There can hardly be a more frustrating or thankless task than trying to impose a moral code on war, an institution which, by its very nature, feeds on its own excesses. Yet that is the job that A.C. Grayling, a professor of philosophy at the University of London's Birkbeck College, undertakes here. Although he cites examples from armed conflicts throughout history, Grayling draws his chief conclusions from the bombings of cities in Europe and Japan during World War II. Grayling first makes it clear that he is not an apologist for Germany or Japan and that they were clearly aggressors who merited being defeated. His moral question is: what did the Allies owe to the innocent civilians of those two nations when it came to planning and carrying out their bombing raids? He is specifically concerned with area bombing, which he defines as the strategy of treating whole cities and the civilian populations as targets for attack by high explosive and incendiary bombs, and in the end by atom bombs. The two great Allied proponents of area bombing were Great Britain's Sir Arthur Harris and America's Gen. Curtis E. LeMay. Each, according to Grayling, had an inflated notion of the effectiveness of the technique in winning the war. Their unfortunate laboratories for testing their theories included not only the industrial centers of Berlin and Tokyo but also such targets of questionable military value as Augsburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Dresden and Nagasaki. At the beginning of the war, both Germany and Britain went to some lengths to avoid the gratuitous bombing of civilians. But as the conflict heated up and one outrage incited another, the niceties fell away and the rationalizations for indiscriminate slaughter blossomed. (LeMay conceded that had the U.S. lost the war, he might have been indicted as a war criminal.) Beyond the great loss of innocent lives, Grayling points out that the bombings also amounted to culturecide the needless destruction of libraries, schools, churches, monuments and other irreplaceable objects of artistic and historic importance. (To America's credit, he notes, Secretary of War Henry Stimson removed Kyoto, Japan's cultural center, from the list of cities to be bombed.)In addition to contending that it was morally wrong, Grayling further argues that area bombing was not nearly as militarily effective as its champions insisted it was. He says it didn't sap the Germans' will to fight nor break the back of their industrial productivity. Just as it had in Britain, the attacks seemed only to stiffen national resolve and bring out the people's resilience and ingenuity. According to official estimates, Allied bombing principally by the British killed 305,000 German civilians and injured another 780,000.
The lingering question is: who can punish the victor in war, no matter how flagrant his crime? Edward Morris reviews from Nashville.