The Bishop and the Bomber

The role of the Church in wartime has always been ambiguous. Today, with the question of nuclear weapons to the fore, churchmen are again in conflict over the moral issues involved. With this in mind, Geoffrey Best considers an earlier occasion when the Church found itself in a similar dilemma.

Aerial bombardment has excited argument since it first became possible, just before the First World War; and it continues to do so with the possibility, perhaps, of a Third. What excites most people is its peculiar and dramatic power of killing people and destroying places, often so much more intense and sudden than anything ground artillery bombardment could produce. So far as the places are military targets and the people combatants, no objection can be raised; that is what is meant to happen in war. But non-military objects get destroyed and non-combatants get killed too: either by accident (bombing has usually been more or less inaccurate and defensive action is of course calculated to make it more so) or design (it has promised to terrorise enemy civilian populations) or (using the former characteristic to achieve the latter purpose) 'accidentally-on-purpose'. So the explanation of particular bombings can be difficult to unravel, so much perhaps having happened that was not intended and so much perhaps intended that could not be admitted.

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