Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II

By Hartle, Terry | The Christian Science Monitor, April 21, 2011 | Go to article overview

Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II


Hartle, Terry, The Christian Science Monitor


British historian Michael Burleigh offers a sweeping assessment of the ethical dilemmas posed by World War II, faced by everyone from world leaders to soldiers in foxholes.

For most Americans, World War II was the quintessential good war -

it had a clear, unambiguous purpose, was successfully concluded, and

led to a better world than would otherwise have existed. But it was

also the bloodiest event in human history and claimed somewhere in

the vicinity of 50 million lives.

With the exception of the voluminous literature on the Holocaust,

few authors have examined in detail the moral choices and ethical

dilemmas faced by those who were part of the conflict. And those that

have usually addressed a single issue or incident, such as the

morality of using the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the

British decision to bomb Hamburg to rubble. (After seeing a film

showing the results of the raid, Churchill asked "Are we beasts?

Are we taking this too far?")

Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II, a new book by the

brilliant British historian Michael Burleigh goes well beyond the

rather narrow focus of most of the existing literature and offers a

sweeping, panoramic assessment of the ethical dilemmas facing

everyone from world leaders to soldiers in foxholes. This is a superb

work of scholarship with fresh insights on nearly every page that

will likely leave the reader asking hard and troubling questions long

after finishing it.

The volume is organized chronologically, but Burleigh dispenses with

the detailed assessment of military strategy and individual

engagements. Major battles are often described in a single, short

reference while relatively minor engagements or incidents are

generally given a lengthy treatment if they illustrate a broader

point. Among the topics considered in detail are the crushing of

Poland and the brutal subjugation of the Polish people; the Battle of

Britain and the Blitz; collaboration, cooperation, and resistance in

the occupied countries; the invasion of Russia; leadership tensions;

the day-to-day experiences of soldiers (in a chapter aptly titled

"We Were Savages"); the massacring of millions of civilians in

every theatre of the conflict; the Holocaust; the carpet bombing of

Germany and Japan; and the justice meted out by the victors once the

conflict had ended.

In a section entitled "Tenuous Altruism," Burleigh looks for

"individual instances of moral greatness" - in other words, he

looks for heroes. Unfortunately, it is a very short chapter. He

writes, "human goodness really did not triumph in the end.... The

tiny gleams of light provided by the stirring human interest dramas

of such as Schindler or Wallenberg are lost in the vast areas of

human darkness, shading from pitch black to generalized grey, that

defined the moral behavior of the time. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.