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Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime? Hardcover – 20 Feb 2006


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; First edition (20 Feb. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747576718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747576716
  • Product Dimensions: 16.6 x 3.5 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 671,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.C. Grayling is Professor of Philosophy and Master of the New College of the Humanities, London. He believes that philosophy should take an active, useful role in society. He has written and edited many books, both scholarly and for a general readership, and has been a regular contributor to The Times, Financial Times, Observer, Independent on Sunday, Economist, Literary Review, New Statesman and Prospect, and is a frequent and popular contributor to radio and television programmes, including Newsnight, Today, In Our Time, Start the Week and CNN news. He is a former Fellow of the World Economic Forum at Davos, a Vice President of the British Humanist Association, an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, Patron of the UK Armed Forces Humanist association, Patron of Dignity in Dying, a former Booker Prize Judge, a Fellow of the Royal Literary Society, a member of the human rights group IHEU represented at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva; and much more.

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Review

Praise for A.C. Grayling 'Grayling is particularly good at illuminating the knottiness of moral discourse' Sunday Times 'Grayling writes with clarity, elegance and the occasional aphoristic twist, conscious of standing in that long essayistic tradition that runs from Montaigne and Bacon to Emerson and Thoreau' Noel Malcolm, Daily Telegraph

About the Author

A.C. Grayling is one of Britain's leading intellectuals. Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a supernumerary fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford, the multi-talented author of the best-selling The Meaning of Things, The Reason of Things and most recently The Mystery of Things, believes that philosophy should take an active, useful role in society, rather than withdrawing to the proverbial ivory tower. He is a regular contributor to The Times, the Financial Times, Observer, Independent on Sunday, Economist, Literary Review, New Statesman and Prospect, and a frequent and popular contributor to radio and television, including CNN, Newsnight, the Today programme, In Our Time and Start the Week. He was a Man Booker judge in 2003, is a Fellow of the World Economic Forum and an advisor on many committees ranging from Drug Testing at Work to human rights groups.

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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Barton Keyes on 12 April 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By and large this is a balanced and measured account of the cases for and against deciding whether the allied bombing of targets in Germany during the second world war -- under the 'area bombing' policy -- was a legitimate or an illegal act of war. It has very obvious parallels in illuminating the legality or otherwise of recent acts of policy in regard to the Balkans and the Gulf.

From the outset Grayling is at pains in his argument to distinguish between the (unlawful as he regards them) acts of bombing and the courage of the crews of the bombers -- in the Allied campaigns at least. Only at the end of the book does this distinction begin to fray when he states that the Allied airmen should have refused to obey orders to bomb (known) civilian targets and thereby distance themselves from the taint of illegal acts. Here Grayling appears to be indulging in ex post facto rationalisation -- why should have the airmen objected on legal grounds to something that was not then specifically illegal (if of dubious legality)? Only after the Second World War was area bombing specifically made illegal by new codicils to the Geneva Conventions -- until then (largely by manoeuvrings of Britain and the USA admittedly) the situation was murky. The Allies had the moral courage to resolve the ambiguity of the argument in favour of the 'moralist' stance -- even if their nuclear warfare policies did not reflect the apparent resolution.

Grayling's argument effectively reduces to "if area bombing had been specifically illegal then, Britain and the USA would have been guilty of war crimes in pursuing it, as a policy of war -- even against the evil represented by Nazism".
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Dominic Berlemann on 14 July 2007
Format: Paperback
It's almost impossible to reevaluate the most decisive events of WWII without getting emotionally overexcited in one way or the other. The issues at stake are complex and demand the ability to observe developments from several perspectives simultaneously.

Grayling's book is refreshingly clear and he doesn't resort to the outbursts of rage shown partucularly by people such as German historian Joerg Friedrich. The message is: although the Allied bombing campaigns against the civilian population of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were juridically no war crimes and took place in the wider context of a just war against Hitler's bestial tyranny and Japan's cruel expansionism, they were morally inacceptable since they amounted to sheer instruments of terror with little (if any) real military effect.

Grayling especially condemns Bomber Command's nighttime area bombing of German cities in the final stages of the war when, according to Grayling, the outcome of this uniquely brutal global conflict was no longer in doubt. Yet he also makes crystal-clear that he doesn't want to diminish Allied aircrews' massive and brave contribution to overthrowing fascism. The alternative for Bomber Harris' strategy of bombing entire cities to rubble no matter how many civilian lives would be lost would have been to follow the American example of attacking infrastructure serving a highly military purpose (which the USAAF did in day-time raids predominantly). This approach, Grayling argues, would not only have exerted the same strain on Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe to align many of its resources to defending the Reich as the actual campaign did, but it would have also accelerated the downfall of the military-industrial complex providing the Wehrmacht and Goering's Luftwaffe with the means of waging war.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By NEP on 13 Sept. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an essay which sets out to answer the question posed in the subtitle: "Is the targeting of civilians in war ever justified?". To do this it examines the allied "area bombing" of Germany and Japan in world war II.

The book is well written and keeps itself to task, mentioning enough history to illustrate the arguments that follow. It begins by describing the bombing of Hamburg in 1943 and then by giving a potted history of the allied bomber war and the decisions behind it. It discusses area bombing with regard to the relevant treaties and laws and also the ethical position.

The author concludes that such bombing is unjustified, but is also at pains to distinguish between the process of decision making and the courage of the bomber crews and also to state that the Nazi holocaust was far worse than area bombing. To paraphrase Grayling's argument: area bombing was militarily unnecessary and therefore resulted in disproportionate collateral damage - that the other side were engaged in worse atrocities is an explanation but not a defence.

His arguments are persuasive and give food for thought.

5 stars.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
To Destroy a City: Strategic Bombing and Its Human Consequences in World War 2 By Herman Knell. I just read this volume and found it an excellent companion to the Grayling book. The Grayling book is, of necessity, very broad while the book by Knell leads one with every increasing disbelief through the experience of one town - annihilated, like most right at the end of the war.
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