Background: Goebbels wrote a lead article for most issues of the weekly Das Reich, but for some reason he did not sign any leads between mid-June and mid-December 1940. My suspicion is that payment details had not been worked out, and Goebbels liked getting paid. In any event, this article is by “hf,” probably Hans Fritzsche, a writer almost as capable as Goebbels.
The article presents the bombing of London as justified revenge for British bombing of Germany, repeating Hitler’s argument that Germany resorted to bombing civilian areas only after German patience had been exhausted. It turned out that German bombs, devastating as they were, did not break British resistance (just as the far heavier bombing of 1943-1945 failed to destroy German morale).
The source: hj [Hans Fritzsche (?)], “Warum London brennt,” Das Reich, 15 September 1940.
Why London Is Burning
Carthage is said to have burned for seventeen days. Today is the ninth day that London is burning. This terrible event will remain as deep in human memory as the destruction of Carthage. However, one needs to remember the first days of this war. On that same 3 September 1939 on which Sir Neville Henderson brought England’s declaration of war to the Reich Chancellory, the British government announced that nearly all goods intended for the German military or — like food supplies — for the German civilians were prohibited goods that would be seized. This was almost forgotten after the stormy days of last September, but it is of decisive significance. Even before Germany and England had exchanged a single shot, Great Britain, disregarding its signature on an international treaty and ignoring all the rules of naval warfare, dared to do what had taken years during the World War: to conduct the war as a war of destruction against civilians, to wage a war of starvation. Since there had not yet been any military action, England was unable to provide even the thinnest grounds of responding to a German violation of the laws of war. The opposite, indeed, since the German rules for capturing merchant shipping, announced that same day, held strictly and in every detail to prevailing international law.
The London Declaration concerning the laws of naval war (1909) distinguished between conditional and absolute contraband to protect civilians from the effects of war insofar as possible. During the first days of this war, England unilaterally and in violation of international law declared these provisions invalid, showing that it would shrink from no use of force to reach its goals. England began a brutal war of annihilation against women and children, the result of its guarantee to Poland. What England did after that to intensify its war of starvation is irrelevant. From that day onwards, Germany had the absolute right of revenge against English civilians. These British violations during the first days of the war, which were politically foolish, removed any right England had to complain about similar German measures, which may not have been covered by the laws of war as such. Such German measures were entirely justified by British injustices during the early days of the war.
It is nonetheless politically interesting to see how England continued its war against civilians. During the first year of war England committed one breach of the laws of war after another. First it banned the export of German goods, then it banned imports. Finally the ban was extended to areas occupied by Germany, shortly after that to unoccupied France, and finally to almost all of Europe. England ignored protests about this series of injustices from neutral states. It remains important to note that nearly all neutral states protested against the ban on German goods, above all Japan and the Soviet Union, but also Belgium and the Dutch government now in exile in London. The Soviet Union’s note spoke of an “absolutely unprecedented violation.” The State Department of the United States declared that it “would recognize no interference of the warring states with truly neutral commerce.” The legal convictions of the entire civilized world protested against England, even those well-meaning states that later became its victims. The British grounds for war, first against the German, then European, civilians were as cynical as possible. As early as September 1939, Winston Churchill thought it “legal and humane to cut off the German people from their imports.” With regards to Europe, the argument was that cries for food were a slogan for many revolutions, and a good phrase “to arouse European resistance to National Socialist tyranny.”
The same spirit that manifested itself in the British war of destruction against women and children is also evident in other aspects of English warfare. There is no law that England will not ignore: British warships appeared in Spanish, then Turkish, then Norwegian waters for military purposes. We all remember the Cossack and Altmark. Mines were laid in Norwegian waters, German nationals were arrested on Japanese ships, mail was stolen from ships of every nationality, gray and black lists were imposed, neutral ships were taken to control harbors, British flyers violated Belgian, Dutch, and Luxembourgian territory countless times, and now Swiss territory, neutral oil imports were blocked, floating mines were laid, snipers trained, rescue planes fired on over the English Channel, hospital ships hindered — in short, England recognized no legal limitations, whether in how it waged war or in extending the war, setting aside every law without scruple.
What English did primarily at sea, it has also been doing since 10 May in the air. That is when the military report recorded for the first time attacks on nonmilitary targets in Freiburg and on three areas in the Ruhr. Since then there has hardly been a night when English flyers randomly dropped bombs on German civilians.
Germany can claim with good conscience that it did not quickly answer these violations of law, but rather waited patiently, hoping that England would finally see reason. Germany has taken the greatest care regarding civilians, given military requirements. We recall the measures the German military leadership took to save the defended cities of Warsaw and Rotterdam from bombardment, and how Brussels and Paris were spared. For months the German Luftwaffe did not attack the English mainland and until recently military targets were avoided if they were within larger cities. The Führer twice extended the hand of peace to England. In the Reichstag speech in which he made his final peace offer he said: “Until now I have not responded to English air attacks.... I know that our coming answer will cause people enormous sorrow and misfortune.... Mr. Churchill may again ignore my offer.... I have at least eased my conscious against what will come.” Until eight days ago no German bomb had fallen on military targets in London, while Berlin had already often been bombed.
It was clear that German patience could not last forever. The Reich faced an opponent who violated the law not only in individual cases, but time after time and demonstrated its unwavering will to wage a war of annihilation not only against the German people, but also against all of Europe, to the last extreme. It wanted to achieve through air attacks on civilians what it could not do by its war of starvation against civilians.
During the past nine days Germany’s Luftwaffe has been giving a terrible but just answer. Even the English seem to agree. At least the Times’s much-cited article said: “During recent nights London has been undergoing what men in the defensive positions and war plants in Germany have endured night after night for months.” To be accurate, perhaps the Times should have added that the English are now learning what war means for civilians, which England has done since 3 September 1939. It should have said that England is now getting the war it wanted, and in a terrible form, which it has used for over a year and has called down upon itself. It is a terrible tragedy that the capital of a great empire must perish in this way. Even more horrible is the fact that the English leadership itself through its blindness has set the torch to London.
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