It matters how we tell our stories. The details we include or exclude make a difference to the impression created by our story.

In her book The Holocaust: A New History, Doris Bergen tells the story of the German bombing of Rotterdam.

On 14 May [1940], the Luftwaffe bombed the Dutch city of Rotterdam in an attempt to terrorise the Dutch into surrender. The German clearly aimed at civilian targets to intimidate and demoralise their opponents. They destroyed the centre of the city and killed hundreds of civilians. At the time, the panicked British press reported the inflated figure of 30,000 Dutch casualties. For the Allies, the bombing of Rotterdam provided an early manifestation of German brutality and introduced a new kind of warfare: unlimited war from the air. Within a few years the Germans would reap what they had sown with the destruction from the air of their own cities. (Bergen, Doris. The Holocaust: A New History. Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2009, p. 106)

This was a horrific act of aggression with 900 civilian deaths. It of course pales in comparison to the Allied carpet bombing of Hambug on 3 August 1943 that resulted in 70,000 fatalities.

But, the interesting thing in Bergen’s account is that she omits any mention of the fact that three days before the German bombing of Rotterdam, 35 British Royal Air-Force bombers had attacked the German industrial city of Mönchengladbach.

Although the British attack on Mönchengladbach resulted in only four civilian casualties, in the mind of the influential twentieth-century English historian Frederick John Partington Veale (1897-1976) this bombing was

an epoch-making event since it was the first deliberate breach of the fundamental rule of civilized warfare that hostilities only be waged against the enemy combatant forces.

Whoever can be said to bear ultimate responsibility for beginning the barbaric practice of intentionally bombing civilians, there is no question that Allied forces carried the practice to unimagined heights of destructiveness.

In 2008 controversial German historian Jörg Friedrich published a photo book called The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945, it contains some of the most grisly images from the war ever to be published. None of these images have been seen before.

According to Luke Harding in “The Guardian,”

The victims are not Jewish, but German. The charred, mutilated bodies of women, children and babies are all civilians who perished during the allies’ bombing campaign against Germany’s cities.

In his book, Friedrich argues that the RAF’s relentless campaign against Germany during the final months of the war served no military purpose. Instead, he says that Winston Churchill’s decision to drop more bombs on a shattered Germany between January and May 1945, most of them on small German towns of little strategic value, was a war crime.

“The bombing left an entire generation traumatised. But it was never discussed. There are Germans whose first recollections are of being hidden by their mothers. They remember cellars and burning human remains,” Friedrich told the Guardian in an interview in Berlin last week.

“It is only now that they are coming to terms with what happened.”

Around 600,000 German civilians died during the allies’ wartime raids on Germany, including 76,000 German children, Friedrich says. In July 1943, during a single night in Hamburg, 45,000 people perished in a vast firestorm.

There is little to be gained by tallying up the dead in an attempt to determine who are the really bad guys in war. But there can be no doubt that Luftwaffe bombing brutality was at least equalled by Allied “unlimited war from the air” against Germany.