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The Allied Air War and Urban Memory
The Legacy of Strategic Bombing in Germany


Part of Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare

  • Author: Jörg Arnold, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany
  • Date Published: October 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316632451
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About the Authors
  • The cultural legacy of the air war on Germany is explored in this comparative study of two bombed cities from different sides of the subsequently divided nation. Contrary to what is often assumed, Allied bombing left a lasting imprint on German society, spawning vibrant memory cultures that can be traced from the 1940s to the present. While the death of half a million civilians and the destruction of much of Germany's urban landscape provided 'usable' rallying points in the great political confrontations of the day, the cataclysms were above all remembered on a local level, in the very spaces that had been hit by the bombs and transformed beyond recognition. The author investigates how lived experience in the shadow of Nazism and war was translated into cultural memory by local communities in Kassel and Magdeburg struggling to find ways of coming to terms with catastrophic events unprecedented in living memory.

    • Taking the air war as its starting point, the book incorporates historical wartime events into the study of their post-war representations
    • Adds a comparative dimension to the study of memory, by comparing an East German city with a West German city
    • Highlights the extent to which both successor states of the Third Reich were post-war societies, as well as being post-fascist and Cold War societies
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Commendable scholarship and engaging writing.' Urban History

    'Conceptually and empirically compelling, The Allied Air War and Urban Memory will be indispensable not only to historians of World War II and of East and West Germany but also to all those who work in the wider field of memory and postwar studies.' The Journal of Modern History

    'As an analysis of the cultural implications of the Allied strategic bombing of German cities in World War II, Jörg Arnold's The Allied Air War and Urban Memory stands out for the sophistication of its approach, and the sharpness and complexity of its analysis.' Urban History

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    Customer reviews

    18th Feb 2014 by Tewardii

    Ultimately, this book is not about the conduct of the Allied air war, except as an inflection point. As the title implies, it is about the legacy of that air war. Although it provides little in the way of insight to the Second World War itself, it does provide a superlative description, explanation, and analysis of the aftermath in postwar Germany, especially in terms of the “human terrain.” It not only examines how the citizens of Kassel and Magdeburg chose to remember their respective nights of destruction, but why their observances differed during the Cold War, and how those observances largely converged in content and form following the end of the Cold War. I have to admit, however, that this book can be bit of a slog. It just isn’t for everyone, because it is so dense. The research is exhaustive, and rests on a foundation from original German texts, including personal accounts and correspondence. The presentation is well organized, logical, and conclusions emerge from thorough analysis. Arnold does a superb job of remaining apolitical he presents the facts, interprets them dispassionately, and allows conclusions to emerge from the interpretive analysis. For one who may be interested in formulation or execution of a campaign, operational art, or tactics, there is not much here. There is no analysis of tons of ordnance to extent of destruction, accuracy or efficiency of ordnance delivery, or tactics employed by offensive bombers in the air and defenders on the ground. There are lessons to be learned, however, from the very long term perspective. This book is about the long term, the very long term effects of warfare that results in genuine devastation – the modern equivalent of razing a city, leaving it without one stone on top of another, and in smoking ruins. Arnold only mentions the direct effects of a bombing-induced firestorm to set the context for the human experience. For example, he does not dwell on the fact that many victims died as a result of asphyxiation in otherwise “safe” bomb shelters due to the depletion of oxygen in the environment caused by the firestorm. He does, however, reveal that there was a window of opportunity for escape between the arrival of the “pathfinder” target markers and the heavy bombers that delivered their deadly mix of explosives and incendiaries. The resentment expressed by those who lost loved ones, toward air raid wardens who escaped during that window of opportunity rather than staying with the victims or leading them to a safe escape away from the city, is this author’s grist for the mill, and it is exactly this perspective that makes Arnold’s book unique. He does a masterful job of comparing the “trajectories” of two cities that were devastated by Allied bombing: Kassel and Magdeburg. The choices of these two particular cities is anything but random, as their experiences were significantly different. Kassel was destroyed roughly in the middle of the war, and was part of the Federal Republic of Germany during the Cold War. Magdeburg was destroyed only a few weeks before Dresden, and less than four months before VE Day it became a part of the German Democratic Republic. The common link between the two cities was overnight destruction from the air. The differences began with the changing context of the war – at a tipping point when Kassel was devastated, and in the waning days when Magdeburg was destroyed – and continued to diverge during the Cold War. These differing contexts shaped the way they remembered their losses, the meanings given those losses, and how they framed a context to help understand their respective nights of destruction. If understanding issues and attitudes of the Cold War is your goal, especially from a Central European perspective, this book is for you.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2016
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316632451
    • length: 410 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 23 mm
    • weight: 0.6kg
    • contains: 30 b/w illus. 4 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. From experience to memory
    Part I. Commemorating Death:
    2. 'Soldiers of the Heimat', 1940–5
    3. 'In quiet memory'? 1945–75
    4. The return of the dead, 1979–95
    Part II. Confronting Destruction:
    5. 'What we have lost', 1940–60
    6. From celebration to lamentation, 1960–95
    Part III. Writing Histories:
    7. The 'night of horror', 1940–70
    8. The 'greatest event in municipal history', 1970–95

  • Author

    Jörg Arnold, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany
    Jörg Arnold teaches Modern European History at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany. His publications include Luftkrieg: Erinnerungen in Deutschland und Europa (The Air War: Memories in Germany and Europe), co-edited with Dietmar Süβ and Malte Thieβen (2009).

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