The History of Aerial Bombing Aerial
Bombing -- The Thirties and the Second World War Dropping
the atomic bomb-was it necessary? Recent
wars and developments in technology
bombing and cluster bombing in Afghanistan And Iraq
Bombing of Japan – The atomic bomb
Aerial Bombing – Ethical and Legal Considerations
Bombing -- The Thirties and the Second World War
the atomic bomb-was it necessary?
wars and developments in technology
bombing and cluster bombing in Afghanistan And Iraq
Notes (2) Potsdam
(3) Petition to the President
(4) The Russell - Einstein letter
Control of nuclear weapons –
a sketch of post-war attempts at control (2000)
(1) The bombing of Hamburg – W.G.Sebald
(3) Petition to the President
(4) The Russell - Einstein letter
Control of nuclear weapons –
a sketch of post-war attempts at control (2000)
The History of Aerial Bombing
Aerial bombardment in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries demonstrates the impact of technology on European ethical and legal attitudes to war. It raises an acute tension between ends and means – war is in certain circumstances allowable but certain means of attaining victory are excluded ethically and legally.
During the middle ages towns were destroyed and brutally sacked. The cruelty of the crusaders in Constantinople and the three day massacre of the inhabitants of Acre when Saladin failed to pay the ransom fixed by Richard Coeur de Lion are prominent examples. Eventually, Church influence and the ideal of chivalry led to restraint. Towards the end of the fourteenth century Honoré Bonet stated a principle which came to be historically important - that war was not a relation between man and man but a relation between State and State. It was wrong therefore to harm those who either did not or could not engage directly in war.
The rule thus became established that war was restricted to combatants.* With the advent of standing armies it was easier to give effect to this. Agreements were concluded between heads of armies embodying the customs of war including recognition that peaceful populations should not be molested. We find the principle reiterated three centuries later by Rousseau. In the ‘Social Contract’ he wrote that ‘war then is a relation not between man and man, but between State and State, and individuals are enemies only accidentally, not as men, nor as citizens but as soldiers.’
It was also written into the earliest attempts to define the international law of war. The first considered attempt to set down the rules governing the conduct of belligerents took place in the second half of the nineteenth century. Francis Lieber, Abraham Lincoln’s legal adviser, in a remarkable one man effort collated many of the customs that had accumulated over centuries. The Declaration of St. Petersburg, signed by 17 States in 1868, stated in its preamble that ‘the sole and legitimate object which States should endeavour to accomplish during war is to weaken the military forces of the enemy’.(italics added)
In 1874, the Russian government submitted to governments a ‘Draft Declaration respecting the Laws and Customs of War’. This Declaration was not agreed to at the 1874 meeting but proved important because its four conditions were adopted word for word at the Hague Conference of 1907. It was stated again, ‘that the right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited’. It followed from this and the way war was then conducted, that it should not be directed to injuring the unengaged non-combatant. In conformity with this the Hague Convention (1907) provided that, ‘the attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended is prohibited’.*
However, one writer during this period, and even before the advent of aerial bombing, forecast that the rule would not be maintained. Ivan Bloch, in his 6 volume work, ‘The Future of War’, predicted that the increasing destructiveness of weapons would eliminate the distinction between combatant and non-combatant. He also emphasised that the increasing physical separation between weapon and victim brought about by technology would erode moral sensitivity.
In contrast with the Second World War, relatively little aerial bombing took place during the Great War [1914-1918]. The Royal Air Force dropped only 534 tonnes of bombs on Germany throughout the war. There were a number of German raids on England, the worst being the Zeppelin raid on London in June 1917 which resulted in 162 deaths. In all there may have been about 60 raids on England during the war.* But the observations of H.G.Wells in his Short History of the World published in 1922 proved prescient.
In the last months of the war Sir Hugh Trenchard, father of the Royal Air Force, prepared a memorandum for the Allied Supreme War Council on aerial bombardment. ‘There are two factors, moral and material effect – the object being to obtain the maximum of each. The best means to this end is to attack the industrial cities where you (a) do military and vital damage by striking at the centres of war material; (b) achieve the maximum effect on morale by striking at the most sensitive part of the German population – namely, the working class’. He organized two strategic squadrons to attack German railways, airfields and industrial centres in June 1918 and these flew until the Armistice. Their bombing lacked accuracy. Paradoxically this was relied upon by Trenchard to claim the indirect effect of the bombing resulting in uncertainty from its inaccuracy led to a significant impact on civilian morale. There was no empirical evidence to support this assertion.
In so far as Trenchard's memorandum proposed the bombing of ‘the centres of war material’ it conformed with international law as then understood. But it also recommended striking at the working class in order ‘to achieve the maximum effect on morale’. (This was, at best, an attempt to extend to aerial bombing a principle so far conceded only in the siege of cities. In siege warfare armies proceeded upon the basis that civilians who chose to remain within a city wall after the siege was laid thereby expose themselves to its hardships, starvation, bombardment etc).
legal and ethical basis of Trenchard’s proposals were never subjected to
examination but the proposals were influential on the British and French
Governments in the inter-war period.
This produced an adverse reaction from the Left but Trenchard’s
memorandum defined the basic approach of the British Government to aerial
bombing during this period.*
At the same time Guilio Douhet in Italy completed a significant and influential work, The Command of the Air, in which he defined the objects of strategic bombing and like Trenchard these included civilian morale.
The Red Cross proposed to the First Assembly of the League that aerial bombing against urban populations be prohibited. This was not adopted. Throughout the 1920’s jurists sought to develop a code for limiting air raids. Their work failed to be accepted. In 1931 the League convened the first conference for the reduction and limitation of armaments. Disarmament had been enjoined upon all the nations by the Treaty of Versailles but had been enforced only against Germany. The 1931 Conference, arranged after many preparatory meetings, was designed to give effect to the Treaty. To this conference, the Red Cross addressed an appeal for a simple prohibition of air raids against the populated areas. This was not agreed to; it being opposed by Britain unless a proviso were included excepting bombing ‘for police purposes in outlying areas’
Aerial Bombing - the Thirties and World War II*
Monday, the 26th April 1937, like every Monday, was a market day in the small Spanish village town of Guernica. With a population of 7,000 it resembled any other Spanish village except that it was known as the home of Basque liberties. Small farmers were bringing their fruit to the market square. Spain was in the midst of a civil war. Guernica lay 30 kilometres from the Front. It was of no military significance.
At 4.30 a single peal of church bells announced the arrival of German Heinkels 111, first bombing the town and then machine-gunning its streets. The Heinkels were followed by Junker 52’s which followed each other in waves about 20 minutes apart until 7.45. People began running from the town but were machine-gunned as they did so. Incendiary bombs weighing up to 1000 lbs and high explosives were dropped. Seventy per cent of Guernica’s homes were destroyed. The agony of Guernica is portrayed in Picasso’s masterpiece. Guernica was the origin of modern aerial bombing.*
At the commencement of the Second World War all countries avoided civilian bombing. This remained the case until the end of the summer of 1940. At the outset even Hitler wanted air attacks confined to military targets, principally airfields. He rejected the advice of Admiral Raeder to bomb residential districts. This may have been dictated by strategic considerations or by fear of retaliation. Hitler’s embargo did not apply to countries unable to retaliate – Warsaw in 1939 and Rotterdam in May 1940 were victims of massive destruction.
A mistaken attack on East London by German planes on 24 August 1940 led to a minor raid in return on Berlin. Hitler seized the opportunity and on 4th September told an ecstatic audience in the Berlin Sports Palace that ‘we will raze their cities to the ground’. On 7 September the Germans began their first major bombing of London. ‘At about 5pm that Saturday the first wave of 320 bombers flew up the Thames and began to drop their bombs on Woolwich Arsenal. Successive waves of bombers followed: about 625 bombers in all were engaged protected by 648 fighters. It was the most devastating attack from the air to that time: Warsaw and Rotterdam were limited in comparison. By early evening the whole dockside area was a mass of flames. In all 842 people were killed and 2,347 wounded’.
In his ‘The Second World War’, Churchill records that ‘from 7 September until 3 November an average of 200 German bombers attacked London every night. Our outlook at this time was that London, except for its strong modern buildings, would be gradually and soon reduced to a rubble-heap’. On the 8th November the R.A.F. bombed Munich. The Luftwaffe in turn bombed Coventry destroying 60,000 buildings and killing 568 people. The R.A.F. then attacked Mannheim, but at this stage, the R.A.F. lacked the Luftwaffe’s capacity. Throughout the ‘blitz’ winter of 1940-41 London and other British cities burned by the acre. On the 29th December the bombing of London started 1500 fires.
In 1941 Cabinet considered a depressing report, based upon photographs, on the effect of R.A.F. bombing. Of the bomber crews claiming to have hit their targets only a third were within 5 miles of them.*
To this point, with the exception of the retaliatory raids, the object of the bombing was still ‘military’. Civilians were bombed but that was unintended.
After a speech by Churchill on 8 July 1941 there was a build-up in the number of bombers in England. It was evident that these must be deployed in the future to kill civilians given that civilians were working in the factories or living near them and the factories could not be hit with precision.
The next step was the authorisation by the War Cabinet of " unrestricted strategic bombing of German cities. The architect of this campaign was Churchill's scientific advisor, Professor Frederick Lindemann, who..... encouraged attacks on major population centres to destroy as many German homes as possible. Poor areas were suggested as particularly effective targets as their high density would encourage fire-storms to maximise collateral damage."
On 14 February 1942 Air Staff issued a directive emphasising that henceforth operations ‘should now be focussed on the morale of the enemy civilian population and in particular the industrial worker’. Air Chief Marshall Sir Charles Portal wrote the following day, ‘I suppose that it is clear that the new aiming points are to be the built-up areas, not, for instance, the dock yards and aircraft factories … this is to be made quite clear if it is not already understood’.
At this time England’s situation was desperate.
It was appropriate that the leader of this new policy should have been Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris. He himself had no moral doubts about the rightness of ‘area’ bombing.
On 28-29 March 1942 he undertook a raid against the historic Hanseatic town of Lubeck on the Baltic. Lubeck, a gem of medieval timber architecture, was burnt to the ground. On four nights in April, bomber command repeated its incendiary success at Rostock, another medieval town.
‘These two attacks’ wrote Harris ‘brought the total acreage of devastation by bombing up to 780 acres, and in regard to bombing (on Britain) about squared our account.’*
The Luftwaffe retaliated by the so-called ‘baideker’ raids on the historic towns of Bath, Norwich, Exeter, York and Canterbury. However the Luftwaffe lacked the strength to match Harris’s next escalation which took the form of an attack by 1000 bombers – the first ‘thousand bomber’ raid – on Cologne. This took place in May. ‘By stripping training units and workshops of their machines, Bomber Command concentrated the largest number of aircraft yet seen in the German skies on this, the third largest city in the Reich, and burned everything in its centre except the famous Cathedral’.*
Success depended very much on new fire-razing methods, the bomb-load containing a high proportion of incendiaries. At Cologne 600 acres had been burnt. ‘Thousand bomber’ raids on Essen and Bremen which took place in June had a similar impact.
There is no reason to doubt Churchill approved area bombing and its objective of instilling terror. In August 1942, whilst in Moscow, discussion with Stalin turned to bombing. ‘The bombing was of tremendous importance’ Stalin said. He acknowledged that some military experts were inclined to underrate its effects but he, Stalin, did not. It was, he added, not merely German industry that should be bombed but the population too. Churchill referred to the German civilian population and said that ‘we look upon its morale as a military target. We sought no mercy and we would show no mercy’. To which Stalin replied ‘That was the only way’. The minutes record ‘the P.M. saying that he hoped to shatter 20 German cities as we had shattered Cologne, Lubeck, Dusseldorf and so on…’*
At about this time Bomber Command was joined by the United States Army Eighth Air Force. Because of its need to be able to bomb naval vessels in American waters the Eighth Airforce had developed both an aircraft and bomb-sight designed to deliver larger bomb-loads with precision on small targets in daylight.
In January 1943 the Casablanca Conference resolved upon a combined bomber offensive. This, however, concealed a sharp difference of opinion on operating methods.*
The Americans refused to commit the B-17’s to area bombing and insisted upon precision attacks on key targets – submarine construction yards, aircraft industry, transportation and munition establishments. Effectively each Air Force agreed to disagree. The US Army Eighth Air Force directed its attacks upon German industry.
The first ‘bottleneck’ chosen was the ballbearing plant at Schweinfurt in Central Germany, bombed on 17th August 1943. In his ‘Inside the Third Reich’, Albert Speer said that this attack, although damaging was not as destructive as might have been the case. Asked in June 1946 what would have been the effect of concerted attacks on the ballbearing industry, the former German Armaments Minister said ‘Armament production would have been crucially weakened after two months and after four months would have been brought completely to a standstill’. As it was, the Germans were able to make good in remarkable time the devastation caused at Schweinfurt.
Meanwhile Bomber Command continued its massive civilian raids. The ‘Fortnight’ raid on Hamburg in July 1943 produced a fire-storm and burnt to cinders the centre of the great northern German port covering 62,000 acres. A fire-storm requires a particular combination of circumstance. Such conditions prevailed in Hamburg where there had been a hot, dry summer. A central conflagration feeds on oxygen driven from the periphery by winds which reach cyclonic speed suffocating shelterers in bunkers. The core temperature of the fire reaches 1500ºF. “Hamburg’s night sky became in minutes, even seconds, a sky so absolutely hellish that it is impossible even to try to describe it in words. There were aeroplanes, held in the probing arms of the searchlights, fires breaking out, billowing smoke everywhere, loud roaring waves of explosions, all broken up by great cathedrals of light as the blast of bombs exploded, cascades of marked bombshells slowly drifting down, stick incendiary bombs coming down with a rush of noise. No noise made by humans - no outcry could be heard. It was like the end of the world.”* When the fire-storm eventually burnt out in Hamburg, only 20% of the buildings remained intact; 40 million tonnes of rubble clogged the city centre and 30,000 of its inhabitants were dead. (1)
Fire-storms were to achieve the same effect with however fewer causalities in Wurzburg (4,000 dead), Darmstadt (6,000 dead), Helbronn (7,000 dead) and Magdburg (12,000 dead).
In November 1943 Harris decided to make Berlin, which had been relatively free of bombing, the air crew’s main target. Between 18th November and 2nd March 1944, 16 major raids were made on the city. It was drenched with incendiaries. Berlin did not suffer fire-storm. Having been built in the 19th and 20th centuries with wider streets and open spaces, it resisted conflagration. Although only 6,000 Berliners were killed, 1.5 million were made homeless and 2,000 acres of the city were ruined by the end of March 1944. No other European city in the war suffered such sustained bombing.
The Allies had command of the air from August 1944. In September the American Commanders and the Chief of the Air Staff (Sir Charles Portal) decided to make oil the first priority with transport and vehicle production second. Harris resisted this very strongly, even daring Portal to dismiss him. ‘Portal never got Harris under his control.’*
The Dresden raid was the realisation of an operational plan called ‘Thunderclap’ which had been discussed in theory by the British Chiefs of Staff in July 1944. Various Government departments seemed to have agreed that a concentrated attack on a town ‘hitherto relatively undamaged’, might hasten victory. On 12th January 1945, the Joint Intelligence Committee thought that the time might be right for such an attack behind the eastern front in an endeavour to help the advancing Russians. On 25th January 1945, Churchill phoned the Secretary for Air and pressed for action. Neither the Secretary nor Sir Charles Portal thought it advisable nor apparently did Bomber Harris’s deputies. All Churchill was told on the eve of his departure for Yalta was that the conditions were ‘ripe’.
Known as the Florence on the River Elbe, Dresden was the capital of Saxony, a principality whose most famous ruler, August the Strong, had given the city some of its finest baroque architecture. On the day before the bombing, the Manchester Guardian had said, ‘Dresden with the charm of its streets and the graciousness of its buildings, belongs to Europe … We hope it is spared the worst’.
Shortly after 10.00 pm on February 13, an armada of 243 Lancaster bombers arrived over the city. In twenty five minutes they unloaded 1477 tons of explosives. Three hours later came another 529 Lancasters, this time with fire-bombs. This second raid caused a series of infernos; a whirlwind was created by thousands of fires as the flames consumed great quantities of oxygen and air from the outside was sucked in with the force of a hurricane, spreading the fires and suffocating thousands of victims. People were burnt to ash in a moment, even in cellars where they took refuge. In the four hour onslaught, an estimated 135,000 people died. Dresden was overwhelmed on that night and did not function again until the War was over.*
In the month following Dresden the RAF dropped more bombs on Germany than in any previous month. On the night of the 16th March 1945, 226 Lancaster bombers took off for Wurzburg, in Southern Germany. Although the crew were told that the town was an important communications centre, it was clear to them that the mission was a fire attack on residential areas. In just 17 minutes they dropped nearly 1000 tonnes of bombs on Wurzburg and 82% of the town was destroyed and almost 5000 people were killed.
Documents in the British Public Record Office disclose that in the last few months of the war small towns in Germany, having no strategic value, were selected for bombing because of their capacity to burn.
Churchill, who had previously supported the bombing campaign, began to have reservations.
A few days after the bombing of Wurzburg, he minuted Portal and the Chiefs of Staff as follows:
“It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing German cities simply for the sake of increasing terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land. We shall not, for instance, be able to get housing materials out of Germany for our own needs because some temporary provision would have to be made for the Germans themselves. The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone rather than mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.”
The Minute was drafted on 28th March 1945. At a meeting of the Chiefs of Staff on the following day Portal stated ‘that it had always been the aim of our bombing of large cities to destroy the industries and transportation services centred in those cities and not to terrorise the civilian population of Germany’. Churchill then agreed to withdraw his ‘rough’ Minute and instructed Portal to redraft it in less rough terms which Portal did. In Portal’s redraft, which Churchill signed, the word ‘terror’ did not appear.
German civilian morale was never broken by bomber attacks. In Hamburg, the 50,000 deaths from bombing, largely concentrated into the period of July 1943, almost equalled those suffered by England throughout the War (60,000). Yet industrial production returned to 80% of normal within five months.
The cost of strategic bombing on the German civilian population was very considerable: 87,000 were killed in the towns of the Ruhr; at least 50,000 in Hamburg; 20,000 in Cologne; 15,000 in Magdaburg and so on. The total German non-combatant casualties during the war were estimated at 593,000.*
Bomber Command lost 55,000 dead, more than the British Army Officers killed in the First World War.
The assumption that terror bombing would bring victory proved erroneous on both sides. Switching to the bombing of London in 1940, Germany neglected the airfields which, if it had not done so, may have led to a different result in the Battle of Britain. The bombing of Berlin strengthened German morale* although Speer suggested that the terror bombing campaign may have contributed to Germany’s defeat not through the ‘terror’ but by reason of the diversion of resources it caused.*
The important feature of modern weapons is their capacity to kill, almost at random, from increasingly greater distances. Rocketry has been perfected since the end of the Second World War but shortly before the war ended, Germany projected pilotless V2 bombs on to England. Altogether 2,500 Londoners were killed between September 1944 and March 1945 when the launching positions were overrun by allied forces. England had perhaps a lucky escape. If they had been deployed earlier, the V2s could have caused havoc. By the end of the War, Von Braun and Domberger had already written specifications for missiles, designated as the A10, and utilising the V2 at its second stage, which would have had a range of 2,800 miles.
Humanitarian ethical objections to aerial bombing were very subdued during the war. English cities had suffered greatly. Vera Brittain, Bishop Bell, the Bishop of Chichester, a number of Members of Parliament and the Marquis of Salisbury were among the few critics of aerial bombing. It was the Marquis, the head of one of England’s oldest conservative families, who derided the notion that the bombing could be justified by the Germans having started it. We do not, he said, ‘follow the devil’. There are grounds for thinking that, after the war, when passions had cooled the English people felt embarrassed, if not guilty, about the bombing of cities such as Dresden.*
We will return to consider the ethics of the wartime bombing of civilians. It is desirable first to describe the history of the dropping of the atomic bomb and the extent to which it was necessary for the successful ending of the war.
Bombing of Japan - the Atomic Bomb
The bombing of Japan is so overshadowed by the atomic bomb that we are apt to forget how destructive allied bombing had been in the months before August 1945. There had been a change in American policy. The Americans had strongly favoured precision bombing of military works and industrial plants. But the success of the Japanese, following Speer’s policy in Germany, of dispersing weapons and component production led the Americans to turn to mass terror bombardment. Between May and August, Curtis Le May’s XXI Bomber Command dropped 158,000 tons of bombs, two thirds of which were incendiaries, on 58 of Japan’s largest cities. The cities were largely wooden in construction and were left in a terrible state. One raid on Tokyo alone, in March, was carried out by 325 aircraft armed exclusively with incendiaries. By morning, sixteen square miles had been consumed by fires: the water in canals at the centre of the fire-storm had begun to boil. 267,000 buildings were burnt to the ground. There were 89,000 dead and the same number were taken to hospital. By mid-June Nagoya, Kobe, Osaka, Yokohama and Kawasaki had suffered in the same way – 260,000 people had been killed, 2 million buildings destroyed and 9 – 13 million people had been made homeless.
The atomic bomb was originally made in case Germany should get it first. Two European physicists, Sziland and Teller, living in America, kept in touch with what was happening in Europe. In 1939 they became alarmed upon learning that Germany had suddenly banned the export of uranium ore from Czechoslovakia. The Belgian Congo was the only other country then producing the ore. They became extremely worried but were themselves comparatively unknown refugees. Sziland got the idea of getting the ‘old man’, Einstein, to write to President Roosevelt. They hunted Einstein down at an obscure cottage on Long Island. In his famous letter of 2nd August 1939, Einstein wrote to Roosevelt that ‘recent work had made it possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium by which vast amounts of power … would be generated by which, my dear Mr. President, it might be possible to unleash an immense destructive force’.
There seems to be no reason to doubt that had Germany the bomb it would have used it. Writing in Inside the Third Reich Speer said that ‘I am sure that Hitler would not have hesitated for a moment to employ atom bombs against England’.*
Heisenberg and other physicists obtained funding for a German program in 1942 but they lacked an essential ingredient, ‘heavy water’, which presented an obstacle to carrying out the program that eventually proved insuperable. They sought to remedy this by producing large quantities at the Norsk Hydro Plant at Rjukan in Norway but after that plant had been put out of action twice - first by commandos and then by bombing - they decided to transport the heavy water to Germany. Allied commandos discovered this and also that the transport of the heavy water was to take place by train and then ferry. It was decided this must be stopped. There were many innocent people on board the train, more than on the ferry, so it was decided to destroy the ferry. Of the 53 people aboard, 26 were drowned, but the ‘heavy water’ went to the bottom of the lake. This proved to be vital. As the physicist, Kurt Diebner said, ‘right up to the end of the war, in 1945, there was virtually no increase in our heavy water stocks in Germany … it was the elimination of German heavy water production in Norway that was the main factor in our failure to achieve a self-sustaining atomic reactor before the war ended.”* Speer wrote that ‘on the suggestion of the nuclear physicists we scuttled the project to develop an atom bomb by the Autumn of 1942 after I had … been told that we could not count on anything for 3 or 4 years. The war would certainly have been decided long before then.’ This delay may have been deliberately brought about by Heisenberg as Thomas Power affirms in Heisenberg’s War, the Secret History of the German Bomb,* and, although views differ, Heisenbergs’ reservations do appear to have been a factor in German delay. For all these reasons, Germany was well behind in developing the bomb but the Allies were unaware of this until after D Day when papers were discovered revealing the lack of progress.
We can for our purposes pass over the establishment of the Manhattan Project which emerged from the Einstein letter. President Roosevelt died on 12th April 1945. Truman, his Vice President, knew nothing of the bomb.*
The Americans landed in Okinawa in April/May 1945. In the brutal battles to subdue the island, the Americans suffered 50,000 casualties, over 12,000 of them dead. The Japanese sustained 117,000 casualties, 110,000 dead. Okinawa and the Japanese islands were similar in terrain. Japan itself offered enormous scope to hold an invader at bay.
On 25 April President Truman met with Secretary for War, Stimson, and General Groves who was in charge of the Manhattan Project and was told about the bomb. At this meeting Stimson and Groves recommended that a committee, described as an Interim Committee, be established to be presided over by Stimson. This committee was charged with considering in detail the country’s future weapons policy. Attached to this committee was a Scientific Panel which comprised Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Ernest Lawrence and Arthur Compton. General Groves explained to Truman the state of preparations at the Manhattan Project.
The Germans surrendered unconditionally on 8 May 1945. On 31 May the Interim Committee recommended to the President that the atomic bomb be used against Japan. It will be necessary to revisit the history of the Interim Committee’s deliberations and the recommendations of the scientific panel when we come to analyse the decision to drop the bomb.
At a meeting on 18 June, Admiral Leahy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointed out to President Truman that the United States had suffered 35% casualties on Okinawa and that a similar percentage could be expected on Kyushu the first of the Japanese home islands selected for invasion and that, with 760,000 men committed to the operation, the toll of dead and wounded would amount to 268,000. * The Joint Chiefs plan worked out in Washington at the end of May 1945 called for an invasion of Kyushu in the autumn of 1945 and an assault on Honshu (the main island) in March 1946. Truman commented that he, ‘hoped there was a possibility of preventing an Okinawa from one end of Japan to another’.
Everything at this point depended upon the projected test of the atomic bomb. A Summit of the big Three - Truman, Churchill and Stalin - was to take place at Potsdam on 17 July. This date had been deferred by Truman because of the impending test at Los Alamos. That test, the first dramatic display by mankind of nuclear power, took place on 16 July 1945 at 5.30am. Its success was transmitted to Truman who was already in Potsdam.
In his Second World War Churchill recounts what happened:
“On July 17 world-shaking news arrived. In the afternoon Stimson called at my abode and laid before me a sheet of paper on which was written, ‘babies satisfactorily born’. By his manner I saw something extraordinary had happened. ‘It means’ he said ‘the experiment in the Mexican desert has come off. The Atomic bomb is a reality’. Next morning a plane arrived with a full description of this tremendous event in the human story … The President invited me to confer with him forthwith. He had with him General Marshall and Admiral Leahy. Up to this moment we had shaped our ideas towards the homeland of Japan by terrific air bombing and the invasion of very large armies. We’d contemplated the desperate resistance of the Japanese fighting to the death with Samurai devotion, not only in pitched battle, but in every cave and dug-out. I had in my mind the spectacle of Okinawa Island, where many thousands of Japanese, rather than surrender, had drawn up in line and destroyed themselves with hand grenades after their leaders had solemnly performed the rite of hara-kiri. To quell the Japanese resistance man by man and conquer the country yard by yard might well require the loss of a million American lives and half that number of British – or more if we could get them there: for we were resolved to share the agony. Now all this nightmare picture had vanished. In its place was the vision – fair and bright indeed it seemed – of the end of the whole War in one or two violent shocks. … moreover, we should not need the Russians … I have no doubt that these thoughts were present in the minds of my American friends. At any rate, there never was a moment’s discussion as to whether the Atomic bomb should be used or not. To avert a vast, indefinite butchery, to bring the War to an end, to give peace to the world, to lay healing hands upon its tortured peoples by a manifestation of overwhelming power at the cost of a few explosions, seemed, after all our toils and perils, a miracle of deliverance.”
Truman knew that he would no longer need a Russian declaration of war on Japan and an attack by Soviet forces in the far east as had been foreshadowed at Yalta. On 24 July Truman decided to tell Stalin of the bomb and the successful test at Los Alamos. Speaking to him casually after the Plenary he told Stalin that ‘we had a weapon of unusual destructive force’. He was surprised at Stalin’s apparent lack of curiosity, not of course realising that Klaus Fuchs had already divulged the secrets of the bomb to the Russians.
On 26 July the order was given to General Carl Spaatz, the Commander of the Strategic Air Force, to deliver the bomb as soon as weather permitted after 3 August 1945.
In his Memoirs,* President Truman wrote:
“The final decision about where and when to use the bomb was up to me. Let there be no doubt about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used. The top military advisers to the President recommended its use, and when I talked to Churchill he unhesitatingly told me that he favoured the use of the atomic bomb if it might aid to end the war”.
Hiroshima was chosen as a city not hitherto bombed. On the morning of 6th August 1945 an American bomber named ‘Enola Gay’, from Tinian in the Marianas, dropped the first atomic bomb in history. It descended by parachute and was detonated by a proximity fuse from 1850 feet above. The time was 8.16 am. A new era had opened in the history of warfare and in history itself.
“For those who were there and who survived to recall the moment when man first turned on himself the elemental forces of his own universe, the first instant was pure light, blinding, intense light, but light of an awesome beauty and variety … if there was sound, no one heard it. The initial flash spawned a succession of calamities. First came heat. It lasted only an instant but was so intense that it melted roof tiles, fused the quartz crystals in granite blocks, charred the exposed sides of telephone poles for almost two miles and incinerated nearby humans, so thoroughly that nothing remained except their shadows, burnt into asphalt pavements or stone walls … bare skin was burned up to two and a half miles away.
After the heat came the blast, sweeping outward from the fire ball with the force of a 500 mile per hour wind. Only those objects that offered a minimum of surface resistance - hand-rails on bridges, pipes, utility poles – remained standing … otherwise, in a giant circle more than two miles across, everything was reduced to rubble. Heat and blast together started and fed fires in thousands of places within a few seconds … in some spots the ground itself seemed to spout fire, so numerous were the flickering little jets of flame spontaneously ignited by the radiant heat.
A few minutes after the explosion, a strange rain began to fall. The raindrops were as big as marbles – and they were black. This frightening phenomenon resulted from the vapourisation of moisture in the fire-ball and condensation in the cloud that spouted up from it. As the cloud, carrying water vapor and the pulverised dust of Hiroshima, reached colder air at higher altitudes, the moisture condensed and fell out as rain. There was not enough to put out the fires but there was enough of this ‘black rain’ to heighten the bewilderment and panic. After the rain came a wind – the great ‘fire-wind’ – which blew back in towards the centre of the catastrophe, increasing in force as the air over Hiroshima grew hotter and hotter because of the great fires. The wind blew so hard that it uprooted huge trees in the park where survivors were collecting. Thousands of people were simply fleeing, blindly and without an objective except to get out of the city. Some in the suburbs, seeing them come, thought at first they were negroes, not Japanese so blackened were their skins. The refugees could not explain what had burned them. ‘We saw the flash’ they said ‘ and this is what happened’.”*
“The scenes of pain and horror were unending. There were people with their bowels and brains coming out… there was a woman with her jaw missing and her tongue hanging out of her mouth wandering around in the rain crying for help. One man stood holding his torn-out eye in his hand.”* The immediate effect was that 60,000 were killed and almost 100,000 injured out of the population of 250,000 but the ongoing deaths from radiation continued for years. Physically, almost the entire city had been destroyed by the blast.
Announcing the dropping of the bomb President Truman said:
“Sixteen hours ago an American aeroplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, important Japanese base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tonnes of TNT. It had more than 2,000 times the blast power of the British ‘Grand Slam’ (12 tonne bomb) which is the largest bomb yet used in the history of warfare.
The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbour. They have been repaid many times. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form these bombs are now in production, and even more powerful forms are in development…”
President Truman delivered an ultimatum to Japan the next day demanding that it surrender unconditionally and warning that otherwise it would have to “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which had not been seen on this earth.”*
At 5.00pm on 8 August Ambassador Sato entered Molotov’s study with a view of enlisting Soviet aid in acting as mediators only to be told that the Soviet Union would declare war on Japan the following day. At 1.00am on 9 August Soviet forces crossed into Manchuria.
At 12.01pm on 9 August a US B-29 Bomber dropped a plutonium bomb, Fat Man, upon Nagasaki. The timing had been left to the Commander at Tinian to which both Little Boy and Fat Man had been flown before Truman had gone to Potsdam.
A mushroom cloud burnt high in the midday sun plunging the ravaged city below into darkness. Heat rays exceeding 3,000 degrees instantly carbonised the victims below. Forty years later the Mayor of Nagasaki described what happened, “more than 70,000 burnt and mangled victims lay dead or dying in the ruins. A naked man burnt beyond recognition stumbled along trying to escape from the fire; a blood spattered child dragged the corpse of his father…”. Within five years a further 70,000 had died from the effects of radiation.
On the following day, the Japanese Premier Suzuki asked the Emperor “to accept the Allied Proclamation on the basis outlined by the foreign minister”. The Cabinet agreed to advise the Emperor to accept the Proclamation. The Emperor announced the surrender by an address to his people on the 15th August.*
Dropping the atomic bomb – was it necessary?
We must, before coming to any issues of ethics, consider two interrelated questions of fact: whether the dropping of the two bombs resulted in the Japanese surrender to the Allies on the 15th August 1945?, and, secondly, whether that was necessary for victory before the projected invasion of Japan in November 1945?
As we have said, the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima on the 6th August 1945 and Nagasaki on the 9th August. Japan surrendered on the 15th August, after its government had unsuccessfully sought assurances regarding the Emperor on the 9th.
On the face of it, it would seem difficult to deny that the bombs – described by the Emperor as new and cruel in his surrender speech – were the principal factor in the Japanese surrender. And yet there is quite substantial evidence, and the support of a considerable body of historians, for the view that it was the Soviet declaration of war against Japan on the 8th August followed by the subsequent rapid overrunning of Manchuria by the Red Army leaving the Japanese forces in a state of disorganization by the 14th August, which was the main reason for the surrender.
The debate between historians – Japanese historians particularly emphasise the Russian declaration of war – cannot be resolved but it is not unreasonable to conclude that both factors combined and that it is not now possible to say whether, if either had been absent, the Japanese would have surrendered.
A different and perhaps more important question is whether, had the bombs not been dropped, Japan would have surrendered prior to the Allied invasion. The invasion was planned for November 1945 with a landing on Kyushu to be followed by an assault on the main island of Honshu in March 1946.
The following factors suggest Japan would have surrendered in any event:
* The Soviet invasion of China
* The devastated state of the country
* The collapse of the Japanese economy making it
difficult to sustain the armies and the Japanese people – the food
rations imposed in August 1945 were extreme, less than those in Germany and barely sufficient for survival.
After the Japanese Fleet was destroyed at Leyte Gulf in October 1944, the United States was able to carry out the bombing of Japanese cities without hindrance. The almost hellish fire-bombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities has been described.
As a result, senior military figures in the United States believed Japan was on its knees and that the dropping of the atomic bomb was unnecessary. The most famous, General Eisenhower, said that “it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” Henry Arnold, Commanding General of the U.S Army Air Forces said that “the Japanese position was hopeless even before the first atomic bomb fell because the Japanese had lost control of their own air.” Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, wrote that the “ Japanese had already sued for peace. The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military point of view, in the defeat of Japan.” The Chief of Staff, Admiral Leahy, was bitterly opposed; the “use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender … In being the first to use it, we adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.”
As against this, the ferocity of the Japanese resistance at Okinawa was present to the mind of everyone and the fanaticism of the military clique greatly influenced the Allied leaders, as recorded by Churchill in his Second World War.* There were genuine fears about what would happen in the event of an invasion.. Although deposed as Prime Minister, Tojo retained a veto over Cabinet decisions through his standing in the army and “he and other militarists were”, in John Keegan’s view, “ determined to fight it out to the end”.*
But one might ask whether the enormous loss of civilian life, the long continuity of human suffering, the devastation and the threat to the future of mankind by the introduction of nuclear weaponry, might have been avoided by a disclosure of the explosive potential of the bomb as revealed at Los Alamos on the 17th July or by giving a benign demonstration of its destructiveness.
Answers to these questions are critical to any ethical judgement upon the decision to drop a bomb which was known would exterminate hundreds of thousands of non-combatant civilians and destroy cities without military or strategic significance.
Some months before the first bomb was dropped at Hiroshima, General Marshall suggested that, “these weapons might first be used against straight military objectives such as a large naval installation and then if no complete result was derived from the effect of that … we ought to designate a number of large manufacturing areas from which people would be warned to leave – telling the Japanese we intend to destroy such centres.” This was another possibility.*
In late 1944 scientists at the Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago working with the Los Alamos Project had for the first time an opportunity to consider the implications of what they were doing. A number of them called for a general statement to the American public concerning the scale of the new weapons. The leader in these moves was Leo Szilard. Szilard was a Hungarian who had emigrated to the United States after Hitler had seized power. Szilard worked with Fermi at Chicago and it was they who had produced the first controlled chain reaction from an atomic pile. Through the Second World War he worked with Fermi and others on the Manhattan Project. It was Szilard who with Teller had in August 1939 driven to Long Island and approached Einstein to write his famous letter to President Roosevelt. Szilard was active in the consideration being given to the implications of the bomb at this stage. In the spring of 1945 he prepared a long memorandum for President Roosevelt urging the need for international control.
At the meeting of the Interim Committee and the Scientific Panel on 31 May, which has been previously mentioned, the possibility of a demonstration rather than direct use thereby avoiding great loss of life was discussed during lunch. In this discussion Oppenheimer examined the proposal critically:
· He was not certain the demonstration would be sufficiently dramatic to convince the Japanese that this was a weapon of a completely different order.
· The bomb might prove to be a dud.
· The Japanese might manage to shoot down the delivery plane.
· The Japanese might bring American prisoners to the test area.
· If the demonstration failed there would no longer be the chance of producing a shock and the chances of surrender would be affected.
· The bomb would, in any event, cause no greater loss than continuing raids on Tokyo.
It is of interest that Oppenheimer’s views were presented solely in tactical and not moral terms and that in any event no consideration appears to have been given to the effect of a test located on United States territory which would have obviated most of the practical objections he mentioned. The Interim Committee made three crucial recommendations:
· That the bomb be used against Japan.
· That the target should be a military one surrounded by a civilian population.
· That the bomb be dropped without any prior warning.
When these views were transmitted to the scientists at the metallurgical laboratory in Chicago there was uproar. They established their own committee to consider the matter before the Scientific Panel’s next meeting. This Chicago committee of scientists under James Franck reported on 11 June in a thoughtful study which stated clearly that an unannounced attack on Japan was inadvisable on any grounds. They attempted to convey their views to Stimson. Separately, the Scientific Panel considered the Franck Committee’s report but formed the view that they could “propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war… no acceptable alternative to direct military use”. That ended the matter in formal terms but Szilard continued to apply pressure on the matter and circulated a petition. The petition was signed by 67 scientists and dated 17 July. Groves carefully re-routed it so that it arrived in Washington after President Truman had left for the Potsdam conference and Truman never saw it.*
The Potsdam Ultimatum set out at the end note made no mention of the atomic bomb, its potential destructiveness or the test at Los Alamos. Nor did the leaflets dropped on Japanese cities. The reference in both to ‘destruction from the air’ without further explanation would obviously have been taken by Japanese readers of these documents to refer to something similar to the massive area bombing they had already endured. Neither they nor their government would have anticipated ‘a new and cruel bomb’ to use the words of the Emperor.
We do not know what the Japanese response would have been had the details of the Los Alamos test been set out in the Potsdam Ultimatum of the 26th July or to the kind of detailed warning envisaged in Szilard’s petition of the 17th July. The Japanese Cabinet was divided and remained intransigent. But neither possibility was attempted.
More than that we must infer that the omission of either of these possibilities in both the ultimatum and the leaflets was deliberate.
It has been claimed that the atomic bomb was dropped in order to pre-empt a Soviet invasion and consequent takeover of large areas in Asia: Stalin had said at Yalta that he would declare war on Japan and move his forces against the Japanese 90 days after the defeat of Germany; Germany was defeated on 8th May 1945 so that the 90 days would expire by 8th August; Truman had witnessed the expansion of the Soviet Union into Eastern Europe since Yalta in February; he would have viewed with apprehension the possibility of Stalin linking up with Mao so that not only China but much of Asia would have become subject to Communist rule.*
The evidence is not conclusive but it does seem that both Truman and his Secretary of State, James Byrne, were exercised by the superior claims Stalin would have should there be delay in bringing about a Japanese surrender. By the Potsdam Conference the Cold War had effectively begun. It was known on the 26th July that Soviet forces were poised to invade Manchuria. An early surrender resulting from the bomb would forestall those claims.
At all events one gathers the impression, not least from President Truman’s own diaries, that dropping the bombs was not a ‘last resort’ in the President’s thinking. It would seem that geopolitical fears of the Soviet Union in the coming Cold War were important if not decisive. The limited comment concerning the future of humanity likely to be brought about by this revolution in human destructiveness is, at least in retrospect, quite remarkable.
To sum up:
· The dropping of the atomic bombs was the immediate cause of the Japanese surrender. It is possible that it was the dropping of the bombs in conjunction with the Soviet invasion (which happened almost contemporaneously) but the dropping of the bombs seem to have been the predominant factor in bringing about the surrender. We do not know whether the bombing of Nagasaki – 70,000 killed on the 9th August 1945 – was necessary in addition to Hiroshima to have produced this result. Insufficient time was allowed to elapse between Hiroshima and Nagasaki to determine this;
· Was the dropping of the bombs necessary to achieve victory before the projected invasion of Japan in November? Almost certainly not. The military opinion is particularly strong. Japan was devastated and its economy broken. In addition it faced the Russian invasion;
· Could the same or sufficient impact upon Japan have been achieved by a warning in the Potsdam Ultimatum or some form of demonstration? This was never tried. In conjunction with the devastated state of Japan it is reasonable to conclude that Japan would have surrendered before the Allied invasion in November had such a warning or demonstration been given.
Recent wars and developments in technology
In the post-war period a new kind of bombing was developed – precision bombing.
Precision bombing may be said to have commenced with the destruction of the Thanwa Bridge in Vietnam in 1972. Chinese and Soviet equipment were sent across the bridge from North to South Vietnam. The US Air Force had been unable to destroy the bridge through conventional bombing. A missile ‘was improvised which could be fired from an aircraft and then guided to its target by a technician viewing images of the target beamed back from a television camera attached to the nose of the missile’.*
Precision bombing increased gradually, only 8% of bombing during the Gulf War but 35% in Kosovo. Accuracy also increased from the Tomahawk missiles of the early 90’s which could take out a building, to the missiles in 1997 which could, at least in theory, be directed at a single room.
Missiles came increasingly to be directed not at armies or installations but at communication nerve centres such as computer networks. This change was delayed in the case of Kosovo bombing. It was not until late May 1999 that the NATO Commander, General Wesley Clark, secured approval for the key strike of the war - the bombing of the transformer yards of the Yugoslav power grid. These bombs caused the transformer yards to short out rather than disable the generators themselves.*
At this time the intervention of the pilot or aircrew in the final stages of bombing could not be eliminated entirely. To avoid civilian casualties meant flying low but this resulted in loss of pilots. To fly high though meant greater civilian casualties.
A greater problem was the dual function of many of the locations attacked. Thus the power grid itself meant preventing access of hospitals to power and of civilian life to water pumping stations.
Nevertheless there was a serious if complex attempt to eliminate civilian casualties - or ‘collateral damage’ – which was the repellent description given:
“Every morning planners at American bases in Italy, Germany, Belgium and the United States logged on to the Sipernet, the US military’s secure digitalized network and began putting together target folders - slides with aerial reconnaissance pictures of a target, assessments of its military significance and a grading for possible collateral damage. Data specialists at EUCOM’s joint analysis centre at Molesworth, England, fed the system targets picked up by the Predator and Hunter unmanned drone aircraft, being used for the first time to photograph targets. Weapons experts at the Combined Allied Operations Centre in Vicenza, Italy - an agglomeration of windowless pre-fabs and containers crammed with screens and computers, and the operational centre for the air war - would then select the most appropriate ordinance types for the target and Clark’s targeters at SHAPE would evaluate the designated mean point of impact of DMPI (‘DIMPY’) according to four grades of collateral damage.
Legal and moral evaluation of the target was also built in to the computerised operation. At a base in Germany, a military lawyer from the Judge Advocate General’s office, sitting at his computer screen, would assess the target in terms of the Geneva Conventions… He would rule whether it was a justifiable military objective in legal terms and whether its value outweighed the potential costs in collateral damage. A military lawyer also implied ‘the reasonable person standards’ of judgement to the fine line separating military and civilian targets.”* *
Precision bombing in Kosovo made it possible to strike not only military targets but their support networks. But many of the key targets were clearly of dual use providing power to the military but also to hospitals and homes.
One such was the attack on the Serbian Television Station, (perhaps the most problematic of all the bombing during the Kosovo intervention). In part it appears that the object of the bombing was to inhibit Milosevic’s propaganda although it was also intended to put the transmitters out of action as military relays.* New technology made it possible not only to target individual buildings but parts of buildings. There were terrible mistakes such as the bombing of refugee convoys and civilian trains and of course the Chinese Embassy. These, although not the latter, were mainly because pilots were bombing from too great a height.
The Predator, a turbo-prop powered aircraft which is pilotless was used in Kosovo for surveillance. In Afghanistan, it began to be used for combat purposes. Missiles slung under the aircraft could be fired by a pilot who sees his target through a video camera from a control console hundreds of kilometres away. The video camera is located in the aircraft.
Civilian bombing and cluster bombing in Afghanistan and Iraq
A cluster bomb consists of a large canister which breaks apart to release a number of small bomblets over a wide area. The particular objective of cluster bombing is to deliver a devastating blitz on military vehicles and emplacements, each device scattering hundreds of explosive bomblets over a wide area. Cluster bombs necessarily disperse their explosive effect widely. They are not therefore capable of the precision needed to avoid civilian casualties. Bomblets are intended to explode on impact but a large number fail to detonate. In effect they remain as landmines. However, because bomblets are supposedly intended to explode, the 1997 International Convention outlawing the use of anti-personnel mines did not apply to them even when unexploded. There have been strong objections to this harmful incongruity.
In Afghanistan cluster bombing was freely used. It is estimated that 30% of the bomblets failed to explode and at the end of the war something like 10,000 unexploded bombs remained Children were injured thinking the bright yellow bomblets were aid packages.
Generally, less care seems to have been taken in the bombing in Afghanistan to avoid civilians. The death toll from raids that struck villages near Tora Bora, the mountain camp where Bin Laden was thought to be hiding was very high. This seems to have been the result of careless intelligence.
In Afghanistan the extent of civilian casualties cannot be gauged conclusively. An estimate by Dr Marc Herold, Professor of Economics, University of New Hampshire based upon verified reports from aid agencies, eye witnesses and the media was that at least 3,767 civilians were killed between 7 October and 10 December 2001 (the number of civilians killed in the World Trade Centre/Pentagon bombings, 3,234). Dr Herold says that if anything, this is a substantial underestimate. His explanation of the heavy civilian casualties was ‘the apparent willingness of US military strategists to fire missiles into and drop bombs upon heavily populated areas of Afghanistan’. This has, in part, been due to the location of military garrisons and facilities in urban areas introduced by successive governments during 10 years of civil war. Towards the end of the war in Afghanistan targets for bombing were not military and covered anything from trucks carrying cooking oil to media outlets. In Dr Herold’s view the heavy civilian casualties were due to ‘the very low estimate put upon Afghan civilian lives by US military planners and the political elites’.
The attack on Lebanon – 2006: On the 25th June 2006, members of three militant Palestinian organizations, including the governing Hamas, attacked an Israeli military base, killing two soldiers and seizing a third. On the 12th July, militants from the Lebanese Hezbollah crossed into Israel, captured two soldiers, killing three others. When Israeli troops pursued them into Lebanese territory, Hezbollah struck again, killing five more, Israel launched a large scale attack to subdue the militant organization and erode their rocket launching capacity. The resulting war did not conclude until mid-August. There were countless civilian deaths. Hezbollah fired rockets into civilian areas of northern Israel. Katyusha rockets killed, maimed and terrorised civilians without having any obvious impact on military forces. Amnesty International accused Hezbollah of ‘deliberately sending rockets into towns where the most probable landing points would be houses, schools, shops or hospitals” It expressed the view these were war crimes.
The Israeli air bombardment “killed 1287 civilians, injured 4054, severed three quarters of the country’s roads, smashed some 50 factories and left 100,000 people homeless.* Cluster bombing on a wide scale has been a feature of Israeli bombing.
The head of an Israeli Rocket Unit said that the Israeli Defence Force had fired around 1800 cluster bombs containing 1.2 million cluster bomblets. The United Nations believes 40% of these remain unexploded.* United Nations experts have identified 390 strikes by Israeli cluster bombs, each of which contained 80 bomblets.
Figures differ widely but there seems to be unanimity that a vast number of unexploded bomblets lie scattered in areas where civilians are likely to suffer.*
The United Nations formally accused Israel of scattering as many as 100,000 bomblets across Lebanon. Jan Egeland, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator said : “ What’s shocking and I would say to me completely immoral is that 90% of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution, when we really knew there would be an end of this.”
The Rocket commander, whose report was carried in Haaretz in connection with cluster bombing, stated that covering the battlefield with munitions was compensation for the relative inaccuracy of the multiple launch rocket system which had been heavily used. The MLRS were capable of firing many rockets and bombs to a range of 32 kilometres, but they were unguided with a margin of error of 1200 metres from the intended target. Because of their inaccuracy and capacity to cause indeterminate damage the use of MLRS is considered questionable.
In addition to the use of the MLRS , Israeli Defence forces fired rounds of phosphorous in order to cause fires. A direct hit from a phosphorous shell causes severe burns and a slow, painful death.
International law forbids the use of weapons that cause “excessive injury and unnecessary suffering”. The International Committee of the Red Cross determined that international law forbids the use of phosphorous and other types of flammable bombs against personnel, both civilian and military. This is because international law forbids the use of weapons that “cause excessive injury and unnecessary suffering” and phosphorous bombs fall into that category.
In reply to all this the Israeli Defence Force spokesman said, “international law does not include a sweeping prohibition of the use of cluster bombs. The convention on conventional weaponry does not include a prohibition on phosphorous weapons, rather on principles regulating the use of such weapons.
For understandable operational reasons, the IDF does not respond to accounts of details of weaponry in its possession. The IDF makes use only of munitions and weaponry which are permissible under international law. Artillery fire in general including MLRC’s fire were used in response solely to firing on the State of Israel.”
Aerial bombing – ethical and legal considerations
In the final stages of the war it remains difficult to see any ethical restraint applying except some loose correspondence between the means employed and the end sought to be achieved. Terror bombing culminated in the destruction of Dresden and Tokyo and, finally, in the dropping of the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The basic issue arising from this wartime history and which remains to this day is whether, given the inevitable destruction in war, the aerial bombing of civilians, and terror bombing in particular, is wrong and if so, why?
Whatever its demerits the medieval ethical schema in relation to war was at least coherent. War in certain circumstances, as for example in self-defence, was just.* In the case of a just war it was permissible for the state to do anything necessary for or conducive to victory. Civilians, that is non-combatants, could not be attacked or deliberately harmed. That was so because their death or injury would make no material contribution to victory. Victory in war was the controlling ethical criterion. Until the twentieth century it could be said that the prohibition on the killing or injuring of non-combatants harmonised with this basic criterion.
It is evident though that the basis for the pre-twentieth schema is no longer true and that a clear-cut distinction between combatant and non-combatant in relation to victory could not now be maintained. Total war, as in the second world war and in any future war, involves the civilian economy contributing vitally to the war effort. The military forces and the national economy are not separate but in war form an integrated unit.
In this changed situation we can take, for example, the bombing of Schweinfurt by the U.S. Eighth Air Force. The attack in August 1943 took place on a ballbearing plant. Civilians operated the factory. It was evident they would be killed in the event of an attack. We have seen from Speer’s post-war testimony how crucial the plant was to the German war effort. It may be said that the bombing of the plant was not directed at civilians. That, it may be argued, was not its purpose which was to diminish the German war effort. Accordingly, applying the christian doctrine of double effect, it could be contended that the bombing was ethically justified. The killing of the civilians was foreseen but not intended.*
This provides no answer to the ethical problem, given that the presence of civilians was known and their deaths and injury inevitable. The argument is, in my view, specious.
The critical facts are that the economy was an extension of the military action the state was undertaking; the disruption of the enemy’s economy was important to the success of that military action and civilians were active participants in the economy.
What follows in my opinion is that the killing of civilians by aerial bombing can no longer be condemned solely on the ground that the victims are non-combatants.
It does not though follow from this that therefore terror bombing is morally acceptable.
This compels us to return to a re-consideration of the criterion that if the means adopted is directed to victory it will be ethical. The immediate question is whether satisfaction of this criterion is a necessary condition in order for conduct in war to be ethically justifiable. The view that it is essential does not command universal assent. Paul Tibbets, the first pilot who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, is one who would not think so.* But Tibett’s attitude is exceptional in its brutality. The reason why conduct in war must at least be conducive to victory to be ethically allowable is that war constitutes an exception to the universal prohibition on intentional killing and the intentional causing of harm. To be ethically permissible, killing or injury in war must at least be contained within that exception.
That is the minimum criterion. We come to consider it in relation to terror bombing, the bombing of civilians deliberately to induce terror and thereby shake a nation’s resolve to continue fighting. In my view terror bombing at least satisfies this minimum requirement. It is true that it has frequently proved ineffectual and has often had the opposite of its intended effect by stiffening national resolve. However, this is not invariable and on occasions terror bombing has contributed to victory. It is difficult to deny that the terror bombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities in 1945 and the subsequent atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki contributed to the Japanese surrender in August. Even though the impact of terror bombing remains problematic -- perhaps highly problematic -- it cannot be said it is ineffectual militarily in every case.
Even if though the minimum requirement for ethics in warfare -- a contribution to victory -- has been satisfied, the question remains whether, in the case of terror bombing, this provides a sufficient basis ethically. If, for instance, we were to assume that early vitory and the avoidance of enormous casualties justified the dropping of the atomic bombs, it would follow that the same ethical criterion -- avoidance of defeat-- would have justified Germany dropping an atomic bomb on London or Moscow in January 1945, had it had the bomb at that time.
What Bloch foresaw in the early years of the following century was that the increased destructiveness of weaponry would transform the nature of war and the ethic controlling its conduct. Aerial bombardment was revolutionary in the extent of its destructiveness. It was unique in other respects. As Jonathan Glover said, “the great twentieth century change in warfare has been the power of mass killing at a distance… The great military atrocities now use bombs and missiles. The decisions are taken coldly far away”.* The impact of terror bombing is not restricted to physical destruction. “Killing at a distance” is dehumanising.* This comment was given reality to me by a personal experience. Dining with American friends in a San Francisco restaurant in 1964, I was shocked with their sudden and emphatic suggestion that the atomic bomb should be immediately dropped on Hanoi – to bomb the Viets back to the stone age, as they said. Bombing from the air is not directed at people, certainly not individual people, but at an urban mass.
Terror bombing has no military or strategic objective. The killing of civilians is the object. It is not, as was the case at Schweinfurt, a by-product. The destruction prevents, as in Dresden, the continuance of any civilised living. It does not matter whether the estimate of 135,000 deaths as a result of the four-hour onslaught is precisely correct. The death toll was enormous. The city ceased to function. That was the object.
What has emerged in ethics from this transformation of war, of which terror bombing is a part, is this proposition. ‘Victory’ is no longer a sustainable and sufficient criterion for ethical judgement upon the means used in war.
To paraphrase Edith Cavell, victory is not enough.
It was this which drove Bishop Bell in his wartime address to the House of Lords when he was almost a lone voice opposing the area bombing of Germany: “ How can the War Cabinet fail to see that this progressive devastation of cities is threatening the roots of civilization?.… What we do in war ... affects the whole character of peace, which covers a much longer period.” Bishop Bell was referring to conventional bombing 60 years ago. With the advent of the atomic and hydrogen bombs new levels of destructive power have been attained.
In this impassioned plea, Bishop Bell was relying upon a different end than ‘victory’. At a certain level a means employed may contribute to victory but civilization, which is of immeasurable significance and far superior to the interests of any nation state, may be irreparably damaged. Indeed Russell and Einstein, in the Appeal reproduced in the Endnote, drew attention to the possibility that human life might not survive the destructive force of nuclear warfare.
One possible view, in the light of this, is that war is now so irredeemably evil that that is all that can and need be said about the matter. It is per se unethical and talk about the means which may be used is irrelevant, at least in terms of ethics. George Orwell wrote in his Tribune column on the 18th May 1944 that “all talk of ‘limiting war’ or ‘humanising war’ is sheer humbug”.
This misconceives the nature of the problem. Abolition of war implies that it is possible to abolish force in international affairs. Even if that were achievable, what is being suggested by those holding such a view is that pending such an eventuality there is to be an ethical void in the means which those engaging in war may use. But force cannot be eliminated in human affairs. It can be controlled and regulated by law. Plato said that civilization is the triumph of persuasion over force. Rather, it is the triumph of persuasion and law – the rule of law – over force. Humanity, at least in its better moments, recognizes this to be so. The Charter of the United Nations embodies the principle of non-intervention but permits force in self-defence or, in the case of a threat to peace and security, with the approval of the Security Council. Inevitably the control of force by law is a lengthy process. One might instance the period of historical time it took for the nation state to evolve and replace the anarchy of the blood feud.
What is imperative in this interim period is not only to ensure war is confined to circumstances permitted by the Charter but, over and above this, there is an overriding need to ensure that the force applied in any war does not imperil civilization. This involves not just the lives of human beings or the physical fabric of civilization but the prevention of a resurgence of the values of barbarism evident particularly in modern warfare and terror bombing. In the words of Russell and Einstein, “we have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there are no longer such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties".
We can say in the light of this that terror bombing is to be ethically condemned irrespective of whether it contributes to victory in any particular war because it belongs to a category of warfare incompatible with the preservation of civilization.
We turn therefore to developments in international law. Law may and should reflect ethics but it is not coterminous with them. Law must, for instance, be capable of enforcement.
In the immediate post-war period there was a reluctance by both victors and vanquished to look at the question of civilian bombing. Allied embarrassment led to the exclusion of area bombing from the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Sir Arthur Harris was the only world war commander of comparable rank not to be elevated to the House of Lords.
yet not only in the aftermath but for some years thereafter the Germans were
strangely silent. This was so, notwithstanding that 600,000 civilians had been
killed and 3,500,000 homes had been destroyed. For a time, whether from shame
or guilt, the subject seemed taboo. It was this which W.G. Sebald explored in
his well-known Zurich lecture, On the Natural History of Destruction.*
In 1963 in the Shimoda case, the Tokyo District Court in a considered judgement ruled that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki violated the principles of international law as embodied in the Hague Convention 1907: See Endnote -- Control of nuclear weapons -- a sketch of post-war control.
In 1968 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the aerial bombing of civilians and in 1977 a Protocol to the Geneva Conventions set out rules forbidding it.
In an advisory opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons given by the International Court of Justice to the United Nations General Assembly in 1996, the Court declined to find that the use of nuclear weapons was unlawful per se:see End Note -- Control of Nuclear Weapons -- post war control.
In 1998 over 100 states adopted the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court.
The Statute came into force as an international treaty in April 2002 and has been ratified by almost an equal number. It has however faced the unbending hostility of the United States.
It is important to note that the crimes set out in the Statute are not, for the most part, created by it but embody existing offences under customary international law.
The war crimes specified in Article 8 relating to ‘serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law’ include :-
(i) “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities;
(ii) intentionally directed attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects that are not military objectives;
(iii) intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or wide-spread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated;
(iv) attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended and which are not military objectives…”
Article 8 thus proscribes terror bombing.In the intermediate case of civilians engaging in an activity aiding the military forces – the Schweinfurt example – the Rome Statute provides that it is an offence to “intentionally launch an attack in the knowledge that such an attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantages anticipated.”
This accords with the ethical analysis advanced above. It may however be doubted whether it will prove effective as a legal rule capable of enforcement.
The commission or otherwise of the offence turns on a matter of judgement – a judgement that has to be formed by the military commander responsible for such an attack. The judgement is based firstly upon whether the expected loss of civilian life or injury is or is not ‘clearly excessive’. This must then be followed by a comparison of such expected loss with the ‘military advantage’ anticipated.
Only in a most blatant case could a commander be made criminally liable where the judgement is dependent upon these variables about some future factual position.
The offence should be revised and constituted by the commander’s knowledge of likely loss of life and other harm to civilians when the attack was launched unless he can satisfy the Tribunal that the attack was not excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage to be obtained. In other words, the onus should lie upon the commander to prove the extenuating qualification.
Perhaps the most difficult problem is that of allowing or disallowing a reprisal if a state is faced with a violation of the law as laid down in Article 8 of the Rome Statute.* At present international law does not permit violations in response to violations. It may be objected that such a rule is unrealistic.
The bombing of civilians to induce terror is to be condemned ethically and that is so whether or not the bombing would contribute to victory in war. International law recognizes this. But the lack of universality is demonstrated by the reaction to the recent call to ban cluster bombing (24th February 2007). Forty-six countries agreed to a commitment to its prohibition but a minority, including significant nations such as the United States, refused. And humanity lacks the coercive force to implement the international law which embodies this ethic.*
(1) The Bombing of Hamburg - W.G. Sebald
“In the summer of 1943, during a long heatwave, the RAF, supported by the US Eighth Army Air Force, flew a series of raids on Hamburg. The aim of Operation Gomorrah, as it was called, was to destroy the city and reduce it as completely as possible to ashes. In a raid early in the morning of 27 July, beginning at 1 am, 10,000 tonnes of high explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped on the densely populated residential area east of the Elbe …. A now familiar sequence of events occurred: first of all the doors and windows were torn from their frames and smashed by high-explosive bombs weighing 4,000 lbs, then the attic floors of the buildings were ignited by light-weight incendiary mixtures, and at the same time fire-bombs weighing up to 15 kilograms fell into the lower storeys. Within a few minutes huge fires were burning all over the target area, which covered some 20 sq kilometres and they merged so rapidly that only a quarter of an hour after the first bombs had dropped the whole air space was a sea of flames as far as the eye could see. Another five minutes later, at 1.20 am, a firestorm of an intensity that no one would ever before have thought possible arose. The fire, now rising 2,000 metres into the sky, snatched oxygen to itself so violently that the air currents reached hurricane force, resonating like mighty organs with all their stops pulled out at once. The fire burned like this for three hours. At its height the storm lifted gables and roofs from buildings, flung rafters and entire advertising hoardings through the air, tore trees from the ground and drove human beings before it like living torches. Behind collapsing facades the flames shot up as high as houses, rolled like a tidal wave through the streets at a speed of over 150 kilometres an hour, spun across open squares in strange rhythms like rolling cylinders of fire. The water in some of the canals was ablaze. The glass in the tram car windows melted; stocks of sugar boiled in the bakery cellars. Those who had fled from their air-raid shelters sank, with grotesque contortions, in the thick bubbles thrown up by the melting asphalt. No one knows for certain how many lost their lives that night, or how many went mad before they died. When day broke, the summer dawn could not penetrate the leaden gloom above the city. The smoke had risen to a height of 8,000 metres, where it spread like a vast, anvil-shaped cumulonimbus cloud. A wavering heat, which the bomber pilots said they had felt through the sides of their planes, continued to rise from the smoking, glowing mounds of stone. Residential districts with a street length of 200 kilometres in all were utterly destroyed. Horribly disfigured corpses lay everywhere. Bluish little phosphorus flames still flickered around many of them; others had been roasted brown or purple and reduced to a third of their normal size.”
On The History of Natural Destruction, W.G. Sebald, Hamish and Hamilton, pp.26-28.
(2) Potsdam Declaration: 26 July 1945
We, the President of the United States, the President of the National Government of the Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, representing the hundreds of millions of our countrymen, have conferred and agree that Japan shall be given an opportunity to end the war.
2. The prodigious land, sea, and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets from the West, are poised to strike the final blows upon Japan. This military power is sustained and inspired by the determination of all the Allied nations to prosecute the war against Japan until she ceases to resist.
3. The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free people of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan.
The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste the lands, the industry, and the methods of life of the whole German people………
4. The time has come for Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those self-willed militaristic advisers whose unintelligent calculations have brought the Empire of Japan to the threshold of annihilation, or whether she will follow the path of reason.
5.The following are our terms. We shall not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay.
7.Until such a new world order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan’s war-making power is destroyed points in Japanese territory designated by the Allies will be occupied to secure the achievement of the basic objectives we are here setting forth.
8. The Cairo Declaration shall be carried out, and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.
9. The Japanese military forces after being completely disarmed shall be permitted to return to their homes, with the opportunity of leading peaceful and productive lives.
10. We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race nor destroyed as a nation, but stern justice will be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners ……..
12.The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established, in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people, a peacefully inclined and responsible government.
13.We call upon the Government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender* of all the Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is complete and utter destruction.
(3) A Petition to the President of the United States, 1945
“We, the undersigned scientists, have been working in the field of atomic power. Until recently we have had to fear that the United States might be attacked by atomic bombs during this war and that her only defence might lie in a counter attack by the same means. Today, with the defeat of Germany, this danger is averted and we feel impelled to say what follows: The war has to be brought speedily to a successful conclusion and attacks by atomic bombs may very well be an effective method of warfare. We feel, however, that such attacks on Japan could not be justified, at least not unless the terms which will be imposed after the war on Japan were made public in detail and Japan was given an opportunity to surrender.
If such public announcement gave assurance to the Japanese that they could look forward to a life devoted to peaceful pursuits in their homeland and if Japan still refused to surrender, our nation might then, in certain circumstances, find itself forced to resort to the use of atomic bombs. Such a step, however, ought not to be made at any time without seriously considering the moral responsibilities which were involved.
The development of atomic power will provide the nations with new means of destruction. The atomic bombs at our disposal represent only the first step in this direction and there is almost no limit to the destructive power which will become available in the course of their future development… In view of the foregoing, we, the undersigned, respectfully petition: first, that you exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief to rule that the United States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan, knowing these terms, has refused to surrender; second, that in such an event the question whether or not to use atomic bombs be decided by you in light of the considerations presented in this petition as well as all the other moral responsibilities which are involved.” 17 July 1945.
Presented by Leo Szilard and 63 scientists working on the Manhattan Project.
(4) The Russell-Einstein Appeal
The Red Cross, had, from the outset sought to restrain aerial bombardment but the engagement of the worlds peoples in relation to nuclear bombs may be said to have commenced with the famous Russell-Einstein Appeal. It was co-signed by Russell and Einstein (the last public act of Einstein’s life) (1955) together with seven other scientists, five of whom were Nobel Prize winners. An organised movement throughout the world called for the ending of nuclear arms. It led to meetings of experts, such as the meetings of scientists from both sides of the Cold War at Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Mass meetings and two mass meetings of civil protest, one of the most famous taking place in Trafalgar Square.
The Appeal was addressed to nations and people in humanitarian terms:
“We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent or creed, but as human beings, members of the species man, whose continued existence is in doubt… We want you, if you can, to … consider yourselves only as members of a biological species which has had a remarkable history, and whose disappearance none of us can desire … we have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?
The general public, and even men in a position of authority, have not realised what would be involved in a war with nuclear bombs. The general public still thinks in terms of the obliteration of cities … No doubt in an H-bomb war great cities would be obliterated … But it is stated on very good authority that a bomb can now be manufactured which will be 2,500 times as powerful as that which destroyed Hiroshima. Such a bomb, if exploded near the ground or underwater, sends radio-active particles into the upper air. No one knows how widely such lethal radio-active particles must be diffused. But the best authorities are unanimous that a war with H-bombs might quite possibly put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death - sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration …
Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable; shall we put an end to the human race or shall mankind renounce war? People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war.
The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty. But what perhaps impedes understanding of the situation more than anything else is that the term ‘mankind’ feels vague and abstract. People scarcely realise in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity. They can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they live are in imminent danger of perishing agonisingly. And so they hope that perhaps war may be allowed to continue provided modern weapons are prohibited.
This hope is illusory … although an agreement to renounce nuclear weapons as part of a general reduction of armaments would not afford an ultimate solution, it would serve certain important purposes.”
(5) Control of Nuclear Weapons – a sketch of post-war control
In one sense the atomic bomb represented a continuation of conventional bombing differing only in degree although that difference was enormous. There is also a difference in kind. No matter how great the expansion of nuclear potential of conventional bombs the future existence of humanity was never threatened by them. The explosive power of nuclear fission or fusion did. Within two decades bombs equivalent to 100 million tonnes were being stockpiled.
In 1950 the Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb.In May 1951 the Americans had carried out a thermo-nuclear test and the Russians followed suit with a test of a fusion bomb in 1953 and the explosion of an H-Bomb in 1954.
In the first world war the bombs dropped from flying machines weighed only a few pounds. By the second world war blockbusters had acquired destructive force equal to 20 tons of TNT.The first atomic bomb on Hiroshima was equivalent to 20,000 tons. Ten years later, the first Hydrogen bomb equalled 20 million tons. By the late 1960’s, bombs equivalent to 100 million tons were being stockpiled.
The first atomic bomb had been dropped from a plane. By 1957, when the Soviet Union put sputnik into the atmosphere, that was no longer necessary. Bombs with this gigantic destructive power could be projected intercontinentally. At this point the doctrine of massive retaliation had become redundant.
The imminence of nuclear destruction has diminished since the end of the Cold War. But at times, the possibility of that occurring, as during the Cuba Missile Crisis, has been ‘too close to call’.
The dangers remain. Nuclear weapons have proliferated so that, in addition to the first five powers – United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France and finally in 1964, China, - India, Pakistan, Israel, Iraq and North Korea now possess nuclear weapons. Other States have nuclear programs. What follows is a sketch of post-war developments to the depressing and uncertain situation which prevails today. It may be considered under the following headings: (a) early attempts to place nuclear weapons or fissionable materials under international control;(b) attempts to control testing; (c) attempts to stop proliferation either by countries having nuclear weapons or countries which have not yet acquired them;(d) agreements to limit the number of nuclear weapons held by countries party to the agreement. In addition, there have been attempts at international enforcement against countries making nuclear weapons; international law rulings on the legality weapons and unilateral attempts by the United States to bar the penetration of inter-continental ballistic missiles into the territory of the United States.
The Baruch Plan was the earliest attempt at international control. In 1946 Bernard Baruch, a prominent financier and United States Administration advisor, presented a plan based upon a report by Acheson and Lilenthal calling for an international authority with a total monopoly over the production of fissionable materials, a rigid system of international inspection, and sanctions against any nations violating the rules. Only when proper controls had been established would the United States dispose of its atomic bomb stockpile. Nevertheless this was a remarkable moment. At that time there were only three atomic bombs in the world and the United States was prepared, subject to the conditions mentioned, to hand them over to international control. Nevertheless this was opposed by the Soviet Union which vetoed it in the Security Council. The Soviet Union detonated its first atom bomb in 1949.
President Eisenhower formed his own view that there should be some international control and in December 1955 he proposed, in a speech to the United National General Assembly that “Governments principally involved, to the extent permitted by elementary prudence, should begin now and continue to make joint contributions from their stockpiles for normal uranium and fissionable materials to an International Atomic Energy Agency” which would be set up under the aegis of the United Nations. The I.A.E.A., which was supported by the Soviet Union came into existence in July 1957.
The first treaty banning tests was negotiated between Kennedy and Kruschev and resulted in the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty 1963 which was signed by the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom and banned nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and underwater. It did not affect testing totally owing to difficulties in detection. The parties were forbidden to cause, encourage or in any way participate in the carrying out of nuclear weapons explosions outside their territory. There was a let out that states could withdraw if ‘extraordinary events’ jeopardised their supreme interests. France and China did not sign this treaty. It was an important step. At this time the explosive power of bombs held by both United States and the Soviet Union was 2,500 times the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagosaki.
The idea of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty had in fact originated before the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. Its basic purpose was to help curb proliferation of atomic and nuclear weapons to additional countries and slow the nuclear arms development among existing nuclear powers by a comprehensive ban on tests, thus covering gaps in the 1963 Treaty as well as endeavouring to cover all States. Negotiations proceeded. In a technical sense the proposed regime was becoming easier because of the increased ability to detect tests. It is now possible to detect tests with an explosive power as low as 1 kiloton. But just as agreement seemed possible India indicated its rejection and it was not possible to take the matter further without complete consensus. And then on 13 October 1999 the US Senate refused to allow the United States to ratify the treaty. Accordingly, for the time being, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty may be regarded as dead.
The principal attempt to curb proliferation directly – that is apart from the effect of forbidding nuclear tests – was through the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty 1968. The Treaty provides that each nuclear weapon party would undertake not to transfer to any recipient nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or devices and would not encourage non-nuclear weapons State to manufacture or otherwise acquire such weapons. Each non-nuclear weapon State would undertake not to receive any such transfer of nuclear weapons nor to manufacture or acquire such weapons and would accept the safeguards laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency to prevent diversion of nuclear material from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons.
The Treaty has had only limited effect in halting proliferation. Of the 152 states that felt obliged to sign it, only 33 have ratified. Israel has stockpiled nuclear bombs since the 1970s and in 1998 India and then Pakistan conducted nuclear tests. By that time “there were 40,000 nuclear warheads in existence with a total destructive capacity about a million times greater than ‘Fat Boy’, the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki”.*
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks took place between the United States and the Soviet Union over a 20 year period. This resulted in the limitation of nuclear weapons held by each country. The original agreement which was negotiated by Presidents Nixon and Brezhnev on 26 May 1972 was for a period of five years during which the number of land-based inter-continental ballistic missiles were frozen together with missile launchers. The Agreement permitted the construction of submarine-launched ballistic missiles up to an agreed ceiling provided that some existing launchers were destroyed. Subsequently at Vladivostok in November 1974 Presidents Ford and Brezhnev agreed upon a further limitation but this was not reduced to Treaty form before President Carter was elected. He negotiated a Treaty with Brezhnev further reducing the number of nuclear weapons which each country would hold but the invasion of Afghanistan led him to delay seeking ratification by the Senate. SALT II, as this agreement was called, was never ratified but both parties agreed to comply with it. Further negotiations took place between Presidents Bush and Gorbachev in 1991 limiting the number of nuclear delivery vehicles to 1,600 and the nuclear warheads on the delivery vehicles to 6,000 in the case of each country. Later there was a further reduction agreed upon.
It should be noted that the original 1972 Agreement limited the anti-ballistic missile systems which each nation could adopt to two ABM launch areas and in July 1974 it was further agreed that each nation would limit the anti-ballistic missile launchers to one.
The United States has endeavoured to establish systems which would prevent the penetration of inter-continental ballistic missiles. The first specific formulation of this – the Strategic Defence Initiative – better known as Star Wars was announced by President Reagan on 23 March 1983. It was proposed that an impenetrable shield would prevent up to 5,000 missiles from reaching the United States. The proposal however violated the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement in 1972. It was not proceeded with during Reagan’s Presidency nor that of Clinton but has been revived by President George W. Bush who formally announced American withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Agreement.
In 1961 a resolution was passed by the United Nations General Assembly (1653 – XVI) which declared that ‘the use of nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons is contrary to the spirit, letter and aims of the United Nations and, as such, is a direct violation of the Charter of the United Nations’.
The question of the legality of the dropping of the atomic bombs was first considered in the Shimoda case[ Ryuichi Shimoda et al v The State, Tokyo District Court 7th December 1963]*. The plaintiffs were five Japanese nationals who claimed to have sustained injuries as a result of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They brought action for compendsation against their own government notwithstanding the complaint was directed at the conduct of the United States.The reason for this was that Japan had waived claims against the United States under the Peace Treaty 1951. The plaintiffs claimed their government had done so wrongfully and was thus liable to them for compensation.The plaintiffs lost because this ground of their claim was rejected. But the Court did find that "the attacks upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused such severe and indiscriminate suffering that they did violate the most basic principles governing the laws of war."
The Court held that the legality of the bombing was governed by The Hague Convention 1907 and the Hague Draft Rules of Air Warfare of 1922-1923. The Court drew a distinction between 'targeted aerial bombardment' and 'blind aerial bombardment' which was in effect indiscriminate area bombing. It also drew a distinction between a 'defended' and 'undefended' city. It was held 'blind aerial bombardment' is permitted only in the immediate vicinity of operations. 'Targeted bombardment' was permitted further from war operations. It may be directed at a 'defended' city but such a city was not simply one that had military installations within it but was a city actively resisting occupation.
In an Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons in 1996 which was sought by the United Nations General Assembly under Article 96(1) of the Charter, the International Court of Justice by a majority held that ‘the Court cannot lose sight of the fundamental right of every State to survival and thus it’s right to resort to self-defence, in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter, where it’s survival is at stake.’ And because of that, ‘in view of the present state of international law viewed as a whole, as examined above by the Court, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court is led to observe that it cannot reach a definitive conclusion as to the legality or illegality of the use of nuclear weapons by a State in an extreme circumstance of self-defence in which its very survival would be at stake’.
The decision has been greatly criticised. * Geoffrey Robertson in Crimes against Humanity said:"What the ICJ opinion means is that states are not acting unlawfully by stockpiling nuclear weaponry or by acquiring the technology to build the bomb or by testing that technology.It means that states do not act unlawfully by threatening to use the bomb,or indeed by using it,so long as their leaders genuinely believe their survival is at stake ... The notion of a state securing its survival by actions which threaten to exterminate all human life is risible ... what the court is saying (by reference to 'inadequate elements of fact at its disposal') is that international law contains no general prohibition against nuclear weapons, but must judge each case according to the actual 'elementsof fact' surrounding it. By the time those 'elements' can be presented, we may all be dead.... The decision entirely fails to elucidate the question of whether and when the Security Council can forcibly override State Sovereignty to remove nuclear weapons, from nations which are not party to the NPT, and it fails to explain whether the Israeli bombing of Osiraq was a crime or a legitimate prophylactic. The Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons Case stands for not much more than the rule that a State must not stockpile nuclear weapons in numbers far beyond the reasonable needs of deterrence or self-defence.”
The only police type enforcement action which the Security Council has taken in respect of nuclear weapons was that against Iraq at the conclusion of the Gulf War. Resolution 687 specified that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical, biological and missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres should be destroyed, removed or rendered harmless.
* See Hobsbawm, On History, Abacus, p.337.
* Art. 22 to Convention IV.
* H.G. Wells in the Short History of the World [Pelican, p.296] published in 1922 wrote: “The phase of military deadlock passed slowly into one of aggression upon combatant populations behind the fronts by the destruction of food supplies and by attacks through the air. Also there was a steady improvement in the size and range of the guns employed and such ingenious devices as poison-gas shells and small mobile forts known as tanks, to break down the resistance of the troops in the trenches. The air offensive was the most revolutionary of all the new methods. It carried warfare from two dimensions into three. Hitherto in the history of mankind war had gone on only where the armies marched and met. Now it went on everywhere. First the Zeppelin and then the bombing aeroplane carried war over and past the front to an ever increasing area of civilian activities and beyond. The old distinction maintained in civilised warfare between the civilian and combatant population disappeared. Every one who grew food, or who sewed a garment, every one who felled a tree or repaired a house, every warehouse was held to be fair game for destruction. The air offensive increased in range and terror with every month in the war. At last great areas of Europe were in a state of siege and subject to nightly raids. Such exposed cities as London and Paris passed sleepless night after sleepless night while bombs burst, the anti-aircraft guns maintained an intolerable racket, and the fire engines and ambulances rattled headlong through the darkened and deserted streets.” [italics added]
* John Keegan, The Second World War, Hutchison Australia, p.418.
* This segment of the Essay draws on Keegan’s work, Chapter 22.
* H. Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, Penguin Books, p.537.
* Jonathan Glover, Humanity, A Moral History of the 20th Century, Pimlico, p.270.
* John Keegan, Ibid, p.422.
* John Keegan, Ibid, p.423.
* Notwithstanding his support for area bombing throughout the war, Churchill had his qualms, “In June 1943, at Chequers with the Australian Minister, Richard Casey, he watched a film of the bombing taken from the air. He turned to Casey and asked, “Are we beasts? Are we taking this too far?”, Jonathan Glover, A Moral History of Twentieth Century Humanity, p.82.
* See generally, John Keegan, Ibid, p.425.
* Glover, Ibid, p.79 quoted from Martin Middleback, The Battle for Hamburg: The Firestorm Raid, London, 1980, p.257. See endnote 1; for a more comprehensive description of Operation Gomorrah, the Bombing of Hamburg, see W.G. Sebald’s famous Zurich Lecture, On the Natural History of Destruction, Hamish Hamilton, p.26.
* Glover, Ibid, p.76.
* “Huge differences divide estimates of the damage. The British Bombing Survey reported 1681 acres totally destroyed. The post-war Dresden Planning Report counted 3140 acres, 75% destroyed. The local Abteiling Tote or ‘Death Bureau’ reported 39,773 identified dead by May 1945. This figure did not account for missing or unregistered persons, unrecorded burials, or the contents of numerous mass graves. It must be reckoned an absolute minimum. The Chief of the Bureau later ventured a total of 135,000 deaths. A British historian has suggested a range of 120,000-150,000. No one knows how many uncounted corpses were disposed of behind the SS cordons, as an endless stream of carts fed pyres blazing once again on the ALmart.” N. Davies, Europe, A History, Pimlico, p.415.
* Federal Statistical Office in Wiesbaden.
* See Chester Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe, 1952, Collins, p.551 et seq. In his work, Lessons of the Past, Ernest May carefully analysed the impact of aerial bombing and concluded that “most of the time, it had been unproductive. In a few instances, however, it had contributed to the desired political ends.” He instanced the United States bombing of North Korea and also the conventional bombing of Japanese cities before August 1945 which had brought Japan to its knees, ironically making the dropping of the atomic bomb militarily unnecessary.
* Speer’s diary written in Spandau prison.
* J. Keegan, Ibid, p.433.
* In his book, Hitler’s Bomb (2005) the German historian, Rainer Karlsch, claimed that Nazi Germany was much closer to developing a nuclear bomb than previously thought. A recently found diagram suggests that Nazi scientists understood a plutonium warhead of just over 5 kilograms would achieve critical mass from which a chain reaction would be unleashed. It had previously been thought that the Germans were ignorant of this and had grossly overestimated critical mass. However, the precise date of the wartime diagram is unknown. Dr Karlsch also claims to have found documented proof of a nuclear reactor and nuclear weapons testing sites.
* Glover, op.cit., p.92.
* T. Power, Heisenberg’s War, the Secret History of the German Bomb, Alfred Knopf. In 2002 the family of Niels Bohr released draft letters which Bohr had written between 1957 and 1962 but were never in fact sent to Heisenberg. The draft letters indicate that in Bohr’s recollection Heisenberg was not motivated by moral qualms about making the bomb for Hitler. The draft letters also indicate that Heisenberg stated a German victory was certain. The draft letters seem inconsistent with Thomas Powers account in Heisenberg’s War that Heisenberg wanted to reach a tacit agreement not to build a bomb if Bohr and the other allied scientists would not do so.
* For a brief but comprehensive description of this period and the history of the development of the atomic bomb, see Peter Watson, A Terrible Beauty, The People and Ideas that shaped the Modern Mind, Phoenix Press, pp.393-404.
* W. Churchill, Cassell, Vol. 6, p.552.
* Memoirs of Harry S Truman, Vol 1, p.491.
* ‘No High Ground’ by Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey, Wordenfeld and Nicholson.
* See Glover, op.cit., p.98.
* See Endnote (1).
* “On 15 August Emperor Hirohito, in the first public speech a Japanese sovereign had ever made, broadcast to his soldiers, sailors and people to announce that his government had decided to treat with the enemy. Explaining that the war ‘had turned out not necessarily to Japan’s advantage’ and that the enemy had begun ‘to employ a new and most cruel bomb’, he called upon them, in a series of strange and obscure phrases which never mentioned surrender, to accept the coming of peace”, John Keegan, The Second World War,p.585.
* Churchill, Second World War, Vol V1, p.555.
* Keegan, The Second World War,p.577.
* There is a certain ambiguity about Marshall’s position. “Several years after the war General George C. Marshall did state publicly that he believed the bombings were necessary.” On the other hand, … Marshall is on record months before Hiroshima as saying that the weapons could be deployed against military objectives, as mentioned above (Gar Alperovitz, Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and author of The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb in Common Dreams 6 August 2005.). Writing of Marshall’s position at the time of the Potsdam ultimatum, 26th July 1945, Keegan said, “Marshall, the American Chief of Staff, was particularly insistent that Russian intervention was no longer necessary to the success of the Allied cause and would win them advantages in the Far East which the United States would find cause to regret. He equally admitted that there was no means of deterring the Russians from their offensive.”, The Second World War, p.584. The inference from all this may be that Marshall became increasingly influenced by the diplomatic significance of Soviet power.
* See Endnote 2.
It would seem in the light of this, that Groves was not certain at the time of Truman’s departure for Potsdam that he had determined to drop the bomb. A great deal was happening within a short period of time. There was plenty of scope for the President and those advising him to change their positions. The following are the critical dates: 16th July, Los Alamos; 26th July, Potsdam and Potsdam ultimatum; 6th August, Bomb dropped on Hiroshima; 9th August, bomb dropped on Nagasaki; 8th August, Soviet forces invade Manchuria; 15th August, the Emperor announced surrender.
Groves himself seems to have been particularly determined that the bomb should be dropped. Certainly he was elated after it had been, “we have spent 2 billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history – and we won.” One should never underestimate the seemingly irresistible technological momentum that had been built up by the project, which to the Scientific Panel, like General Groves, could only be completed when its end-product, the bomb, was dropped.”
* Robert Freeman, Common Dreams, News Center, 6th August 2006.
* Michael Ignatieff, Virtual War, Vintage Books, p.165.
* Ignatieff, Ibid, p.108.
* Ignatieff, Ibid, p.100.
* Whether from a sense of guilt or otherwise United States Defence Department seems to want to cloud aerial bombing with euphemisms and Doublespeak. Other instances of this are “Force Packages” to describe bombs and “servicing the target” to describe bombing.
Civilians caught in intense aerial bombardment are ‘soft targets’ the victims of ‘incontinent ordnance’, the result of ‘surgical strikes’. It is the same linguistic subterfuge as describing dead soldiers as ‘non-operative personnel’ or torture as ‘extreme rendition’.
* See Ignatieff, pp.194-195.
* Max Rodenbrook, New York Review of Books, 2/9/06.
* Haaretz , 12th September 2006.
* Six year old Abbas Yusef Shibli picked up a bomblet whilst playing with friends because it looked like a ‘perfume bottle’. When it exploded in his hand, he suffered a ruptured colon, a ruptured gall bladder and a perforated lung.
* Philosophy Now, March-April 2005, p.16; Holdsworth, History of English Law,pp.30—31.The Fathers of the Church had pronounced against war in the first centuries. Augustine though admitted that a war might be just. Importantly, his opinion was followed by Gratian in his codification of Church law.
* Glover, op.cit. p.84.
* In a 2002 interview with Stud Terkels, Paul Tibbets put his position: Terkels, ”When you hear people say, lets nuke ‘em, lets nuke these people, what do you think? Tibbets: “Oh, I wouldn’t hesitate if I had the choice. I’d wipe ‘em out. You’re gonna kill innocent people at the same time but we’ve never fought a damn war anywhere in the world where they didn’t kill innocent people. If the newspapers would just cut out the shit: ‘You’ve killed so many civilians’. That’s their bad luck for being there”.
* Jonathan Glover, op.cit.p.64.
* This was described by George Orwell in the second world war: As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are only ‘doing their duty’ as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted, law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any the worse for it.” The impact on the civilian population of this unobserved and de-individualised destructiveness and killing was commented upon by Senator Fulbright when writing of the war in Vietnam, “the same good and decent citizens who would never fail to feed a hungry child or comfort a sick friend can talk of bombing it (North Vietnam) back to the stone age despite the fact that most of the victims would be innocent workers. I feel sure that this apparent insensitivity to the incineration of thousands of millions of our fellow human beings is not the result of inhumanity towards foreigners; it is the result of not thinking of them as human beings at all.”, The Arrogance of Power, Pelican.
* See his description of the bombing of Hamburg, End Note 1.
* In the recent war in Lebanon (July 2006) the Hezbollah, allegedly in response, launched a reported 1300 rockets into predominantly civilian areas of Israel killing 18 civilians and wounding 300. Some of the rockets were filled with thousands of metal ballbearings that sprayed more than 100 metres from the blast.
* A valuable article, Airpower and the Myth of Strategic Bombing as Strategy, by Graig Stockings and Clinton Fernandes, Lecturers in History and Strategic Studies respectively at the University of New South Wales, was published as this Paper was being completed. Although not concerned with ethical considerations it traversed the strategic thinking and firmly rejected aerial bombing as a strategic option in its own right.
* The italics have been added to this phrase. It is clear from what we do know that ‘unconditional surrender’ with its consequence that the Emperor would be dethroned and perhaps tried as a war criminal was anathema to the Japanese and sustained their intransigence. In a somewhat enigmatic passage in his Memoirs, Churchill hints at this when speaking of Potsdam he said,“ I thought we should abstain from saying anything which would make us seem at all reluctant to go on with the war against Japan as long as the United States thought fit. However, I dwelt upon the tremendous cost in American and to a smaller extent in British life if we enforced ‘unconditional surrender upon the Japanese’. Of course, in the light of all the brutality which they had suffered it was not so easy for the United States to agree to impunity which ‘unconditional surrender’ involved. The irony is that Hirohito was allowed to retain his throne and was never charged as a war criminal.
* G. Robertson, Crimes against Humanity, Allen Lane, Penguin Press, pp.175-176.
* Digested in 1964 58 AJIL, p.1016.
* G. Robertson, op.cit., pp.206-207. “Some future form of life may stumble upon these 300 pages of juridical cowardice, carefully paragraphed both in English and French, and wonder how international law in 1996 could circumlocute itself to death.