Faith and Reason: Neck and neck in spilling blood: The Warrington bombing was strongly condemned by church leaders. They should apply the same standards to all types of violence perpetrated for political reasons, writes Bruce Kent.

AFTER the Warrington bombings, the churches' condemnation of the perpetrators reached new heights. 'Utterly inhuman and barbaric . . . totally incompatible with the teaching of the Catholic Church . . . to be unreservedly condemned,' said Roman Catholic leaders in England and Ireland.

One Anglican bishop denounced the 'white feather cowards' responsible for the evil deeds. His comment hurt pacifists. Many of those given white feathers in the First, and even the Second, World War were precisely those who refused to commit acts of violence at government orders and who suffered as a consequence.

Strong language was not confined to churches. A Scottish politician condemned 'unequivocally and totally' any acts of violence in pursuit of political aims. 'No cause on earth can justify the risk of maiming or hurting individuals and such obscenities have no place in politics.' An Irish citizen living in London wrote to a national newspaper to ask what on earth the IRA thought they were going to achieve 'by such downright brutal and totally unmilitaristic means of fighting'.

I am not surprised at the level of indignation. Those who make and plant bombs are directly responsible for the innocent lives they claim. It is particularly poignant when those lives are of the very young who have years of joy and hope ahead of them. But I am surprised at the selectivity of the indignation. Terrorists in Ireland come in two categories: murderous republicans and murderous loyalists. As far as killing the innocent goes, they run neck and neck in blood.

A major problem with all this condemnation of violence is that it comes from so many people and groups who have no hesitation about it when they think it is our own national interest. Gerry Adams has referred to 'meaningless platitudes about violence'.

Do we condemn all acts of violence in pursuit of political aims? Are they in fact unreservedly condemned? Unfortunately not. We have not suddenly been reconverted to the pacifism of third-century Christianity. Acts of violence in pursuit of political aims have for centuries been blessed, prayed over and even glorified by churches when they happen to be acts of violence undertaken by governments - our governments.

It was the deaths of children which caused the level of outrage about Warrington. A toddler and a teenager cruelly done to death. But how many children did we kill, and are we still killing, in Iraq as a result of the Gulf war? It was supposed to be a clean war. Night by night we were misled about precision bombing. We followed the guided missiles on television right down to their always military targets. 'Surgical strike' was the term. Only after the war was it admitted that only 7 per cent of the bombs used were laser- guided. The rest - about 80,000 tons - were free-falling bombs and at most 25 per cent of them found their targets.

What targets? And where did the others fall? Twenty-eight civilian hospitals and 52 community health centres were destroyed in the process of bombing Iraq back to the pre-industrial age. The Geneva Convention Protocol of 1977, repeating the spirit of all previous international law, said that parties to a military conflict 'shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants . . .'

Thousands of children died in Iraq during the war. The deaths did not end with the war. According to an international group of physicians, reporting on a visit to Iraq, more than 40,000 children below the age of five died in the first eight months of 1991 alone. Where were the churches then, and where were the denunciations? The Pope was clear enough but he stood almost alone in his opposition. Most church leaders in England supported the war.

The excuse was that we had to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and that this was the only way to do it. In other words the ends justify the means. That is exactly the implicit message both of the IRA and of the loyalist paramilitaries. One lot want a 32-county Ireland, and the other no change in the British connection. For both it is just too bad if innocent people get in their way.

There is nothing new about the total air war against Iraq and all its people. Total air war against civilians as well as combatants has a long tradition. Not long ago a statue was put up to Marshal of the RAF Sir Arthur Harris on church property in the Strand. All the great and the good attended, including the Queen Mother. Had we lost the Second World War 'Bomber' Harris might well have faced a War Crimes Tribunal. His policy, like that of Churchill, was to try to terrorise the German population into submission by massive city-centre bombing raids.

The flattening of Dresden in 1945 was not a one-off. It was the culmination of a process. Harris developed his methods long before the war. In 1924, as a Squadron Leader, he was part of the air policing team which was meant to provide colonial rule in Iraq on the cheap. Harris then wrote: 'The Arab and the Kurd now know what real bombing means in casualties and damage. They now know that within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out, and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured by four or five machines.' He wanted casualties which would produce 'a real as opposed to a purely moral effect'. How many of his victims were children, I wonder?

Do we really condemn all violence in pursuit of political aims? One of those at the unveiling of the Harris statue was Leonard Cheshire. There can be no question but that Cheshire for many long years practised personal charity to an extraordinary degree. The leadership qualities he showed in wartime he put to wonderful use in peacetime. But Cheshire took an active part in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945, three days after the total destruction of Hiroshima. If no one then knew anything about radiation effects, at least those air crews must have known perfectly well that they were on their way to kill thousands of ordinary civilians in undefended cities. As George Zabelka - the US Air Force chaplain who ended his life dedicated to nonviolence - admitted, the long series of fire raids on other Japanese cities had blunted their consciences.

But Cheshire never had scruples about the Nagasaki raid. To the end of his days he justified it because he knew that it was the only way to end the war in the Far East. No matter that Eisenhower, Montgomery and others disagreed. Cheshire knew that there would have to be an invasion of Japan and he knew that it was likely to cost 3 million lives. His conclusion was therefore that it was better to kill 200,000 Japanese civilians and to end the war. Once more the ends were made to justify the means: IRA doctrine exactly. Civilians are expendable; only the cause matters.

Is this all a call for Christian conversion to absolute pacifism? Not so, though it wouldn't hurt to learn our own history. What I ask for is a little less denunciation, a little more peacemaking and a little more honesty from the churches. Apart from the Quakers and the Anabaptist communities our Christian histories are all histories of blood.

This is an edited version of a talk delivered on Radio 4 last week.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star