When they woke 75 years ago this morning, the people of Dresden were faced by “the opened gates of hell”.
That was how one witness described the overnight air raid when 796 Allied bombers razed that city and killed around 25,000.
The justification for those raids, just weeks before the Second World War ended and when Germany was spent, is bitterly contested.
What cannot be contested is the path that led to that carnage. It began when terror replaced reason in Germany’s politics.
A Dresden became inevitable when, in September 1935, the civic institutions and principles that guarantee civilisation were cast aside. The antisemitic, racist, and inhumane Nuremberg Laws were passed. Germany could not have imagined where the change it had embraced would lead.
It may seem disproportionate to link the destruction of Dresden to the ambitions of a minor American legislator but, as our world knows only too well, catastrophe is the culmination of many wrong turns.
Tennessee Republican, Micah Van Huss, inevitably a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, has proposed that legislation recognise media giant CNN and The Washington Post “as fake news ... part of the media wing of the Democratic party”.
This bias-cum-hate would be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in how Germany destroyed itself and Europe.
Sadly, it is not necessary to go as far as Tennessee to see those shut-down tactics. Just this month Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flunkies tried to exclude reporters they saw as unsympathetic.
It would be naive to imagine that this will not be tried again, especially as US president Trump applies that policy successfully.
The glee of Tories suggesting the BBC’s lifeblood — its licence fee — might be closed off is from the same dark playbook.
This shift from what we carelessly see as permanent democratic norms was highlighted in recent weeks when judges from Belgium, the Netherlands, Estonia, Austria, Latvia, Denmark, France, Greece and almost every other European country were joined by Supreme Court judge Mr Justice John MacMenamin in Warsaw to protest at that country’s Law and Justice party’s intimidation of judges and their courts.
This regression is, naturally, dressed as reform.
There are endless examples of this silencing: The murders of Jamal Khashoggi and Daphne Caruana Galizia; the official excoriation of the late Li Wenliang because he highlighted the nascent coronavirus epidemic too. India’s undemocratic and ongoing communications blackout in Kashmir is another.
Most of these changes came about when new leaders, new administrations try to consolidate their position by, one way or another, disguising suppression as reform.
It might be unwise to imagine these issues will always be irrelevant to us, that our democratic virtue is immune.
That, as we enter a period that might be defined by profound political change, would be at best lazy . That would be reckless as online voices, even if in a private capacity, have called for the “supervision” of media that might dare to question the ascendant narrative.
“A new government and a proper monitoring authority with powers introduced to prevent such political bias” has been suggested.
The blandness of that threat does not dilute its dangerous, unacceptable edge. “Up the Ra” indeed.
Those concerns are fuelled by the battle over our past.
Sinn Féin’s need to have in-living-memory atrocities filed as historic underlines this. That idea has its attractions as the average age of SF’s 37 TDs is 44 and a great number of those who voted for them younger still.
Despite that the future is always more important than the past.
Enduring, positive change cannot be built on lies or the ruins of civic institutions. The people of Dresden and Germany learned this hard lesson and became one of the most positive forces in today’s Europe.
If we are to follow their example then the terrorist atrocities of our more recent past cannot be brushed under the carpet — and the institutions of the State, educational or judicial, must be held secure so that they can continue to describe them as just that — no matter who controls them or their resources.