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Book Reviews - August 2006

AUGUST 01, 2006

Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WW II Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan

by A. C. Grayling

Walker • 2006 • 361 pages • $25.95

Reviewed by Richard M. Ebeling

War is always a violent and brutal affair. Its very purpose is to defeat “the enemy.” But a central question is: who is the enemy? Before the French Revolution, the monarchies of Europe often attempted to follow certain “rules of war” that could be expected of gentlemen and members of the aristocracy. But this changed with the new ideology of the French revolutionaries. The “nation” and “the people” were viewed as one, and the government represented the will of both. All were expected to serve the state in time of war, since each individual was considered inseparable from the declared interests of the nation to which he belonged.

In the second half of the nineteenth century there were several attempts to distinguish the civilian from the military. A number of international conventions were held among the leading nations of Europe and North America to codify a new set of rules of warfare. Those rules were meant to specify the treatment not only of prisoners of war, but also of civilians and noncombatants in battle and under occupation.

Those attempts reflected the classical-liberal spirit of the time, which recognized that human beings are not the property of the state. Rather, each individual has an inherent right to his own life, liberty, and property, which even war should not trample on except under extreme wartime necessity. The lives and property of noncombatants were to be respected and left untouched. The weapons of war should be applied only against the opposing army. Certain types of warfare that could be indiscriminate in its effect should be banned—for example, the dropping of bombs from balloons. Whenever possible, monuments, museums, and other national treasures should not be targeted.

Of course, governments never fully followed those rules, even in that golden age of classical liberalism before 1914. And it was certainly never practiced in conflicts between the European powers and the colonial peoples they conquered in Africa and Asia. Nonetheless, it was an ideal that in principle those governments and their representatives claimed to believe in and tried at times to follow.

This changed with the two World Wars of the twentieth century. With the rise of collectivism there came the age of Total War. The state claimed power and jurisdiction over everything under its political control. The very notion of “civilian” and “noncombatant” basically disappeared from the lexicon of politics and warfare. Certainly the totalitarian regimes in Soviet Russia, fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany nationalized their own citizens and viewed all those in enemy countries as fair game.

Slowly but surely the same process happened in Great Britain and the United States, and came to be reflected in their wartime conduct in World War II. A. C. Grayling analyzes one aspect of this process, the Allied bombing strategies against Germany and Japan, in his recent book, Among the Dead Cities.

Germany’s aerial bombings and destruction of Warsaw and Rotterdam during the first year of the war were roundly condemned by the British and many other governments around the world. But after the fall of France in June 1940 and the Battle of Britain in the summer and autumn of that year, during which the Germans bombed London, Coventry, and other cities in England, British strategy changed.

Wanting to take the war to “the enemy” and devise a way to fight the Germans when clearly the British had no way to undertake an invasion of the continent, the “new thinking” was that the German will to fight could be undermined through carpet bombing of cities and civilian areas. Part of the reason for this approach was that the British had no way of undertaking pinpoint bombing of military targets. To hit any of these required targeting a larger area in which those military and industrial installations might be located.

By 1943 the British had an air force large enough to begin full-scale destruction of hundreds of German cities. Hamburg, Berlin, and Dresden were only three of the most ruined cities throughout Germany. By the end of the war, somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 Germans had been killed from bombings, with another 780,000 wounded.

The bombings did not destroy the will of the German civilian population to fight. Indeed, it merely reinforced their anger and opposition to the Allies, just as German bombings of English cities only strengthened the resolve of the British to fight the Germans earlier in the war. Its only result was to kill unarmed men, women, and children, and destroy centuries-old architectural and artistic achievements.

In the European theater American bombing strategy focused on military-related targets to undermine the German ability to fight—armaments factories, oil fields and refineries, port and railway facilities. But in the Pacific war, American strategy came to be the destruction of Japan.

Japanese military casualties for the entire war have been estimated at 780,000. But over 800,000 civilians were either killed or wounded during American fire bombings of Japanese cities, with the greatest intensity of these attacks coming in the last few months of the war. Over 85,000 people were killed in the fire bombing of Tokyo on the night of March 9–10, 1945. Half the built-up areas in 66 Japanese cities were destroyed. The two atomic-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 killed 100,000 civilians.

Grayling, in his very detailed and dispassionate analysis tries to explain the rationales for civilian-focused area bombings of German and Japanese cities. These included undermining the German people’s will to fight, the destruction of Germany’s ability to wage war, and the diverting of German military personnel and equipment from the frontlines to German cities to protect them from aerial attack.

But what he shows, based on Allied studies after the war, was that targeting cities and civilian populations failed to achieve virtually any of those goals. The more focused American bombing of military targets in the European theater was far more effective in weakening the German ability and resolve to fight.

But what Grayling really wants us to ponder is whether countries dedicated to freedom can reconcile that ideal with the use of indiscriminate and unrestrained methods of warfare. Even if “the enemy” uses cruel and barbaric methods to fight us, should we not impose on ourselves a higher standard of conduct, rather than to sink to the level and the methods of those we oppose?

Richard Ebeling is the president of FEE.

 

How Progressives Rewrote the Constitution

by Richard A. Epstein

Cato Institute • 2006 • 137 pages • $15.95

Reviewed by George C. Leef

University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein has for several decades been one of America’s foremost exponents of liberalism—in the old sense of that word. A scholar whose knowledge of the Constitution, understanding of economics, and grasp of the virtues of a free society are almost unparalleled, Epstein brings his remarkable erudition to bear here on a matter that is central to most of our current socio-economic troubles—the demolition of the constitutional restraints on governmental power. While the book is short, it bores in relentlessly to expose the errors of the Progressive mindset and explicate the Supreme Court cases that have done so much to burden us with our highly authoritarian state.

The dramatis personae of the book aren’t so much individual justices (although we do learn quite a lot about Brandeis, Frankfurter, and others who helped in the rewriting project) as they are two contrasting legal mindsets. On the one hand we have the philosophy of the “Old Court”—a jurisprudence that was generally favorable to individual liberty, private property, and freedom of contract. It held sway from roughly the 1890s until the mid-1930s and kept proposals for coercive social engineering largely in check. On the other hand, we have the “Progressive” philosophy, which rejected the laissez-faire approach of true liberalism in favor of a vast expansion of government power to reshape society, making it supposedly more fair and equal.

Looking to legislatures to accomplish those goals, Progressive jurists adopted a stance of extreme deference toward them by giving various clauses of the Constitution “expansive” readings that, Epstein argues, certainly did not comport with the intentions of the Founders. So insistent were the Progressives on allowing government to act in any way that might advance their agenda that they were willing to permit infringements on what would now be regarded as sacred “civil” liberties. Justice Frankfurter, Epstein writes, “was prepared to stifle even meritorious claims of liberty to support his overarching program for the major economic issues of the day.”

For example, in Minersville School District, Frankfurter and his allies upheld the power of the state to compel members of the Jehovah’s Witness religion to pledge allegiance to the flag despite their contrary beliefs. Frankfurter’s central argument was that “the ultimate foundation of a free society is the binding tie of cohesive sentiment.” If that’s true, then a horrifying array of government enactments is constitutionally permissible.

The Progressives most famously rewrote the Constitution to suit their liking with respect to economic liberties and property rights. Where the Old Court had generally upheld economic liberties and property rights against government encroachment, the Progressives were at best indifferent if not hostile toward those concepts, as they collided with their vision of a highly regulated, egalitarian society. With glee they abandoned precedents such as Lochner v. New York (invalidating maximum-hours-of-work legislation) and Adair v. U.S. (invalidating mandatory collective bargaining) to clear the path for government control. Those rewritings, Epstein demonstrates, were premised on the belief that an economy rooted in “outmoded” laissez-faire concepts was atavistic and unfair to the poor. He then drives a stake through the heart of that position by citing statistics on wages and hours. Prior to the Progressive ascendancy, real wages had been steadily rising while average hours of work declined. The old socioeconomic system the Progressives dethroned worked far better than the state-controlled one they desired.

Throughout the book Epstein writes in a lucid, professorial manner, but sometimes his passionate dislike of authoritarianism shows clearly through. That is especially true in his discussion of the Supreme Court’s recent Kelo decision, upholding seizure of a woman’s house because redevelopment might enhance tax collections. Epstein writes, “The crushing defeat in Kelo is a disaster for the ordinary people who now stand to be thrown unceremoniously out of their homes. But, more than any academic writing could, it may expose the dangerous side of the big-government position that is the hallmark of Progressive thought.” That’s right—the Progressive revolution is still with us, some 70 years after its initial triumphs.

Epstein’s case against Progressivism is overpowering. But isn’t it quixotic to launch an attack against so strong a redoubt? He answers that at least some of the constitutional errors of the Progressives could be overturned, writing, “[A]cceptance of change should never be confused with the mistaken belief that long usage renders it necessarily immune from rational criticism and constitutional change; for if that were the case, then the doctrine of ‘separate-but-equal’ announced in 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson would have been affirmed, not overturned 58 years later in Brown v. Board of Education.” True.

Richard Epstein is laying both a constitutional and factual foundation for an eventual about-face on the Progressive rewriting of the Constitution. If that happy day ever comes, his work will undoubtedly be a guiding light.

George Leef is the book review editor of The Freeman.

 

Saving Our Environment from Washington

by David Schoenbrod

Yale University Press • 2005 • 320 pages • $28

Reviewed by Jane S. Shaw

In recent years several environmental activists have revealed dramatic changes in their views about environmental issues. Patrick Moore confronted hostile ships and governments as he sailed the seas in the Rainbow Warrior as a founder of Greenpeace, but today he charges his former colleagues with “ever-increasing extremism.” Bjørn Lomborg, a college instructor and Greenpeace member, once assumed that apocalyptic environmental predictions were correct, but after he studied the facts he concluded that “things are getting better.” Now David Schoenbrod, formerly an attorney with the litigious environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), explains how his ideas about environmental regulation depart from what they were when he was (in his words) a “proper liberal” and moved in “elite environmental circles.”

Schoenbrod’s metamorphosis has been going on for about a quarter of a century. As an environmental litigator with NRDC, his goal was to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force polluters to clean up. Today, he takes a different view, which can be summed up with two statements. One is that pollution control should be a state and local, rather than national, issue. The second is that legislative bodies (such as Congress) should make the rules and regulations about pollution, rather than leave them up to bureaucratic agencies such as the EPA.

First, Schoenbrod sees the issue as a constitutional one. He argues that Congress should only regulate interstate pollution, and he points out that most pollution is local. Where national rules are appropriate, he argues that Congress, not the EPA, should be making them. Yet EPA’s reams of regulations developed outside the legislative process amount to laws. “When I became an environmental advocate,” he writes, “I regarded questions about the constitutionality of the EPA’s power as the last refuge of polluters, and I litigated accordingly. . . . Experience has since taught me that those constitutional ideals are the safest road to the public interest, including the public’s deeply felt interest in a clean earth.”

Although this book is Schoenbrod’s third in dealing with the role of government, it is the first in which he shares his personal experiences as his ideas changed. He writes in a conversational way to make the book appealing to the nonspecialist. The result is something of an odd mixture. Some engrossing chapters recount the situations that led him to become less elitist and more realistic. Other chapters are more abstract or technical, sometimes discussing a particular environmental issue, such as the dangers of pesticides, and sometimes discussing constitutional history. Some are downright “wonkish.”

On the personal side we learn that buying an abandoned farm in upstate New York in the mid-1970s caused him to rethink environmentalism. His neighbor, a logger, appreciated the forests around them and knew a lot more about the forest than most of Schoenbrod’s colleagues. “In the elite environmental circles I came from, it was never assumed that loggers could look at a forest and see anything but a commodity,” writes Schoenbrod.

I also appreciated his description of the mess that the EPA-imposed cleanup of PCBs will make in the Hudson River. On a more intellectual level, Schoenbrod discusses the gradual shift of power from local communities to the federal government during the Progressive Era. This was spurred by the emerging “national class” of sophisticated Ivy League-educated experts.

Why does a person like Schoenbrod change his views? There may be many reasons, but perhaps the most important one here is that Schoenbrod was never captured by the environmental movement, meaning that he was unwilling to put the success of the movement before the facts. Indeed, he joined NRDC because of humanitarian concerns. He was a community-development worker in the poverty-ridden Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn and saw environmental cleanup as a way of improving the surroundings. When Schoenbrod became convinced that lead from gasoline was pushing up lead levels in the blood of poor children in New York City, he tried to get the lead out of gasoline. The difficulty of the task (it was not actually accomplished until the mid-1980s) led him to rethink environmental advocacy as a profession for himself and, more profoundly, to reconsider the role of the Congress and the EPA. That he did as a law professor beginning in 1979.

Schoenbrod has put together his thoughts and his background in a readable although uneven book. We can learn a lot from him on the demerits of our current environmental regulation policies.

Jane Shaw is a senior fellow of PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana.

 

The Quotable Mises

Edited by Mark Thornton

Ludwig von Mises Institute • 2005 • 333 pages • $20.00

Reviewed by William H. Peterson

Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. None can stand aside with unconcern: the interests of everyone hang on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle in which the epoch has plunged us.”

I chose this Mises quotation for its persuasive prescience of Orwellian things to come and for its individualistic appeal. It bears on this remarkable book of quotations from the vast work of Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973), even though the quotation itself is not included in this particular collection. (It is from the concluding chapter in his classic Socialism, published in 1922.) But as editor Mark Thornton says in his introduction, he and his teammates, including Thomas DiLorenzo, Martin Garfinkel, C. J. Maloney, B. K. Marcus, Richard Perry, and Jeffrey Tucker, were themselves unable to include all of their own favorites. Picking the best quotations of Mises is a lot like picking the best lines from Shakespeare.

Bettina Bien Greaves, a world authority on the life of Mises and someone well known to readers of The Freeman, calls the book “A thrilling project, a thorough job, and a marvelous result. The Quotable Mises performs a great service.” I agree wholeheartedly and hope the book will reinvigorate interest in the thought of this great defender of individual liberty. More people will want to tackle Human Action, Socialism, and other imposing works once they have seen some of the magnificent quotations.

In The Quotable Mises, some 1,400 quotations and their citations are put into about 150 categories ranging from “Action” to “Youth.” This organization makes it easy for anyone who wants a good quotation on a subject to quickly find one. That will be useful to people whether they’re writing a paper or trying to clinch an argument.

A small sampling:

Some gems from “Ideas” include: “Only ideas can overcome ideas.” “In a battle between force and an idea, the latter always prevails.” “Great conflicts of ideas must be solved by straight and frank methods; they cannot be solved by artifices and makeshifts.” “We must fight all that we dislike in public life. We must substitute better ideas for wrong ideas. We must refute the doctrines that promote union violence.”

Under “Reason” we find: “Life and reality are neither logical nor illogical; they are simply givens.” “Man has only one tool to fight error: reason. Man uses reason in order to choose between the incompatible satisfactions of conflicting desires.” “The proof of a theory is in its reasoning, not in its sponsorship.” “Reason is the main resource of man in his struggle for survival.”

Some pithy quotes from the heading of “State” include: “The whole of mankind’s progress has had to be achieved against the resistance and opposition of the state and its power of coercion.” “It is characteristic of current political thinking to welcome every suggestion which aims at enlarging the influence of government.” “Après nous le déluge [After us, the deluge] is an old maxim of government.”

Under “War and Peace” I cannot resist this: “What basis for war could there still be, once all peoples had been set free?”

So it goes—a quote-by-quote panorama of a beautiful mind in action. Mises always endeavored to find ways of achieving and maintaining freedom against the formidable odds of coercive government, armed by majoritarianism and running a vast welfare-warfare state. Mises saw that it is the individual in a free society who represents the ultimate in self-government: a one-person government of the self, free to do whatever he wills provided he does not violate the equal freedom of others. The world will be a far, far better place if it ever adopts the wisdom of this profound thinker.

To borrow the apt closing word from Mr. Thornton’s introduction: “Enjoy.”

William Peterson, who earned his doctorate under Ludwig von Mises in 1952, is the winner of the 2005 Schlarbaum Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Liberty given by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.


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