Among the Dead Cities
This is a book which examines the morality of what is called area bombing on the cities of Germany and Japan. (Since this page is part of my Japan and World War II section, I will not go into details on the German bombing, although the book does provide a great deal of information about that as well as about the bombings of Japan).
There are two main types of bombing; precision bombing and area bombing. Precision bombing is, as the name implies, trying to bomb a precise location such as a factory or some facility that makes weapons. It's involves bombing only military targets. Such bombing can be difficult to do.
Area bombing means the bombers come in and drop bombs over a certain area, attempting to destroy whatever is in that area. The target is the area, not necessarily any specific factory, so military targets can be hit, but civilians can also be killed. Such bombing began by the Nazi's in World War II when they bombed London; the practice was carried on when the Allied forces were able to bomb German cities, and the height of the practice was when US forces firebombed Japanese cities, and then used two atomic bombs on two other cities.
The book very early on makes the strong point that, even if the Allied area bombing was an immoral act, it does not compare in scale or horror to how the Jews were treated during the Holocaust. There were around 800,000 civilians, including women and children, killed during the war by area bombing, but that number is only a fraction of the six million Jews and others murdered by the Nazis in the concentration camps.
Still, when something is morally wrong, it's morally wrong, even if it does not affect as many people as something else does.
Apparently the majority of the civilian populations of Britain and the US felt that bombing civilians was acceptable.
The decision to bomb German cities with populations over 100,000 was made in 1942.
The March 9/10 firebombing on Tokyo resulted in over 85,000 dead. The destruction caused was actually greater than that caused by either atomic bomb.
The book notes efficiency of the atomic bomb, since the damage and casualties caused by that one bomb would have required 220 B-29's carrying 1,200 tons of incendiary bombs, 400 tons of high explosives, and 500 tons of anti-personnel fragmentation bombs.
..if area bombing is a moral crime, then the bombings in the last six months of the war in both the European an Japanese theatres of war have what lawyers call an aggravated character-an intensified moral questionability, partly because victory was no loner genuinely doubtful, and partly because the motives for dropping the atom bombs might have been additional to realisation of the Allied war aims regarding Japan.
In other words, if area bombing is immoral, it is especially so when done in a situation where the enemy is clearly beaten, even if the enemy has not yet surrendered.
The number of Japanese casualties among soldiers in the war was around 780,000. The number of civilian casualties was around 806,000.
The bombings also helped lower morale since many civilians evacuated the cities, and with them went the stories of the bombings being carried out with little if any Japanese military resistance at all.
German civilian deaths ranged from 305,000 to 500,000.
Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War, was not in favor of the use of the atomic bomb. He did manage to get Kyoto removed from the list of possible targets.
Another reason the atomic bomb was used was to impress on Russia how far ahead the US was on atomic bomb research, to “make Russia more manageable in Europe.
One possible focus of area bombing is to destroy a country's entire culture. That way the victor can replace it with whatever they want.
The book notes several reasons for the use of the area-bombing. One was a hope that it could shorten the war. Another was blatant anti-Japanese racism. This was due to the way American PoWs were killed; the kamikaze attacks; Pearl Harbor, and the general way that the Japanese soldiers fought so fiercely.
No matter how strongly US civilians felt about this, people in the military felt even stronger and some advocated the area-bombing as being justified reaction to what the Japanese military had been doing.
”Acts of injustice can be perpetrated in the course of a just war, and if the injustices committed are themselves very great, their commission can threaten the overall justice of the war in which they took place.
.the definition of a just military action is any action necessary and proportionate to winning the war.
In relation to the rules of war, if the allies had lost, the argument could have been used that the area bombings were inhumane acts committed against any civilian population. Proportionality also be involved. What is questioned, for example, is the amount of military-related structures in Hiroshima, for example, in proportion to the entire area destroyed. If the military structures amounted to only a small percentage of the city, then destroying the entire city just to destroy those structures would be an act out of proportion to the value of the military targets, and thus could be construed as a war crime.
The book has sections of the Geneva Convention protocols in it, and it's easy to see how much of what has happened since them actually violates the protocols.
One argument in that has been given in favor of area-bombing is that there is little difference between the civilian who makes a weapon (or a part of a weapon) and the soldier who actually uses the weapon; thus, the civilians are justified targets.
The book questions whether lowering civilian morale couldn't have been done just as easily by dropping a demonstration atomic bomb somewhere where tens of thousands of civilians would not have been killed, but they would still have understood what could happen to them ultimately.
From 1939 through 1945, around 15 million military people were killed in all theaters of war; over 45 million civilians were killed.
Were there alternatives to area bombing? More effective precision bombing could have been undertaken; more isolation of the country by mining the waters could have been done; etc.
There is also the question of whether or not morality has any place in a war at all.
The book holds in the end that the area bombing was an immoral act. The book holds area bombing was not absolutely necessary, it was not proportionate, it was against the general codes of Western civilization, and it was against national laws against murder, bodily harm and destruction of property.
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