Central European History

Articles Germans as Victims During the Second World War

Facilis descensus averni est”: The Allied Bombing of Germany and the Issue of German Suffering

Thomas Childersa1

a1 University of Pennsylvania

Contemplating with dread the slide toward war between Japan and the United States in the autumn of 1941, Joseph Grew, the American ambassador to Tokyo, noted gloomily in his diary: “Facilis descensus averni est”—the descent into Hell is easy. Events in Europe and China had already given eloquent testimony to that grim axiom, confirming all too clearly that among the first casualties of war are peacetime notions of morality. Grew's foreboding was more than justified. Before the Second World War would come to a close in the summer of 1945, it had become the most destructive conflict in human history, with fifty-five million dead, millions more broken, either physically or psychologically, thirty million refugees, and still millions more who had simply vanished. Continents had been ravaged, great cities laid waste, and a tidal wave of destruction left behind a landscape of unparalleled human suffering. A war that began with the major powers pledging to refrain from “the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or unfortified cities”—Hitler piously committed Germany to conduct the war “in a chivalrous and humane manner”—ended with a mushroom cloud over Nagasaki.