In an op-ed essay for the Providence Journal, the Rev. Paul Zahl writes:
If you’ve heard of George Bell, it’s probably because the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed his last words to Bell just before Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis, on April 9, 1945. What is less well known is that Bell was the public voice of conscience against inhumane tactics used by British Bomber Command against Germany during World War II.
Bell was such an impressive and persistent voice against the “carpet bombing” of German towns — think Dresden — that I wish he were alive today to question America’s use of unmanned drones, piloted from thousands of miles away, to attack targets that are by nature uncertain and sometimes involve targeted assassination from the air. If George Bell were working for the State Department, I think he would have to resign!
“It is a common experience in the history of warfare that actions taken in war as military necessities are often supported at the time by a class of arguments which, after the war is over, people find are arguments to which they never should have listened.”
He offered statistics on the number of civilian casualties, mostly women and children, that were being caused by the Allied bombings. He stated that an attempt to justify Britain’s inhumane carpet bombing smacked of the enemy’s philosophy — that Might is Right.
“Why is there this inability to reckon with the moral and spiritual facts? Why is there this forgetfulness of the ideals by which our cause is inspired? How can the War Cabinet be blind to the harvest of even fiercer warring and desolation to which the present destruction will inevitably lead when the members of the War Cabinet have long passed to their rest?”
After Bishop Bell sat down, his speech was immediately attacked by a colleague on the bench; an attack that was then seconded, unhelpfully, by Cosmo Lang, the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, whose character appears so unctuous in the recent film “The King’s Speech”.
Is there a lesson in Bishop Bell’s speech, and in the response to his speech, for present day Americans?