Tuesday, October 10, 2006

jus in bello

Nearing the end of AC Grayling's "Among the Dead Cities", which comes very much recommended. He attempts - as objectively and rationally as possible - to examine the case for the carpet bombing of Germany and Japan by the Allies in World War Two.

Do the obliteration of Dresden and Hiroshima - to name but two notable cases - qualify as war crimes?

I've mentioned to a few people that this is what I've been reading, and none of them have yet come up with an argument or point of view not covered in the book, either for or against.

The arguments are expertly articulated and balanced against one another, and we hear not just from contemporary sources who bombed and were bombed themselves, but from legal documents, commentators on war like Grotius and Sun Tzu, and any number of wise persons.

It is a comprehensive and compelling case, and Grayling argues that whatever the barbarities of the Nazi and Japanese regimes, the indiscriminate and relentless programme of destruction was not necessary, was not proportionate and was not nearly as effective as it's proponents claimed.

A lesser wrong than that committed by the enemy is still a wrong. And what's more - as Grayling also shows - these lesser wrongs only complicate the aftermath of any victory. Which is not surprising, because if the victors cannot abide by the rule of law and human decency, why should anybody else?

Bombing people "back into the Stone Age" does not endear them to kindness and civility. I am reminded of Bruce Robinon speaking of his script for the Killing Fields:
"If I get incredibly uptight and frustrated, I get breathless because I'm asthmatic. The same chain reaction could very well happen inside a body to create a cancer: there's no other way out. The American war machine dumped eight billion - not million, billion - dollars worth of bombs on Cambodia, and that country had no protection against this and I think it turned back: 'If we can't destroy the enemy, we'll destroy ourselves.' That's virtually what happened in Cambodia: it went on a self-destruct."

Alistair Owen (ed.), "Smoking in Bed - Conversations with Bruce Robinson", p. 45.

But the most shocking thing about Grayling's book is not the accounts of what it did to people and their cities, and how it hampered the liberation of France and made things just ever more worse. It is to learn Area bombing was finally outlawed internationally in an additional protocol to the Geneva Convention - adopted only as late as 8 June 1977.

And, as you read through the list of things unequivocably banned for being such untennable savagery, to think, "But I've seen our side doing that on the news..."

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