAF aircraft dropped around 1,500 tons of bombs, causing large-scale destruction and over 2,000 large fires. Over the course of that year, many other German cities would get the carpet treatment during RAF night raids. From January 1943, the USAF joined in, with daylight raids.
The air war over Germany turned increasingly deadly—both for the Allied crews in the skies and the German civilians on the ground. By the spring of 1943, less than 20 percent of RAF airmen made it alive to the end of a 30-mission tour.
Throughout 1943 into early 1944, the three major operations of the air war were:
- the Battle of the Ruhr (March to July 1943): Targeting the major cities of this industrial heartland;
- Operation Gomorrah (July 24 to August 3, 1943): The round-the-clock bombing of Hamburg, aimed at its total destruction (see also #1015); and
- the Battle of Berlin (November 1943 to March 1944): Destroying the industrial muscle of the German capital.
In the first half of 1944, the air war seemed to trail off; but as the ground war neared its end, the aerial campaign intensified as never before:
- from March 1943 to January 1944, Allied air raids destroyed on average 15,000 housing units per month in Germany;
- from February 1944 to June 1944, that average fell to about 9,500 houses per month;
- but from July 1944 to January 1945, it shot up to just over 25,000 units per month.
By the end of the war, technical advances and operational expertise allowed the Allies to increase the destructiveness of their air raids. In the night of February 1945, a single attack sufficed to create a firestorm that destroyed 90 percent of the inner city of Dresden.
Göring/Meier's Luftwaffe having largely been eliminated, the RAF and US Air Force sought to maximize the advantage of their air supremacy. That's why 60 percent of all Allied bombs dropped on Germany fell in the last nine months of the war, in a massive effort to break German resistance, shorten the war and save Allied lives.
Could that apocalypse have been avoided? German historian Klaus von Beyme once mused: "If the Putsch of 20 July 1944 [Stauffenberg's failed assassination of Hitler] had been successful and resulted in a peace treaty, Germany's cities would have been spared 72% of all bombs that were to fall by war's end." That's a big What if, because it assumes the Allies by mid-1944 would have been content with something less than unconditional surrender, even from a Germany without Hitler.
14 billion cubic feet of rubble
Air raid on Koblenz on 19 September 1944 by the 447th Bombardment Group of the US Air Force.
Image: USAF (1944), public domain
In the real world, the wheels of destruction kept turning until May 8, 1945, when Germany did surrender unconditionally. Eventually, the air war claimed the lives of about 600,000 Germans. When the time came to take stock of the destruction, this is what the shell-shocked survivors found.
- The war had destroyed 4.8 million housing units. As a result, 13 million Germans were homeless. And there was 400 million cubic meters (14 billion cubic feet) of rubble to clear.
- The degree of destruction varied regionally. In East Germany, 9.4 percent of pre-war housing was destroyed. In West Germany, the figure was 18.5 percent.
- At state level, the distinction is even starker: in Thuringia, only 3 percent of houses were destroyed. In North Rhine-Westphalia, it was close to 25 percent—and even more in the industrial heartland of the state.
- Of the 54 largest cities (>100,000 inhabitants) in Germany, only four survived without significant damage: Lübeck, Wiesbaden, Halle and Erfurt. Worst hit was Würzburg (75 percent destroyed), followed by Dessau, Kassel, Mainz and Hamburg.
- Over 70 percent of the largest cities had their urban core destroyed. Worst cases: Dresden, Cologne, Essen, Dortmund, Hanover, Nuremberg, Chemnitz.
- Of the 151 medium-sized cities (25,000-100,000), about a third lost at least 20 percent of their housing stock. In Bavaria, Thuringia and Saxony, most medium-sized cities managed to make it through the war with little or no damage.
In Germany, the end of WWII was Stunde Null ('Zero Hour'). Everything had to be built up from the ground, both literally—the cities—and figuratively—civil society and democratic institutions.
Some cities chose to rebuild the past, reconstructing ancient buildings and street patterns. Others opted for modernity and functionality, often with an urban layout centered around the car, as in American cities. In many cases, however, the destruction was so complete that no effort to rebuild could erase the void that the air war had created—a void that haunts many German city centers to this day.
Strange Maps #1051
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.