A Note on Atrocities

A Note on Atrocities

NOTHING BETTER ILLUSTRATES the moral schizophrenia of our society than the generally accepted notion of what constitutes a wartime “atrocity.” We are constantly reminded that international conferences have labored to work out rules to govern the treatment of prisonersof-war in order to protect captured soldiers from unnecessarily brutal treatment. Simultaneously techniques of warfare have been developed which make civilians the major victims of war, and whatever torture or horror these noncombatants must put up with are accepted as “necessary” aspects of total war. This means that by the old standards of today one’s own fighting men, when captured by an enemy, are entitled to more humane treatment than are the enemy’s women and children whose murder — by explosives, fire, or starvation — is not considered to be an atrocity when committed by “-our side.” This attitude, of course, is true for “both sides” in any conflict.

An illustration of our own moral schizophrenia was provided on page 3 of the New York Times for Aug. 21, 1950. There, virtually side by side, were two enlightening items: One was a speech by General MacArthur, denouncing the North Koreans for atrocities to prisoners-of-war and threatening dire punishments for the commanding officers who might be considered responsible; the other was a column by Hanson Baldwin (The Times military expert) explaining that our strategic bombing in Korea—by which we had destroyed whole industrial areas and killed numerous women and children—was losing us friends among the Korean population.

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