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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars balanced and fair
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...
Published on 12 April 2006 by Barton Keyes

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26 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the book it claims to be...
Grayling presents this book as a necessary corrective to apparent moral complacency in Britain and the USA regarding the bombing of Germany during the second world war. Certainly, events of the last decade have given questions about the ethics of bombing a renewed urgency. But Grayling can only make his claim to be saying something challenging good by downplaying more...
Published on 12 April 2006 by General Reader


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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars balanced and fair, 12 April 2006
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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". On moral grounds as opposed to legal ones his position is indisputably stronger -- as were those of the objectors of the time.

However, after the detailed building of the cases for and against the ending appears slightly rushed and the attempt to link the Allied obliteration of German cities during a war for the saving of civilisation, with the destruction of the Twin Towers is a tendentious piece of argument that does not advance Grayling's case at all.

But these essentially minor points should not detract from the book's overall appeal. Grayling is extremely good on the history and has produced a flowing, lucid narrative that ought to make readers reflect both on what was done then in the eradication of an evil and is still being done in their names -- in pursuit of lesser evils, perhaps?

(One further and minor point of correction: the photograph on the cover of the bookshows B-24 Liberators bombing by daylight and not RAF Lancasters as the photo credit claims)
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Allied WWII air warfare reconsidered from post 9-11 point of view, 14 July 2007
By 
Dominic Berlemann "luhdieu72" (Outpost of Progress) - See all my reviews
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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. Therefore, the war could have been shortened significantly and many lives on all sides could have been saved - and some rather unique architecture as well.

Grayling's book is an interesting and compelling read, his sense of fairness is almost proverbially English and the central thesis of the book certainly deserves closer inspection, especially in light of the current debate on the war on terror (which itself generates terror amongst ordinary people whose involvement in terrorism is at least uncertain). However, he will certainly not convince all the experts, escpecially the military historians, who tend to reduce historic events just to the actual battle action.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 13 Sept. 2009
By 
NEP (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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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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4.0 out of 5 stars In addition try...., 30 Nov. 2013
By 
Mr. R. B. Collins "Musil" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Among the Dead Cities: Is the Targeting of Civilians in War Ever Justified? (Kindle Edition)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars delivered on time and in good condition, 10 April 2013
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A must read for anybody who thinks that the second world war is a settled moral case; two wrongs don't make a right. The other aspect is the cost, both human and industrial, and the apparent failure of the bombing campaign's effect on the enemy.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A brave book, 16 Feb. 2013
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AC Grayling writes with balance, clarity and compassion on a difficult topic. Some of the accompanying photos are quite distressing. An excellent resource for those writing essays on the ethics of war.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Dead Cities", 1 Mar. 2014
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For me it was especially relevant because I arrived in Dresden (with my mother) on the 13th February which was the night when the Royal Air Force flattened Dresden!
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26 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the book it claims to be..., 12 April 2006
By 
General Reader (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
Grayling presents this book as a necessary corrective to apparent moral complacency in Britain and the USA regarding the bombing of Germany during the second world war. Certainly, events of the last decade have given questions about the ethics of bombing a renewed urgency. But Grayling can only make his claim to be saying something challenging good by downplaying more than sixty years of debate and dispute. There has never been any moral complacency about the bombing campaigns of the second world war, as previous historians have been happy to acknowledge: defences of the strategies of Allied air forces have always had to engage with those seeking to mount a moral or juridical critique of such strategies. There were campaigns against area bombing during the war itself, and the postwar unease in the West about the actions of Harris and Bomber Command in particular has been extensively documented and highly influential: as is well known, the veterans of that arm of the RAF have always felt that their wartime service has been seen as an embarrassment rather than a cause for pride or celebration. Readers seeking some writing on this subject less keen to proclaim its own novelty, and therefore better able to shed genuine light on the points at issue, would do well to look instead at the essays in Firestorm, edited by Paul Addison and Jeremy Crang, or perhaps at Frederick Taylor's Dresden, or even at Max Hastings' old book on Bomber Command. Grayling, alas, actually has little new to add to the debate.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the Dead Cities, 24 Dec. 2012
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It takes courage for an Englishman to write about that subject objectively., and look at it in an unbiased fashion.
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18 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent on ethics but short on history, 22 April 2006
Grayling provides an unanswerable case that area bombing was a moral crime, and he should be read for this alone.

But his account of RAF history is inaccurate, distorted and incomplete.

The tone is set by the cover where B24 Liberators are identified as Lancasters. Grayling claims that deficiencies in its Blenheims, Whitleys, Hampdens, Wellingtons and Battles was the reason for Bomber Command's adoption of night bombing, which ignores the fact that GAF experience was identical. Coventry, Luebeck and Exeter were destroyed by the same means. The GAF had the important tactical role of supporting the Heer while the RAF effectively abandoned the British Army. Modern research shows that 2 TAF was an inaccurate waste of time. Grayling accepts Butcher Harris' claim that bombing saved soldiers' lives but fails to examine the consequences of Bomber Command's squandering half of the entire British war budget. This left nothing with which to equip the British army with a tank immune to the 88-mm dual purpose gun. The result was stalemate in Normandy and the Reichswald with the war extended by at least six months during which the war cemeteries filled up with dead British and Canadian soldiers. There is much more that could be said on the subject of Grayling's acceptance of RAF propaganda expounded by historians such as Richard Overy and John Terraine. But on the ethics of area bombing Grayling is brilliant.
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