Monthly Archives: June 2020

The Transnational Goes Viral: Applying Global History to War

Prof. Sheldon Garon (Princeton University) By the end of the Second World War, cities across Europe and East Asia lay in rubble—pulverized by ground combat but more spectacularly by unprecedented levels of aerial bombardment. The history of bombing is usually told episodically. German and Italian pilots indiscriminately bombed civilians in the Spanish Civil War; Japanese planes raided Chinese cities; Britain survived the Blitz thanks to Spitfires and valiant air-raid wardens; the Anglo-Americans incinerated Dresden; and U.S. leaders made the momentous decisions leading to the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My article, ‘On the Transnational Destruction of Cities’ (Past & Present #247), demonstrates that none of these episodes unfolded in isolation. The practices involved in bombing cities originated neither in one country nor from one ideology. During the 1930s, international peace groups denounced aerial attacks by Germans, Italians, and Japanese as ‘fascist’. Yet by 1944, the two greatest destroyers of cities were among its greatest democracies—Britain and America. Nor does imperialism or racism explain much. Historians often assert that Europeans and Americans bombed colonial subjects —and then the Japanese —with a savagery they would not have unleashed on Caucasians. In fact, white people evinced remarkably few qualms about bombing white civilians. […]