(詳細はaerial attack on railways, harbours, cities, workers' housing, and industrial districts in enemy territory during World War II. Strategic bombing is a military strategy which is distinct from both close air support of ground forces and tactical air power.〔R.J. Overy, ''The Air War. 1939-1945'' (1980) pp. 8-14〕
During World War II, it was believed by many military strategists of air power that major victories could be won by attacking industrial and political infrastructure, rather than purely military targets.〔Tami Davis Biddle, "British and American Approaches to Strategic Bombing: Their Origins and Implementation in the World War II Combined Bomber Offensive", ''Journal of Strategic Studies'' (1995) 18#1 pp 91-144〕 Strategic bombing often involved bombing areas inhabited by civilians and sometimes bombing campaigns were deliberately designed to target civilian populations in order to terrorize, disorganize, and disrupt their usual activities. International law at the outset of World War II did not specifically forbid aerial bombardment of cities despite the prior occurrence of such bombing during World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Strategic bombing during World War II began on 1 September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland and the ''Luftwaffe'' (German Air Force) began bombing cities and the civilian population in Poland in an indiscriminate aerial bombardment campaign.〔Levine 1992, (p. 21 )〕 As the war continued to expand, bombing by both the Axis and the Allies increased significantly. The RAF flew its first strategic bombing raid on Germany at Mönchengladbach on 11 May 1940 and in September 1940, the Luftwaffe began targeting British cities in 'The Blitz'.〔 From 1942 onward, the British bombing campaign against Germany became less restrictive and increasingly targeted industrial sites and eventually, civilian areas.〔Hastings 1979〕〔Garrett 1993〕 When the United States began flying bombing missions against Germany, it reinforced these efforts and controversial firebombings were carried out against Hamburg (1943), Dresden (1945), and other German cities.〔Boog 2001, p. 408.〕
In the Pacific War, the Japanese bombed civilian populations throughout the war (e.g. in Chongqing). The US air raids on Japan began in earnest in October 1944〔Pimlott, John. ''B-29 Superfortress'' (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1980), p.40.〕 and escalated into widespread firebombing, which culminated in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 respectively, and the Japanese surrender on 15 August.
The effect of strategic bombing was highly debated during and after the war.〔J.K. Galbraith, "The Affluent Society", chapter 12 "The Illusion of National Security", first published 1958. Galbraith was a director of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.〕〔Williamson Murray, Allan Reed Millett, "A War To Be Won: fighting the Second World War", p. 319〕〔http://www.econ.yale.edu/growth_pdf/cdp905.pdf〕 Both the ''Luftwaffe'' and RAF failed to deliver a knockout blow by destroying enemy morale. However some argued that strategic bombing of military targets could significantly reduce enemy industrial capacity and production〔〔 and in the opinion of its interwar period proponents, the surrender of Japan vindicated strategic bombing.〔Buckley 1998, p. 197.〕
(詳細はHague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, which address the codes of wartime conduct on land and at sea, were adopted before the rise of air power. Despite repeated diplomatic attempts to update international humanitarian law to include aerial warfare, it was not updated before the outbreak of World War II. The absence of specific international humanitarian law did not mean aerial warfare was not covered under the laws of war, but rather that there was no general agreement of how to interpret those laws. This means that aerial bombardment of civilian areas in enemy territory by all major belligerents during World War II was not prohibited by positive or specific customary international humanitarian law.
Many reasons exist for the absence of international law regarding aerial bombing in World War II.〔Evangeslista, Matthew. "Peace Studies, Volume 3". page 447. Routledge.〕 Most nations had refused to ratify such laws or agreements because of the vague or impractical wording in treaties such as the 1923 Hague Rules of Air Warfare. Also, the major powers' possession of newly developed advanced bombers was a great military advantage; they would not accept any negotiated limitations regarding this new weapon. In the absence of specific laws relating to aerial warfare, the belligerents' aerial forces at the start of World War II used the 1907 Hague Conventions — signed and ratified by most major powers — as the customary standard to govern their conduct in warfare, and these conventions were interpreted by both sides to allow the indiscriminate bombing of enemy cities throughout the war.
General Telford Taylor, Chief Counsel for War Crimes at the Nuremberg Trials, wrote that:
Article 25 of the 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions on Land Warfare also did not provide a clear guideline on the extent to which civilians may be spared; the same can be held for naval forces. Consequently, cyclical arguments, such as those advanced by Italian general and air power theorist Giulio Douhet, do not appear to violate any of the Convention's provisions.〔.Obote-Odora, Alex. "The judging of war criminals: individual criminal responsibility under international law". page 177.〕 Due to these reasons, the Allies at the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials never criminalised aerial bombardment of non-military targets and Axis leaders who ordered a similar type of practice were not prosecuted. Chris Jochnick and Roger Normand in their article ''The Legitimation of Violence 1: A Critical History of the Laws of War'' explains that: "By leaving out morale bombing and other attacks on civilians unchallenged, the Tribunal conferred legal legitimacy on such practices."
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