I was recently discussing the book with a friend, who posed the (very good) question “Did the Allies mean to bomb the Zoo?”
My feelings on the matter are mixed, although I’m inclined to believe that the incident was accidental, the zoo nothing more than “collateral damage.” My personal belief is that the Allies were most likely trying to destroy the rail lines that bordered the Zoo to the west and inflict damage on the two massive Flak towers to the north. And, since the same raid destroyed the Ministry of Weapons and Munitions and the Waffen SS Administrative College, it can be argued that there were more important targets than the Berlin Zoo. And so-called “precision bombing” was anything but precise back then, with bombs sometimes falling miles from their intended targets.
Nevertheless, Bomber Command, the military arm that controlled the Royal Air Force, has long been criticized for its use of force on civilian targets. Perhaps Sir Arthur Harris, tactical head of Bomber Command, best summed up the Allied position with these words:
"The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naïve theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind."
Do I personally believe that the Nazis needed to be stopped? Of course, but do I believe that we may have made mistakes during the war? I have to answer yes, although this becomes a rather gray area. Being an anti-war type, I believe it immoral when armies kill civilians but, when it comes to Hitler, well, it was Hitler, a man guilty of some of the worst war crimes in history. Of course he needed to be defeated.
After listening to me rant for a moment, my friend asked another very good question.
“Do you think that zoos are unethical?”
This is another “gray area” for me. While I acknowledge that zoos have done a great deal to save animals from extinction through breeding and have educated millions of people regarding exotic and endangered animals, I don’t believe that animals are here on earth to entertain us. I also don’t believe that animals should be kept in cages too small for them, where they have no way of getting the exercise they would naturally get in the wild.
The subject of whether zoos are the right places for animals is a big part of The Elephant Gate, some of its characters preferring the safety of a Zoo and others wishing to return to the wild.
In the end, I suppose, I support zoos for the good work they do but only if their charges are treated with dignity and respect.
I hope that my book has made these points clear.