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Lionel Charlton





  

baghdad 1923

In Baghdad in February of 1923, the newly arrived staff officer Lionel Charlton visited the local hospital in Diwaniya. He had expected diarrhea and broken bones, but was instead suddenly and surprisingly confronted with the results of a British air raid. The difference between a police baton and a bomb was brutally obvious.

Had it been a question of war or an open rebellion, he as an officer would not have had any complaint, he writes in his memoirs, but this “indiscriminate bombing of a populace... with the liability of killing women and children, was the nearest thing to wanton slaughter,"

He became more and more doubtful about the methods by which ‘an appearance of law and order" was maintained in Iraq,

Soon a new sheik had stirred up a rebellion and had to be punished. But from 3,000 feet it was not so easy to target him specifically. When the bombs exploded without warning In the crowded bazaar, innocent and powerless people would be killed along with their oppressors.

Was it right for an entire city to suffer for one man's crime? And was he even a criminal himself? Perhaps the informants who had fingered him had personal reasons to go behind his back. To bomb a city on those grounds was a form of tyranny that threatened to make the British even more hated.

Charlton’s superior, John Salmond, made no bones in admitting that the bombs struck at the innocent. But the established political line had to be followed. If the air force was to survive as an independent branch of service, it had to prove its efficiency and could not afford sentimentality

Charlton no longer wanted any part of it. He requested to be relieved of his post on grounds of conscience. Headquarters sent him back to England, where he was forced to retire in 1928.