Consider Oradour. 642 people were murdered by a German battallion there on June 10 1944, after Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann was told that a German officer was being held by the Resistance in Oradour (in Oradour-sur-Vayres, that is, which is not Oradour-sur-Glane; it was the latter that got it in the neck).

[T]he Wehrmacht regarded members of all resistance movements as guerilla terrorists who would strike quickly before merging back into civilian life. As such, reprisals were indiscriminately violent. Oradour, indeed, was not the only collective punishment reprisal action committed by German troops: other well-documented examples include the Soviet village of Kortelisy (in what is now Ukraine), the Czechoslovakian villages of Ležáky and Lidice (in what is now the Czech Republic), the Dutch village of Putten, Serbian towns of Kragujevac and Kraljevo and the Italian villages of Sant’Anna di Stazzema and Marzabotto. Furthermore, the German troops executed hostages (random or selected in suspect groups) throughout France as a deterrent.

So. There’s clearly a moral quandary here if you’re in the Resistance (and presumably if you’re not in the official Resistance but you help it when the occasion offers). You know with certainty that your activities put random guiltless people at risk. You know with certainty that any real success you have will result in anguish for a lot of people who are not the aggressors but the bystanders; in death for some and grief for others. Everything you do as part of the maquis has a high moral cost.

Of course, it’s also true that doing nothing has a high moral cost too. If you do nothing and the Germans win, the outcome will not be an end to the killing of innocents. You’re in a situation in which anything you do has a high moral cost. You’re in a nightmare.

So the Resistance in some sense is responsible for the collective punishment of other people. But in what sense? Is it responsible in the same way, albeit to a lesser degree, as the Wehrmacht? Or is it responsible in some different way. Does it make a difference who is doing what to whom, and for what reasons, and in what context? It seems to.

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