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


"Was the bombing offensive [against civilians in Germany and Japan] a crime against humanity," writes A. C. Grayling, "or was it justified by the necessities of war? These questions mark one of the great remaining controversies of the Second World War." Their resolution, which Grayling accomplishes with great respect and with a sense of urgency, is a vital contribution to the debate about how far governments can go in the name of national security.

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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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"Was the bombing offensive [against civilians in Germany and Japan] a crime against humanity," writes A. C. Grayling, "or was it justified by the necessities of war? These questions mark one of the great remaining controversies of the Second World War." Their resolution, which Grayling accomplishes with great respect and with a sense of urgency, is a vital contribution to the debate about how far governments can go in the name of national security.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A probing, thoughtful meditation...The excellence of Among the Dead Cities, however, rests less on Grayling's deductions than his provision of enough information and argument for readers with alternate premises to draw different conclusions. That richness makes wrestling with his views a demanding intellectual exercise."—Carlin Romano, PhiladelphiaInquirer

"Was the indiscriminate bombing of civilians—in Hamburg, in Dresden, in Tokyo, in Hiroshima, in Nagasaki—justifiable militarily, or was it 'in whole or in part morally wrong'?... Almost immediately one senses what [Grayling's] answer will be—an unequivocal "Yes"—but he must be given full credit for reaching that conclusion only after a careful, nuanced analysis...If there was no military justification for the bombings, then there cannot possibly be a moral one, and Grayling's judgment that they were immoral seems to me exceedingly difficult to refute."Jonathan Yardley, WashingtonPost

"In an age of political terror, when it is urgent to come up with a persuasive distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence, it is hard to overstate the importance of the questions Grayling raises."—Fredric Smoler, American Heritage

"In his timely examination of "area bombing," which targeted civilian populations for destruction during World War II, British philosopher A.C. Grayling brings a fresh perspective to some of the great questions of modern history…and gives answers that should broaden thinking about how the United States conducts its global war on terrorism and its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan."—G. Pascal Zachary, San Francisco Chronicle

"In this book, one of the world's most passionate and articulate humanists attends to one of the twentieth-century's largest unexploded moral conundrums…Grayling's verdict is surprising not in ultimately condemning the attacks but in doing so in an elegantly blunt fashion that simultaneously radiates profound compassion for the perpetrators."— Booklist, starred review

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: 9780802715654
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 3/20/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,470,529
  • Product dimensions: 5.81 (w) x 8.15 (h) x 1.10 (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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