OxBlog

Saturday, July 29, 2006

# Posted 11:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAMMERING KRAUTHAMMER: Periodically, Charles seems compelled to provide the critics of neo-conservatism with an overwhelming supply of ammunition for their cause. And so he did yesterday morning. After making some sensible points about Israel's right to defend itself, he observed that:
When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, it did not respond with a parallel "proportionate" attack on a Japanese naval base. It launched a four-year campaign that killed millions of Japanese, reduced Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to cinders, and turned the Japanese home islands into rubble and ruin.

Disproportionate? No. When one is wantonly attacked by an aggressor, one has every right -- legal and moral -- to carry the fight until the aggressor is disarmed and so disabled that it cannot threaten one's security again. That's what it took with Japan.
Yet in the final months of the war, with the enemy prostrate and paralyzed on his home islands, was there any real justification for the hellish firebombing that took hundreds of thousands of civilian lives without achieving anything of military significance? Or was that bombing just a sad indication of how Japanese brutality sometimes made America no less barbaric?

Shifting to Europe, Krauthammer argues that:
Britain was never invaded by Germany in World War II. Did it respond to the Blitz and V-1 and V-2 rockets with "proportionate" aerial bombardment of Germany? Of course not. Churchill orchestrated the greatest air campaign and land invasion in history, which flattened and utterly destroyed Germany, killing untold innocent German women and children in the process.
In this instance, Krauthammer seems to have imposed his own moral blindness on Churchill. This I know because of a very interesting book review by Chris Hitchens in the previous issue of the Weekly Standard. The book in question asks whether the destruction of German cities was justified. It cites a memo dated March 28, 1945 in which Churchill told the Chiefs of Staff that:
It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing German cities for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise, we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land. The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.
Churchill didn't stop the bombing, but I think his concerns demonstrate that a rain of hell from the skies was an excess, rather than the bold strategy that Krauthammer praises in hindsight. Thus, Krauthammer's extension of Churchill's (supposed) logic to the Israeli predicament is doubly absurd.

Even if Iran, once armed with nuclear weapons, poses an existential threat to Israel, it is hard to see what purpose might be achieved by discarding any notion of proportionality with regard to Lebanese civilians. Fortunately, the Israelis are still taking significant measures to reduce civilian casualties. Krauthammer takes note of this fact, but doesn't seem to recognize that it undercuts his untenable analogy between Israel's war and World War II.
(12) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
I doubt whether the Allied military in early 1945 would have described Japan as "prostrate and paralyzed" -- while budgeting over 100000 casualties for a proposed 1946 invasion force.
 
And lets recall that that Japanese refused to surrender after the firebombings, as well as after the first atomic blast.

Even after the second atomic blast and an imminent invasion of their northern home island by the USSR, they whavered... it took a personal intercession by the emporer to make it happen.
 
When is a statesman wise and humane, and when is he foolish and cruel?

Is a statesman wise and humane when he takes decisive ("cruel" and "barbaric") actions in the short-run, actions that permanently end a conflict as quickly as possible?

And could a stateman likewise be foolish and cruel when he avoids painful steps in the short-run that only prolong a conflict and the suffering it creates?

Why has history been kind to figures such as Lincoln, FDR, Churchill, and Truman, and been very unkind to LBJ, Nixon, Kissinger, and George HW Bush (and will likely be unkind to both Clinton and GWB)?

We have recently discussed this topic with this post:

The military utility of civilians.

All combatants, even Hezbollah, have a legal duty to protect civilians from needless harm. We are quite certain, however, that no member of Hezbollah or Al Qaeda will ever stand in the dock at the ICC. We are equally certain that no trial at Guantanamo will ever survive an appeal at the US Supreme Court. Thus, for at least one side in today's conflicts, the law will continue to remain irrelevant.

When judging the morality of military action, observers should ask what course of action saves the most lives in the long-run.

Westhawk
 
David, I find the Dresden episode of WWII a bit strange. It's one of those (dozens of) things I keep meaning to read up on.

In late March 1945, I guess the Germans were no longer able to bomb the UK, otherwise I can't understand Churchill's memo. But the bombing of Dresden seems to mark a switch in the thinking of at least part of the public. What had been a life-or-death struggle became a sort of game where the Allies could coast to victory.

However, in WWII there was no doubt that Germany (and Japan) had to be defeated utterly; this was the lesson of WWI. The question was exactly how hard the Allies should stomp them into the mud.

I see this "coast to victory" attitude today in Lebanon. The Israeli military is supposed to be so superior, that we (apparently) expect it to forgo shooting at the enemy when Hezbollah is too close to a UN observation post. And we have lost the central point that Hezbollah needs to be stomped into the mud to prevent them starting another war in the future.

It would be hard to find a better example of missing this point than Warren Christopher's opinion piece in the 7/28 WaPo.
 
I think Churchill's moral qualms about bombing Germany are overstated - he was far less nervous than were some of his Cabinet colleagues, one of whom actually read a group of Bomber Command pilots the riot act with such ferocity that there was doubt in the chain of command about whether they should actually proceed with the Dresden mission. The RAF queried Churchill (who was then at Yalta - I think it was Yalta) for confirmation and got it. Much of this is detailed, in brief, in Paul Johnson's "Modern Times." Churchill was a great man, the man who did more than anyone else to ensure that the Allies won the war, but he wasn't always a good one. He knew what Bomber Command was up to - the foundation document for the CBO (Lord Cherwell's minute) suggested that the explicit goal was to "dehouse" the enemy population. I'm glad we won the war, but I'm not convinced all of that air power could not have been put to better use, by, say, bombing rail yards.
 
David,
I think you get it exactly right. The point to underscore is that the IDF itself takes more care re. civillians than Krauthammer's analogy implies it should.
 
I'm glad to see someone is re-evaluating the moral calculus of civilian casualties. Probably the best, or at least most interesting, criticisms in recent years came from the right wing during Clinton's focus-group driven air war campaigns in Yugoslavia. If you go back and read some of Alan Keyes thoughts on just war doctrine, speaking for the hard right in this country, they would not be out of place coming from Dennis Kucinich today.
 
What Churchill thought of certain specific events such as the firebombing of Dresden is irrelevent to Krauthammers point. His point is that in WWII the allies made war in a ferocious manner which led to countless civilian casualties. No-one considers those actions immoral. There are virtually no cases where a war was fought without incidental civilian casualties. Only Israel is held to that standard. WWII is simply one example of the many wars where such things occurred and all agree that there was no crime done.
 
Victor Hanson has made the point that a nation is not beaten until it feels itself beaten, and our efforts in Iraq were short of that. So the opposition continues.

Japan and Germany have been very, very good for the last sixty years.

Is there a lesson in there, someplace? Is killing civilians by the hundreds of thousands a requirement for a sufficient beating?

The current problems in Iraq could go on for a very long time before the total was up to, say, Tokyo or Dresden. Maybe the opposition will be convinced short of that.

On the other hand, if various folks in the region see messing with us as a king of no-fault aggression, we could find ourselves in the midst of horror.

The reference to the lesson of WW I, about really beating somebody instead of letting them go, is important. It is also important to recall that every decision maker of WW II was either a veteran of WW I or had lived through it as an adult. The Germans attacked everybody they could find on a map, the horrors of trench warfare hadn't been matched since The Thirty Years War.

And then they did it AGAIN. WORSE. What anger there was among those who were being attacked a second time.

I can't imagine any of the decision makers not thinking about what it was going to take to make sure the idea of aggressive war would work on the Japanese and Germans like a great big glass of Mexican tap water, only faster.
Whatever it took. Since we know what happens when you don't do it.
 
PJ/Maryland: from Wikipedia, concerning V2 rocket attacks in WWII -
The final two exploded on (or near) their targets on 27 March 1945. The last British civilian killed was Mrs Ivy Millichamp, 34, in her home in Orpington. In all, about seven thousand civilians were killed in London by the V-2, an average of over 5 deaths per attack. This, however, understates the potential of the V-2, since many rockets were mis-directed and exploded harmlessly. Accurately targeted missiles were often devastating, causing large numbers of deaths - about 160 in one explosion in Woolwich, south-east London and 567 deaths in a cinema in Antwerp - and significant damage in the critically important Antwerp docks.
 
Churchill didn't stop the bombing, but I think his concerns demonstrate that a rain of hell from the skies was an excess

Huh???

This is precisely WRONG.

The fact that Churchill didn't stop the bombing demonstrates that he did NOT think it excessive. If he thought it excessive, he obviously would have stopped it.

One wonders how you can take the clearest example and twist it in exactly 180 degrees.
 
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