President Bush, tearied eyed and wearing a Yarmulke toured Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Remembrance Museum in Jerusalem Thursday. Calling on a now very common argument to show gentile unconcern and therefore complicity in Jewish suffering, Bush said in reference to Auschwitz: “We should have bombed it.”
An Associated Press article explained the US “chose not to bomb the camp, the rail lines leading to it, or any other death camps preferring instead to focus all resources on the broader military effort.” The article placed the number of killed at the camp from between 1.1 and 1.5 million.
But history has it different. The US did not have the knowledge nor opportunity to bomb Auschwitz until the summer of 1944. The camp was liberated by Soviet troops in January of 1945, thus at the time the US could have bombed, the vast majority of the 1.1 to 1.5 million internees had already been killed.
In a history that is very well documented, (see: Peter Novick’s “The Holocaust in American Life”) the US decided not to bomb because doing so would have certainly killed large numbers of internees, while not necessarily stopping the Nazi’s capability to mass-murder. Aerial Bombings in 1944 were very inaccurate, to the point that bombing only parts of the camp while sparing others would have been almost impossible. Bombing rail lines was also not something the US was capable of doing effectively and therefore the option wasn’t even strongly considered.
Despite this history, the decision not to bomb is routinely referenced to strengthen arguments that the State of Israel and therefore its policies are necessary to the survival of the Jewish people. One notable example is Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comments at Auschwitz in 1998: “All that was needed was to bomb the train tracks. The Allies bombed the targets nearby. The pilots only had to nudge their crosshairs. You think they didn’t know? They knew. They didn’t bomb because at that time the Jews didn’t have a state, nor the political force to protect themselves”
Beyond invoking these ideas, Bush’s words also argue that the US (and the World) failed the Jewish people and thus owe Israel something (previous Jewish suffering trump current Palestinian suffering). Bush’s words also serve to justify his approach to many international issues: bombing.
I know when I toured Yad Vashem my thoughts were not on fantasy bombing raids but rather on my family, Jews from Eastern Europe. I wonder if Bush thought about his grandfather Prescott Bush who was Director of IG Farber in 1942 when the company’s assets were seized under The Trading with the Enemy Act. A 1942 official report examining the company’s business dealings in Germany concluded “these (steel and mining) properties have been in considerable assistance to that country’s [Germany’s] war effort.” (see this 2004 Guardian Article).
If Bush honestly thought about history he would have considered the dangers of war profiteering and not have looked for more opportunities for humanitarian bombing.
But Bush doesn’t look at anything honestly, he prefers to rely on overused and refuted rhetoric and the AP and Yad Vashem are not willing to put him to task.
ANDREW SILVERSTEIN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org