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« Christopher Shields on Personal Identity | Main | Anne Phillips on Political Representation »

November 09, 2008



Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. I guess if you want to assume that everyone in the middle of a life and death struggle will have complete moral clarity that's up to you. But I'll call it what it is: sanctimonious self rightious moralizing. In the 1940's destroying a nation's civilian morale was considered as important, possibly more important, than destroying their military or industrial base. Doing so with strategic bombing raids was a morally questionable then but accepted tactic. And unfortunately all the more so because Hitler was the first to do so from Guernica to the Blitz.

The irony, which I hope made it into Mr. Grayling's book, is subsequent military investigations found bombing civilians STIFFENED civilian resolve. The British became less inclined to crumble as the Blitz progressed and the Germans likewise when the situation reversed. Worse still, the Germans decentralized their manufacturing base to be less vulnerable to aerial attack and their military production only suffered slightly from it. Amazingly, Mr. Grayson credits America for assuming a kind of moral high ground for sticking to industrial targets. As an American, I'd feel gratified except that it isn't true. City bombing was a joint U.S.-British operation-Dresden being a perfect example. Except for a few rare Soviet operations, America monopolized the bombing of Japan. Also, America's vaunted Norden bomb sight proved so inaccurate our guys might as well have bombed at night too.

These military and political leaders did not do this bombing just to be bastards (though I'm sure Hitler and Churchill derived some satisfaction from it). They did it because their view of war was defined by Clauswitz who insisted, according the views of the time, that nations should apply EVERY effort to win a war and do so quickly. Failing to do so would eventually cost more lives and bankrupt the state. There was no indication from previous wars that bombing civilians would cause an opposite effect.

What really annoys me about Mr. Grayson is his readiness to bring his moral purity judgements to the modern day. It's OK in his eyes to severely judge and even prosecute Soldiers who kill civilians by mistake. Maybe he's right. But I think it's only fair he try being a Soldier who hunts terrorists first. I think he'll find that smart bombs aren't always smart, intelligence isn't always so, and bad guys aren't gentlemen. Try as we might, we'll never completely exorcise the fudge factor from warfare.

Ronald Newland

Mr Grayling is addressing the question of the morality of bombing civilians. The fact that he is doing so many years after the war is irrevalent. If it was wrong then it was wrong. That does not mean that the people who did it are evil, just that they were wrong to do it. If anyone of us had been in that situation we might have behaved similarly but we would have been wrong to do it also. Mr. Grayling's argument might help in a similar situation in the future to behave a little bit more morally. Let us hope so.

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