The war for moral superiority

Townhall.com Diana West June 26, 2006

I can see it now — I think.

It’s on the right-hand page of a book by or about Winston Churchill, and it is a quotation by Churchill on the subject on war — specifically, what happens to a civilized society when it goes to war with a barbarous one. I can’t find it (yet), but what I remember as being the main point was that if — if — the civilized society is to prevail over the barbarous one, it will necessarily and tragically be degraded by the experience as a vital cost of victory. Partly, this is because civilized war tactics are apt to fail against barbarous war tactics, thus requiring civilized society to break the “rules” if it is to survive a true death struggle. It is also because the clash itself — the act of engaging with the barbarous society — forces civilization to confront, repel and also internalize previously unimagined depredations. This is degrading, too.

In Churchill’s era, the more civilized world of the Allies was necessarily degraded to some intangible extent by what it took to achieve victory over barbarous Nazism. For example, bombing cities, even rail transportation hubs, lay beyond civilized conventions, but this was one tactic the Allies used to defeat Hitler. However justifiably, civilization crossed a previously unimagined and uncivilized line to save, well, civilization. Then there was Hitler’s Holocaust — an act of genocide on a previously unthinkable scale and horror. Who in the civilized world ever imagined systematically killing millions people before Hitler? And who in the civilized world retained the same purity of mind after? Civilization itself was forever dimmed.

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