BY DOUGLAS JERROLD
THERE is grave confusion of thought among Catholics on the subject of air warfare and its horrors, and it has, it would seem, been intensified, if that were possible, by rmoarticle on the bombing of Barcelona. I return to the subject this week, with a renewed warning against sentimentalism.
My correspondents accuse me, rather unnecessarily, of indifference to the tragic consequences of the Barcelona air raids.
May I reply that we cannot absolve ourselves of our responsibility to defend or condemn them by an expression of regret, however eloquent.
More people are killed and injured Jn the roads in Great Britain every yea] than have been killed and injured in all the air raids that have ever taken place in the history of the world. We say that we greatly deplore our road casualties, but we limit our preventive action to those measures which will not interfere with the prosperity of the motor industry. So, in war, we tend to limit our political efforts to reducing those forms of destruction which appear particularly menacing to our own capitalist urban civilisation.
As Christians, however, we are obviously called upon to form a judgment on the morality of killing, whether on the roads, by air bombardment of towns, by wholesale political massacre, by starvation through a blockade, or by the more oldfashioned weapons of land warfare. The tendency to shirk the responsibility for forming a judgment in these matters is not made more admirable by indulging in sentimental regrets.
We all feel much more shocked and horrified at an air raid which kills three hundred people in a town well-known to us and fairly close to us than at ten thousand deaths on our roads in a year.
We feel more shocked at the loss of a hundred lives in one colliery disaster than at the seventeen thousand casualties to railwaymen in a normal year's -operations.
This is so because it needs the dramatic event to bring to our consciousness the reality of the dangers which, in fact, surround us everywhere as the result of human wickedness and folly.
We have no cause, however, to congratulate ourselves on our virtue, and wisdom because we have been made aware, by a sudden catastrophe, of something which it was our duty to realise long before. All our comforts and conveniences, and many of our pleasures, are bought at the expense of human lives and happiness.
All wars, however just, involve not the risk but the certainty of .death not to hundreds but to thousands of innocent men, women and children. It is against those who allow themselves to reflect on this and to be moved to pity only when some dramatic tragedy affects their own partisans, or people circumstanced similarly to themselves, that the accusation of callousness lies.
I maintain that the indifference of the English people to the mass massacre of priests, nuns and Catholic laity in Spain is an abominable thing, rendered not less but more abominable by the pious expressions of horror which they have assumed over the tragedy of Barcelona.
It is the war as a whole which is tragic and evil: evil because it is the direct consequence of human wickedness and folly, tragic because the sufferings it inflicts cannot be confined to those who are responsible for its beginning.
The duty of Christians, surely, is to bring home to their fellow-countrtmen the lesson that the attempt to impose an alien and atheistic dictatorship of a minority on a Christian people is a crime.
They cannot do this if they allow themselves to take part in a demonstration of indignation not directed against the criminals but against those who have been forced to take arms against them.
To participate in this demonstration (from motives however humane) is to help those who wish us to judge the morality of war by reference not to its .causes and nature but to its incidental consequences.
Only Fanatics Think Thus It is only possible to distinguish between the casualties of Barcelona and those elsewhere if we assume, what is certainly not right, that General Franco has deliberately ordered the bombing of civilians. Only the most fanatical adherents of Valencia have dared to suggest that.
For the rest, every bomb and every shell fired at any town or village is a potential instrument of death to a civilian life and a certain destroyer of civilian property. Oviedo and Huesca have both been almost
destroyed by enemy bombardments from land and air.
On Oviedo alone more than twelve hundred bombs were dropped and casualties to the civil population were a daily incident. We should do wrong to attack the Valencia Government, which has many unspeakable crimes to its charge, for these deaths. Their partisans do wrong to attack General Franco for the casualties of Barcelona.
If we hold that all killing is murder, we must not resist aggression, however evil the results of non-resistance.
If we hold that all killing of civilians in war is murder, we must resist aggression only with weapons of precision: we must renounce the use of artillery, machine guns and the aeroplane as a weapon carrier. If we hold neither of these beliefs, we must have the moral courage to face the consequences of our belief that it may be, in certain circumstances, not only just but necessary to oppose force by force, and that such opposition must, if it is to be effective, be as forceful as the material means allow.
Accepting this position, we have only to enquire whether in any given case the force is likely to shorten the war and so to lighten the total burden of suffering. We must except, need we say, the employment of any weapon the use of which is barred by prior agreements, but we cannot except the use of a weapon previously employed without restriction and with deadly effect by the enemy, and only called in question by the enemy when the fortunes of war make that weapon peculiarly formidable to them.
Flight of Thought
Let us imagine that we accede to the clamour. Let us imagine that the whole Catholic world joins in till the clamour reaches such formidable proportions that, on political grounds, General Franco decides to suspend the use of the air weapon against towns or villages, however vital a part these may be playing in the enemy's defensive system.
What is the consequence?
First, to prolong_ the war, but secondly, something far more sinister.
We shall be faced with the situation that an urban proletariat aiming, in accordance with the Marxist gospel, at a dictatorship, can promote anti begin an armed revdlutioii with the knowledge that, whatever atrocities it perpetrates, the centre and source of its power will be immune from attack.
From attack, mark you, not merely from attack from the air, because quite obviously every argument which applies to the bombing of towns applies with precisely the same force to the shelling of towns and also to the besieging of towns. In both cases the women and children suffer along with the men, the civilians along with the soldiers, the innocent along with the guilty, and, in the case of a siege, they suffer in far greater numbers and with far more lasting consequences than under air bombardment. For how many German lives, for how much sickness, malnutrition and neurasthenia, with consequences extending into the next generation, was the British blockade of Germany responsible?
Evil Would Dictate
Cities are now the seat of government and the chief source of the power of the government. If we deny the right to make war against them, we must face the unrestricted power of evil when enthroned in the seats of the mighty. Accepting that, we must condemn mankind to suffer in impotence the assaults of evil men not only against their own persons but against the faith of their children and the future of their civilisation. Are we prepared to be so callous? To assume so terrible a responsibility?
I have returned to this subject because it is exercising the minds of thousands of devoted Catholics. It would be far easier for us all if we could conscientiously join in on the popular side, condemn the bombardment of towns and take a comfortable pride in our superior wisdom and humanity. I believe, however, that the easy course is not morally justifiable. We have the duty to think this problem out, and to insist that our fellow-countrymen do so also.
At present, Catholic honour is being gravely prejudiced by this controversy, because Catholics are reluctant either to defend or condemn the actions of the Catholic army in Spain. The impression goes out that our consciences are uneasy: that we arc acquiescing in something which, but for our political interests, we should condemn. This can only be true of those who have not thought the matter out to its conclusions. It is therefore our duty to do so.