November 2006

Excluding ardent pacifists, Americans generally view World War II as the “good war” in which the goals of defeating Nazi totalitarianism and Japanese militarism eliminated moral ambiguities. But Professor Bess insists that in a war fought for moral purposes, the moral ambiguities of specific governmental or individual actions are sharpened. In this fascinating but discomfiting work, he unhesitatingly tackles some of the moral dilemmas presented by the war. How did the racism prevalent in American society undermine the moral justification of our cause? British and American opposition to Japanese expansion in Asia is examined within the context of European imperialism and exploitation. Could the bombing of civilian centers be justified on the basis of saving the lives of our military personnel? Can the necessity of defeating the Nazis be morally squared with an alliance with the equally monstrous regime controlled by Stalin? These, of course, are difficult questions, and those who prefer pat answers will have little patience with these ruminations. Yet the strength of this book is that it forces us to acknowledge and confront them. Jay Freeman

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