Under this proportional viewpoint, it is justifiable to destroy targets that serve as a military gain that overrides the price of civilian casualties. For example, you could blow up a factory but you may wish to do so when the lowest number of civilian casualties would be inflicted (such as during night hours). This rationality makes sense to the warfighters but would likely not to those that have never been to war. These people would be mortified and like Davis would come to see those who waged this warfare as monsters and war criminals. War is about perspective and in the eye of the beholder.
What are the lessons from understanding the concept of perspective?
Why does perspective matter?
When you were taught about World War II, what was the narrative?
Did you find yourself outraged over Pearl Harbor?
How did you feel about the use of two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The bloodlust crowd might say, “That’s what the Japs deserved for bombing Pearl Harbor!” A common historical narrative for Americans is that using the atomic bombs put a rapid end to the war, thus, saving lives. How do you think the Japanese view these same events?
Could it not be reasonable to assume they may derive a criminal narrative?
After all, Pearl Harbor could be viewed as a pre-emptive strike against military targets, but, the atom bombings aimed at Japanese cities–indiscriminately killed civilians. Over 70 years have passed since the end of World War II yet this debate continues among military scholars and historians.
In truth, it’s a complicated issue but there are lessons to learn about both perspective and morality of warfare.
You may find yourself asking, “War is hell, blah, blah, blah, over 70 years ago, why should we care now?” Why does it matter today? On 11 September 2001, a brutal act of terror occurred against America. This widely visible attack struck horror and outrage across the United States and throughout the world. Shortly after, America engaged in warfare in Afghanistan, in search of Osama Bin Laden.
In 2003, the United States launched “Shock and Awe” warfare on Iraq. For the past 13 years, extended warfare has become widespread across the Mid-East and parts of Africa. During this 13-year war, the United States warfare has become asymmetric, more secretive, and dependent upon superior technology such as drones.
Do you know how many innocent people have died from drone strikes?
Yeah, me neither as the “numbers” are not clear nor concise.
In this same period, most Americans have not witnessed a steady supply of explosions, destruction, and death. Upon occasion, our populace has had to witness horrible terrorist attacks launched within the country. These horrible attacks are rare in comparison to what many civilian within Mid-East battle-zones experience daily.
Just like Davis labeling Sherman as criminal, the United States faces that same problem around the world. It is imperative we recognize the world in which we live and understand the current challenge we face may grow worse and even more divisive for future generations.
What is the moral of this story?
Pleas for warfare may quickly come from the bloodlust crowd especially if they have never experienced the true ugliness and brutality of war. How society chooses to resolve conflict is telling of our morality. War should never be the first option and serve an absolute last resort. When war comes, we must collectively understand the long-term consequences of our war actions and keep in mind the perspective and narrative of our “enemy.”
Goldfeld, David, Abbott, Carl, Anderson, Virginia D., Argensinger, Jo Ann E., Argensinger, Peter H, Barney, William L. The American Journey a History of the United States. Seventh. n.d. Book. 26 Nov.2016.
Hall, Andy. “Evilizing General Sherman.” Dead Confederates, A Civil War Blog 03 Mar.2016 https://deadconfederates.com/2012/03/03/evilizing-general-sherman/