This is a quote from the concluding chapter of Frederick Taylor's excellent, well researched and highly readable account of the events leading upto, the execution of, and the aftermath of the allied bombing raid on Dresden of 13 and 14 February 1945.
Like Taylor, much of my knowledge of the Dresden raid stemmed from Kurt Vonnegut's semi-autobiographical novel "Slaughter House 5", based on his experience of the Dresden raid as an American prisoner of war there. In the introduction to Vonnegut's novel he recounts how for many years he would tell people that he was working on a big book, perhaps multiple volumes, on what happened in Dresden in those twentyfour hours, but nothing ever came. For Vonnegut, he ultimately found that there was "nothing intelligent to say about a massacre" and that the only things left alive were the birds, and all they would say was "po-to-weet".
Vonnegut had experienced the horror of the raid first hand, and his account remains a powerful, intelligent, if subjective testimony to the horror of Dresden, but Vonnegut was not a historian, and it was left to historians to create a more whole picture of the raid from razor fragments such as Vonneguts, and the cutting and blunt papers of the archives, of course.
Considering the events cultural importance on the European consciousness, as the icon of airborne slaughter in the European war, it is surprising that so little has been published on it. David Irving's 'The Destruction of Dresden' was an important book but was undermined by the authors alleged neo-nazi connections and the subsequet absence of a mass market reprint.
Taylor's book fills this void admirably, bringing together a narrative of the European bomber war with archive and eye-wittness accounts of the Dresden raid itself, and the place that the raid assumed in post-war consciousness. If there is one dissapoitment I would say it is the sparcity of interviews with surviving bomber crews, though this is perhaps inevitable since the passage of time and a half century of implicit blame have hardened the attitudes of airmen who dropped their bombs from an inevitably impersonal altitude.
This book is not a polemic, that is it does not attempt to exonerate the allies, bomber command or key figures like Arthur Harris or Winston Churchill, but neither does it narrate Dresden as the senseless victim of excess in an otherwise just war. Instead Taylor allows a balanced re-telling of the facts to speak for themselves. Myths are debunked in this process, particularly regarding the astronomical casuality figures circulated as propoganda against the allies, but despite this a strong Clauswitzian message booms through the memoirs and data - that war, once unleashed, spirals out of control and will ultimately serve itself, it moves toward an all consuming totality. "Total war".
When Taylor refers to "the sleep of reason" he is referring to the failure of Europe, and by extension humanity, to remain rational, to think through the consequences of its emotions and ambitions, rather than applying such irrational prejudice into policy.
As another war spins into a vortex of self serving violence, it would appear that we have learned very little in the intervening sixty years.