Wars, Just Causes, War Crimes, Civilian Non-Combatant Casualties, World War II, Moral Philosophy

Wars, Just Causes, War Crimes, Civilian Non-Combatant Casualties, World War II, Moral Philosophy.

Wow, that is a mouthful for a title.

For many years, it has troubled me that so many civilians (several hundreds of thousands by the most conservative estimates, likely much higher in reality) were wantonly killed during World War II in the purposeful bombings of cities by the Allies.  Having read eye-witness accounts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the firestorm in Dresden in mid-February, 1945 (when the end of the war in Europe was clearly in sight), I had some idea of the horrors of these atrocities.

My moral convictions told me that some actions can never be justified or rationalized.  The conclusion that these reflections compelled me to is that a just war cannot be conducted using immoral means.  In other words, immoral means cannot be employed in the prosecution of a just war.  The fact that a country is fighting a just war does not give it license to commit wanton acts of slaughter of human beings (non-combatants).

One can debate about what constitutes a just war.  (Britain’s “balance of power” position, originating in the Congress of Vienna in 1815, was the reason it declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939.  Britain could not save Poland, and knew it.  Perhaps, civilization would have been better served if Britain had stayed neutral and let Hitler and Stalin eventually destroy each other.)  But, can you justify using any means to win a just warDoes the ends justify any and all means, no matter how cruel and unnecessary these means are?

We often hear of Nazi war crimes and Imperial Japan’s war crimes, but rarely, if at all, consider Allied war crimes.  At Nuremberg, war crimes was one of the indictments against the defeated German state and was defined as purposely waging war on non-combatants (old people, women, and children) and on civilian population centers.  With the area bombing campaign of Britain’s Royal Air Force, that was exactly what was done in Germany.  A similar campaign of terrorizing civilians was employed by the United States against Japan in the final six months of the Pacific war.

By chance, in January of this year I stumbled upon A. C. Grayling’s book,  Among the Dead Cities, The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan, published in 2006, and recently got around to reading it.  Mr. Grayling, a contemporary British philosopher,  gives us a very comprehensive treatment of the question: was the bombing campaign against civilians morally justifiable?   He concludes that it was not.  It was also not necessary, nor even helpful, in winning the wars against Germany and Japan.  Grayling looks at the bombing campaign from the perspective of those who ordered it and carried it out, and from the perspective of the civilians (survivors) who were bombed.  He examines the military and economic implications of the civilian bombing campaign.  He does not reach his conclusions in a haphazard or hurried manner.

It is encouraging that these types of questions are being raised and seriously thought about, and hopefully our collective thinking about war will change such that we do not specifically and purposely target civilian population centers in future wars.

You might also like these two other essays on my blog.



Please, have everyone you know visit my blog at least once in their lives!  Thanks much!



    1. Daily Cheese News:

      Your point is well taken, but I do not fully agree. Nations do have a legitimate right to national self defense. Just as individuals do when someone violently breaks into their homes and attempts to assault them.

      Regrettably, there is a big financial incentive for making war. Banks and defense industries make profits in war. The prolonged war in Iraq profited the defense companies. Some people believe that is why the war (and the attempt at nation building) was kept going for so long in order to keep the profits comng in for the defense industries.

      I do share your worry about those in power not learning from the past. Franklin Roosevelt’s (FDR) “New Deal” was an abysmal failure. At no time prior to the US entry into WW II in December, 1941, was unemployemnt less than 14 percent during his time in office. When he took office in March, 1933, unemployment was in the 20s as a percent. So, after 9 years as President, the economy was still stuck in the mud. (You may want to read my first post on Obama – in the category Obama – for my take on his handling of the current economy.)

      Professor Tansill, in his 1951 book, “Backdoor to War” (published by Regnery), describes how FDR, realizing that his ill-conceived New Deal would never get the US out of its economic malaise (known now as the Great Depression), sought to provoke Japan and then Germany into attacking the US. He succeeded with Japan and the US entered the war. (This book documents this and is a challenging but rewarding read for a close scrutiny of the history of that period.)

      The news for Obama is going to get worse as the summer progresses. Next Friday, the Supreme Court is likely to toss out his “ObamaCare”. The economy is slowing from its current anemic rate of growth. He may become desparate as the election nears. That scares me as there is no telling what such a man might do to divert attention from his failed domestic policies. (You may want to read my essay on a possible war with Iran in the World Events category above.)

      1. All valid points,
        Often I read the comparison between the financial crisis now and the great depression, there are some similarities but also a huge difference the economy was not global like it is today.
        As we see the dollar and Euro heading for a fall we will see a huge shift in geo-political landscape.I believe it will test many old friend ships and will move us towards more conflict.
        Iran is always in the news and the sights of the neo-cons, the country is and has been a victim of interference and out right illegal manipulation by the British and the Americans.
        Today we see a Turkish plane shot down over Syria, it only takes a spark like this to ignite a conflict that will drag in China and Russia if that happens all bets are off and my advice find a cave somewhere and try to ride it out.
        In closing let me complement you on your site great Information and I think I will use your post as links in some of our other stories if that okay.

  1. dailycheesenews,

    None of my blog essays are copyrighted. So, if you want to link to any of them, reblog them, print them out for a colleague, etc. that is fine. Just kindly give credit to my blog, https://larrysmusings.wordpress.com/ so that they will be encouraged to stop by and view the various essays in the categories in the left side bar above. My aim is not to have every reader agree with my point of view, but to encourage more independent thinking for all.

    I must point out that, albeit the global economy was not as integrated as it is today in 2012, trade protectionism adopted by the European countries and by the USA at the time, 1930s, served to worsen the worldwide economic contraction.

    Yes, we agree that a major geopolitical shift is coming. The bankrupt first world nations are on the decline with no indication that will change. There will be new powers emerge. China, India and Brasil come to mind.

    Best, Larry

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