I have read recently — I don’t remember where — that a key element in the thinking of an American hawk is that intention is more important than effect — that doing hurtful things with a good intention is virtuous. This is what differentiates us from “terrorists,” the thinking goes — we may kill many more innocent people than they did, but we don’t want to kill any innocent people. It’s all incidental, collateral damage; not our purpose. And that means what we are doing is good. It’s better, the thinking goes, to be killed or maimed by an American with virtuous intent than a Bad Guy with evil intent.
I was reminded of that reading the following story:
President Bush had tears in his eyes during an hour-long tour of Israel‘s Holocaust memorial Friday and told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the U.S. should have bombed Auschwitz to halt the killing, the memorial’s chairman said…
Bush was visibly moved as he toured the site, said Yad Vashem’s chairman, Avner Shalev.
“Twice, I saw tears well up in his eyes,” Shalev said.
At one point, Bush viewed aerial photos of the Auschwitz camp taken during the war by U.S. forces and called Rice over to discuss why the American government had decided against bombing the site, Shalev said.
The Allies had detailed reports about Auschwitz during the war from Polish partisans and escaped prisoners. But they chose not to bomb the camp, the rail lines leading to it, or any of the other Nazi death camps, preferring instead to focus all resources on the broader military effort, a decision that became the subject of intense controversy years later.
Between 1.1 million and 1.5 million people were killed at the camp.
“We should have bombed it,” Bush said, according to Shalev.
Bombing makes everything all better, if you do it because you’re a good person fighting evil.
I mean, seriously, it’s conceivable that bombing a camp could have resulted, in the end, in less suffering in total, assuming the Germans didn’t just build new camps or take to shooting Jews instead of working them to death or gassing them. It’s not utterly irrational. It was considered at the time as a possible strategy.
But I do find it scary that the President’s response to a one of the world’s great horrors is to think “we should have bombed it.”
When all the President’s got is a hammer… he can even look at Auschwitz and see a nail.