Blaming the victim
By Eli Shaltiel
"The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945" by Jorg Friedrich (translated from the German by Allison Brown), Columbia University Press, 532 pages, $34.95
"Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943" by Keith Lowe, Simon & Schuster, 489 pages, $30
I wrote to him, after reading the review, and certainly under the influence of Emmanuel Todd and Geoffrey Gorer, who are reawakening my enjoyment of history and anthropology. My comments follow:
I enjoyed the book review.
That waging war involves consequences that are unintended has been demonstrated again and again, and Iraq is just the latest example. To make the act of killing acceptable to a human being, it is necessary to desensitize and depersonalize the victim and to rationalize the process. War on the cheap is a fiction. It is never on the “moral cheap.” Sometimes, kill or be killed, makes survival a motivation for killing one’s enemies, but the shades of gray and the blurred outlines make the decisions extremely difficult in the time frame, and very subject to the second guesses.
Bombing the Nazis, in the strategic bombing campaign, with the tools available (bomb sights) meant casualties amongst the civilian population, and this was known, and deemed acceptable. It was as much a war crime as torpedoing passenger ships by u-boats.
I believe that the bombing campaigns, at least initially, were aimed at appropriate military targets. Collateral damage, a word that didn’t seem to be applied at the time, was regretted but accepted. Terror bombing and deliberate creations of fire storms were areas of warfare that can be interpreted as “war crimes.” Strategic bombing, today, is certainly a war crime, if the targets involve risk of civilian damage, and they always do. The use of the atomic bomb was not defined as a war crime, but it was.
There is always a risk of judging the consequences of war from the victor’s perspective, as from the perspective of the defeated. War injures both, and war can’t be truly rationalized as a “good war.”
There are wars that have to be fought for the preservation of the nation, in the immediate threat, as when attacked, and there are wars, by design, crafted for reasons known best to the manipulators of opinion, in which the wars are fought for imagined wrongs, or imagined threats. It is a wonderful testament to a certain level of rationality that the Soviet Union and the United States never fought a direct war.