Page 2938 - Week 09 - Thursday, 18 August 2005

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I want to dwell on a couple of the comments made by the Prime Minister on Monday. He said:

Like all wars, the Second World War had its share of blunders and cowardice, of greed and petty rivalry. Controversies live on to this day.

Yet let us never equivocate: this was a good and just war, fought not for conquest but for liberty.

I endorse both those propositions. For me, the Second World War was the classic instance of a just cause. It represents perhaps the greatest moral challenge for those who claim to be pacifists: what would they have done in the face of the fascist threat to Australia, America and Europe?

A few days earlier we celebrated the 60th anniversary of another two events which precipitated the end of the war but which no-one would speak of celebrating—the dropping of the only two atomic bombs ever used in war on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I have two brief points to make in this regard. Firstly, a just cause does not justify everything done in its name. Some things are simply and always wrong, even when done for good or noble purposes. This is a point that until recently everyone in our society believed. It was a criticism of totalitarian societies both of the left and right that they believed the end justified the means.

Recently, though, I have been alarmed to note that much of the commentary on the atomic bombing of Japan has concentrated solely on what might be called the net result: the balance sheet of carnage. If you believe, as I do, that the deliberate killing of innocent people is wrong, then it remains wrong even if more lives are saved as a result, and I do not mean by this the unintended deaths from attacking genuine military targets. It seems ironic that the tragic but unintended causalities of attempts to rid the world of more modern tyrants seem to be more widely condemned than earlier deliberate attempts to kill civilians. I am not judging the individuals who decided to drop the bomb, in circumstances that I cannot imagine. I know what my uncles thought and, given what they went through, I cannot condemn them. But, objectively, I have to say it was wrong.

Secondly, I reject the opposite error that this was an evil without precedent, the worst of the war, that we should remember the allies primarily as its perpetrators and their opponents primarily as its victims. Appalling crimes were committed in and during this war by various parties in various theatres of war. This was merely the application of a new and terrible technology to the by then accepted barbarism of making wars on populations, not just armies. If the end does not justify the means, nor does this act nullify or even reduce the justice of the cause.

MR SPEAKER: Order! The time allotted for the debate has expired.

The Assembly adjourned at 5.28 pm until Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 10.30 am.

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