Justice in warfare: the ethical debate over British area bombing of German cities in World War II
Alexander, John David
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During World War II the British Royal Air Force undertook a campaign of area bombing of German cities, resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. The debate over the ethics of this policy began at the time and has continued to the present. Area bombing clearly violated the traditional Just War norms of discrimination and noncombatant immunity. Apologists for the bombing have argued that such norms are no longer applicable in conditions of modern total war; critics of the bombing disagree. This dissertation defends the continuing relevance and applicability of these norms, and argues that area bombing constituted a violation of the moral laws governing the conduct of warfare. The dissertation also shows that the seeming intractability of the ethical debate on area bombing results from the participants' positions being informed by distinct and often incompatible ethical traditions. To understand and evaluate the different positions in the debate, it is necessary to engage critically with these underlying traditions. The dissertation shows how five ethical traditions touching on the norm of noncombatant immunity conditioned the positions taken by protagonists in the debate. The ethical traditions are Holy War / Crusade; Classical Realism; Christian Realism; Christian Just War / Jus in Bello; and Christian Pacifism. The first part of the dissertation explores the theoretical background and historical development of each of these traditions. The second part examines five protagonists in the British debate during World War II and analyzes how their positions were informed by the ethical traditions considered in the first part. The participants examined are Lord Vansittart (Holy War / Crusade), Captain Basil Liddell Hart (Classical Realism), Archbishop William Temple (Christian Realism), Bishop George Bell (Just War / Jus in Bello), and Vera Brittain (Christian Pacifism). The dissertation evaluates the strengths, weaknesses, and contributions of each of these traditions. By considering the voices raised against the area bombing at the time - especially those of Bishop Bell and Vera Brittain - the dissertation seeks to encourage theologically and ethically informed opposition to potential violations of the jus in bello norms in present and future conflicts.