26 June 2009

Murder is murder

In the UK, there is shocked news comment at emergence into the public domain of a document suggesting that in 1944 a chemical warfare attack on Tokyo's civilian population was considered.

A chemical attack on civilians certainly is, to me, a shocking intent in principle ... but I'm bemused at the idea that its consideration was shocking in view of the subsequent nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, saturation conventional bombing of Tokyo, the "thousand bomber raids", the firebombing of Dresden, cold war ICBM targeting of Soviet Bloc cities, Eisenhower's willingness to consider an all out preëmptive nuclear attack on Russia in the early 1950s, napalm attacks on Vietnamese villages ... I do not find the willingness to do, or to consider, any of those things less shocking. To wage total war on civilian populations is shocking in itself; once it has been considered, the mechanisms are secondary.

If I were dying of massive nuclear or chemical burns, would I consider this somehow "better" than dying of chemical poisoning? I can't imagine so. Is the cold blooded consideration of practicalities involved in poisoning me somehow worse than the equally cold blooded consideration of practicalities involved in burning me? I can't manage to think so.

Once human beings have crossed the Rubicon of considering mass murder, nothing thereafter considered by way of means is particularly surprising. Our tendency to sit wilfully oblivious amidst unimaginable cruelty and agonise over one or two of its particular modalities is sickening sentimentality.


Ray Girvan said...

I vaguely remember seeing similar reactions to the revelation that the British had plans in place to use chemical weapons such as mustard gas in the event of German invasion of soutehrn England in WW2. It seems to be a particularly British taboo: one might trace it to WW1, when chemical attacks were particularly novel and horrifying, via pre-WW2 writers such as Wells in Things to Come who cranked up fear that this would be the pattern for the next war (which by sheer happenstance it wasn't - the Axis didn't use it through thinking the Allies had similar capability), and a whole generation who were scared shitless during WW2 by expectation of gas attacks that never came.

Pauline Laybourn said...

Just this week I saw a documentary (World Focus, I believe) regarding the after-effects of agent orange on the Vietnamese population. Thousands and thousands of children crippled, deformed, not to mention the number killed outright. Heartbreaking to see these humans with mangled bodies.

I wonder:

Are concentration camps really worse than destroying people with agent orange?

Are concentration camps worse than destroying one's homeland and contaminating its water source?

Is working in the saltmines worse than having to navigate one's backyard littered with landmines?

Is the Final Solution more final than killing people with drones in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan?