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Ethics talk focuses on state-sanctioned bombings

Nov. 3, 2008

KALAMAZOO--The normalization of state-sanctioned bombing of civilians and how the practice has developed over time will be explored in an ethics presentation on Wednesday, Nov. 5, on the Western Michigan University campus.

Dr. Ronald Kramer, a WMU professor of sociology and director of the WMU Criminal Justice Program, will speak on "From Guernica to Hiroshima to Baghdad: The Normalization of the State Crime of Terror Bombing Civilians" at 7:30 p.m. in 210 Bernhard Center.

Kramer's talk is based on a paper he wrote that will be presented on Nov. 13 at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology in St. Louis, Mo. The paper examines the backlash after the bombing of Guernica in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War and the erosion of outrage over similar bombings, many much worse in terms of number of civilian deaths, through the present day.

On April 26, 1937, the German Condor Legion bombed and strafed the ancient Basque market town of Guernica, killing up to a thousand people and destroying much of the symbolic capital. It was, according to historians, the first time a completely unmilitarized, undefended civilian town in Europe had suffered a devastating air attack.

The attack was condemned internationally and met with deep public outrage and international horror. However, as World War II unfolded, such bombings of predominantly civilian targets on a much larger scale were promoted as a means of bringing Japan and Germany to surrender, while punishing the Axis powers and saving American lives. Bombings of civilians became fairly common and morally acceptable and were not limited to the Allies. The most notorious of these attacks were the firestorms of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo and particularly the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Kramer says that this led to a wartime erosion of social and moral restraints on the state crime of terror bombing and has led to what some have referred to as "a revolution in the morality of warfare" that continues to this day.

Kramer contends that after the outrage over Guernica, the terror bombing of civilians developed during World War II became normalized, "that is culturally accepted and approved by many political and military leaders and the American people." These social and cultural forces continue "to provide normative support and institutional benefits for the military targeting of civilians from the air within various state organizational structures and the general culture down to the present."

Kramer's presentation is part of the WMU Center for the Study of Ethics in Society's fall 2008 programs.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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