I am currently working on my thesis for a masters in history and it is pertaining to whether the aerial bombing during WW2 was legal or illegal based on international law at the time. I am not looking for whether it was morally wrong but whether you think it was a violation of international law.
If you could explain why you think the way you do instead of just a yes or no answer it would be appreciated.
I don't intend to respond unless I would like some clarification on your comment.
(Gone Now Adam! You pick what you want.)
2018-08-02 12:17 PM
aerial bombing of what?
2018-08-02 12:22 PM
I can't offer any help. In hindsight, I might make some of the things the Allies did, illegal.
by coincidence, a friend just toured Dresden and Berlin. I would feel kinda weird visiting Dresden. It would be creepy.
Why would you feel weird visiting Dresden? I guess having visited many locations in Germany (former West Germany) in the 80s while in the military, no matter where you went it had been impacted by the aerial bombing. Hamburg, which is not as well known, actually was just as devastated as Dresden.
No the eeriest place I visited was Dachau. That place gave the creeps.
2018-08-02 5:59 PM
2018-08-02 6:02 PM
Putting aside the debate of whether it was necessary or even a war crime, more than 20,000 people died in the two day raid that's commonly known... plus a few other raids.
Mostly it's an empathic/vivid imagination thing. I can imagine what it wold be like to be stuck in a fire storm. What's a little more difficult but not impossible to imagine is hundreds of piston driven bombers rumbling through the sky and dropping thousands of bombs.
I wonder if we still use incendiary bombs. I would rank them up there with chemical weapons and cluster bombs. If you're going to fight with rules, those shouldn't be allowed.
Yes naplam is still in the munitions inventory as far as I know.
2018-08-06 12:02 PM
Dresden is actually quite a nice place to visit these days.
It has a long history and was once a very important political and cultural center in Europe and was the capitol of Saxony. There are still a number of buildings from centuries ago standing.
The Frauenkirche Lutheran church was destroyed during the WWII bombing and the rubble was just left there for 50 years under Soviet rule as a "war memorial". After reunification, the church was rebuild using a combination of the original stones and new stones. The result is quite striking. (The inside appears to be all concrete). Much/all of the area around the church as also been rebuild and it's a great area of the city to hang out. Lots of bars and restaurants there.
A few blocks away is what is supposed to be the world's largest Ibis hotel. It sits in 3 large Soviet buildings on the side of a square. I don't know if the building were originally constructed for housing or for administration purposes, but it's typical ugly Soviet architecture - so ugly it's almost cool. At one end of that square is a Pullman hotel where all of the rooms face the square and the end wall is completely all glass. Not only is the wall glass, but the surround on the mid-room shower is also all glass, so you can open your curtains and show off to the world.
There are some areas which were bombed which now have large ugly Soviet housing on them.
All in all, the vast differences in architecture make for very interesting place to walk around.
There are lots of biking/running trails in and out of Dresden and they connect you with virtually all of Germany. You can go from Dresden to Hamburg on the bike trail.
There is also a Teknical University in Dresden. A very good electric trolley system covers almost the entire city.
Dresden is not too far from either Prague or Berlin.
(The Vampire Lestat)
2018-08-02 2:51 PM
That seems to be a question calling for specialized knowledge that I doubt anyone on the forum would have.
In the old days, that wouldn't be an impediment to a lively discussion, but might make for a tougher row to hoe now.
Just looking for opinions. No special knowledge required.
(The Vampire Lestat)
2018-08-02 5:17 PM
How can a lay opinion on whether something violated international law be of any value from people who don't know the relevant body of international law? But hey, it's your thread.
Funny, it has never stopped anybody on here before from having an opinion on something they know nothing or little about.
if it doesn't fit, you must acquit !!!
For international law to be violated the countries need to recognize international law.
After WW1 the League of Nations was formed, but it was already weak from the beginning. The US never joined and the USSR only did so briefly.
Germany (Hitler), Italy (Mussolini) and Spain (Franco) pulled out in the early thirties.
So there was no UN structure or international tribunal during WW2.
The Geneva conventions are from after WW2, 1949.
There were the treaties of The Hague before ww1, but they were wildly breached during WW1, so pretty much moot thereafter.
I would say no. Countries are at war and bombing of the enemy is part of it. Even if it's designed in such a way to make the most possible causalities.
morally it's despicable.
Popping over from the women's forum... This is not a question that I have considered before, but (if we leave out the nuclear bombing of Japan, which is aerial bombing on an entirely different scale) my first reaction would be that the Allied aerial bombing was not out of keeping with the totality of the war. That doesn't answer your question succinctly or in its entirety, but I would not characterize it as a heinous war crime within its context.
I am not a historian or expert of any kind, but I have done quite a bit of reading about WWII in recent years. I have mostly read about specific people, specific battles, or smaller-view perspectives so I don't know too much about military strategy or international law. I am making a presumption here that you are talking about Allied aerial bombing, though the Axis forces certainly did their share of aerial bombardment as well. From my understanding, the majority of Allied bombing targeted military or strategic targets and was not indiscriminate bombing of civilians [again, nuclear bombing aside]. Aerial bombardment was highly inaccurate, but mostly did not seem to be specifically targeting civilians. If you look at WWII as a whole, civilian casualties far outnumber military casualties on all sides, so I guess it's no surprise that a high percentage of civilian casualties might be acceptable in aerial bombardment.
2018-08-02 7:16 PM
2018-08-02 7:22 PM
I would first ask what were /are the relevant international laws regarding aerial bombing ? I have some opinions , but they are more related to perceived military necessity or political realities than any legal issues.
Who aws it hat first said " history belongs to the victors " ?
That is the $64,000 question because technically there were no existing international laws dealing with aerial warfare. The only existing were the 1907 Hague Convention which only dealt with land and sea warfare.
If there were no relevant laws at the time the question is moot.
Gonna be tricky writing that thesis , eh ?
Not really because some of the other charges at Nuremberg technically did not exist as law until 1945.
Are you saying that a law can be passed to apply retroactively ? Can you give some examples ?
Legally no but there was no existing specific laws pertaining to war crimes, crimes against humanities and war of aggression were according to some legal experts a huge stretch of the existing laws. Since they stretched on these why did they not put this under either of the first two. This is basically what I am trying to answer.
It is true, the victor writes the history.
FWIW--I vaguely remember a TV documentary about our actions vs. japan in WW2 . There was supposedly a conversation between Gen. Lemay, 8th air force and Robert McNamara about fire bombing . "there was not one building left more than 2 stories tall ". " If we lose, this will be judged a war crime "
That's all I have.
I agree with SSB. I don't think it's possible to opine whether an act was or was not against international law without knowing what the law was.
If there was no law addressing this type of action, then in my (layperson) opinion the action was not legally prohibited.
Whether the act was morally and/or ethically barred is another debate entirely.
(I like wool!)
2018-08-03 6:54 PM
Good question, and while I'm not an expert on international law, I'll give my take as a lawyer and judge fwiw. And with the extra caveat that international law then is different than it is now. I do know that way more protections are in place for civilians than were in place in 1940.
Also, interpretation of war crimes of course depends on who won. The Allies' saturation bombing of Germany might have been considered an international crime if Germany won the war.
All that said, I believe the aerial bombing by all sides was legal based upon international law at the time even if a lot of it might not be today. Sure, a hell of a lot of civilians were killed by bombing by all sides, but most targets were tactical military and industrial. If I'm not mistaken, even German aerial bombers weren't convicted of war crimes. It was war, and both sides were justified under international law of bombing the hell out of each other. (The unprovoked bombing of Pearl Harbor of course is a different thing.)
Probably way more possible violations of international law via aerial bombing were committed by the U.S. in Vietnam and Cambodia. So have been aerial bombings by many countries around the globe since WWII. But that's off your topic, of course. It does provide context for your question about WWII and my answer. It was a different time then given tactical and strategic goals but more importantly what was morally right, and now targeted bombing of civilians is both immoral and illegal. It's hard to separate morality from legality sometimes, but I'll unequivocally give my opinion that aerial bombing in WWII by all sides was legal (save Pearl Harbor) except for isolated incidents.
Please feel free to respond here or privately for clarification. And I'll appreciate if you can let me know the results of your thesis either here or privately, thanks.
This really is a fascinating topic and good luck on your thesis.
2018-08-03 7:05 PM
2018-08-03 7:10 PM
> The Allies' saturation bombing of Germany might have been considered an international crime if Germany won the war.
This was one of the critiques of the Nuremberg trails.
Next to the fact that there was no actual widely sanctioned "international tribunal".
edit: but as you said, warfare was much different back then. Even allies knew that if they organised a big air raid, many of their planes and pilots would not return. So even allies expected a non-trivial percentage of losses in their ranks.
This is much different than warfare in the past decades (probably 50 years).
(I like wool!)
2018-08-03 9:02 PM
2018-08-03 9:04 PM
Yeah, but the Nuremberg trials were the equivalent of an international trial, no? It may not have been sanctioned as an "international tribunal" but it functioned as that. It was the world judging international/humanity crimes.
I agree with you that it's so much different in recent decades. With improvements in technology, air bombing has become more of a video game than airmen having their guts blown out or being burnt to a crisp or being disfigured by enemy fire. Like you said, back in WWII, losses to men and planes were non-trivial. While that's from the perspective of today, it adds context to the aerial bombings back then. I can't fault a bombing run in 1943 that killed a lot of civilians. I'm really sad about that yes, but killing those civilians is not a crime against humanity, the world or international law.
2018-08-06 12:22 PM
2018-08-06 12:25 PM
> Sure, a hell of a lot of civilians were killed by bombing by all sides, but most targets were tactical military and industrial.
That seems to be one of the primary arguments for the "legality" of the bombing. Dresden didn't really have a lot of tactical military and industrial targets - and undoubtedly the magnitude of the bombing far exceeded the military value of those targets. That's why it's often claimed that the real purpose of the bombing was to demoralize the German population and the real purpose of the bombing was simply to slaughter enough civilians to get the survivors to beg for an end to the war and actively resist further Nazi activity.
2018-08-06 1:15 PM
2018-08-06 1:17 PM
Dresden had much more military industrial complexes than people think thanks in part to the great propaganda put out by Goebbels after the bombing in 1945 and the continued espousing of those same stories by the Soviets after the war. You should read Dresden: Tuesday February 13, 1945 by Frederick Taylor. It was written after the reunification and the opening of the Dresden archives along with those documents from other former Soviet areas.
Even if you eliminate the industries, the railways through Dresden were the few remaining that connected the Western an Eastern Fronts and Berlin at the time.
2018-08-06 1:33 PM
So you're leaning toward legality for your argument?
Based on what I have researched so far that is the way I am leaning but I still have some research left pertaining to the law and interpretations of the day. One of the main things that is causing me to lean that way is that everything I have read very openly states that it was immoral but very little discusses the legality aspects of it.
(I like wool!)
2018-08-06 5:55 PM
You may want to look up the Truman speech I referenced just below. While it was Japan and not Germany, I couldn't believe that he unabashedly admitted to targeting civilians. That doesn't make it legal, but is evidence that the world considered it to be perfectly legal and acceptable at the time.
Because it was Japan and not Germany maybe makes a difference morally and from a PR perspective although maybe not legally. Many folks from the generation before me (including my FIL who was on Saipan and elsewhere in the South Pacific) never ever trusted the Japanese people after Pearl Harbor. They have been fine with Germans, though...even though Germans bombed the hell out of London's civilians while Pearl Harbor was a pure military attack. Like I said somewhere above, probably all bombings in London, Germany, other European countries, Hawaii, Islands in the South Pacific and Japan were legal at the time under international law because like I suggested, war was war back then. Few restrictions except for things like chemical weapons outlawed after the mustard gas of WWI. Explosives and bullets didn't have those restrictions, I don't think.
Hiroshima was the army group HQ (I believe) for Japan in dealing with the upcoming invasion it also had the largest concentration of medical professionals. Not saying that this justified it, but when you think about war, if you have a weapon that will save your nations soldiers lives, you use it no matter how deadly it is to the enemy. Also, it was also probably racially based, because from what I have seen and read there was no intention to use it on Germany.
(I like wool!)
2018-08-06 7:33 PM
That all may be true, but doesn't negate Truman's public words that we were targeting civilians, kind of the topic of your thesis.
I agree with you philosophically about war, that you use what you gots. Your question of course is what was legal back then and I *think* the answer is pretty much everything with some exceptions.
btw I wouldn't call the antipathy towards the Japanese including use of the big one racially-based. There were a lot of reasons why Japan got Little Boy instead of Germany, and I think older generations of Americans have distrusted Japanese simply because of Pearl Harbor. Germany attacked the rest of the world "straight up" while from my FIL's and others' perspective, Japan stabbed us in the back. To the extent that there was racism against Japanese because of Pearl Harbor, I think it died with that generation. As a country, we probably embraced the Japanese as quickly as the Germans after the war, despite killing hundreds of thousands of civilians from both countries.
Both countries are allies and friends of the U.S. and free world, which kind of renders irrelevant whether what the U.S. did in WWII. Although the current U.S. administration cutting various ties with our allies including Germany renders past "wrongs" by the U.S. against Germany relevant again. Your topic is a good one, and not just from a historical perspective.
I think maybe a way to approach this question is to check what has been judged "illegal" by Allies ( for both Allies and Axis) during WWII and compare this to the Dresden bombing.
Maybe there were similar German bombings that were.
(I like wool!)
2018-08-06 4:56 PM
Interesting. This is the first I've heard that Dresden maybe didn't have a lot of military/industrial targets. Everything I've read including first-hand accounts by pilots (admittedly I've read nothing in 3 decades about bombing Germany in WWII and modern historians may have a different take
) and I always thought Dresden was heavily industrial. I'm curious now and will check that out.
But even if the target was heavy industry, you could be right that demoralization by civilian slaughter was the real purpose. Coincidentally and supporting your suggestion, today I happened to hear on the way to work a recording of Truman's actual address to the American people a day after Hiroshima. He actually said that we chose Hiroshima because the targets were civilians! Although then he said that the next targets would be military, presumably foreshadowing Nagasaki. But that does seem to be ass-backwards, and criminal if the Allies were not on the "morally right" and winning side.
2018-08-07 12:10 AM
What Wikipedia has on the topic:
Immediate German propaganda claims following the attacks and post-war discussions on whether the attacks were justified have led to the bombing becoming one of the moral causes célèbres of the war. A 1953 United States Air Force report defended the operation as the justified bombing of a strategic target, which they noted was a major rail transport and communication centre, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the German war effort. Several researchers claim not all of the communications infrastructure, such as the bridges, were targeted, nor were the extensive industrial areas outside the city centre. Critics of the bombing have claimed that Dresden was a cultural landmark of little or no strategic significance, and that the attacks were indiscriminate area bombing and not proportionate to the military gains. Some in the German far-right refer to the bombing as a mass murder calling it "Dresden's Holocaust of bombs". According to other critics, given the high number of civilian casualties and the relatively few strategic targets, Dresden's destruction was unjustifiable and should be called a war crime. They claim the city could have been spared, like Rome, Paris, and Kyoto, though the British and the American militaries defended the bombing as necessary.
Before World War II, Dresden was called “the Florence of the Elbe” and was regarded as one the world’s most beautiful cities for its architecture and museums. Although no German city remained isolated from Hitler’s war machine, Dresden’s contribution to the war effort was minimal compared with other German cities. In February 1945, refugees fleeing the Russian advance in the east took refuge there. As Hitler had thrown much of his surviving forces into a defense of Berlin in the north, city defenses were minimal, and the Russians would have had little trouble capturing Dresden. It seemed an unlikely target for a major Allied air attack.
The Allies claimed that by bombing Dresden, they were disrupting important lines of communication that would have hindered the Soviet offensive. This may be true, but there is no disputing that the British incendiary attack on the night of February 13 to February 14 was conducted also, if not primarily, for the purpose of terrorizing the German population and forcing an early surrender. It should be noted that Germany, unlike Japan later in the year, did not surrender until nearly the last possible moment, when its capital had fallen and Hitler was dead.
2018-08-07 5:05 AM
2018-08-07 5:12 AM
While both are correct neither is telling the rest of the story. I, personally, dislike when they utilize the word "indiscriminate" in regards to bombing prior to the advent of today's "smart" weapons. Prior to the "smart" weapon the only guarantee that the bomber people could make was that they would hit the ground, where, not 100% sure. It also has to be remember that these bomber formations were miles across and long by late 1944.
(I like wool!)
2018-08-07 5:45 PM
Interesting. I had a completely different impression of Dresden because of what I learned growing up in the 1960s which was not far removed from the glow and glory of winning WWII, with the fighting folk, war correspondents and historians near the peak of their power and influence. It's funny that even with the growing anti-establishment anti-military sentiment of the late 1960s and early 70s that you didn't hear too much about U.S. "war crimes" in previous wars. The focus all was on the war crimes in Vietnam, I guess.
Although I agree with oitsubob that bombing of Dresden as well as other targets was anything but "indiscriminate" as was suggested on Wiki. Not only because the tech didn't approach what we have now, but because of film and pictures of bombings I've seen as well as first-hand accounts (and I do believe my eyes and ears despite instructions to the contrary
). That hard evidence illustrates that industrial and transportation targets were targeted successfully. Granted, maybe film and accounts of bombing residential, commercial and art districts were suppressed or not recorded for PR purposes, but you'd think that this evidence would have come to light by now. It didn't take too long to show the horrors against civilians in Japan, and the horrors in Vietnam hit the mainstream almost instantaneously. I'm not minimizing the horrors against civilians in Dresden, but suggesting that appears to me to be more collateral damage than indiscriminate or targeted. I still do plan on learning more, either to correct or confirm the history in my head.
If you want some suggestions let me know. I have a library of over 500 books pertaining to WW2 primarily the ground and air campaigns in Europe with a few on the Pacific Theater.
(I like wool!)
2018-08-08 7:28 PM
Holy hell I would LOVE to peruse your library!
Thanks but I'll hold off for now and look some things up myself, although waiting for your dissertation.
Jas - Not a problem but if you change your mind let me know. Also, once I get it done and defended I will try to remember to send you the link where it can be found on my university's website.
2018-08-02 9:05 PM
Not an expert by any means but I think if you are bombing non-combatants like civilians that would be illegal.
How do you define a non-combatant? Is a worker in a military armament factory a non-combatant?
During WW2 most economies (US included) were "War"-economies.
What actually makes the bombings more heinous is the knowledge that many of those factories were running through forced laborers.
So they knew they were bombing ally populations who were transported to Germany to work in factories over there.
So, should you refrain from bombing an armaments factory or any other industry key to the ability to make war just because you might kill allies or other individual groups that have been turned into forced labor?
I am just wanting to see if anybody has some viewpoint that I have not thought of. With the exception of this one, most I have already thought of. Thanks Tommeke!
2018-08-03 12:29 PM
Let God sort 'em out
You said to keep morality aside.
I think in those days human life was probably not as important to the powers that be.
Also, they knew that if your carpet bomb in those days it would not be a surgical strike, and that many planes would not return.
It's a very different warfare than now, where you just launch missiles from thousands of miles away, and have fighter jets nearly invisible.
Make sure to check for resources though, because I'm just saying stuff but have no idea how many forced laborers were actually killed in Germany by Allied bombings.
I did know that many people over here were forced to go work in German factories, I actually heard stories from people this week.
That is the tough part. While the Nazis were meticulous in accounting for the forced laborers put into the system, there is no such accounting on how they "disappeared." Was it escape, death by starvation, death by bombing, or death by other means.
(I like wool!)
2018-08-06 6:34 PM
Do you think it matters how those captives "disappeared" from a moral or legal standpoint?
More so a legal than a moral.
2018-08-03 10:41 AM
Probably not a great term by me but I was trying to say anyone not directly involved in the war effort. Factories producing bombs would be a fair target in my opinion. Unfortunately as pointed out there would be many casualties that may not be our enemies.
My grandfather was a dairy and wheat farmer in Kent. He produced food that was used to nourish both persons in the military and civilians working directly and/or indirectly for the war effort. My mother was 1 year old when the war started and 7 when it ended.
The farm was bombed on a few occasions. My mother remembers being put to bed in the bomb shelter because it was considered too dangerous for her to sleep in her upstairs bedroom. Had there been a direct hit on the farm house, she and her family could well have died.
Were they noncombatants?
2018-08-06 4:35 PM
I would say non combatants. My parents both lived in the Netherlands during WWII. They also had farms and hid Jews on their farms from the nazis and were involved in the underground press. They have a lot of stories of neighbors being executed for doing the same. They never got caught but lots of close calls with the german soldiers. They also hid young dutch teens boys mostly that the nazis were trying to gather up to possibly work in their factories or other forced labor. We have some pictures that have bullet holes in them from when their were firefights in the the surrounding countryside. After the war their families both immigrated to the US. They also talked a lot about the Canadian soldiers and the fighting they were doing. They would help them out at times and the Canadian soldiers gave out chocolate bars which made them very popular. I don't think their farms were ever bombed but there were heavy artillery fights and skirmishes. The neighbors that were executed were helping the allies.
Thank you for sharing the story.
It amazes me how close we are chronologically to the people who were targeted for their actions or beliefs.
A bit of historical trivia, but maybe relevant :
I can't quote the source of this , but it has to do with mutual bombing of Britain and Germany early in WW2 . After Dunkirk the Germans made plans to invade Britain across the channel . Before the actual seaborne invasion, they attempted to achieve air superiority by destroying the RAF airports and planes on the ground . For a while , the RAF was pitting up a good fight, but eventually their losses exceeded replacements. So Churchill ordered the RAF to bomb German cities , forcing the Germans to shift much of their effort to retaliate by bombing British cities This gave the RAF time to repair damaged airports and increase available planes and aircrews.
This spring, DW and I toured Western Europe and spent some time in Cologne ,Germany . One activity included a guided tour of the cathedral and surroundings . The tour guide emphasized that the cathedral was one of the few buildings in the city to survive the war and only moderately damaged while most other city structures were destroyed .
One of the tour members asked the guide about the beautiful statuary and stained glass windows , many 500+ years old . The guide said that beginning in 1938, the windows and statues were removed and stored in nearby mines .This suggests to me that the Germans fully anticipated aerial bombing of civilian targets or at the very least collateral damage.
(The Vampire Lestat)
2018-08-07 7:01 PM
When I was there I heard the story that Allied pilots took great care -- including risks to themselves that they wouldn't normally take -- to avoid bombing the cathedral due to its cultural and historic significance. Beautiful church for sure.
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