Author & Context

Anthony Grayling MA, DPhil (Oxon) FRSL, FRSA is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. He has written and edited many books on philosophy and other subjects; among his most recent are a biography of William Hazlitt and a collection of essays.


Grayling examines the bombing campaigns in Germany and Japan in WWII and weighs evidence of their justification, proportionality, utility, and necessity. He judges them to be immoral. His work is important as both a reflection of popular views concerning the perceived indiscriminate nature of aerial attack and as a prism for objective consideration of the strategic bombing as applied in WWII.


- Massive human toll accounted for by strategic bombing in Hamburg, Dresden, and most of the cities of Japan

o Grayling graphically describes the effects of this method of force in order to provide a visceral touchstone for discussion and break through the conceptual barriers of advocates to fix their attention

- Explores the concepts of jus ad bellum (just war) and jus in bello (justice in war/rules of war) to raise questions about whether bombing was excessive

o Necessary, proportional and legal

o Area bombing in Europe, cities in JP=unjust. Oil in Europe =just

o Explores questions of context and scope of the conflict

o Explores moral imperatives versus the realities of a global struggle for cultural survival

o Morally or not; tied to intent and also action (Intent to stop JP production, was found in cities=bomb cities…ok….)

- Discusses Thomas Acquinas’ simple test for the justification of force; using this test, virtually all means are justifiable when responding to an enemy committing a criminal war of aggression

- Killing the bad guy, is moral relativism (sometimes right/sometimes wrong…)

Applications to Strategy

- Raises more questions than it provides answers:

o Have the moral views of Airmen considering bombing changed over time?

o Has our warfighting style and efficacy been impacted by changes in moral views within the military and in the national and international polity?

o How do the role of media and its conventional view of modern airpower as a surgically capable weapon impact operational decisions?

o How does the proliferation of instant and constant information flow impact decisions about targets? Should it have any impact at all if the moral basis is unchanged?

- These questions are a type of inventory that should be exercised when advising commanders on operational design, targeting, and considerations of collateral damage

- From Grayling’s work, it is made even more definitively clear that the subject of WWII bombing of civilians will never disappear from discussions concerning strategic bombardment; the strategist should be prepared to discuss and debate the merits of these questions and assertions

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