Germany recently memorialized one of its most ghastly remembrances: the 60th anniversary of the devastating Allied bombing in World War II that killed some 35,000 residents of Dresden.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the anniversary was an opportunity for people everywhere to unite against the “inhumanity of war.” He also railed against several thousand neo-Nazis who were rallying against the Dresden firestorms. The neo-nazis were calling them a “bomb Holocaust” and vowing “The day of revenge will come.”
While the neo-Nazis deflected attention from Schroeder’s “inhumanity” message, there is another theme that needed to be – but wasn’t — specifically verbalized and directly underscored. It is this: It is always wrong to target civilians.
Theirs or ours – however you define “they” or “us.” Whoever started the war becomes a moot point; it surely wasn’t the citizenry. It never is.
It was wrong for the Germans to bomb London and intentionally kill innocents in an attempt to demoralize the English. It was not right for the Brits and Americans to firebomb the citizens of Dresden. Anymore than it was morally justified to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima or Nagasaki – or fly airliner bombs into the World Trade Center Towers.
No one legitimately claims the moral high ground when targeting the innocent.
The contexts, of course, differ significantly and cannot — and must not — be ignored. There is no equating the pragmatic decision of Harry Truman with the perverted agenda of Osama bin Laden. The U.S., for example, wanted to avoid the loss of thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands – of G.I.’s if Japan had to be invaded the old fashioned way. And there was Pearl Harbor that precipitated it all.
But the pulverized non-combatants are no less incinerated because it was their governments who were the bad guys.