On Sunday, May 28, I saw most of a well-informed and civil discussion between British philosopher, Anthony C. Grayling, and the irrepressible left-wing hawkish polemicist and British-American journalist, Christopher Hitchens, broadcast on C-Span 2 (“Book TV”). Prof. Grayling has recently authored “Among the Dead Cities,” a moral and practical critique of the RAF and US strategic bombing campaigns against German and Japanese cities in World War II.
Grayling argued that only the US bombing of military-related industrial targets was justified, but not the RAF’s intentional carpet bombing of civilians nor the US Army Air Force’s wholesale destruction of the cities of Japan, directed by Gen. Curtis LeMay and planned by his assistant, Robert McNamara (yes, LBJ’s secretary of defense). Hitchens was more complex in his approach and I’m not sure that I got all its nuances.
Hitchens criticized the US use of atomic bombs, but seemed to defend the incineration of Dresden, Germany (a city of no military value), and other such targets in clearly demonstrating to the German and Japanese peoples that they were utterly defeated and thereby deterring them from ever again embarking upon military aggression. He regarded this as preventing “They stabbed us in the back” sloganeering such as the Nazis exploited after World War I — helping propel them to power — because Germany was not devastated in that prior war, nor borderlands lost or occupied until after the peace treaty of 1919.
Among the facts and figures cited is that approximately 350,000 German and Japanese civilian lives were lost in each of these countries; 55,000 British and Commonwealth airmen and 45,000 American crewmen died over the skies of Germany and Japan — but most over Germany, since Japan had virtually no effective air defense in the waning years of the war.
This subject brings to mind my article awaiting publication in the July-August issue of Jewish Currents, particularly with the following somewhat stark words (only slightly changed in the final version being published):
While instances of oppression against Palestinian Arabs are real enough [and their suffering is evident to all the world], I often think, by way of analogy, of what a proverbial Martian wandering around the devastated cities of Germany or Japan at the end of World War II might have thought: “What monsters could have done this?” This view and this question would have been totally divorced from the actions of the criminal aggressor regimes of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan that brought this cruel destruction upon their populations. Nevertheless, one can debate the morality of the carpet bombing of enemy cities, even as one accepts that the right side won World War II. Similarly, one can question Israeli strategies and tactics, while agreeing with the basic right of a country to defend its citizens.