Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan

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When Nuremberg was scouted in 1945 as a possible site for the Nazi war crime trials, an American damage survey of Germany described it as being "among the dead cities" of that country, for it was 90% destroyed, its population decimated, its facilities lost. As a place to put Nazis on trial, it symbolized the devastation Nazism brought upon Germany, while providing evidence of the destruction the Allies wrought on the country in the course of the war.

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Among The Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan

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Overview

When Nuremberg was scouted in 1945 as a possible site for the Nazi war crime trials, an American damage survey of Germany described it as being "among the dead cities" of that country, for it was 90% destroyed, its population decimated, its facilities lost. As a place to put Nazis on trial, it symbolized the devastation Nazism brought upon Germany, while providing evidence of the destruction the Allies wrought on the country in the course of the war.

In Among the Dead Cities, the acclaimed philosopher A. C. Grayling asks the provocative question, how would the Allies have fared if judged by the standards of the Nuremberg Trials? Arguing persuasively that the victor nations have never had to consider the morality of their policies during World War II, he offers a powerful, moral re-examination of the Allied bombing campaigns against civilians in Germany and Japan, in the light of principles enshrined in the post-war conventions on human rights and the laws of war.

Intended to weaken those countries' ability and will to make war, the bombings nonetheless destroyed centuries of culture and killed some 800,000 non-combatants, injuring and traumatizing hundreds of thousands more in Hamburg, Dresden, and scores of other German cities, in Tokyo, and finally in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "Was this bombing offensive justified by the necessities of war," Grayling writes, "or was it a crime against humanity? These questions mark one of the great remaining controversies of the Second World War." Their resolution is especially relevant in this time of terrorist threat, as governments debate how far to go in the name of security.

Grayling begins by narrating the Royal Air Force's and U. S. Army Air Force's dramatic and dangerous missions over Germany and Japan between 1942 and 1945. Through the eyes of survivors, he describes the terrifying experience on the ground as bombs created inferno and devastation among often-unprepared men, women, and children. He examines the mindset and thought-process of those who planned the campaigns in the heat and pressure of war, and faced with a ruthless enemy. Grayling chronicles the voices that, though in the minority, loudly opposed attacks on civilians, exploring in detail whether the bombings ever achieved their goal of denting the will to wage war. Based on the facts and evidence, he makes a meticulous case for, and one against, civilian bombing, and only then offers his own judgment. Acknowledging that they in no way equated to the death and destruction for which Nazi and Japanese aggression was responsible, he nonetheless concludes that the bombing campaigns were morally indefensible, and more, that accepting responsibility, even six decades later, is both a historical necessity and a moral imperative.

Rarely is the victor's history re-examined, and A. C. Grayling does so with deep respect and with a sense of urgency "to get a proper understanding for how peoples and states can and should behave in times of conflict." Addressing one of today's key moral issues, Among the Dead Cities is both a dramatic retelling of the World War II saga, and vitally important reading for our time.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Grayling's purpose is not to condone the atrocities carried out by the Axis or to condemn the Allies for carpet bombing cities in Germany and Japan, but to show that, even in a "good" war, the good guys can do bad things. He examines the decision making, the circumstances, and the contemporary debate over the practice that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the destruction of so many cities. While the author discusses the practical military drawbacks of the tactic, he is most engaged with its moral implications. Black-and-white photos show the effects of the campaign. This is an engaging and readable work, intended to bring readers into contact with the shaded moralities of war.-Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A philosopher seeks to determine whether Allied area-bombing during World War II was a moral wrong. Lost amid the incomprehensible evil of the Holocaust, says Grayling (The Mystery of Things, 2005, etc.), is a lesser, though still unforgivable, WWII transgression: the Allied forces' indiscriminate bombing of densely populated urban areas with little military significance, such as Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Examining the physical and psychological effects of the bombings and public perception at the time, analyzing the stated and off-the-record intentions of the politicians and RAF and USAAF officers who ordered the attacks and comparing them to similar events (including 9/11), the author attempts to ascertain whether the bombings constitute a "moral crime" and what should be done if they do. He demonstrates the ineffectiveness and heavy cost of area-bombing in terms of money, materiel and Allied lives lost, not to mention the deaths of German and Japanese civilians and the destruction of untold cultural landmarks and treasures. In contrast, he points to the efficacy of precision bombing, particularly in the USAAF attacks on German oil refineries toward the end of the war. Philosophical and logical arguments here prove somewhat less effective, veering away from quantifiable data and into abstraction. Unsurprisingly, Grayling concludes that the attacks were indeed breaches of morality and that the United States and Great Britain must confess to these crimes, in part to further distance themselves from the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Moral philosophers and conscientious citizens will undoubtedly be convinced of these two nations' guilt, but military leaders and politicians seemless likely to take their cues from a philosopher, even one who goes to great lengths to quantify his more nebulous arguments. Well-argued and persuasive, but not likely to sway the red states.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802714718
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 3/7/2006
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.42 (h) x 1.42 (d)

Meet the Author

A. C. Grayling is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of several books, among them Meditations for the Humanist, and biographies of Rene Descartes and William Hazlitt. A fellow of the World Economic Forum and past chairman of the human rights organization, June Fourth, he contributes frequently to the Financial Times and the Economist. He lives in London.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction : was it a crime? 1
2 The bomber war 15
3 The experience of the bombed 81
4 The mind of the bomber 117
5 Voices of conscience 179
6 The case against the bombing 209
7 The defence of area bombing 247
8 Judgement 271
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