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“The crow on the crematorium chimney”: Germany, Summer 1945 John Xiros Cooper University of British Columbia I n the h alf-cen tu ry since the end of the Secon d W orld War our sense of its moral economy has begun to change. It has always been easy to dismiss Nazism, Fascism, and Japanese imperialism as morally bankrupt. The conduct of the Axis powers has received intensive scrutiny and been established as the contrary moral reference point, as against Allied virtue, in the familiar Anglo-American narrative about the War. But in recent years, the issues raised by the conduct of all sides have complicated the historical accounting of the war even in the victorious West. This new attentiveness has also begun to disclose the place of the war and its aftermath in the philosophical evolution of modernity (see, for example, Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust and Emil L. Fackenheim, “The Holocaust and Philosophy”). The morality of using the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki has entered public discourse not only in terms of military strategy, but in ethical terms as well.1 The same re-consideration of the Allied strategic bombing offensive against weakly 1 I have in mind works like the The Day Man Lost (1981), Petalco (1985), Mandel (1986), Crane (1993), Hiroshima ... (1996), Garrett (1993 and 1996), and Hoyt (2000) to name a few. ESC 30.3 (September 2004): 129-144 John Xiros Cooper has recently published Modernism and the Culture ofMarket Society with the Cambridge University Press. He has also published three books on T. S. Eliot and is working on a cultural history of the publishing firm of Faber and Faber. He is a Professor of English at ubc and Associate Dean in the Faculty of Arts. defended German cities in the European theatre has begun to change our views of the morality of Allied tactics. Air Vice-Marshall Arthur “Bomber’ Harris, the British commander of the Allied air assault on Germany, has been the flashpoint of a heated debate (see, for example, “Death by Moon light”). German historian Jorg Friedrich has ignited an even more heated controversy with a book on the air war from the German perspective. Der Brand has upset Anglo-American readers, not because it emphasizes the devastation wrought on urban Germany by the Allies, but by his use of the language in German normally reserved for writing about the Holocaust; but applied now to Hitler’s “willing executioners” (Goldhagen 1996) recast in the role of victims of Allied barbarity. O f course most people at the end of the war were not particularly concerned with the politics of a nuanced moral accounting of the victor’s conduct. That good had triumphed over evil was, for the most part, a satisfactory ethical lesson. The public narrative promoted by the victor’s publicists had reduced the matter of “our” values and “theirs” to the lowest common denominator of moral calculation. However, there were voices in the immediate aftermath whose responses to the situation at the end of the fighting were rather more complex and, if I may be permitted to say so, rather more profound, than the conventional ethical complacen­ cies mouthed by the Allies. But these more perceptive responses were very quickly silenced. Well, not exactly “silenced,” if we mean by the word some form of external censorship. These responses were, to put it more accurately, very quickly unfocussed, not by any official disapproval, but by a personal process of philosophical self-censoring, a kind of internal repression of “truths” that a liberal, humanist intelligence found too dif­ ficult to endure. The unacceptability of raising questions about “our” val­ ues in the general stir of victory was perhaps partially responsible for the philosophical retreat, for the unfocussing of the hard truths glimpsed by these moralists. But I don’t think this is the whole story. The withdrawal into the familiar terrain of conventional moral discourse had in the end nothing really to do with the war at all. The war was only the signpost on the road to a more inhospitable moral geography, one that we have come to inhabit ourselves in postmodernity. Elizabeth Bowen put it well in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1913-4835
Print ISSN
0317-0802
Pages
pp. 129-144
Launched on MUSE
2019-04-03
Open Access
No
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