November 11, 2009
MORAL ACCOUNTING: A LESSER WRONG IS STILL A WRONG
Grayling, A. C., Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan (New York: Walker, 2006) ("In the course of the Second World War the air forces of Britain and the United States of America carried out a massive bombing offensive against the cities of Germany and Japan, ending with the destruction of Dresden and Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Was this bombing offensive a crime against humanity? Or was it justified by the necessities of war?" Id. at 1."The Holocaust throws such a deep and jagged shadow over the Second World War that the sum total of the harm done by all other non-Holocaust-related means is diminished by it; which is one reason why there has been so little said about culpabilities on the Allied side of the struggle--culpabilities which pale in comparison to Nazi atrocity, and which the victor nations have therefore allowed themselves to neglect. Dresden makes periodic appearances on public consciousness, but very few people (apart from apologists for ultra-right-wing interests; but they are not interested in truth or historical proportion; they have other fish to fry) see that the Allied area bombing campaigns over Germany and Japan merit inspection and evaluation. For if they constitute a wrong, even though it is dwarfed by the Holocaust and other Axis-committed aggressions and atrocities, they would still be a wrong. And that, to repeat, is what is being examined here." Id. at 116. "There are two major reasons why it matters to recognize and accept that the Allied bomber forces' area-bombing campaign constitute moral crimes. One is so that we in the victor nations can face up to our part in committing crimes in the course of that terrible war; crimes by a long way far less in magnitude than those committed by Nazism, though in the matter of comparisons the culpability of Allied area bombing should prompt uncomfortable reflection bout the moral company it keeps, given that it is more akin to Japanese actions in their infamous attack o Nanking than it is to, say, Henry Stimson's withdrawal of Kyoto from the list of atom-bomb targets. It is an obvious enough comment that only if a civilisation looks at itself frankly and accepts what it sees, can it hope to learn from the exercise, and progress in the right way and direction thereafter. The cliché, no less true and pertinent for being one, that applies here is that we owe it to our future to get matters straight about the past." "The second reason is that we are at risk of repeating mistakes if we do not face up to their commission in the past." Id. at 275. The issue of civilian causalities is not a merely a problem of the past, it is a pressing issue today. A few years ago there was a brief and passing interests in civilian "collateral damage," where civilian causalities were thought to be either unintended or absolutely necessary to achieve a "legitimate" target. That discussion faded from the public consciousness, mainly because our attention-span is about three news-cycles long and because those who raise the moral issue are characterized as unpatriotic (as not being in full support of the war effort, as not supporting our troops). In the context of mass bombing in the Second World War, Grayling confronts the moral questions. This is a context where the civilian deaths and casualties were not merely collateral but purposeful. Are there no civilian in war today; that is, has the civilian/combatant distinction not only been blurred but eradicated? And not simply by them, but by us? There are just wars. Yet, even in just war, certain means are morally wrong. Just ends do not justify unjust (or wrongful) means. Think.).