Cassino, Italy.

Dresden.

Sheltering in the Underground during the 'Blitz' of London.

Bombing, States and Peoples in Western Europe 1940–1945

During the Second World War the political and cultural reactions to bombing were never uniform or consistent. This three-year research project explored the variety of political and cultural responses to the experience of bombing operations carried out against targets in Britain, France, Germany and Italy between 1940 and 1945.

Within the UK , the prevailing image of bombing in the Second World War is still that of the 'Blitz' in which British people all pulled together, their morale stiffened by their shared experiences, until the storm was over. The purpose of this project is to put the Blitz into a broader comparative framework by examining the political and cultural effects of bombing during the Second World War in Germany, France and Italy, as well as in Britain.

The research is designed to test common assumptions about political solidarity, strong morale and a popular determination to win the war, which the conventional image still sustains. In France and Italy, for example, bombing was chiefly carried out by the same forces against the people that they were promising to liberate, resulting in ambivalent and confused responses.

The emphasis of the project is on the political and cultural responses to bombing - on ideas, attitudes and language, rather than the social and economic effects or strategic consequences. This is an area of the bombing experience that has been much less closely studied, and almost never directly compared. It opens up new ways of looking at the relationship between state and population and the willingness of populations to endorse or understand the conflict in which they are involved.

The originality of this project lies in the choice of perspective and the comparative framework. This is part of the shared history of Western Europe during the war. The research will explore the variety of political and cultural responses to the experience in four different ways:

  1. By examining political reactions to see if and why the bombing changed opinions or identities, or altered attitudes by provoking hostility to war or overt pacifism.
  2. By defining the ways in which bombing affected the relationship between states and peoples, specifically by looking at the links between propaganda and popular belief, the popular perception of friend and foe (which could be quite complex) and the extent to which bombing alienated populations from the state or encouraged renewed endorsement.
  3. By analysing the whole question of popular 'morale' to measure ways in which bombing encouraged popular war-willingness and social collaboration, or engendered increased levels of dissent, social disaffection, crime and delinquency. Here there are important gender and generational differences to consider.
  4. By examining the cultural impact of bombing in terms of the survival of popular or elite culture, the mobilization of popular belief and the development of a bombing 'sub-culture', expressed through language, literature, visual images, rumour, songs and phobia.

This is an ambitious and innovate project whose conclusions will help to produce a clear understanding of the behaviour of bombed communities in recent contemporary conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.