A final comment on Dresden, by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

I just noticed a post by Dom on Facebook, noting the misquoting of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, by (amazingly) the Daily Mail, regarding his comments and reflections on the Dresden Op.

I must confess, that personally, I am not religious in the slightest and do not therefore use the words of a religious leader to carry extra weight or validity as an observation, but I do think Justin offers a balanced and through necessity after all these years, a conciliatory opinion.

Given the willingness by the media to jump on simple facts and figures that will support a ‘good story’, I include the ridiculous contortion by the Daily Mail and then the post that Justin made on his blog as a response – I think he captures the balanced opinion of the events of that night and the hostages that both the city of Dresden, its people, Bomber Command and the crews that flew in it have become, since that night.

From the Daily Mail ………..

Archbishop ‘says sorry’ for bombing the Nazis: Justin Welby attacked for ‘bizarre apology’ for Dresden raids, but makes no reference to RAF heroes killed by Hitler

The Archbishop of Canterbury last night issued an extraordinary apology for the British bombing of Dresden during the Second World War.

In what was immediately criticised as an insult to the young men who gave their lives to defeat the Nazis, the Most Rev Justin Welby told the German people of his ‘profound feeling of regret and deep sorrow’ over the attack.

His comments at a ceremony in Dresden to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombings came amid a growing row about BBC coverage of the commemoration in which Britain was described as ‘worse than the Nazis’ over the raids that killed thousands at the end of the war.

Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth criticised the Archbishop, saying: ‘I do not hear Angela Merkel apologising for the Blitz.’ And historian Professor Anthony Glees said it was wrong to take a single incident in the war and say sorry for it. Archbishop Welby said the bombing of Dresden, which killed an estimated 25,000, ‘diminished all our humanity’.

But he made no reference to the 55,573 British aircrew killed in the struggle to overthrow Hitler, nor to the German bombing of London and Coventry.

Tory MP Philip Davies said: ‘These remarks do sound to me like an apology. For the Archbishop to make an apology for our defeat of Hitler is bizarre. I would have thought the last thing we should be doing is apologising. We should be praised for defeating Hitler. These words are an insult to the young men who gave their lives in the defeat of Germany.’

The Archbishop – whose great uncle Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal was one of the main architects of Britain’s campaign of bombing German cities – told the congregation he thought it was ‘miraculous’ that they were welcoming him given the ‘brutal and devastating’ nature of the attack.

From Justin Welby’s blog as a reply……….

Reflections on Dresden

“Dresden on the 70th anniversary of the allied bombing is a place of deep emotion and sorrow. The Frauenkirche, the great church in the central square, destroyed on the night of 13th February 1945 and rebuilt after the liberation from Communist rule, is full much of the day, and in the evening it is a place of quiet reflection as hundreds of people come to pray, listen to music and stories of reconciliation and light candles. During the day there had been a powerful ceremony with contributions from the cities of Coventry, Rotterdam and Warsaw among others.

The feeling is different but parallel to that of Coventry Cathedral where I worked for five years, in charge of the ministry of reconciliation which since World War II has stretched around the world.   There too ruins gave birth to a new church, the Cathedral; there too hope sprang from death and ashes. The two churches are linked by a twinning relationship, as are the cities.

Both places attract young people caught by the hope of peace and reconciliation. Both are very powerful reminders of what Wilfred Owen called “the pity of war”. In many wars it is the civilians who bear the brunt of the pain, and especially from 1939-1945. They are almost always innocent. In Coventry and Dresden that was especially so.

Neo Nazis had attempted to cause trouble in Dresden, as always. The people of Dresden, as always, reject the manipulation of the truth of the events of 1945 and link hands in a symbolic circle round the city centre to keep out such lies.

What a sadness then that late in the evening someone showed me a headline in the Daily Mail saying that I had apologised for the RAF bombing the Nazis. No honest reading of what I said in the church and on the BBC afterwards could come anywhere near such an idea. Contrary to the Mail’s report, on the BBC I spoke clearly of the bombing of British cities, mentioning especially Coventry and London. I also spoke of the terrible losses of the heroic crews of Bomber Command. My grandmother’s brother was killed on his first mission, in a Wellington. My exact words (to BBC Radio 5 Live, and please excuse the incoherence!) were:

5 Live: And in the sense of Dresden, is one of the ways forward to apologise for what happened? Do you think Britain and America should apologise for what happened in Dresden?”

JW: “That’s a very complicated question, because when you listen to people who were in Bomber Command and you hear of their suffering, I lived in Coventry and you see the suffering there, in London we know of the Blitz, and in many other cities right across the United Kingdom and round the world, I think it’s more complicated than ‘should we apologise?’. I think there is a deep need for profound sorrow at the events and the causes of such dreadful times as Europe lived through. And there’s also reason for hope and encouragement that Europe has become a centre of reconciliation in the world – a great miracle.

The contrast with the sorrow of Dresden, the deep recognition of the cruelty, tragedy and evil of war, could not have been greater.

So I want to get back to the moving and tragic recognition in Dresden that the great evil of the Nazis created a great war, and during it terrible things were done, by necessity, by the nature of war. Churchill said “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”. So let us mourn and learn, honour the heroism of those who defeated Hitler and his regime, celebrate our freedoms, and in the strength of Jesus Christ struggle for peace and reconciliation, of which he is the source.”

see the article on Justin’s blog here.

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