I love applied ethics and am (generally) less appreciative of the theoretical and ‘academic’ stuff. But I find practical real life examples of tough moral choices really interesting. Especially when they are made by people that I like…. enter stage right Winston Churchill…
On the 14 November 1940, 515 German bombers left mainland Europe on a bombing run. Their target was the West Midlands town of Coventry. The first wave of bombers targeted infrastructure, cratering roads and destroying the telephone lines as well as the gas and water mains. This would make it difficult for the fire department to reach affected areas and difficult to co-ordinate damage control, especially with no water. The bombers that followed dropped high explosive and incendiary bombs, as well as air mines which exploded overhead and damaged roofs which would allow the fire bombs easier access to the internal and presumably more flammable parts of the buildings.
Interestingly, in terms of defense, Coventry had 24, 3.7mm inch AA guns and twelve 40mm guns. Each guns could fire about 10 rounds a minute and the raid lasted 10hrs in which the Royal Artillery fire 6,700 rounds with only one out of the 515 bombers (some of whom were flying multiple sorties) was shot down.
During the course of the night and early morning 4,300 homes were destroyed and about two thirds of the buildings in the city center were damaged. Casualties were estimated at 568 killed, with 863 badly injured and 393 sustaining lesser injuries. These causality rates are actually surprisingly low considering the ferocity of the bombing raid, likely attributable to the great air-raid shelters and that most of the townspeople actually evacuated the city at night and slept in the countryside.
In any event, in 1974 it was revealed, and confirmed by other sources within the intelligence community at the time, that Winston Churchill had advanced warning of the attack on Coventry. The mathematicians and cryptographers at Bletchley Park had already deciphered the Enigma code that was being used by the Germans (although a senior member at Bletchley park refutes the claim that Winston Churchill knew that Coventry was the intended target)
Winston Churchill apparently decided to let the Blitz on Coventry go a head, so as not to tip off the Germans that they had cracked the enigma code. If he reinforced the air defenses on the city, the Germans might have become suspicious. The death of hundreds of innocent civilians was weighed up against the massive strategic advantage of being able to read the ‘secure’ communications of the enemy.
There is an apocryphal quote attributed to Winston Churchill that the decision to let Coventry burn ‘took twenty years off my life’.
Harold Ho is my hero. First grade and already fighting the good fight. Fight them on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the hills and the classrooms. Never surrender Harold! I often like to channel (and paraphrase) Winston Churchill in important matters of principle or when faced with a wave of overwhelming darkness… like when filling out my tax-return, unfortunately, unlike Harold, I usually capitulate relatively soon after my little diatribe. Mostly because I don’t want to be dragged out of my domicile by men with guns and then have the structural integrity of my sphincter stress tested in the communal showers of some grey cinderblock building*. There is opportunity cost in being principled.
*I like to pretend that I’m cute enough to warrant the attention of other prisoners. Although sometimes I also worry that maybe I’d just be left alone with not even a catcall from the most desperate or lecherous inmate. ‘God, prison is just like real life’.
In any event, good luck Harold. Don’t let them break you. Like they broke me.
Every man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessaries, conveniences, and amusements of human life – Adam Smith
As an aside I think I would like to have a statue erected in my honor. I feel my scalp, devoid of any folliclular interference would provide a most excellent staging area from which countless generations of pigeons can defecate on my glorious countenance. If you guys can just wedge me in between Winston Churchill and Jan Smuts in Parliament Square outside Westminster that would be great. You may need to remove David Lloyd George. But I feel that’s not really a big ask. Also (if at all possible) I’d like to be wielding an ax. Thanks (in advance).
I started reading the Wealth of Nations last night. I decided to delay my commute home somewhat because of the inclement weather conditions (and the vehicular cluster fuck that this would undoubtedly cause) and went to the MALL instead. I found the Wealth of Nations wedged between Das Kapital and Steven Pinkers overly cheerful ‘Enlightment now’ in the Western Philosophy aisle at the local bookstore… So I rescued it. I am quite accommodating that way and also I’ve never read it. There is a huge Adam Smith shaped hole in the rusted out sieve that is my retention sphere.
Found myself, after two chapters flipping back to the forward to remind myself when it was written. 1776! I utter some profane utterance to underscore my amazement. It feels very familiar… but to appreciate it in its originality makes me a little giddy. Ha ha. I’m pretty sure not so long ago boobs (and the application thereof to my face) made me giddy… now its a three inch tome by a long dead Scot. How the mighty have fallen.