Could World War II have been won by Britain and the United States if the two countries did not have it in them to firebomb Dresden and nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki? ~John Podhoretz, New York Post

Via Rod Dreher

Since the acts Mr. Podhoretz cites are remarkable for being 1) massive war crimes and 2) entirely irrelevant to the outcome of the war, I would like to think that he is joking.  However, he is in deadly earnest.  In his view, these hideous crimes are proof of the mettle of past Western governments in war, compared to the irresolution of today’s Western powers.  Had he wanted to make a more serious point that large-scale modern warfare inflicts incidental casualties on civilian populations that are sometimes entirely unavoidable, he could have done so without running straight to the most heinous Anglo-American crimes of the ‘Good War’, but I suspect that it is all the same to him. 

The firebombing of Dresden (like the firebombing of Tokyo) was a singular act of spite, a demonstration of contempt for the lives of German civilians.  Its aim, to punish the population to get at the government and break their will to fight, was as surely a terrorist aim as ever there has been or will be.  Americans can take some consolation that it was the RAF and not our Air Force that did the ugly deed.  The nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became “necessary” only because of FDR’s demand for unconditional surrender; there had been opportunities for a negotiated peace as early as 1944, had Washington been interested in negotiating a surrender.  For a serious Christian and far more conservative view of the immorality of the bombing of civilian populations, see Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s comments on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Leftism Revisited or his novel Black Banners written under the pseudonym Francis Stuart Campbell.  The barbaric logic of total war ruled out negotiation, and the same barbaric thinking justified the incineration of tens upon tens of thousands of innocents; that the second target, Nagasaki, also happened to be the cradle of Japanese Christianity only drives home just how barbaric these acts were.  If the ideas of civilised warfare and war crimes mean anything, they apply to all belligerents.  Defending one set of far more minor, but still serious, excesses by referring to the past war crimes of the Allies is pitiful.  It is, however, an effective rhetorical bludgeoning tool: don’t judge Israel, because your governments have done far worse.  It is not a real argument for the rightness or justifiability of what Israel has been doing to the Lebanese population, but an argument that because Israel’s cause against Hizbullah is good her means, like those of the Allies, are automatically justified as well.  That is a profound error.