Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bombing Civilians

How can Jonathan Yardley, whose views on almost any subject I greatly admire, write a page-long review of a book regarding the morality of bombing civilian targets without even mentioning that the Germans, and to a lesser extent the Italians, started this method of warfare? Or does the author of Among the Dead Cities , the philosopher A.C. Grayling (Book World, April 9), write a 361-page tome without so much as mentioning Warsaw, Coventry, Rotterdam, London and, even before that, Guernica? I don't wish to defend the British Bomber Commander, Sir Arthur Harris; far from it. The bombing of Dresden was wanton slaughter, designed to terrorize a city that had no strategic significance but was full of refugees. But Harris took a leaf out of the Luftwaffe's book.

There is an egregious logical error in juxtaposing the unimaginable horror that was the Holocaust with Allied bombings. This is an obviously starkly asymmetrical and unfitting comparison because the one was directed against civilians who had done no harm to the perpetrators, whereas the victims of Hamburg or Berlin or Tokyo or Hiroshima -- no matter how innocent they may have been individually -- had supported in one way or another the governments that unleashed World War II and whose forces had initiated the horrors that Grayling and Yardley decry.

I am also astonished that in his review of R.J.B. Bosworth's Mussolini's Italy (also in Book World, April 9), Geoffrey Wheatcroft does not mention Italy's conquest of Ethiopia, an episode of "sham and bluster" if ever there was one, with Italy trumpeting the victories of its triumphant, tank-equipped army against spear- and shield-carrying warriors. In itself perhaps insignificant, this was yet another event that demonstrated to the world the impotence of the League of Nations and the unwillingness of Britain and France to halt the march of the dictators.


Rockville, Md.

The Religious Right's Reach

Christine Rosen's review of Kevin Phillips's American Theocracy is irresponsible, unfairly castigating one of the most compelling and significant political books in recent years. Having just read the book, I found her conclusion that the author produced a "book that caters to partisan passions" inadequate as a serious review and just plain wrong.

Phillips has a four-decade-long record of careful scholarship, and his sources indicate wide reading. It is Rosen who is suspect. When she says that only 68 percent of white evangelical Christians support the war in Iraq, she fails to note that this is double the percentage of all Americans who back the war. While pointing out that the white evangelical vote remains at 23 percent of the total electorate, she neglects to note that nearly 80 percent of them supported Bush twice. Bush carried all 17 states dominated by white evangelicals, with 201 electoral votes, in 2004. Without that level of support, his reelection bid would have failed. (His victory in Colorado, Iowa and New Mexico also came largely from those states' evangelical counties.) She praises Phillips for citing Mark Noll and George Marsden, who are conservative Protestants, but criticizes him for quoting Esther Kaplan, who is liberal and Jewish. She says that "end-times" theology has been present for more than a century among some Christians but fails to point out that this theological emphasis was unknown during the first 1,850 years of Christianity and is rejected by the historic churches (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopal, Methodist, among others).

Finally, the fact that the religious right has so far failed to achieve its major political goals does not mean that its threat to interfaith peace and harmony, legislative rationality and the integrity of the American experiment is any less serious.


Gaithersburg, Md.

Christine Rosen replies:

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