A Student of History

June 29, 2006

Among the Dead Cities

Filed under: New books,Wars — John Maass @ 2:58 am

From Mark Grinmsley’s blog I learned of a new book, Among the Dead Cities : The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan, by A.C. Grayling. [Walker & Company, 2006].  Mark is reading it as I write, and I will have to do so soon.

The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan 

Publisher’s Weekly reviewed this book about the “Allied bombing of Axis cities, which killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and made smoking ruins of Dresden, Tokyo and Hiroshima,” remaining one of the great controversies of WWII.  Philosophy professor Grayling (The Meaning of Things) focuses on Britain’s “area bombing” of entire German cities, a strategy adopted initially because bombers couldn’t hit smaller sites and then, as attitudes hardened, continued as a deliberate attack on civilian morale.”  

What were some of the reasons for the bombing? Grayling mentions several:

  • that it would shorten the conflict by destroying
    Germany’s economy and will to resist

  • that civilian workers were also combatants

  • that it was simply the rough justice of war 

However, Grayling finds these inadequate. Rather, he argues that British bombing “did little damage to the German war effort at an unconscionable price in innocent lives, in contrast to American pinpoint bombing of industrial and military targets, which succeeded in paralyzing the German economy with few civilian casualties.” 

Here is the Washington Post’s review, which concludes:

The simple fact is that it [this type of bombing] is disproportionately cruel, destructive and wanton. The ends sought — defeat of Germany and Japan — were in sight before the bombings of 1944 and 1945, and even the bombing of Hamburg in 1943 was out of proportion to the gains it allegedly brought to the Allied cause, if in fact there were any. The “horrific firestorm” it produced may have been small compared to the atrocities of Auschwitz, but it was horrific all the same. Grayling is right to insist that by acknowledging that we do not “have clean hands ourselves,” we would be in a far stronger position to condemn “the people who plunged the world into war and carried out gross crimes under its cover.” As matters stand now, we are at the very least open to the charge of hypocrisy.

Readers may well disagree with the Post’s contention that the war was in sight by the time the bombings started in 1944. That seems to be a bit too much of a stretch of hindsight.

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