09/20/05 - restraint in victory

In today's excerpt - Caleb Carr writes about the importance of NOT responding to the tactics of terror with like behavior, using the example of the post-World War II Marshal Plan, the U.S. funded effort to rebuild Germany after that war:

"The public outcry that would have been raised had Germany [been bombed with the atomic bomb] would likely have been similarly muted [as with Japan], and for the same reason: the two countries were not only terrorist states but expansionist terrorist states, and their grim fates (for firebombing was in many ways a horror equal to nuclear attack) were never considered by the vast majority of the world's citizens, and certainly not by those who had suffered most at their hands, as anything other than just.

"All of which made it only more remarkable that the United States should have decided, Germany and Japan finally lay prostrate, to rebuild both countries and make them viable nations once more. The generosity embodied in the Marshal Plan for Europe and the similar measures overseen in Japan by General Douglas MacArthur stand as the greatest acts of not only civilian but military generosity in the history of the world, as well as the greatest vindication of the argument that the tactics of terror must never be met with like behavior. For both Germany ... and Japan responded to this unprecedented decency by rejoining the community of constructive, civilized nations. America's decision to be magnanimous in victory undid a great deal of the cruel stupidity of the Allied civilian-bombing campaigns and brought both Japan and especially West Germany on board for the next great challenge that America and the West faced: that of Stalin's Russia, formerly a wartime ally but afterward an implacable philosophical and long-term foe. ...

"Postwar reconstruction ... can ... be viewed as the clearest demonstration of the most important of all lessons to be learned from the history of warfare waged against civilians - (but it has) not been incorporated into overall American military and foreign policy. Indeed, they would be almost forgotten for the next half century ... (and) fear over the spread of communism is only part of the explanation for this lapse. The larger truth is that the enlightened self-interest embodied in the embrace of former enemies - of which Lincoln had been the greatest philosophical exponent and Truman whether knowingly or not was the most important practitioner—did not fit into the American military character."


Caleb Carr


The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians


Random House


Copyright 2002 by Caleb Carr


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