The Grim Arithmetic of a Just War

Published May 2, 2024

Wall Street Journal

I was born in September 1939, the month Hitler marched into Poland. My earliest memories are of World War II. America’s men—including several of my uncles, all incredibly young—were called up and sent overseas. The home front had a wistful innocence, touched with fear. An emptiness. The long suspense.

Hiroshima broke the spell. I remember images of a mushroom cloud—something entirely new in the world—on the front pages of the Washington Post and the Evening Star. That terrible flash brought the end of the war. As the years passed, mixed feelings would settle in, the moral fallout.

Out of Europe emerged other images that lodged deep in the mind. These were scenes from the grainy, flickering films of the concentration camps, in which bulldozers pushed skeletal corpses into mass graves and the living dead in filthy striped pajamas hung on the wire, their eyes dark and staring and filled with unknowable horror. That was the American child’s first sight of evil.

Antisemitism, I thought, would have been impossible after that—or anyway far less likely in the world, in America. I believed that for years.

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Lance Morrow is the Henry Grunwald Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His work focuses on the moral and ethical dimensions of public events, including developments in regard to freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and political correctness on American campuses, with a view to the future consequences of such suppressions.

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