Monday, July 13, 2009

A rarely discussed moral question

I just finished reading "Bomber Boys: Fighting Back, 1940-1945", by Patrick Bishop. As noted in a review by the Telegraph:

While Bishop avoids openly lauding the merits of mass destruction, he does clearly believe that the extraordinary bravery and resilience of the men who carried out this campaign deserve our lasting recognition and respect.
Redressing this 'wrong' is a mission statement declared at the outset. The men of Bomber Command were never properly thanked for their significant part in the Allied victory - neither by Churchill in his victory address, nor with a specific campaign medal. Nor is there a national memorial. Bishop hopes that Bomber Boys will mark the first step in rectifying this.

I would never question the bravery of the aircrews who faced extraordinary odds against survival while flying the missions of the RAF's Bomber Command.

However, back in the early 70's, I read a very detailed account of the firebombing of Hamburg. To be frank, it made my skin crawl. Bomber Boys not only tells the story of the men of Bomber Command, but catalogs many of the civilian targets leveled by the RAF's area bombing campaign.

The task assigned via the Casablanca Conference was "the progressive destruction of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their armed resistance is fatally weakened". That the area bombing of Greman cities by the RAF actually accomplished none of these objectives, while killing some 600,000 civilians and very few uniformed military, might explain why no campaign medal, memorial or glory was established once the war had ended. In short, the RAF took 600,000 German civilian lives in return for the some 32,000 Brits killed in the Blitz of London and other cities, and obviously the political leaders exhibited some remorse once the job was done.

Of course, the 125,000 men who flew in Bomber Command were never really told what was going on. Rather, they were told that they were crippling the German war machine. Some 47,000 crewmen died on these missions.

The moral dilemma I see is that the British leadership pursued a path no less barbaric than their Nazi foes. The target list reached a point where a city with no more strategic target value than a rail junction would be obliterated. And, by obliterated, I mean its population, which would generally be the elderly, women and children.

Of course, no rose can be pinned on the USAAF. Their daylight "precision bombing" was no more precise than the RAF's area bombing. But, however, the 8th US Air Force did tend to target cities with more military value than their Brit cousins. The civilian deaths, however, were equally staggering.

One can build a case that based on the intel available, the two nukes dropped on Japan ultimately hastened the war's end, saving significant lives. Unfortunately, no such immediate or tangible result can be attributed to the area bombing of Germany. Of course, while it was going on, it did provide a sense of "striking back" for the people of the Allied nations.

But, more than anything else, Bishop conveys a very realistic picture of small unit relationships during the rigors and uncertainty of war. Having flown a crew served aircraft in combat, the material rings true.



  1. Ugh, Al, you're going to drag me into this...kicking and screaming.

    WWII, unlike our ideas of war today, was, without question, Total War.
    Total War means everyone in the enemy country is a target...sorry, thats just the way it is practiced.
    For us, bombing German citizens was just as legitimate as the German's switching their bombing campaign from British airfields and industry to English cities.
    "All's fair in love and war."
    However, from a strategic perspective, bombing the German civies put a shit load of political pressure on Goering and Hitler. Up to that point, German strategic bombing was to bomb anything that look like British military...which was quite effective even though the Germans were using tactical aircraft.
    And for a short bit, the Germans actually had control of the English skys...a truth the English were loathed to admit. But it was the German's relentless and scathing attacks on the British military industrial complex. So, as the mythology goes, bomb their cities, and force the Germans to do likewise.
    I'm not sure who in the German command was opposed to the switching of targets, but he was overruled and Germany started riciprocating the "love."
    As for the have to remember, whether it was 200 hundred B29's loaded with 500'ers, or 1 B29 with a single 5k was Total War...the only fault I assigned the Japanese is that they started the war with us, as to how they fought it...well, winners make the rules post fact.

  2. In this case, I think there's no black and white. The fliers who went up over Germany night after night (or day after day for the USAAF) were decimated - I don't remember where I read the casualty figures, but I recall that the chances of surviving 25 missions were no better than about 50-50. The skies over Germany were almost as murderous as the ground below.

    What has always chapped me about this is that, as far as I can work out, the bomber war on Germany accomplished very little of military value. A relatively small number of air defense assets (small compared to, say, the troops ground up daily on the Ostfront) were held in Germany instead of opposing the allied field armies, the Luftwaffe was ground down, and a fairly limited amount of damage was done to German industry until very late in the war, when the air forces realized that petroleum was the kingpin and started flattening refineries. But you'd never know this from the press and the post-war histories.

    We've had to live with the damn wing-wipers using Ploesti and Schweinfurt as justification for multibillion dollar investments in strategic bombing when as far as we can tell - heroism or no - the only real field test waas at best a very marginal success and at worst a huge sunk cost of lives and resources for a very minimal gain.

    I have no problem with those historians who want to memorialize the guys who flew over the Reich. I have a BIG problem with those whose memorialization glosses over the large element of futility involved in that effort...

  3. I won't comment on the military applicability of the bombing campaign. I lived in Berlin for 12 years and saw much of the results of Bomber Commander's (and the 8th Air Force's) handy work from the ground. Of course the city was also shelled by the Red Army, so it was hard to see who had destroyed what. This all of course 40 years after the fact. . . That said I can mention this:

    There was a former torpedo factory on the southern edge of the city. It was hit by one bomb, a dud, during the entire war. The Russians cleared out everything but the cranes which ran along the walls in June of 1945. This seemed true for most of the industrial plant around the city. Anything built after 1935 or so was spread out in the outskirts of the city. The Germans had the best air defense/civil defense program in Europe prior to the war.

    McNair barracks (a former radio and telephone factory), Andrews barracks (the former SS Leibstandart barracks) and Clay Compound (a former Luftwaffe headquarters) were all taken over roughly intact as were numerous other military compounds, including the former barracks for the Hermann Goering Division which the French used as their headquarters. Ditto with the Russians.

    The center of the city was mostly flattened, but it only included old barracks for mostly guard and ceremonial units. It seemed to me that the elevated S-bahn tracks must have been used as a landmark since most every building inside this ring was new, whereas outside the ring many older, pre-war buildings remained.

    I heard plenty of terrible stories about the bombing, mostly from people who were kids at the time.

    Some of the most horrible pictures I've seen concerning the war involved asphyxiated children and babies, the result of the air being sucked out of the air raid shelters to which they had taken refuge.

    I visited Dresden in February 1985, the 40th anniversary of the bombing and talked to some people about it. Years later I screened a man who had been born in Dresden on February 13, 1945. His mother, a nurse, had gone back into the city to help the wounded immediately after delivering him, and had disappeared in the second raid . . .

    Conclusions? War leaves terrible scars.

  4. And Dresden left a decent American writer, Kurt Vonnegut.

    I need to say here, seydlitz, that over the years that I've hung around this group, I have gotten more than a peek into an education of war and conflict and the personal histories of those who lived through it.

    Hard to believe, "years". Oh my.

    It just seems to me that however much the planning and propaganda and plotting and financing and scheming, in the midst of it all, human nature being what it is, we forget even at the highest levels of administration that "revenge is a dish best served cold".


  5. I meant to add, one of my maternal uncles flew a B-25 in Italy during WW2. He brought back home a shell that hit his plane and grandpa used it as a doorstop for years.


  6. The port of Hamburg was a major production facility for U-Boats and also contained many U-Boat pens, so was a legitimate target. But it seems with the firebombs, more like the Brits went after civilians, kind of like the justification that OBL used for going after the twin towers. They say the Brits dropped 2400 tons of bombs per night on Hamburg during Operation Blitz Week, much of it incendiary. During daylight hours the Americans kept the German firefighters on their toes by dropping another 350 tons of ordnance per day. For a week long operation that adds up to 19 kilotons. Little Boy, the Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima, was only 13 to 18 kilotons depending on whose yield estimate you use. Eighth Army Airforce bomber crews said you could see the smoke above Hamburg from over 100 miles away. Which brings up the question: how could the bombadiers see their aim points through the smoke?

    The major railroad marshalling yards at Dresden were also a legit target. But again we went overboard, kind of like using a double barrel 12-gauge loaded with buckshot to kill fleas on a dog. War is a terrible business.

    The firebombing in Japan is a different story though. It was a major population center with no legitimate targets. It was pure terror tactics. And since we spoke recently of Robert McNamara, there are some that cite his statistical analysis of the poor BDA achieved by early Army Air Corps bombing missions in the Pacific as having given Curtis LeMay the inspiration for his so-called strategic bombing with incendiaries of the Japanese home islands. But Lemay probably got the firebombing idea from the Brits and Hap Arnold in Europe and added his own special twist of using it on population centers.

    I do not sympathize with Germany. My father came home from the war crippled at the Rapido River. He and my uncles probably would not have returned at all if the Luftwaffe had established air superiority. I am okay with the fact that the mighty Eighth took out Messerschmitt, Focke-Wulf, and Heinkel aircraft factories in german cities. If they hadn't then the outcome at Normandy and on the Eastern front could have been different.

    My beef with the Air Force and the aviation arms of the Navy and Marines is that they are given a pass on collateral damage. It is a double standard. They are not held to the same ROI or standard of conduct to which the infantry is subjected. When civilian casualties happen, the pilots seem to be given a pass instead of an investigation and possible court martial.


  7. And apparently it's still going on in Afghanistan. Air strikes are killing civvies by the dozens on a regular basis.

    Hearts and minds scattered over a wide area.


  8. FDChief: "I have no problem with those historians who want to memorialize the guys who flew over the Reich. I have a BIG problem with those whose memorialization glosses over the large element of futility involved in that effort.."

    Nor do I. Especially after reading Bishop's book and seeing what the aircrews were told of the impact of their work. A few figured it out and wrestled with it, but by the time they did, they were in it up to their ears. Bomber Command was 100% volunteers, by the way.

    Bishop clearly presents the futility involved in the effort and "Bomber" Harris' (along with others) obsession with leveling cities, even when he was given other marching orders. And, he points out, Harris was not alone in the willingness or desire to level cities. There were those who openly said that "unlike we British, the Germans do not have the moral fibre to endure bombing", and therefore the nation would quickly collapse. Of course, in the final analysis, the German civilian population endured significantly more gruesome raids that the British and the end was not hastened.

    Even when called upon to prepare for and support the D-Day invasion, Harris was not fully enthusiastic and diverted only a part of Bomber Command to the task.


    I would fully accept your "total war" explanation if the Allied leaders presented the campaign as such. The fact is that they lamely claimed the night area bombing was primarily eliminating war industry capacity (false) and civilian casualties were collateral. Yet targeting was not centered on factories, and the munitions used were selected for the fire storms they would create in residential areas. And, of course, every post war analysis showed that the campaign had very little effect on German war industry output. Only the campaign against oil was relatively effective, and Bomber Harris wanted nothing to do with that.

    With all the moral anguish that has been expressed over the decades over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is interesting that the campaign over Germany has been relatively ignored. Especially when there is no proof that it accomplished anything significant of tactical or strategic significance. But, as Bishop so clearly points out, the British leadership has been quite willing to encourage folks to ignore the campaign, and even Bomber Harris had to amend his claims to hype that "Nazi forces that had to be diverted from other battlefields to respond to the raids" rather than claiming significant target successes.

    There were some tactically successful operations (like the dam busting), but in the main, it was pure and simple destruction, flimsily clothed in a claim of striking at military or industrial targets.

    Yes, the Germans struck first in this manner, but does that open the floodgates for an equally questionable response? We can't change what happened, but we can hopefully learn from it all, and to learn, we must look at the facts, not just the myths.

    Mike- I, too, do not sympathize with Germany. They made the genealogy of my maternal family in Belarus quite easy to trace. They were all carefully numbered and recorded in the official German records as they were exterminated. Not one name or date of death was lost, thanks to their precise bureaucratic system. But a lack of sympathy does not lead me to support less than moral behavior on our part.


  9. "Memphis Belle" 1990

    has a scene where Matthew Modine, playing the pilot of the bomber, holds his bombs because a school is right next to the aircraft factory. And he brings his formation around through the AA again to hit the target perfectly.

    Last fall, a B-17 came to our town, offering rides for $100 and tours through the plane for $10. I took the tour, and banged my head going up through the cockpit.

    Really a great sight to see and hear as it buzzed us for a couple of days.


  10. Never have been able to understand why if you brutally slaughter hundreds/thousands of civilians by dropping bombs on them you are a hero, but if you shoot one civilian in the face you are a notorious war criminal. Seems kind of twisted somehow. Just saying

  11. Al,
    I see your point, and I agree with your first sentence...

    "I would fully accept your "total war" explanation if the Allied leaders presented the campaign as such."

    And it is here that I think we get into the developing psychology of us being the "good guys" versus the axis "bad guys."
    Good guys do good things.
    Bad guys do bad things...very bad things.
    And I agree that the developement of American "goodness" trumped truth, which we'll call it what it propaganda.
    The problem with propaganda is the same problem with marketing exec's today, and that is you start to believe your own bullshit.
    Before long, that bullshit, which was just thrown out there to keep the "market" on your side takes on a life of it's own, and you end with a whole market of "true believers."

    And that, if I assume correctly, is where we're going with this...war is depravity unchained...and total war is total depravity on an epic scale.
    Despite the whole "we're the good guys" meme being bucket fed to the American populace, we were involved in total war. We were practicing it, we were employing it, and we were/are getting pretty dam good at redefining it to make it look...less...uncomfortable. Less...morally objectionable.
    It's all in the marketing...and it was quite effective in WWII.

  12. In my case, I don't think it a question of sympathizing with Germany, but rather with individuals who were relatively young at the time of their experiences. Seeing the results of the bombing in Berlin (and Dresden), listening to the stories and realizing that the "myths" as Al calls them were not quite the truth was an eye-opener for me, a kid who had grown up watching "Combat!" and "12 O'Clock High".

    As to Bomber Command's contribution to the war effort? The bombing campaign gave the US/UK the semblence of a second front up to D-Day at a relatively low cost, that is performed a political purpose. Prior to that North Africa and even Italy were seen as "side-shows" compared to what was going on in Russia. Attacking German cities even if only to kill civilians was attacking the Reich directly. After the collapse of Army Group Center in June of 1944, it was just a matter of time before the Red Army ground Germany to bits. From this perspective, supplying the Red Army with 350,000 trucks probably did more to win the war than all of Bomber Commands raids together . . .


    The bomber fleet has the whole legitimacy of the state/political community behind it, whereas the single soldier shooting a civilian acts alone . . .

  13. I'm going to line up with Sheer on this one. I don't really see any ambiguities at play. ISTM that, "undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their armed resistance is fatally weakened," as enunciated at Casablanca was something that could only be accomplished through bombing. Recall that Allied troops set foot on German soil only in 1944; what was to be done about the continuing homeland support for this terrible war, begun by Germany, until then?

    Today we know the Germans as stalwart allies and oftentimes as a warm and welcoming people. I've spent a lot of time in Germany, working with various German officials, and I developed close working relationships with them. But they had no illusions about WW2; at no time did I hear any recriminations about anything the Allies did. Rather, in one of my assignments, in Bayreuth, where I was the successor of Counterintelligence Corps commanders who'd, 30 years previously, moved into the area arresting all governmental officials, I was treated like a prince. I met many of those who'd been confined—in fact, one of them, who'd been drafted into the Waffen SS and was trained as a Funkturm but never went to war, worked for me—and there was no hint of resentment. Those Germans understood perhaps better than we the true nature of the madness that had overcome their nation.

    As to other strategic objectives, it's hard to imagine a professional German general not being impressed by the Allies' ability to make bombing incursions deep in the homeland and not becoming convinced of the futility of the war.

    I also believe one can argue that the bombing of Japan followed the same strategic blueprint. And, yes, I believe the nukes were necessary.

    We only know limited war. Total war is a whole 'nother animal.

    War is indeed hell.

  14. Publius-

    We haven't quite hit the best take on this one yet. Germans are more complicated than this. To which I just remember the "at your feet or at your throat" quote.

    I was also wondering, does the kid speak German?

  15. Chuckle. Seydlitz, I deliberately refrained from using that old quote, which is unfortunately, all too often apt when it comes to the Deutscher Volk. I've never deluded myself into thinking that the reception I got from Germans had anything to do with their innate warm and fuzzies or with my winning personality. Nah, Germans love power. And, given the way the Allies pulverized them, they acknowledged who had proved to be more powerful. Not necessarily with the Russians—old hatreds don't die, although the scope of collaboration in the GDR kind of proves the wisdom of the quote—or with the Brits and the French for the same reason, but indeed with us. We actually treated them humanely and received a significant bonus for doing so. You know, I spent a year in Berlin back in the 60s, working on Clay Allee, at a time when I was still single. I'll limit my comments to observing that the Berliner women were very friendly.

    No, the kid doesn't speak German. She was too young, lived in American housing and hung out with American kids. I was able to keep the language up for years because of frequent TDY trips, but it's gone downhill. I intend to brush up, though, because the wife and I are going to go over next year for a month or two, starting in Germany because of Space-A travel, but then roaming the continent via rental car and train. No tours, just living off the land and making it up as we go along. That was my condition.

  16. Sorry guys, the night attacks were war crimes, period...

    Hague IV 1907, Annex of Regulations:

    Art. 22. The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited.

    Art. 23. In addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden -

    * * * To employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering;

    * * * To destroy or seize the enemy's property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war[.]

    Art. 25. The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.

    Art. 26. The officer in command of an attacking force must, before commencing a bombardment, except in cases of assault, do all in his power to warn the authorities.

    Art. 27. In sieges and bombardments all necessary steps must be taken to spare, as far as possible, buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not being used at the time for military purposes.

  17. Charly, good to hear from you. And your point about war crime is acknowledged. However, I think one can drive a fair sized truck through the loopholes in the Hague Convention. First, there is: "unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war." Who defines? You know who. Further, no city in Germany was "undefended." See Luftwaffe and AA fire; note the Allied casualties. The Germans were warned of the bombardments. The Allies would, and did say that "necessary steps" were taken to spare....... Finally, the Allies maintained that all of Germany was being used for "military purposes."

    To the victor belong the spoils. One of the spoils includes not being put on trial for war crimes.

    "Funkturm," not Functurm." Radio operator.

  18. I am not addressing war crimes or even raising the specter of same, but simply addressing a moral conundrum, and the obvious question raised by the Brit government's silence about the campaign following the war. After all, the bombing of Germany was a big news item to boost Brit morale while it was going on.

    The Germans were not "warned" of the night area bombardments in any meaningful manner that would allow civilians to do anything other than move into a forest and live there permanently. There were a few leaflet drops at the start of the campaign, and not much more.

    I understand the concept of "total war". Bomber Command took no special steps to avoid civilian casualties. They didn't even make the claim, as did the USAAF, that they were conducting precision bombing and the rest was collateral damage. While "taking the war to German soil" was hyped while the missions were being conducted, when the war was ended, the whole campaign was purposefully pushed into obscurity, raising the question of whether there were second thoughts once the actual results were seen.

    No official, military after-action study attributes much strategic benefit to the night bombing campaign, and only slightly more to the daylight "precision" missions. The notion that it would break the will of the German people did not hunt, as they really didn't begin to think the war was lost until well after D-Day, and the bombs only lent credence to other disasters in the ground war.

    The combat fatalities of Bomber Command were some 40% of the total strength that served on its rolls, yet there was sufficient official reticence following the war to make them go unrecognized. I would say that in the 20/20 acuity of hindsight, Churchill and Co were less than proud of what they had allowed/ordered to take place.

  19. Seydlitz: then that makes the entire state/political community war criminals.

    The Nazi state/political community supported the Final Solution and we didn't find that any too legal. Oh yeah, we won. All the difference in the world...but not beyond this world.

    I never buy into the notion that a group of people expediently deciding some egregious horror is "legal" makes it any less a crime in a larger sense.

  20. "Sorry guys, the night attacks were war crimes, period..."

    Well, Charly, this is where reality versus legality enters the land of irrationality.

    The Reality
    In Total War...there are no Laws, only the Laws that each side accedes to voluntarily, and usually imposable on the enemy only when the enemy has been defeated. If the enemy defeats you...well, you are now under their Laws.

    The Legality
    I'm not sure what this is called, but I would call it the Laws of the Victor.

    The Irrationality
    So, in the case of WWII, which was by definition...Total War...the Laws you cite...are only enforceable if the Victor enforces them.

  21. The total war argument got discredited during the Thirty Years War.

    I say again: these were war crimes.

    Militarily counter-productive war crimes --- ineffective, costly, wasteful of resources that could have been used to greater effect, and a huge boost to enemy morale and resolve.

    I do understand that a lot of people sink to barbarism in war, just as a lot of people sink to depravity of various types in peace. But a criminal is a criminal, and there is no worse criminal that one who claims to be a soldier:

    "Martial law is simply military authority exercised in accordance with the laws and usages of war. Military oppression is not martial law; it is the abuse of the power which that law confers. As martial law is executed by military force, it is incumbent upon those who administer it to be strictly guided by the principles of justice, honor, and humanity--virtues adorning a soldier even more than other men, for the very reason that he possesses the power of his arms against the unarmed."

    General Orders No. 100 ("Lieber Code"), US War Dept. (1863), art. 4.

    Think about it guys --- think about a cop who uses his badge to commit a robbery, rape, or murder. This shit is not negotiable: we are human beings, NOT animals, and we had better get that straight becasue if we don't, 50 or 100 years from now we're all going to be DEAD. The stupid clock is running really short of time now.

  22. PS:

    Lest anyone think Lieber was an armchair academic, let me add that he fought as a Prussian infantryman in the hottest part of the Battle of Ligny the day before Waterloo. He was severely wounded in the pursuit after Waterloo, and later fought in the Greek War of Independence.

  23. Hi Publius,

    A reasonable person defines. There's leeway, but not enough to permit night time carpet bombing of cities or A-bombs.

    Or Auschwitz for that matter. Anyone care to drive that truck?

    The Israeli's aren't so shy -- or so honest.

  24. Publius,

    Just for the record... Funkturm is a radio tower... a radio operator is a Funker.

  25. Just keeping the deutsch straight... please don't get angry and tell me to Funk off.

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

  26. I never raised the question of legality. Rather I the question of morality, especially in light of the British government's clear desire to shine no spotlight on this campaign after the War, and thereby give no official credit to the airmen who flew in it, unlike the raves offered, for example, to Fighter Command for the Battle of Britain. When Churchill spoke to the British people at the end of the war, he gave kudos to every element of the military EXCEPT Bomber Command.

    One would easily conclude that no matter how "TOTAL" WWII might have been, the bombing of German towns and cities was not something for which those who supported it (other than Bomber Harris and a few others) cared to take credit.


  27. Why would anyone in their right mind want to take credit for killing civilians while they slept? Where's the honor in that?

  28. Rick-

    I wrote "legitimacy", not "legality", quite different concepts. Essentially victors decide legality, it's part of the deal, since everything follows in the political triumph's wake, like a dingy behind a large ship.

  29. Publius-

    Thanks for your response. I too have forgotten much, and it shows whenever I have to speak over 15 minutes or so, kinda like hitting a stonewall. Although good beer helps . . .

    I'd like to comment more on this but am having a bit of a problem typing . . .

    Any comment on the subject of spies/treason, since that has been a chronic problem for German states . . . ?

  30. Al,

    Sorry again, but murder is illegal precisely becasue it is immoral. Neither the legality nor morality of carpet bombing civilian targets is in doubt -- we aren't talking about technical errors on a tax return here. We aren't even talking about utility here, were talking anout uncomplicated bloodlust ala Dick Cheney.

    Was that understandable in the hothouse climate of 1939-40?

    Sure. Is it moral?

    Not remotely, and it could have easily been suicidal.

  31. The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

    "From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
    And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
    Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
    I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
    When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose."

    Randall Jarrell, 1945

  32. Perhaps the thing to keep in mind here is that not all homicides are murder. Some are justifiable after the fact, and this should be taken into account in this discussion.

    Also, I think it's important to put oneself in the shoes of those who made the decisions about these perhaps-justifiable war crimes. I don't recall any a priori attempt to justify the legality of the Allies' strategic bombing campaign (as opposed to the Final Solution, and, say, the torture policies of the Bush administration). The Allies believed they were fighting for survival, so it can be argued that there was no mens resa, that is, no primary intent to commit a crime of any sort.

    The US knew from bitter experience that the Japanese were willing, if not eager, to fight to the death for the Emperor. We knew that the Japanese were closing all schools, mobilizing schoolchildren, fortifying caves, and constructing underground defenses on their home islands.

    The JCS projected casualties for Operation Downfall's US casualties were 1.2 million with 267,000 dead. The Brits would have taken additional casualties (the Soviets declared war on Japan on August 8, 1945, when the need for the invasion was at least up in the air, if not decided).

    No one can say what the Japanese casualties would have been, but we can say that they would have been very high -- likely much higher than those killed by the two atom bombs. So it can also be argued that the strategic bombing campaign actually saved live.

    In addition to ending the war more quickly, there's the materiel component. True, Germany's war production peaked in 1944, after two years of bombing, but what would their 1944 aircraft and tank production have been in the absence of that bombing? A couple of thousand more Me262s might have given the Germans at least local air superiority, and the possibility that they could end the bombing campaign by force.

    Ok, the fly in the ointment here is that there was no permanent international court (as opposed to the Nuremburg and Tokyo military tribunals, etc.) at that time, and even if there had been, it would have been damn hard to find impartial judges or juries.

    But from whatever impartiality given by a 60-year remove, I, at least, say that these strategic decisions were not made with the intent of killing civilians, and that the people who made them are therefore not guily.