Home > Uncategorized > John Middleton Murry: The morality of bombing civilians is not arithmetic

John Middleton Murry: The morality of bombing civilians is not arithmetic


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war


John Middleton Murry
From The Pharisee and the Publican (1937)

Is it the mere size of the murder that we protest against? As though to bomb 5,000 innocent civilians were a hundred times worse than bombing 50, and five thousand times worse than bombing one! If that is the casuistry of modern morality, then I vastly prefer the more civilized casuistry of old. I can understand the essential difference between a venial and a mortal sin; I can see no essential difference between deliberately blowing one civilian to pieces and blowing up a million.

There is a story in the gospel of St. Luke which is pretty familiar, so familiar, I suppose, that it has long ceased to mean anything. It tells how two men went into the Temple to pray: The one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are – extortioners, unjust, adulterers. I fast twice a week, and pay my taxes.” But the publican, standing afar off, would not even lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his breast and said: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And Jesus said that the publican went home accepted by God, while the Pharisee was rejected.

I cannot help thinking that those who would protest against the outrages of Japan in China are like the Pharisee. Men who live in an England made rich as a result of the same type of outrages, men who are, and must be, members of a country which is prepared, under stress of “necessity,” to commit precisely the same outrages as Japan, and for the same ends – surely, they cannot do otherwise than as the publican: humiliate themselves and repent. They cannot protest – at least against anyone other than themselves.

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