Britain’s bombing of Dresden near the end of the Second World War was proof that civilian targets “were never a good idea” in conflict, Jeremy Corbyn has said.
Speaking to the HuffPost UK, the Labour leader said that the Germany city - where the controversial raids killed 25,000 people - was “not a military target”.
The RAF and US Air Force jointly dropped nearly 4,000 bombs over several days in February 1945, causing a firestorm that destroyed a former cultural centre and a large chunk of its population.
Sir Winston Churchill later privately expressed his misgivings about agreeing the raids, but they remain a sensitive topic for veterans and it took nearly 70 years for the first ‘Bomber Command’ memorial to be created in London.
The Archbishop of Canterbury expressed his ‘sorrow’ at the Dresden bombings earlier this year and later dismissed claims that he was apologising for the RAF targeting the Nazis.
Asked by HuffPostUK if he felt that the Dresden raids were “needless” or “immoral”, Mr Corbyn replied: “What I read of it, it wasn’t a military target.
“I think there are obviously huge debates about that and whilst one doesn’t want to necessarily reopen all the old sores all the time, surely bombing civilian targets is never a good idea?
“You can’t punish a population, you’ve got to win them round in the end.”
Although he was not comparing the two conflicts, Mr Corbyn has expressed similar sentiments about the RAF bombing of Syria, warning that civilian casualties are inevitable in such airstrikes.
A woman lights a candle at the 70th anniversary of the Dresden bombings in February this year
More than 700 heavy RAF bombers took part in the destruction of Dresden near the end of the Second World War.
Former Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote months later that he wanted a change in tactics: “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed.
“Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land… The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. I am of the opinion that military objectives must henceforward be more strictly studied in our own interests than that of the enemy.”
In a speech in Dresden to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombings this year, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed his “profound feeling of regret and deep sorrow” over the loss of life.
He described how the allies “brought death and destruction on a scale and with a ferocity it is impossible to imagine”. "In the rage of war our hearts inevitably harden and increasingly brutal and devastating force is unleashed," he said.
But the Archbishop later had to hit back at some media reports which claimed he had tried to issue a ‘bizarre apology’ for the RAF action.
In a blog on HuffPostUK in February, he pointed out that Churchill said "jaw-jaw is better than war-war". “So let us mourn and learn, honour the heroism of those who defeated Hitler and his regime, celebrate our freedoms.”
Mr Corbyn has repeatedly denied that he is a pacifist and points to the fact that his father was in the Home Guarda and his mother an air raid warden in the last war.
In his interview, Mr Corbyn was also asked if he could think of any other conflicts - other than the Second World War - that Britain has been involved in that have been a ‘moral conflict’.
He replied: “The Spanish Civil War, Britain was not involved in it. Going back a bit there was the naval blockade to stop the slave trade in the 19th century, that was morally just. Shame they didn’t both to abolish slavery at the same time.
“I’ve been quite involved in a lot of UN operations over the years, I was a UN observer at the East Timor referendum in 2000. I’ve been very involved in that for a long time.
“There were mistakes made, there were flaws in the programme but fundamentally the UN role in fighting – remember their had been catastrophic deaths by the Indonesian army to suppress the independence movement – the UN did bring about eventually a settlement of sorts.
“I was very pleased to be there as a UN observer and also I’ve been in Congo and Cyprus as a UN observer.”