Is it ever right to target civilians in a time of war? Or do the ends sometimes justify the means? The twentieth century - the age of 'total war' - marked the first time that civilian populations came to be seen as legitimate military targets. At this policy's most terrible extreme came the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki but it is an issue that remains relevant today with the needs of the 'War on Terror' used to justify the use of drone strikes. In Among the Dead Cities, A.C. Grayling explores these moral issues in all their complexity with a detailed examination of the Allied bombing of German cities during World War 2. Considering the cases for and against the area bombing and the experiences of the bombed and the bombers, Grayling asks: was the targeting of civilians in Germany a crime? Now available in the Bloomsbury Revelations series, the book includes a new afterword by the author considering the issues in light of later conflicts up to the present day.
The Allied bombing of Axis cities, which killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and made smoking ruins of Dresden, Tokyo and Hiroshima, remains one of the great controversies of WWII; this probing study does the issue full justice. Philosophy professor Grayling (The Meaning of Things) focuses on Britain's "area bombing" of entire German cities, a strategy adopted initially because bombers couldn't hit smaller sites and then, as attitudes hardened, continued as a deliberate attack on civilian morale. Grayling scrupulously considers the justifications for area bombing that it would shorten the conflict by destroying Germany's economy and will to resist, that civilian workers were also combatants or that it was simply the rough justice of war and finds them wanting. British bombing, he contends, did little damage to the German war effort at an unconscionable price in innocent lives, in contrast to American pinpoint bombing of industrial and military targets, which succeeded in paralyzing the German economy with few civilian casualties. (The Americans, he sadly notes, resorted to area bombing in their devastating air campaign against Japan.) Drawing on firsthand accounts by theorists, architects, victims and opponents of area bombing, Grayling situates a lucid analysis of the historical data within a rigorous philosophical framework.