Among the Dead Cities : Is the Targeting of Civilians in War Ever Justified? Paperback
Britain and the USA carried out a massive bombing offensive against the cities of Germany and Japan in the course of the Second World War, which ended with the destruction of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Was the bombing of civilian targets justified by the necessities of war? Or was it, in fact, a crime against humanity? How should we, the descendants of the Allies who won the victory in that war, reply to the moral challenge of the descendants of those whose cities were targeted?
A.C. Grayling looks at the stands people took, both for and against, and crucially asks what the lessons are that we can learn for today about how people should behave in a world of tension and moral confusion, of terrorism and fragile democracies. "Among the Dead Cities" is both a lucid and revealing work of modern history and an investigation of conscience into one of the last remaining controversies of that time.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 400 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
- Publication Date: 05/02/2007
- Category: European history
- ISBN: 9780747586036
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Review by MikeFarquhar
AC Grayling's Among the Dead Cities is his examination of the Allied policy of area bombing civilian populations during the Second World War, and asking whether it was morally justified. He chooses to focus not on the attacks on Dresden, or on the atomic bombs, but on an attack on Hamburg much earlier in the war that he cites as being more stereotypical of the strategy as a whole. Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with Grayling, one of the most respected humanist philosophers extant, he concludes that area bombing was not necessary; it was not proportionate; it was against basic humanitarian principles; it was against prevailing moral standards; it was against the law and that it was wrong. He plays fairly with the opposing viewpoints, and his conclusion is well-weighted and supported. It's not an easy read, but is best summed up by Grayling's view of the war as A just war against morally criminal enemies, in which in some important respects the eventual victors allowed themselves to join their enemies in the moral depths, a fact which should be profoundly and frankly regretted. ... What we can claim is that [the Allies] were far cleaner than those of the people who plunged the world into war and carried out gross crimes under its cover, and that the explanation - not the excuse - for why we allowed to get our own hands to get dirty at all is because of what we had to clean upOne of the most telling pieces of information quoted by Grayling was how various Allied civilian populations saw the acceptability of area bombing of civilian populations as the War raged. Support for the policy was highest in Allied populations in America - never subjected to sustained aerial bombing of its civilian population - and was at its lowest by far amongst Londoners who had endured the Blitz.Grayling's argument is interesting historically, but he makes it with an eye cast unavoidably towards our present. Unspoken but echoing is the maxim that those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat its mistakes.