The International Campaign for Real History
Foreword to the original edition of David Irving's famous bestseller: The Destruction of Dresden
Bantam jacket


K.C.B., K.B.E., M.C., D.F.C., A.F.C.

Saundby is at right of this jacket image of US Bantam Books edition

WHEN the author of this book invited me to write a foreword to it, my first reaction was that I had been too closely concerned with the story. But though closely concerned I was not in any way responsible for the decision to make a full-scale air attack on Dresden. Nor was my Commander-in-Chief, Sir Arthur Harris. Our part was to carry out, to the best of our ability, the instructions we received from the Air Ministry. And, in this case, the Air Ministry was merely passing on instructions received from those responsible for the higher direction of the war.

This book is an impressive piece of work. The story is a highly dramatic and complex one, which still holds an element of mystery. I am still not satisfied that I fully understand why it happened. The author has, with immense industry and patience, gathered together all the evidence, separated fact from fiction, and given us a detailed account as near to the truth, perhaps, as we shall ever get.

That the bombing of Dresden was a great tragedy none can deny. That it was really a military necessity few, after reading this book, will believe. It was one of those terrible things that sometimes happen in wartime, brought about by an unfortunate combination of circumstances. Those who approved it were neither wicked nor cruel, though it may well be that they were too remote from the harsh realities of war to understand fully the appalling destructive power of air bombardment in the spring of 1945.

The advocates of nuclear disarmament seem to believe that, if they could achieve their aim, war would become tolerable and decent. They would do well to read this book and ponder the fate of Dresden, where 135,000 people died as the result of an air attack with conventional weapons. On the night of March 9-10, 1945, an air attack on Tokyo by American heavy bombers, using incendiary and high explosive bombs, caused the death of 83,793 people. The atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 71,379 people.

Nuclear weapons are, of course, far more powerful nowadays, but it is a mistake to suppose that, if they were abolished, great cities could not be reduced to dust and ashes, and frightful massacres brought about, by aircraft using conventional weapons. And the removal of the fear of nuclear retaliation -- which makes modern full-scale war amount to mutual annihilation -- might once again make resort to war attractive to an aggressor.

It is not so much this or the other means of making war that is immoral or inhumane. What is immoral is war itself. Once full-scale war has broken out it can never be humanized or civilized, and if one side attempted to do so it would be most likely to be defeated. So long as we resort to war to settle differences between nations, so long will we have to endure the horrors, barbarities and excesses that war brings with it. That, to me, is the lesson of Dresden.

Nuclear power has at last brought us within sight of the end of full-scale war. It is now too violent to be a practicable means of solving anything. No war aim, no conceivable gain that war could bring, would be worth a straw when balanced against the fearful destruction and loss of life that would be suffered by both sides.

There has never been the slightest hope of abolishing war by agreement or disarmament, or for reasons of morality and humanity. If it disappears it will be because it has become so appallingly destructive that it can no longer serve any useful purpose.

This book tells, dispassionately and honestly, the story of a deeply tragic example, in time of war, of man's inhumanity to man. Let us hope that the horrors of Dresden and Tokyo, Hiroshima and Hamburg, may drive home to the whole human race the futility, savagery, and utter uselessness of modern warfare.

We must not make the fatal mistake, however, of believing that war can be avoided by unilateral disarmament, by resort to pacifism, or by striving for an unattainable neutrality. It is the balance of nuclear power that will keep the peace until mankind, as some day it must, comes to its senses.


Index to Dresden air raid, February 13-14, 1945
© Focal Point 2004