Stacked like cords of firewood, dead Germans are cremated en masse after the carpet-bombing of Dresden on
13-15 February 1945.
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Reminding us that terrorism is neither novel nor an end unto itself, but a quasimilitary tactic of ancient provenance, the author makes the case that it is also quite broad: Not only has no agreement been reached as to a definition acceptable to all parties (one that does not point to their own past or present culpability), but it can, using commonly accepted definitional elements, be applied as a description of such acts as the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the firebombing of Dresden and similar acts of violence directed against civilians on a large scale, by states at war and with a (claimed) moral justification: the saving of lives or self-defense in various forms.
Here’s the moral dilemma. Everyone claims moral justification; everyone claims to be acting in self-defense. This requires us to adopt Noam Chomsky’s prescription: intellectual self-defense. We have to assess those claims, as impartially as possible, and answer for ourselves: Are they true, are they valid, and, if they are valid, do they justify the act?
“Ghost-shadows”: So intense were the heat and light of the Hiroshima bomb that silhouettes of people and
objects were forever graven upon the walls.
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One need not accept the author’s ranking of moral justification, in which he finds the 9/11 attacks less defensible than the bombing of Hiroshima but more than that of Dresden — for such questions cannot be easily settled without access to the thoughts of men now dead — to understand that, first, all of these acts can be described as terroristic, and second, that the tactic can be considered ethical in varying degrees depending on circumstances.