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Jean Stein Ben Sonnenberg

Berlin's Skeleton in Utah's Closet Author(s): Mike Davis Source: Grand Street, No. 69, Berlin (Summer, 1999), pp. 92-100 Published by: Ben Sonnenberg Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25008538 Accessed: 25/12/2009 16:43
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S

iKELETON

IN

UTAH'S

CLOSET

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BERLIN'S MOST FAR-FLUNG,

secretand

orphan

admire thedecrepit,one-lane bridge thatcrosses
a swampy patch in Baker Area, not far from

suburbsits in the saltbushdesert aboutninety miles
southwest of Salt Lake City. "German Village, " as it

isofficially labeledon declassified maps of theU.S. Army'sDugwayProving of Ground, is the remnant amuch larger, German-Japanese composite "doom town"constructedbyStandard in I943.Dugway Oil
played a crucial role in the New Deal's last great

thecontroversial bio-warfarelab where the Army tinkers with andromedastrains,guardedby a wire.GermanVillage is doubleperimeterof razor
a dozen or so miles further west, in a sprawling

publicworks project:the incineration cities in of eastern Germanyand Japan.
Two years ago, the Army allowed me to tour

with a dozen of my students GermanVillage briefly from theSouthernCaliforniaInstitute of Architecture. Dugway is slighdybigger than Rhode Islandandmore toxically contaminatedthan the NuclearTest Site innearby Nevada.As thedevil's for own laboratory threegenerationsof U.S. and chemical, incendiary, biologicalweapons, ithas alwaysbeen shrouded inofficial secrecyandCold Warmyth. A recent threat base restructuring, of
however, has prompted the Army tomount a small

maze ofmysterious test sites and targetareas that Dugway's commander is reluctantto includeon thevisitor itinerary. relentedonlywhen we He convincedhis press office that theVillage had an important aestheticaura that might enhance was designed byone of "baseheritage":it architect Modernism's gods, the German-Jewish Eric Mendelsohn. BurningBerlin'sRedDistricts In I943, theChemical WarfareCorps secretly recruited Mendelsohn to workwith Standard Oil engineers tocreateaminiatureHohenzollem slum in the Utah desert.Nothing in theappearance of the surviving structure-a double tenementblock known asBuilding 8ioo-identifies itas the productof the samehand thatdesigned such landmarks ofWeimarBerlin as theofficesof the the Berliner Tageblatt, Columbushaus, theSternefeld or Woga Complex on villa inCharlottenburg, the in the Absolute "typicality" all Kurfiirstendamm.

public relationscampaignonDugway's behalf
Since napalm, botulism and binary nerve gas are not

conventionaltouristattractions,theProving of Ground insteadadvertisesitspreservation an Most original sectionof theLincolnHighway. motorists who come to visitors arepioneering

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MIKE DAVIS

was aspectsoflayout and construction what the Chemical WarfareCorpswanted. Theywere ina hurry. Despite thehorrifyingsuccessof their fire thousand-bomber raidsagainstCologne and Allieswere increasingly Hamburg inmid-I943, the by frustrated theirinabilityto ignitea firestormin theReich capital.Their top science advisersurged a on experimentation crashprogramof incendiary exact replicasofworking-class housing. (The design and constructionprocesseswere planned to of with secret research the flammability on dovetail United States-or, homes.) Only the Japanese rather,thecombined forcesof Hollywood and the oil industry-had the resourcestocomplete the months. assignment ina few of was theanonymity Mendelsohn's achievement his result:six iterations the steeplygabled brick of or tenements-Mietskasernen, rentbarracks-that made the Red districtsof Berlin thedensest slums inEurope.Threeof theapartmentblocks had tileon batten roofs, characteristics Berlin construction, of while theother threehad slateover sheathing roofs,more commonly found in the factorycities
of the Ruhr. Although not as tall as their seven-story

counterpartsin Wedding orKreuzberg, the test were otherwiseastonishingly structures
precise simulacra.

with attention toensuring that the frames (made authentic woods, importedfromas farawayas Murmansk) duplicated theaging and specific When the densityof olderGerman construction. Dugway's climate was too fireexpertsobjected that contrivedto arid, theirStandard counterparts Oil keep the levelofwood moisture accuratebyhaving "water" target,to simulate the GIs regularly Prussian rain. The interiorfurnishing, meanwhile,was Authenticity subcontractedtoRKORadioPictures' the Kane. Using Division, wizards behindCitizen German-trainedcraftsmen, theyduplicatedthe was thedowryof cheapbut heavyfurniturethat was households.German linen Berlin's proletarian of carefullystudied toensure the typicality bed While theauthenticators coveringsand drapes. debateddetailswithMendelsohn and the fire engineers, theconstructionprocesswas secretly accelerated the by wholesale conscriptionof Utah StatePrison. It took them inmatesfrom the only forty-four days tocompleteGermanVillage and its Japanese double counterpart(twelve with hinoki and tatami). apartmentsfullyfurnished The entirecomplex was then firebombedand at completelyreconstructed least threetimes
between May and September of I943.

Mendelsohn Before drawinganyblueprints,
exhaustively researched the roof area-a critical

neighborhoods in incendiary parameter-of target cities.His datawas Berlin and other industrial and "iextended confirmed,"reportedtheStandard
Oil Development Company, "by amember of the

Mendelsohn's secretsignatureonGerman Likeallof his progressive Village is rich in irony. he Weimar contemporaries, had a deep interestin Wohnkultur housing reformand thecreationof a neue as his biographershave Yet, (newcultureof living).
noted, he was never involved in the big social

ArchitectureSchool, an expertonGerman Harvard wooden framebuilding construction."(Couldit havebeen WalterGropius?)The builders, working with fireprotectionengineers, gave extraordinary

housing competitionsorganizedby theSocial
Democrats in the late I920s, which were such for the urbanist ideas of the crucial showcases

modernmovement. His absencewas emergent

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BERLIN'S SKELETON IN UTAH'S CLOSET

most dramatic(and mysterious) in thecaseof the I927 model housing project WeissenhofSiedlung-the coordinatedby Mies vanderRohe and sponsoredby Stuttgart'sleft-winggovernment-which Philip most important group of Johnsonhas called "the In buildings in thehistoryofmodern architecture." Mendelsohn's biography, BrunoZevi suggests that works of Mendelsohn was "excludedfrom the large theSiedlungen" becauseof anti-Semitism. If so,Dugwaywas his revenge. Herewas designed toaccelerate workers' housing perversely thecampaign "todehouse the German industrial worker,"as theBritish blundyput it.The Weissenhof masterpieces of Gropius and theTaut were among the45 percentof the I939 brothers German housing stock that BomberCommand and theEighthAir Force managed todestroyor damage Allied bombers by the springof I945. (Indeed, more I920Ssocialistand pounded into rubble modernist utopias than theydidNazi villas.) DidMendelsohn and theother anti-Nazi refugees who worked onGermanVillage have qualms about incendiary experimentationthat involved onlyplebeianhousing?Did theyapprehend
the terror and agony that the Chemical Warfare

TheZoroastrianSociety
During the early days of the Second World War, tens ofAmerican voters of German and of millions

Italian ancestry were reassured that the U.S. Air Force would never deliberately make a target out of "the ordinary man the East-where, in the street." In every region but as Curtis LeMay would later tell

his Tokyo-boundpilots, "thereareno civilians"
Americans (in I943, as in I999) were officially

committed to theclean,high-tech destruction of strictly militaryormilitary-industrialtargets.
The Eighth Air Force sent its crews in daylight

"precision"raidsagainstvisuallyidentifiedtargets, incontrast to itsBlitz-embittered British allies,who German cities at night, hoping saturation-bombed to terrorizetheirpopulations into flightor technologiesof the rebellion. The extraordinary
B-I7 and the Norden bombsight allowed the United States to bomb "with democratic values." (Then as now, "collateral damage" was smugly swept under

thenationalconscience.)
But, as the construction dramatizes, of German Village sinister. the story is considerably more

Corpswas meticulously planning to inflictupon the No Berlinproletariat? memoir or correspondence Mendelsohn was notoriously tight-lipped-offers
any information. Historians of the U.S. Air Force, on the other hand, have excavated a complex,

and While military doctrine,aircrafttechnology, todomestic public opinion ensureda sensitivity huge investmentinprecisionbombing, counter
civilian or "morale" bombing had never been against Germany. excluded from U.S. war planning

Indeed, as Ronald Schaffer and other historians have shown, AWPD i-the war against Germany secret strategy for an air

debate (asneveroccurred in the sometimes tortured
racial inferno of the Pacific theater) over the ethics

thatwas adopted months envisioned that it

before Pearl Harbor-specifically might be "highly profitable

Berlin. of firebombing

to deliver a large-scale, of Berlin" after

all-out attack on the civil population

Ruhr industries. precisionbombing had disrupted
The British, moreover, fiercely pressured the U.S. Eighth Air Force to join their "area bombing"

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MIKE DAVIS

crusade.Churchill,encouragedbyhis chief science adviserandDr. Strangelove, LordCherwell,had turnedto terror bombing in March of I942 lessout of revengefor theBlitz (althoughthisensured strongpublic support) thanfrom the idee fixe that civilian moralewas Germany'sAchilles heel. Although a casemight havebeenmade for singling Nazi politicaland industrial out thehomes of the elites foraerialpunishment, this riskedretaliation againstBurke'sPeerageand had thusbeen excluded bombingmust be byCherwell from theonset. ("The directedessentiallyagainstworking-class houses. much spacearound Middle-class houses have too
them, and so are bound towaste bombs.") Thus the

squalid Mietskasernenwere ground zero.And by November 1942,when thousand-bomber night western Germany, raidshad become common over was able to share Churchill with his allies the optimisticquotas that theRoyalAir Forcehad pledged toproduce:nine hundred thousand and civiliansdead, onemillion seriouslyinjured, twenty-five million homeless. If some of theU.S. precisionbombers, such as GeneralGeorgeMcDonald, thedirectorofAir Force intelligence, were appalledby thisdescent to "indiscriminate homicide and destruction,"thereis evidence thatthecommander in chief, influencedby his own Strangelovian advisers,had amore open When the mind about massacring enemy civilians. RAF's OperationGomorrah succeeded inkindling tornadicfirestormsin theheartofHamburg in July were andAugust of I943 (seven thousandchildren among thecarbonizedvictims),Rooseveltwas reportedly greatly impressed.
Gomorrah also strengthened the hand of the fire war advocates within the Army Air Force and the

theRAFhad organizedan informal discussion group, the so-calledZoroastrianSociety, to share with EighthAir Force expertiseon incendiaries home for planners. It soon became an intellectual May, aggressiveyoung commanders likeCurtisLe with theBritish enthusiasm for who were infected incendiary weapons andwanted to see their all deploymentgreatlyexpanded. (Incendiaries, weremost effectiveagainst civilian sides agreed, or housing, not industry infrastructure.) On thehome front, the firebombing ofAxis capitalsenjoyedpowerful supportfrom influential Harvardscientists (ledby the "father napalm," of chemistLouisFeiser), theoil companies, and the The fireprotection industry. fire insuranceexperts, one historianpoints out, "didnot simplyadvise the
Army Air Force. They pushed it as hard as they could

to warfareagainst factories make it wage incendiary
and homes." They loved to point out to airmen the

overlookedfirepotentialsof structureslike which were "quite vulnerableto small churches, incendiaries." GermanVillagewas constructedin May I943, on theeveof Churchill'sburntofferingatHamburg, to were addressopportunitiesandproblems that moral boundary precisionbombing. of beyond the
Itwas a trade show for the burgebning firewar

war against Those planning thecoming air lobby.
Japan were eager to see how new incendiaries,

includingnapalmand an incredible"batbomb" thatreleasedhundredsoflive bats booby-trapped with tinyincendiary devices,performedagainst houses.Meanwhile, the Dugway's Japanese
Zoroastrian Society was looking for clues on how to shell. burn up Berlin's massive masonry

NationalDefense ResearchCommittee. InEngland,

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BERLIN'S SKELETON IN UTAH'S CLOSET

Bombing" Churchill's"Morale Attacks on report "TheFire on Inhis authoritative National GermanCities,"HoratioBond, the Committee's chiefincendiary Defense Research Allies' frustration."Berlin expert,underscoredthe most ofthe otherGerman was harder toburn than cities.Therewas betterconstructionand better In 'compartmentation.' otherwords, residential buildingsdid not present themselvesas largefire divisionsor fireareas. Approximatelytwiceasmany had tobe dropped toassurea fire in incendiaries As GermanVillage tests each firedivision." the way of the clarified,"little [could]be expected in the freespreadof firefrombuilding tobuilding." were hit by Buildingswere lost "becausethey bombs ratherthanbecause firespreadfromother buildings." spitting in the YetuntilZhukov was literally Spree, theBritish clung to thebelief (ordementia,
as many Americans saw it) that Berlin could be

was thusproduced in twoacts: the Armageddon Batde of Berlin inNovember of I943, and the RAF's Thunderclap"in EighthAir Force's "Operation of February I945.Promising theBritishpeople that "Berlin be bombed until theheartof Nazi will Arthur "Bomber" Germany ceases tobeat,"Sir Harris unleashed theRAF'sheavybomberson
November i8. In a new strategy that the Germans

or dubbedBombenteppich,carpetbombing, the Lancasters,flying indangerouslytightformations, concentratedtheirbomb loadson small,densely attacks were followed populatedareas. Incendiary with thedeliberateaimof by explosives,dropped workers. In and rescue killing firefighters theRAF'sdoctrineof targeting accordance with maximize discontent, the Weimar's redbelts to famousCommunist strongholdofWeddingwas thoroughly pulverizedand firebombed.
The zoo was also amajor target, which

bombed out of the war.Although the Mietskasernen were not easilycombustible,RAFplannersargued with more thatthiscould be compensatedfor British bombersand greater incendiary density. was strategy builtupon theassumption that civiliansuffering would inevitably intolerable producea proletarianrevoltin theheartof theThird
Reich. (In this sense, Churchill had more faith in

meat rationof thecity's increasedthe inadvertently discoveredto their poorer residents."Berliners thatsome unusualdisheswere extremely surprise tasty. Crocodile tail, for instance,cooked slowly in while was not unlike fattychicken, largecontainers,
bear ham and sausages proved a particular delicacy." Although Harris was unable to fuel a

Hamburg-stylefirestormin theTiergarten,the
Lancasters did flatten almost a quarter of the metropolitan core. The BBC boasted that as many as

Marxist doctrine thanStalin,who alone seemed to understandtheenormityofHitierism'smoral hold blitz on thecapital.) When theRAF'scostly reverse Berlinersagainst theFuihrer, failed to incite Churchillcajoled Roosevelt intounleashing an
American "super-raid" -a deus ex machina that

onemillion Berlinershad been killed or injured. YetasHarrishimselfhad to acknowledge to
Churchill, the RAF's all-out effort "did not appear to

also failed.

be an overwhelmingsuccess."Forone thing, mounted a brilliant Goebbels, thecity's realruler, of his flak towers,squadrons deadly defensewith night fighters,and firebrigadesconscriptedfrom
all over Germany. Five percent of the British

97

MIKE DAVIS

aircrews were shot out of the skyeverynight, an unsustainablesacrificeforBomberCommand. damage to the slums, the Moreover, despite terrible real machineryof power and production inBerlin remainedremarkably undamaged.Strategic marveled at theabilityof thecity's bombing analysts war industries"toproduce material in scarcely diminishedquantitiesalmost up to theend." of Goebbels cunninglyshifted theparameters More than the Allies' calculusof German suffering. onemillion nonessential civilians,especially while were sent into thecountryside, children, hundredsof thousandsof Russian andPolish prisonersofwarwere moved directlyunderAllied While Hitlerwas throwingtantrumsin bombsights. Goebbelswas holding stirringrallies in his bunker, the ruins,harvestingpopulist angerproducedby the carpetbombing ofworking-class neighborhoods. his At the same time,hemassively reinforced and terror sprawlingnetworkof surveillance thatany seedof discontentwould be ensuring promptlydestroyedbefore itcould germinate into The a largerconspiracy. British,meanwhile, were seeminglyoblivious to thepossibility that was actuallystrengthening "moralebombing"
the Nazi state.

bombing ofWedding and its redsister,Pankow. One and a halfmillion Berliners weremade homeless, but industrial output, again, quickly rebounded. OperationThunderclap
Roosevelt had thus far in the war reconciled the

divergentphilosophies of strategicbombing by accepting,at the I943Casablanca Conference, the British conceptof aCombinedBomberOffensive "toundermine the morale of the German people," while at the same timepreservingthe ArmyAir Force's tactical option fordaylight,precision targets. AfterHidlerretaliatedforD-Daywith his V-i and thenV-2 attackson London, thiscompromise becameuntenable. Indeed, Churchill's initial reactionto Germany's secret weapons was to demandpoison gas attacksorworse on Berlin: "It is morality on this topic,"he absurd toconsider want the hectoredRAFplanners in earlyJuly."I matter studied incold blood by sensiblepeople, and not bypsalm-singing, uniformeddefeatists." As BartonBernsteinhas shown,Churchillasked
Roosevelt to speed up the delivery of five hundred

Indeed, theRAFclungwith strikingfanaticism Harris convinced Churchill to its flawedparadigm.
that "we can [still] wreck Berlin from end to end if the U.S. Air Force will come in on it." In thewinter and spring of I944, as the sensational new long

thousandtop-secret"N-bombs"containingdeadly anthrax, which had been developedatDugway's writes Bernstein, GranitePeakcomplex.The RAF,
"was putting together a plan for the use of anthrax

against sixGerman cities:Berlin,Hamburg, Wilhelmshafen. Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Aachen, and
The expectation was that forty thousand of the 500

rangefightersbegan togiveAmericanB-I7s Germany, unprecedentedprotectionovereastern theEighthAir Force,while still theoretically British area selectingonlyprecision targets,joined
bombers in a series of thousand-plane raids on

pound projectiles,containingabout4.25million bombs,would kill at leasthalf the four-pound
population by inhalation, and many more would die

laterthroughskin absorption.
Poison gas and anthrax were too much for the

with a second carpet culminating Berlin,predictably

wanted to White House, butRoosevelt passionately

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BERLIN'S SKELETON IN UTAH'S CLOSET

offer something to theBritish. In August I944, he complainedangrily tohis Secretary Treasury, of
Henry Morgenthau, with Germany, Jr.: "We have got to be tough the German people, not and I mean

universalaggressionwould be of continuingvalue
in the postwar period. Again, the total devastation of the center of a vast city such as Berlin would offer

incontrovertible proof to all peoples of thepower
of amodern air force.... Itwould convince our

just the Nazis. We either have to castrate the German people or treat them in such amanner that

they can't just go on reproducing people who want to continue the way they have in the past." The same

Russian allies and the Neutrals of theeffectiveness ofAnglo-Americanairpower." In the end,Thunderclap(whichnow included
Dresden and Leipzig on its agenda) was unleashed

month, ChurchillofferedRoosevelt anRAFplan, OperationThunderclap,that would guarantee to "castrate" with 275,000 Berliners (deadand injured) a single two thousand-bomber super-raid against thecitycenter.Roosevelt, followingChief of StaffGeorge Marshall's advice,accepted theplan
in principle. Some key Air Force leaders were disturbed by the

forcompetingand contradictory reasons,havingas
much to do with starting the Cold War as with

ending theSecond WorldWar. Meanwhile, the potentialofwhat Americanplannerscalled "promiscuous bombardment" been had
dramatically increased by the influx of hundreds of

thousandsofpanicked refugeesfleeing the
advancing Red Army in early 1945. When the leaden winter skies finally cleared over Berlin on February

unsavoryimplications ofThunderclap. Major
General Laurence Kuter protested "it is contrary to our national to colleagues that ideals towage war

withheld hismore 3,Doolittle stubbornly
vulnerable B-24s, but sent in nine hundred B-I7s and hundreds of fighter escorts. Itwas not the knockout blow that the British had envisioned, but

against civilians." Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz, the commander "no doubt of the U.S. bombers in Europe, had to have

... that the RAF wants very much

the U.S. Air Forces tarred with

themorale bombing

War hero aftermath, which we feel will be terrific. "

twenty-five thousand Berlinersnonetheless perished,while deep under theburningReich
Chancellery, Hitler listened to Wagner. Dresden, amonth later, was closer to the

Jimmy Doolittle, theEighthAir Forcecommander,
also remonstrated Eisenhower, bitterly after being ordered by in September of I944, to be ready to in Europe

original, apocalyptic conceptionof Thunderclap.
Crowded with refugees, slave laborers and Allied prisoners, the cultural center was only useful to the

on drop bombs "indiscriminately" Berlin.
Nor did Air Force commanders

necessarilybuy theargumentofWashington
planners, who omnipotent thought Stalin had grown too on the battlefield and needed a

war effort as a temporary transport junction on the imploding Eastern Front. American concentrated bombers

on the railroad yards, and the British

compellingdemonstrationof thedestructive power
of Allied bombers. The RAF Air Staff had added this frosting toThunderclap's briefing: cake in an August I944

went after everything else. Itwas the biggest firestorm since Hamburg. The death toll will never range from thirty

be known, although estimates thousand to three hundred

"A spectacular and final object lesson to people on the consequences of

thousand. After the

the German

reducing it to cinder, Harris savagely bombed

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MIKE DAVIS

cityagainwith explosives,aiming tokill off remainingsurvivorsin thecellars. which R,oosevelt'sendorsementofThunderclap, paved the way forU.S. complicity inDresden,was a moralwatershed in the American conductof the war. By committing the Force toBritish doctrine Air inGermany,Thunderclapalso opened thedoor to theZoroastrianSocietyalumni,who wanted an unrestrictedincendiary campaignagainst Japan's "papercities."The hundred thousandor soGerman civilians whom theEighthAir Forceburned todeath in thecitiesof eastern Germanyduring the winter of I945were but a prelude to theonemillion Japanese consumed in theB-29 autos-da-fe laterthatspring.

These ghosts of the GoodWar's darkestside still waste surrounding haunt the toxic GermanVillage. Now thatPotsdamerPlatzand theotheropen wounds of Berlin's historyhavebeen transformed into showpiecesof reunified prosperity, Mendelsohn's forlorn Mietskasernen suddenly seem significant,as a reproofto the self righteousnessof punishing "badplaces"by bombing them. GermanVillage isBerlin's secret heartache, whispering in thecontaminatedsilence of the Utah desert.

100