Monday 14 January 2002

There is no moral clarity in war

In a Jerusalem Post op-ed piece (reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald) in which he praises the “moral clarity” of America’s war against terrorism, Benjamin Netanyahu writes:

No grievance, whether real or imagined, can ever justify terrorism. Its deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians, as opposed to the unintentional civilian casualties that are the tragic consequences of justified warfare, must be seen - like Nazism - as an unmitigated evil.

This argument never ceases to amaze me. British bombing raids on Germany during World War II were directed specifically at civilian targets. And although the American public was outraged by Japanese air attacks on Chinese cities, the United States put aside any claims to moral clarity when, in the last months of the Pacific War, the Twentieth Air Force abandoned precision bombing against military targets and launched the firebombing campaign against Japan.

Tokyo after the March 9-10 raid

In the first raid—on the night of March 9-10, 1945—napalm-based incendiaries killed an estimated 100,000 civilians. According to the most authoratitive source, Kenneth Werrell’s Blankets of Fire, during the course of the campaign B-29s destroyed 178 square miles (43 percent) of the built-up areas of sixty-six cities (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The United States Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 330,000 people were killed, 476,000 injured, 2.5 million buildings destroyed, and 8.5 million made homeless.

I’m not suggesting that the USAAF lacked justification in bombing Japanese cities. I’ve yet to encounter a convincing alternative strategy that could have ended the war with fewer casualties, military or civilian. But only a lawyer, a politician, a hypocrite, or a fool would suggest that war affords any opportunities for moral clarity. Netanyahu’s statement is particularly egregious, given the Israeli government’s tacit support for illegal settlements on the West Bank.

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And what about the fact that terror was a favourite tactic of the Stern Gang when seeking to establish the state of Israel?

Posted by Howard on 15 January 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour