History is usually recorded from the point of view of the victor. Are we capable of standing back from this, and recognising objectively a war crime as a war crime, even if it was 'our' side that committed it?
Was the deliberate targeting of German civilians a crime, or just another horrific act of war?
I don't know.... I'm just asking the question, and reaching for my tin hat before the answers come in!
War Crime: According to The New Oxford English Dictionary:
"An action carried out during the conduct of a war that violates the accepted international rules of war".
So who decides what is a war crime and what isn't? The victors, of course.
And the victors in the last World War - the Allies - formed the United Nations and decided, retrospectively, that War Crimes had been committed by Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan. The Nuremburg Trials were the template for future International War Crimes Courts and Tribunals.
I tend to take the simplistic view. The Luftwaffe allegedly mistakenly dropped bombs on central London which started off the tit-for-tat rounds of civilian /city bombings. But I have to say that Allied bombing of Germany was aimed primarily at the disruption of industrial ability. My view is that there would have been no bombing if there had been no war.
What are the accepted international rules of the conduct of the war?
Death of anyone by any means is unacceptable, but if one is going to conduct a war then the quickest of achieving an end to that war is accpetable WITHIN ONE'S OWN MORAL bounds.
The blame game initiated by Jorge Friedrichs will only stand up if one can forget the horrors of the Death Camps; the murder of the mentally handicapped, the gyspies, the Poles and the Russians. Who can say the what the mood of the German people was in the Thirties when Herr Hitler was at his most blood-thirsty.
Wed 20 Nov, 2002 07:20 am
I would say that, by and large, Germany suffered in far smaller proportion to the murderous activities of it's leadership--a leardership which was followed, until the bitter end, without any significant opposition. By the way, please do not drag out that hoary old chestnut of Napoleon's that history is written by the victors. Were that so, his historical image would be considerably blacker than it is. I will agree that the initial impression people have of an event is governed by the information which is available to them, and, therefore, the "victors" can control public opinion--for a while, but not for very long.
As regards specifics of bombing policy, it is important to make distinctions about what goals were pursued. Our English correspondents may not like this. Americans attempted (and largely succeeded, despite the heavy-handed attempt of Anti-war, Vietnam era historians to claim otherwise) to practice a day-light precision bombing against Germany and Austria. This cost the United States, in casualties in the air, the equivalent or more than two full infantry divisions. Since the victors don't always write history, i'd like to refute the claims made by historians in the late 1960's and early 1970's (who opposed bombing North Vietnam) that American bombing in the second world war was ineffective. Albert Speer, after surveying the bombing damage done at Schweinfurt (the ball- and roller-bearing center in Germany at the time), grew very pessimistic about the likely results if such bombing continued. He estimated on his first inspection tour that 65% of Germany's ball- and roller-bearing production had been lost for at least three months. He was greatly relieved--at first--as the Americans did not immediately renew the attack. American casualties were very heavy on that raid, and policy makers were considering abandoning the daylight, precision bombing doctrine for the English policy--night-time area bombing.
Churchill and the RAF's Harris had decided that factory workers who could not sleep could not work effectively the next day--that, at least, was the very flimsy fig leaf with which they covered what looks very much to me like revenge bombings against the monsters who had almost destroyed Coventry. "Arthur Harris and Sons, House Removers" was the grim joke the air crews made about what was an undisguised attack on civilian areas. Bomber Harris pursued this policy right into the final days of the War.
By contrast, after the Schweinfurt raid, the Americans largely stopped strategic bombing altogether. They had thought their raid a failure at Schweinfurt, and a limited success at Regensburg, where a Messerschmidt factory was located (air crews always like bombing fighter factories). Their analyses at the time were faulty, and the attack on the ball- and roller-bearing industry was much more effective. The Germans eventually dispersed their manufacturing facilities, but the machine tools for that type of precision work are very sensitive, and many that suffered no direct hit were damaged by vibrations, water from fire-fighting, dust from falling masonry. German weapons of that war were grossly overbuilt--the "Tiger" and "Panther" tanks were without peer on the battlefield, and they were also slow and expensive to build. The Germans produced a few thousand of those; Russians produced more than 100,000 tanks, and the United States produced over 50,000 Sherman tanks alone. The continued attacks on specific industries by the American daylight raiders had a profound effect. Gradually, production in all areas ground to a halt--with insufficient material resources, replacement parts for agricultural machines and systems disappeared. The railroads were next, and, when things got really bad, submarine production began to slow and then halt, for a lack of necessary parts.
American daylight raiding was greatly enhanced when the P51 Mustang became available. As Chuck Yaeger once put it: "What the Spitfire could do for 40 minutes, the Mustang could do for eight hours." Goering, when asked when he knew the war was over, said when he saw the first Mustang over Berlin. With adequate escort, daylight raids got through in ever growing numbers of planes, able to put their bomb loads on or very near the targets.
If one simply wants to count any civilian casualties as war crimes, everyone who ever goes to war in the mechanical age will be a war criminal. Targeted civilian areas are different, and may well qualify. By that standard, the RAF committed war crimes throughout the war. They can make the disclaimer that their raids were reprisals, which is rather thin, though. Two massive "1000 plane" raids were made against Cologne, and this was definitely a revenge raid--there weren't sufficient military objectives in the area for that number of bombers to hit when flying in as a single-attack, no matter how the waves of bombers were organized.
The greatest "war crime" in terms of a bombing raid against Germany in the second world war was the bombing of Dresden. The Germans had tried very hard NOT to make this beautiful city a target. The Americans and English bombed it to hell, just for spite. They methodically chose a method which would assure maximum destruction. First, large incendiary bombs were dropped. This was followed by "block" busters, to spread the initial fires, and to destroy the water mains which would be needed to fight the fires. This was followed by lots of small incendiaries to spread fires over a wide area--and finally, specific pattern-bombing with 500- and 1000- pound bombs to start the "fire storms" which had so devasted Hamburg.
Perhaps this raid, and others qualify as war crimes--the Dresden raid would be the best candidate for this. But when you're fighting a fanatical and cruel enemy and your best intelligence assessments tell you the enemy will fight on with all resources (which they did, as best they were able), perspectives change. It is straining a comparison, but--when the cops get in a shoot-out with armed criminals who have demonstrated that they will kill, we generally don't expect them to put their lives on the line while demanding that they don't shoot anyone too much.
Yes, many operations in the second world war by allied forces might be termed war crimes. Compare this to what has gone before in history, and our responses were fairly civilized given the horrendous crimes of the opponent. There is a valid distinction to be made between the actions of an agressor, and a belligerant who seeks to end the agressor's reign of terror.
"Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 1
Charter of the International Military Tribunal" defines in Section II, Article 6:
The following acts, or any of them, are crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal for which there shall be individual responsibility:
(a) CRIMES AGAINST PEACE: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;
(b) WAR CRIMES: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity;
(c)CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated. [...]"
Regarding my personal opinion on this, it was no war crime.
Why do you call Jörg Freidrichs book "blame game"? (That's exactly what some Nazis said, when he discovered how many ex-Nazis had worked as judges in Germany or wrote in another how Jewish Germans were kicked out in banks and industry - and by whom.)
Do you think that this wasn't done scientific enough?
Wed 20 Nov, 2002 01:19 pm
Alleged guilt for civilian casualties prior to 1948-49.
There is an unfortunate tendency for folks to judge the past by present conditions and values. It is important that we bear in mind the conditions and accepted values prevalent during the period under discussion. Were the Romans guilty of war crimes by salting the earth of Carthage, and enslaving the surviving population? Prior to the Nuremberg Trials many of the "crimes" that Nazi leaders were convicted of didn't exist in International Law. Modern technology made possible state murder on such a scale that the International Community was "forced" to impose new standards on what comprises "legitimate means of waging war". The horrors of the Nazi ideals "justified" for most of the world's community application of Ex Post Facto Law to individual Nazi leaders. The Nuremberg Trials, and the formation of an "effective" United Nations, had important ramifications to how we regard things today.
Prior to 1948-49, the destruction of enemy property and civilians was not a crime. Quite the contrary, many military strategists accepted the idea that destruction of the enemy population's moral and will to resist was a key to victory. The killing potential of fully automatic weapons, chemicals, and modern artillery had been amply demonstrated in the trenches of WWI. The casualty lists devastated European populations and leaders. If wars were to continue, the lethality of warfare had to be reduced. Strong pacifist movements developed in all of the advanced nations, and later contributed to the reluctance to militarily react to German aggression. The ultimate alternative to war is surrender, and probable extinction of one's group/culture. If we are unwilling to fight, then we will perish in the face of actual, or threatened violence.
The Butcher's Bill for the Great War also strongly influenced those who understood that pacifism is an ineffective response to aggression. One example is found in Churchill's preference for an attack against the "soft underbelly" because of his fear that direct attacks across the Channel would result in the same blood costs suffered in the Great War. Giulio Douhet in his The Command of the Air (1921) theorized that the massive use of air power against enemy populations would reduce the carnage of future wars by destroying the enemy's capacity to wage war. Douhet's ideas contributed to the development of blitzkrieg, and he was the father of strategic bombing. Until WWII, there was no opportunity to test the validity of Douhet's concepts. Can a war be won by air power alone? The initial results obtained during WWII were mixed. War production could be crippled, logistics disrupted, and the enemy's command, control, and communications system rendered less effective. On the other hand, enemy moral (both civilian and uniformed) was not adversely affected by strategic bombing. That is, German attacks against civilian centers did not destroy the British Will to continue the fight. Neither did the German populace rise to demand surrender after the much more effective air campaign waged by the Allies. In fact, there is some evidence to support the notion that bombing civilian targets actually stiffened resistence.
It has been argued that the relative failure of the WWII air campaigns to decisively turn the tide of battle was due to technical limitations. It took an enormous number of aircraft to deliver the bomb loads needed to "destroy" any target. The cost in money, men and machines, prevented the application of enough force to be decisive. Accuracy with the bombsights and unguided munitions of the day was notorious. Of thousands of bombs dropped in a single raid, only a few exploded effectively on target. Bomb Damage Assessment was, and remains, very problematical. How does one determine if an industrial plant is out of action for a significant amount of time A small bit of unseen shrapnel may totally disable a piece of artillary, but then again a tube thrown from it's carriage may be brought back on line with relative ease.
With the advent of nuclear weapons and "modern" delivery systems (ICBM and long-range bombers), proponents of air power were convinced that finally Douhet's dream could be fulfilled. The Strategic Air Command was America's ultimate defense against Soviet aggression, and the Cold War was on in earnest. The threat of nuclear annihilation kept the world from unrestricted warfare long enough for the industrial might of the West to bankrupt the flawed economic system of Communism.
There are still those who fervently believe that an air campaign, if strong and effectively enough applied, can achieve victory with little or no need for traditional forces. The smart munitions and advanced delivery systems used in recent operations have caught the imagination of many. Modern proponents of air power will point out that it is so effective that our enemies are forced to adoped terrorist tactics, rather than to stand against us force on force. Proponents of air superiority has many supporters who are unwilling to pay the blood-price that every military conflict must exact. Personally, I think over reliance on air power is dangerous and ultimately ineffective.
We have become a nation that believes in the tooth-fairy, and the essential goodness of our fellow man - even after he as demonstrated his willingness to kill thousands. Our enemies do not subscribe to the same Rules of Engagement that we do. The enemy has no compunction against the use of weapons of mass terror and destruction. We shudder to think that some civilians, or even enemy soldiers, might be injured or die as a result of our efforts to defend Americans and the Free World. The enemy believes, with some justification, that if we only see a line of what used to be called body bags, we will fold our tents and silently fade away. I believe that Saddam, and others of his ilk, are wrong about that, but it is that belief that encourages aggression. The enemy justifies their actions as the only means available for their culture to survive and triumph over the challenges presented by Western materialistic values.
Values accepted by most of the Western world since WWII make defense against a terrorist strategy very difficult. Notions about what is "right" were very much altered during the Cold War. The advent of Political Correctness during the 60's has had a profound impact on what Americans regard as acceptable war. We are criticized when a single "innocent" is killed during an operation against a terrorist cell with the blood of thousands on their hands. When we guide a missile onto a location where the enemy is plotting the destruction of our way of life. Is that murder? Of course, the enemy would make the same argument.
War is not a tea party, and the definition of what comprises war at the beginning of the 21st century is far different than what existed at the beginning of the 20th, the 19th, and countless other centuries far back into history. We need to see clearly, the nation and Western values are seriously under attack by a determined enemy who believes that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Wed 20 Nov, 2002 01:23 pm
Hmmmh, Asherman. That sounds very okay for. And that's why I voted "no", although I lost four very close family members under British bombs.
Wed 20 Nov, 2002 04:38 pm
I am somewhat surprised, as by the definition you posted:
"...wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity..."
is a war crime
As I mentioned, my father was in the RAF. He was not a war criminal. Neither in my opinion was 'Bomber' Harris. But possibly those in political control, who knew and sanctioned what was going on, were.
Wed 20 Nov, 2002 04:52 pm
Well, the definition is the "official" from the Nürnberg tribunal.
War is -any war, at any time- a dirty game with unclear or no rules.
When you look at the development of the "Law of War"
you'll notice that the miscellaneous treaties, conventions and agreements always lag behind.
Wed 20 Nov, 2002 05:16 pm
As usual, great post and most interesting link.
I really don't know what constitutes a war crime, nor where responsibilty lies. Neither do the lawyers and judges or any of us for that matter.
Wed 20 Nov, 2002 09:40 pm
Like Walter, I lost some people near and dear to me to Allied bombs. And we were non-German refugees in the areas that were being bombed. Some of my earliest childhood memories center on running for shelter when the sirens went off. Schweinfurt in 1950, five years after the war ended, was still a ruin. I remember it well, as it was the next-to-last stop we made in Germany prior to immigrating to the United States. The last stop was Bremenhaven which hadn't suffered too much damage. It was in Beremenhaven that I saw my first traffic light. Had never seen one before and had to ask what it was for. I was 11 years old.
I throughly agree with everything both Asherman and Setanta have said. I believe the bombing helped the Allies win and, in the long run, that is the important factor. Dresden is the only fly in the ointment.
Wed 20 Nov, 2002 11:03 pm
Thorny issue here ... but the prime objective of war is to destroy your enemy's will and ability to make war on you. An enemy's means of production and related assets are legitimate targets. Given the state of the art of warfare at the time, it was nescessary in WWII to destroy the city hosting an industrial complex to be assured of destroying the physical asset. Roughly 50% of bombs dropped by Allied Strategic Bombers in WWII fell within 5 miles of their intended target ... a pretty large "Circle of Probable Error", but the best that was achievable with contemporary technology.
Given that national morale is legitimate target, a case may be made even for the horror of Dresden; the "target" was psychological as opposed to physical. A constant stream of obviously unstoppable bombers laying waste to a city day and night over a period of some days is a powerful message. Apart from the fact they were done with single bombs, there is really little to distinguish Dresden's bombing from those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nothing at all distinguishes the bombing of Dresden from the Thousand Plane Raids that gutted Tokyo, Nagoya, and Yokahama in the spring and summer of 1945. Though it was the work of two opposing armies over a period of months, the destruction of Stalingrad and the attendant civilian casualties were just as complete and devastating as were the fates of any of the previously mentioned cities and their populations. The horror of war quite simply is that war is by nature and function absolutely horrible. It is inexcuseable, indefensible, abhorent, and, tragically, so often unavoidable. War IS hell.
The precision of today's conventional weapons makes "Collateral Damage" on the scale of WWII a thing of the past. There will be errors, accidents, and unintended casualties, of course; man and all of his making are fallible. Flattening cities, however, is no longer the way war is fought. Strategic Nukes, of course, are a different story. The only realistically conceivable targets for thermonuclear devices are cities. Therein lies true holocaust, the avoidance of which defines man's fitness to continue to exist.
Thu 21 Nov, 2002 06:52 am
Survival of the fitest? A bankrupt theory--a red herring which was NOT proposed by Darwin.
If you survive, you are fit by definition.
The problem with nukes is that it would not take a "full, thermonuclear exchange" to end the world. If, say, Pakistan and India had a significantly large nuclear exchange, the resultant environmental & climate damage could end the human race, with the majority being "innocent" in terms of the cause . . .
Thu 21 Nov, 2002 06:59 am
If Adolf Hitler had been captured no doubt he would have been found guilty of war crimes at the Nuremberg Tribunal. But not all those charged of war crimes were found guilty. If you examine a war and look for crimes committed during that war, it seems sensible to me to examine all the belligerents. Would charges of war crimes have stood against Churchill or Stalin or Truman at Nuremberg? They might have been found not guilty. Of course there was no chance of any charges being brought against any of the Allied war leaders. But if there had been, this issue would have been settled long ago.
Thu 21 Nov, 2002 09:48 am
Funny thing is...there's no monument to 'Bomber' Harris anywhere, nor (unlike his peers) did he receive any special commendation/recognition after the war. A sort of tacit admission that the 'unhousing' wasn't quite cricket.
I'm not sure that the bombing campaign - especially the British area bombing - had that much of an impact on the course of the war. I seem to recall production figures showing output rising despite the bombing; but I 'd have to look 'em up to be sure.
Thanks Setanta for putting paid to the 'victors write the history' sawhorse. I find that one almost as irritating as the silly notion that 'violence never solves anything.'
Thu 21 Nov, 2002 09:55 am
Napoleon came up with quite a lot of horseshite about history--that one, and "history is a set of lies agreed upon." Nonetheless, he was commended for his historical reading and knowledge when he studied at Brienne as an adolescent, before going on to the Ecole Militaire in Paris. On St. Helena's, he wrote to Austria to give instructions on how he wanted the "King of Rome," his son by his Austrian wife, to be raised. He especially emphasized the study of history. A man of many contradictions.