A.C. Grayling: Philosopher writes history book questioning WW II bombing of civilians

Historians in the News

IF THE past is a foreign country, as L.P. Hartley wrote in his novel The Go-Between, it is evidently one of the most popular travel destinations.

It is also one of the most contentious. At the festival yesterday, philosopher A.C. Grayling, author of Among the Dead Cities, a work questioning the morality of the Allied saturation bombing of Germany in World War II, was asked by a member of the audience whether critics of the bombing were guilty of imposing contemporary standards on past generations.

Grayling responded by taking his audience back further into the past: all the way back to classical Greece, in fact.

Citing Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, about the long conflict between Athens and Sparta, Grayling noted that the ancient historian had set as one of his tasks the demonstration of how warfare corrupted moral sensibilities.

For example, the people of Athens debated in their assembly whether to massacre the inhabitants of Mytilene, a city that refused to comply with Athens' political demands.

The notion that slaughtering innocent non-combatants is inherently wrong, Grayling insisted, is not something human beings made up yesterday. This kind of killing troubles even those — or perhaps especially those — who believe they are fighting in a just cause. What is more, people who claim that sometimes killing the innocent is necessary typically do not argue that it is moral, but rather that sometimes moral qualms must be overridden....
Read entire article at The Age

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