I was riding my motorbike yesterday and was thinking about how great Japanese engineering was, such that I was able to have a 60 hp engine driving a bike weighing under 400 pounds and the fact that the engine was so small in actual space taken up. And for whatever reason, my brain made a synapse switch (I think 'cause I was reading about the story behind the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan a few days earlier) and I started wondering about why the Americans thought it was okay to drop not one, but two, bombs that they knew would kill thousands and thousands of innocent civilians. In the Army, not only now, but back in World War II, soldiers were instructed to treat civilians as just that, civilians, and as such, were not to be shot, killed, raped, or otherwise taken advantage of. Of course, the moment a civilian picked up arms, they were no longer considered a civilian, but that's another matter. So, that being said, why is it okay to bomb the crap out of civilians? And it wasn't just the Americans. We (Canada), along with the British and other Commonwealth countries) did it too, as did the Germans. As a professional soldier, we train such that our job is to defeat the professional soldiers of other countries, not to defeat the general population.

We tell our soldiers not to loot or steal possessions of an enemy country, but it's okay to mutilate with bombs dropped by our bombers, those possessions along with the civilians? I don't think so.

Bombing industrial targets is one thing, but targeting cities and killing civilians, well, that is just plain wrong.

Um... because they can?

A better question would be "Why are there 'Rules Of War'?" The objective of war is to violently force someone to do what you want them to do, and do so with a minimal loss of life. A war is the ultimate state of might makes right - why are some things acceptable and others not? Why do we consider bombing an industrial target different that bombing a residential area? Why is there a difference between a civilian and a soldier? If you're involved in a war, why would you choose to prolong it by not proceeding with a wide-sweeping, all-encompassing attempt at the ultimate destruction of your enemy? Because of the Geneva Convention? Please. If you've got the means to win a war quickly and with the least possible loss of life to you and your allies, you do it. You've already made the decision to wage war, however moronic, which means both killing the enemy and sending the ally to be killed... why should you have any qualms whatsoever about doing whatever is needed to win?

In response to the more general question of why Americans thought it OK to nuke Japan.... almost no American had any idea what a nuclear bomb was, let alone that the U.S. had built one and was going to use it. Nowadays, any mention of nuclear weapons illicits very opinionated responses. The fact that the military can't fart without it being televised on CNN adds to the public scrutiny over the military. In 1945, Americans got their news from the printing press and the radio, both of which you can bet were involved in a very jingoistic presentation of the facts. Asking an American in 1945 how they felt about nuclear weapons was akin to asking that same American how he felt about microwave ovens. And even after the bombing, if you asked the average American, "Are you happy the war is over, even if it meant that 200,000 Japanese civilians were killed or wounded?", I think you'd have received an overwhelming affirmative.

Most historical accounts will explain that Truman bombed Japan because the alternate option - a land invasion - would have cost thousands of American lives and prolonged the war for several more years. Truman made a decision based on the advisement of his war council that bombing Japan would result in a swift crippling of Japanese military forces as well as prove the military omnipotence of the United States, bringing about a quick end to the war.

For the record, the U.S. killed far more civilians during the saturation bombing of Dresden that with the nuking of Japan.

A weapon is anything which changes the enemy's mind, and gets them to surrender.

The job of a soldier is to get the enemy to die for his country.

The enemy is anybody who opposes this army/nation's objective. Such as continuing to live as a nation.

Under the Japanese way of thinking/living during WWII, dying for one's country/religion wasn't that big of a deal. If you die heroically, after all, you go up a slot on the wheel, which is a good thing. Therefore being a kamikaze pilot, etc. is not something to be feared, but rather a great opportunity.

So what Truman faced, in trying to take Japan, was an entire nation of people who had been taught from birth that to die for this cause would mean reaching their goal, religiously.

To wit: They could all die, and not have that be a bad thing. And take as many soldiers as Truman cared to feed them in the process. No skin off their souls.

Now, mind you. Spending the next however many years with residual radiation poisoning and killing off the remnants of the Japanese people is nobody's idea of an honorable death.

I suppose if you were really going for the just thing, we needed something that would allow us to kill most of the men in Japan, and then allow us to rape and murder their women, like they did to China. It would only be fair, after all. I mean, honestly, anybody who wasn't Japanese was a savage and deserved what they got...and our attitude, at the time, toward them, was about the same. The only nations with "Civilization" were the ones doing the killing, neh?

I suppose a lot of this comes down to...who is really responsible for this? Does it do any of us any good to worry about who owes who for something that happened 50, or 150, or 400 years ago?

Is anybody, currently, to blame for the bombing of Japan? For the Holocaust? For Slavery in America? For the mistreatment of blacks following the Civil War? For Stalin's Regime? For Bosnia? For czechoslovakia? For the natives killed by the Spanish? For the natives killed by the U.S. Government during the 1800's? For Roanoake? for the Inquisitions?

Who're you gonna blame? Somebody's gotta pay, and keep paying, right? We need a focus for our hatred and the innate unfairness of existence, right? Let's all find a focus right now...it'll make life so much more worth living. Who's gonna pay?

The wellspring for both the idea of the air force hitting civilian targets and the Rules of War set by the Geneva Accords dates back to the 19th century, in the American Civil War. As one of the first modern wars, it was the beginning of war going from a noble excercise of the elite and a means of negotiation to a horrible thing that was to be avoided.

The most famous example of why this happened is, of course, William Tecumseh Sherman. He is sometimes referred to by his first two initials, W and T, because his was a method of Total War. He realized that in order to win the war against the Confederacy, he had to do more than simply beat its army: he had to keep it from rising again. The only way to accomplish this was to cause as much pain for Southern civilians as possible; to bring the war to the people.

Therefore, he burned Atlanta. Therefore, he cut a swath 50 miles wide through Georgia wherein he destroyed everything from food supplies and railroads to trees and grass. Not only did this serve to break the Southerners' will to resist, it also kept them from resupplying their army. This is the premise behind the Air Force bombing civilians: not only must they defeat an opposing Air Force, but they must also win an economic war.

This is, of course, horrible, as made clear by such events as the Rape of Nanking and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Events like Sherman's March to the Sea led people to reconsider war as a horrible thing to be avoided at all costs, and also led them to attempt to prohibit the involvement of innocent civilians.

The reason that you see these conflicting views within the military, dr, with some people saying to leave the civilians alone and some people killing them en masse, is that both of these views are still widely held and come into conflict, even within organizations like NATO. It is simply far easier to bomb a faraway bus than to send soldiers to violate and kill women with bayonets. The result is the same but the public's aversion and the commander's guilt are far less.

The reason why we have rules of war is for the same reason that we have laws. The objective of any person is to live as long and as comfortably as possible without incurring damage. So why do we have laws? Simple -- a society without laws is unstable. As a matter of fact, in such a society, even if you're the top dog in your community, you'll still suffer a lot more than if you lived in a peaceful society with laws. In other words, laws do allow you to live longer and more comfortably. The same goes for war. I don't think I need to re-explain the analogy for it.

But it would seem that if anyone broke this 'international code of war', it would be very advantageous for them, no? Of course, just as it would be advantageous in the short term for a person to break the law and control others in her/his vicinity. But, as I said earlier, the fact that one person is breaking the rules puts everyone else at a disadvantage -- so they'll naturally start breaking the rules, too. And this will lead to an unstable society in which it's quite likely that the one who broke the rules first will lose out. So the reason why we have rules of war is simply this: it may seem stupid, but it's the smart thing to do in the long run.

Countervalue bombing by airforces (that's bombing of civilian targets, as opposed to counterforce, the bombing of military targets) was a natural and unavoidable outgrowth of the revolution in war which came about in the late nineteenth century and showed its immense destructive capacity in the twentieth. The Napoleonic Wars had shown how powerful a single nation could be when it turned all its energies to the task of war, and technological advances in the nineteenth century were making this increasingly seem to be the only way nations could hope to compete with each other. After Prussia deployed 1,200,000 men against France in 1870 - double the number Napolean had led to their deaths in Russia - the importance of strategic rail networks and an economy geared to putting the most men on the front line was recognised. In the future war would not be a limited affair taking place between elites isolated from the rest of the population, but a contest of entire nations.

The advent of aircraft during World War I precipitated a revolution in the ability for a nation to strike directly at the economic and psychological heart of another. At first the possibilities weren't realised, and aeroplanes were primarily involved in destroying each other so they could peacefully go about their main task, which was reconnaissance on the battlefield. No-one thought aircraft could sink ships at sea. But as technology raced ahead and the range and destructive capacity of aircraft increased, enthusiasm for air power swung entirely the other way. Strategic bombing would make land war obsolete, it was said - hadn't the Great War proved the futility of trying to decisively win a war in the new climate? World War I was seen to have ended because the populations of the Central Powers decided that enough was enough and gave up (on the other side, this is certainly what compelled Russia to sign Brest-Litovsk). The new centre of gravity was the civilian populations, not the armies.

Countervalue bombing was a way to destroy the will of the enemy society and force it into submission. Although it may seem strange for us to understand this now, this was seen as more humane than "trenching" ala World War I. It was assumed that strategic bombing could achieve such unimaginable destruction in a short space of time that the war would end quickly, and no long process of attrition would be needed (such was the logic behind the nuclear drops on Japan). Rather than wearing down each other at the front lines in a process which did as much harm to the attacker as to the defender, it was better to attack the new centre of gravity directly. Furthermore, it was hoped that the possibility of such immense destruction would stop wars getting "hot" - the deterrent effect of the bomber fleets would be enough to make everyone want to avoid wars altogether, as does nuclear deterrence.

When World War II came, there was very little countervalue bombing in the first year. The Royal Air Force simply did not initially have the military capability to bomb the German heartland, and until 1944 it inflicted very little damage on German production. The Germans, on the other hand, were more interested in tactical bombing to help make their audacious blitzkreig work. The people who had predicted that strategic bombing would bring about immense destruction were proved right when the United States Air Force and Royal Air Force gained a sufficient degree of control over the German skies to bomb with impunity, but the development of countermeasures and a battle of technology stopped such total destruction earlier in the war. Nor did the bombing campaigns have the expected effect on civilian populations - it tended to embitter them more and tie them to their government and the war even more. Now the people at home were in danger as before only soldiers had been, and this tended to radicalise them.

The bombing of civilians by air forces turned out, then, to largely be a failure. Air supremacy of the sort needed to inflict huge destruction on enemy cities was rare and unlikely to seriously harm production or morale if achieved - but to some inter-war strategists it looked like an essential part of any future conflict. Total wars which involve every member of society in them necessarily transform every citizen into a "soldier" in the war effort - be she a potential mother of young men or he a lathe operator in a munitions factory. The immense destructive power that lurked within the European family of nations, when unleashed and tied to nationalism, saw the bombing of civilians as an essential part of the attrition process. When powerful nations came into conflict they had to be worn down in some way - and the very threat of the bombers was enough to aid Hitler in implementing his policy in dealing with his immediate neighbours.

The age of European wars now seems to be over, and no two powerful societies have been required to attrite each other as happened in the World Wars ever since. Strategic bombers are now largely a thing of the past. Precision strikes as implemented by NATO or the USAF when dealing with poor countries that lack air power (Iraq's air force was the fifth largest in the world, but the USAF decimated it quickly and achieved total air superiority) do still target civilian infrastructure, however. This sort of bombing, developed into the doctrine of "shock and awe bombardment", aims to achieve the capitulation of the enemy's military with limited contact between ground forces. Although the death of civilians still occurs, this bombing is different in kind to carpet bombing, as it aims at direct military goals rather than a fundamental attack on the morale of the target society, which would militarily be unable to match the forces of the richer nations even if moved to do so, and so is largely irrelevant.

There are a couple of principles here that people need to get there heads round.

The concept that there are 'Rules of War' is complete nonsense, a delusion of gentlemen soldiers from the 19th century who had this romantic notion that war could be conducted along the lines of a cricket match, and you could roll out the stumps, play a bit, declare a winner, shake hands and all go home for tea and crumpets in the Summerhouse.

War, as I wrote elsewhere, is not the opposite of Peace. Peace has rules and morals and ethics. War cannot have such a thing, because war isn't civilised, and so lacks those facets of civilisations that make them peaceful, i.e. morals and ethics. Something as utterly uncivilised as war cannot have 'rules of conduct', because it goes contrary to the only objective of war, which is to win, and to win you hit harder, longer, and quicker than your opponent, because in the end, the only thing that actually matters about war is that you win, because very few societies survive intact after losing a war.

The ratio of civilian casualties to military causalities has risen in every war since the Wars of the Roses. This was initially due to the increasingly more destructive and sophisticated types of weaponry, which culminated in the Area Bombing Campaign of the RAF and the use of the Atomic Bomb on Japan. At that point a turning point occurred and two things happened - ever more sophisticated military hardware started to make war safer for soldiers, and it was realised that to defeat an enemy, not only was it it necessary to destroy the other sides forces, but it was also necessary to destroy the other sides industrial and social capacity to make war

As someone else pointed out, bombing civilians for the purpose of breaking morale doesn't work - the Germans discovered this in the Blitz, the English failed to learn that and tried the same thing in the Area Bombing campaign, and even the Americans failed to take note and tried it in Vietnam with exactly the same results

Thus, the nature of modern war, and the nature of modern method s of making war have turned war from a battle between opposing armed forces to a contest between opposing societies. War itself is about to take two further twists in the next war. The increasing dependency of modern societies on information means that the most successful way to destroy a modern opponent will be an attack on the country's information systems by computer viruses, satellite destruction and attacks on the economy, for example by impairing the ability of a nation to trade on the worlds markets by systematic destruction of trading and currency bodies

The second development is the rise of Islam as a serious threat to western cultures. Whereas western cultures separate religion, government and the military, and each part functions separately, Islam is a complete all in one enemy. It's not possible to conduct a war against an Islamic society without waging war against the peoples of that society. This is because the inability of Islam to tolerate the existence of any other form of ruling body, military, religious or civil, means it's an all or nothing war - a winner takes all approach. Add this to the prolific use in Islamic societies of civilian suicide bombers makes it impossible to separate civilian from military from fanatic.

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