"Legitimate bombing target"

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David Thompson
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Post by David Thompson » 08 Mar 2005 18:44

Damas -- You wrote:
Also, we very well know that during WWII very very few cities were declared as "open". Does that mean that all the others can legaly be bombed? We also know that in order to declare a city "open" in a very fast changing war cituation you need at least an international body that would work as an intermidiary, something that didn't really exist.

This is inaccurate. The declaration of an "open city" is made unilaterally. The usual procedure is for the military commander occupying the city to withdraw all troops and weapons, and publicly declare the place an "open city." If possible, the opposing commander is formally notified of the declaration by a delegation under a flag of truce. This has been a custom of war since at least the mid-Nineteenth Century. A superficial google search turned up 9 examples for WWII:

WWII -- Paris 1940
http://www.news24.com/News24/On_this_da ... 46,00.html

WWII -- Lorient, France 1940

WWII -- Belgrade 1941
http://www.mgb.org.yu/eng/odelj/istor/i ... 3_3785.htm
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jso ... 40941.html ... y%22&hl=en

WWII -- Manila 1941
http://www.los-indios-bravos.com/englis ... st_22.html
http://wwiiradio.com/memories.html ... n&ie=UTF-8

WWII -- Rome 1944
http://www.kwanah.com/txmilmus/36divisi ... /44375.htm

WWII -- Paris 1944

WWII -- Bad Wildungen, Germany

WWII -- Florence (Firenze), Italy
http://www.forgottensoldier.com/veteran ... 62_20.html

WWII - Assisi, Italy

For some earlier examples, see:

US Civil War -- Elizabeth City, North Carolina

US Civil War -- Mobile, Alabama
http://www.siteone.com/tourist/blakeley ... istory.htm

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Juha Tompuri
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Post by Juha Tompuri » 08 Mar 2005 20:39

Damas wrote:...while Mr. Tompuri...I'm not very sure what he tries to say....
I once decided to end this " discussion" for my part, but... I try to stop here after this.
In many cases the war industry or defences were just an excuse ( they were not targetted) to attack a city and an excuse to aim to the civilians in order to acchieve maximum casualities among them instead of even trying to avoid it.

Curioso wrote:Target B is a destroyer that you have just hit with a first torpedo. It's damaged, so you are virtually sure there are wounded personnel aboard, presumably in the sick ward. If you fire another torpedo, sinking the destroyer, you are virtually sure you'll be killing some of them.

So, in both cases you are sure that the end result of your actions will be the killing of persons belonging to a class you should protect.

However, the fact that the destroyer has on board such a class of people is none of your business. The destroyer, although damaged, is a warship, a legitimate target. Until it lowers the enemy flag, it's not only your right, but also your duty to attack it. The enemy has wounded men aboard? Unfortunately, it's their responsibility, not yours.
The hospital ship, on the contrary, is in and by itself an illegitimate target.

The analogy with air warfare? The hospital ship is like Belgrade. By targeting them, the attacker commits a war crime.
The destroyer (containing wounded personnel) is like a defended city (containing civilians). Both are legitimate military targets under the laws of war. Lining wounded men, or civilians, against a wall and shooting them in the head is a war crime. Targeting a destroyer, or a defended city, is not - even though there is a virtual certainty that you'll be killing wounded sailors, or civilians. It's a phenomenon known as "war".
If the crippeld Destroyer was a bit like Dresden and the Sub captain like Arthur Harris, the result would have been the submarine concentrating it's attack to the wounded personel of the ship (civilians at the City) having the destroyer (unable to defend) sinking to be a bonus.

Damas wrote:Let me give you a problem. You have a city with a weapon producing factory. Next to the factory are two schools and two hospitals that you have identified and know they have children and civilians. You know that your bombers are not that accurate and if you drop bombs you will destroy the schools and the hospitals. What do you do
Here a sollution:

Arthur Harris wrote:“But it must be emphasized (…) that in no instance, except in Essen, were we aiming specifically at any one factory (…) the destruction of factories, which was nevertheless on an enormous scale, could be regarded as a bonus. The aiming points were usually right in the centre of the town (…) it was this densely built-up center which was most susceptible to area attack with incendiary bombs (Harris, 1947)

Best Regards, Juha

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Andy H
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Post by Andy H » 08 Mar 2005 21:07

Without wishing to be coldhearted which is more accepatable. Especially if your in charge of those forces who's mission it is to defeat them

To kill the person who manufactures the weapons or the person who uses them?

The actual symantics of targeting are all PC driven in this day and age IMO. The deaths of civilians though regretable was a cost both sides were willing to pay to win.

Andy H

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Post by Curioso » 09 Mar 2005 09:40


1. I find it quite surprising that you insistently point out that I rely on a legal interpretation of your question. Of course I do! You asked about the _legitimacy_ of a target. Do you know what "legitimate" means? Where should we turn to, if not to laws, in order to understand if a certain deed is _legitimate_ or not?
Part of the reason why I find Mr. Tompuri's approach irritating is that he constantly drags in ethical and moral considerations. Ethics and morals can't guide us in deciding if a deed is against the law. The law, instead, will guide us. You want to state that bombing a city was brutal, unethical, whatever? Go ahead, I won't object, it was. You want to state it was illegitimate? Show me the law.
You yourself say that it's unclear what Mr. Tompuri is trying to say - that's because he's obfuscating the issue, either willingly or not I cannot say. Another thing that I, personally, find irritating. Again my apologies for that.

2. The test is totally relevant. The alternative targets for the bomber commander, I'm surprised you missed it, are a defended city and an undefended city. That are the equivalents of the destroyer and the hospital ship. I shifted the environment to naval warfare because I thought that even Mr. Tompuri should be able to see that a destroyer, albeit carrying wounded sailors, cannot be considered anything else but a legitimate target; and the same goes for a defended city.
Of course it may happen that a submarine attacks a hospital ship - that is a war crime. Of course it may happen that bombers bomb an undefended city - that is a war crime. Bombing a defended city, or targeting a destroyer, are not war crimes. I hope you can now see the clear relevance of the example.

3. Now, time for your questions.
- Can an occupied city be called a "legitimate target" if it is used by enemy troops? Yes, of course. Nothing forbids that.

- Very few cities were declared "open". Does that mean that any other city was a legitimate target? The law is not totally clear on this point. In theory, there could be a city that had no AA guns, and no friendly fighter bases within range. For it to be considered an undefended city, however, the enemy should be aware of these facts (remember the Rotterdam case - what the attacker knows is what counts). This would mean a very, very efficient intelligence service. Therefore, in practice, cities that were not declared open are normally legitimate targets. Personally, I would make an exception for cities attacked on the first day of a war that began without a declaration of war (Wielun comes to mind; I don't remember the details, but maybe Helsinki does, too); these would be by definition undefended, because their country was at peace.

- Was an international body needed in order to declare an open city? No. It was an unilateral declaration. A side could declare any city as open, even in a fast-changing situation.

- There is an ammo factory surrounded by two schools and two hospitals, all buildings have been correctly identified, but the accuracy is not high enough to hit the factory and leave the other building untouched. What does the law say about it? It says, and you should know it by now, "is the factory defended by AA or fighters?". Assuming the answer is yes, the law says "go ahead and bomb". Schools and hospitals are to be respected "as far as possible" (Art. 27) (by the way, by 1944 a half of the German schools were teaching pupils in morning and afternoon shifts, because the other half had been requisitioned by the armed forces). The very fact that your bombers are inaccurate, and that you'll be therefore targeting the (defended) city block or city as a whole, exempts you from any responsibility for hitting the schools or hospitals. Now _if_ you were able to single out the buildings, and _if_ you used that ability to deliberately and knowingly hit one of the hospitals, that would be a war crime. Be aware that these are the rules for 1939-1945; they have considerably changed since.

- But what about a hostage situation, do you kill the hostages along with the kidnapper? This very example shows that you failed to understand a key point. These are the laws _of war_. They aren't meant to transform war in peace. They are meant to reduce the amount of destruction to levels that both sides find acceptable for their own interests. The first lesson to special-forces soldiers is that they are not cops, and the first lesson to hostage rescue team members is that they are not soldiers. Typically, HRTs begin to consider killing or incapacitating the kidnapper only after he has begun harming the hostages. In other words, HRTs follow a certain set of rules, and their first rule is to protect lives; they are working under peace conditions. The soldiers' rules are different; they are waging a war. That's the whole point.

4. You are correct that the way people thought in 1939 is not the same as the way we think now. Part of the reason is that we saw those photos of Hiroshima. However, the way we think now or they thought then is irrelevant. It's not a matter of what we think, it's a matter of the rules we have. This is another issue over which Mr. Tompuri's fails. He quotes random excerpts where people of the time bitch about area bombing. This shows what those people thought, for their own reasons, ethics, morals, or other (Churchill's note, for instance, was about politics and the post-war exploitation of Germany's resources, not about ethics); it does not show what their rules were. That some bomber crewmen found it satisfying to burn German cities is understandable, that many other bomber crewmen found it horrible is commendable, but neither has _any relevance_ to your question: was it _legitimate_? The answer is yes.

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Post by Damas » 09 Mar 2005 14:42

okay. Let's talk.
1. I compared your approach with that of Mr. Tompuri. He has a personal ethical approach; he says that in his first message. Is there any problem with that?
On the other hand your approach is more relevent, as you say, because it is based exactly on the laws. Okay. No problem. Personally, I prefer yours.
But I don't understand why there must be friction between you two. I don't see why you must be irritated or upset. Relax! 8) :)

2. It is obvious to me that the 1907 Hague laws are inadecuate, in parts controversial and almost impossible to implement. You see the laws as "floating" in another sphere, while actually the laws are drawn and revised according to the moral standards, the ethics of time. Mr. Tompuri makes the mistake of mixing ethics of today with laws of the past to make his point. I don't find this particularly irritating. Let's allow him to speak! We can ignore him if we don't agree with what he says, can't we?

3. To go back to your approach. You interpret the 1907 laws in your own way when the laws themselves, as I said before are inadequate.
You say that it is illegal to bomb a city that is declared "open". I could not find this in the 1907 law. Instead the law says:

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

"Undefended" is not the same as "open". The law is inadequate because it does not specify when a city is defended.
I could not find anything about "military targets", also.
Could you please point to me where the 1907 law is mentioning explicitely "open" cities and "military instalations or targets"?

Because, following this logic. I could declare my cities behind the front lines with military factories as "open" and if the enemy bombed them, I could have every right to say it was illegal and a war crime, right?

Also, I asked if "Can an occupied city be called a "legitimate target" if it is used by enemy troops?". Your quick answer is yes. I did not say that these troops defend the city. I said "used" the city. Perhaps for recuperation. And how many enemy troops are necessary to make a city "legitimate target"? And what if this city is not in the front and the enemy troops do not have any AA equipment. Is the city "defended"?

How about the:

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

I do not think that the Germans or the British or the Americans ever "warned the authorities", did they.

Or how about the:

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

This article does not say "except the cities are defended". So, the fire-bombings of Tokyo and at least the Atomic bombings fall under this category. Or we can pretend that there was no "calculation" and the "suffering" was accidental?!?!

That's all for now. Let's move on step by step on this complicated matter, if you like.

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Post by Curioso » 09 Mar 2005 15:50


1. The problem I have with Mr. Tompuri's "ethical" approach is not that it is ethical; it is that it's an "ethical" approach in a thread where the explicit question is "what makes a target _legitimate?_". Now, if you asked when it is ethical to target something, then I would be the first to recommend an ethical approach. You asked for legitimacy, that is you asked for the law, you get the law (from me), while ethics (which you get from Mr. Tompuri) is out of place. That's why I say he's obfuscating the issue.

2. You have read the Convention text. Good. That does not make you an expert in international military law, something you will certainly be aware of. Nor am I an expert, but it helps to know the context of previous and subsequent conventions and treaties, customs, precedents, tribunal decisions, and mere military history (BTW, you'll find an ongoing thread on this, the draft Hague Rules for air warfare, in the H&WC part of the forum).
I point this out for several reasons.
2a. Who are you to say that the law was "inadequate"? Mind you, I agree with you that it had been left behind by the technology, but it would be useful to know what other, more experienced people, you know, those who make a living out of international military law, have to say about it. So my humble advice to you is to be not so hasty in your judgement, when it's clear you are facing this issue for the first time and without having any scholarly preparation about it.
2b. You dug out the clause about weapons designed to cause unnecessary suffering. Unfortunately a mere reading of the text isn't enough to understand what this refers to. International laws are _customary_, and this convention is not called "Laws _and customs_ of War on Land" for nothing. The clause you mention, basically and customarily, is only intended to refer to dum-dum rounds, or, when read extensively, to explosive rounds used in anti-personnel purposes. I'm not aware of any other interpretation, which excludes any incendiary devices and the atom bombs. There is a brutal logic to it, because dum-dum rounds had as their _sole, exclusive_ purpose the fact of making wounds more serious, while incendiary devices, which undoubtedly caused sufferings, had as their first purpose the destruction of structures.
2c. The same lack of background knowledge is shown by your preoccupation that the Convention text does not mention open cities. It's true, it doesn't. But while this Convention is meant to organize and set forth existing customs of war, it has no intention to supercede previous treaties and customs. Quite the contrary (see preamble). So open cities, a traditional staple of the customs of war, are still a viable option. The fact that they were declared in several instances during WWII should tell you that the belligerents were well aware of this.
The reason why I often refer to open cities in relation with Art. 25 is that an open city is by definition an undefended city. In other cases, as I explained in my previous message, there may be room for argument. In the case of open cities, there is not, provided the side that declares them complies with its own committment, of course.
2d. The same goes for the issue about Art. 26. Yes, the bombers seldom if ever sent a warning. Unfortunately, there are several loopholes around this. The first one is that several commentators believe that sending bombers over enemy territory, where they could and often would be met by the defense and suffer casualties, is not akin to a standard artillery bombardment, where what you send in enemy territory is artillery rounds; it's more akin to an assault. You are risking your crewmen's lives just like you'd be risking your infantrymen's lives in a ground assault; so, you are exempted from giving the enemy a warning that would help him in taking out your assaulting force. Another loophole is that all of the belligerents issued initial blanket warnings. A third loophole is the "all in his power" clause.
Now before you cry that the law is inadequate because there is a loophole, please stop and think. Many, many laws have loopholes. These laws, in particular, are made by negotiation between decision-makers who represented the sovereign interests of their nations. They wanted the laws to restrict warfare up to the point where that served their country's interests, and no more. If there are loopholes ("as far as possible", "necessity of war" etc.) in these treaties it is because the signatories _wanted_ the loopholes. One could even think that they believed the laws were "adequate" because they did provide loopholes.

3. Now on to your remaining questions.
3a. Of course the presence of enemy troops in any locality automatically makes that locality defended, at least with reference to the kind of offense they can defend against. Otherwise they would forfeit their status as combatants - a military unit that does not defend? If military units in a locality are carrying out tasks that somehow make them non-combatants, they should inform the other side and ask for a local armistice, or cease-fire. Or, if they are not "defending", as soon as one lone enemy soldier shows up armed with a pen-knife, they shall raise a white flag and surrender.
3b. There is the issue of defense vs. offense, but you are wrong in putting it in terms of quantity ("how many troops"). That is totally irrelevant. If Germany chose to defend Dresden with one Staffel of night fighters against a few hundred enemy bombers, so much the worse for Germany. Otherwise, only one-on-one duels would be legitimate, and we know modern warfare is not like that. You can and indeed you should try to maximize your local numerical superiority over the enemy. If they believe they are too outnumbered, they cannot shout "not fair", but they can always surrender. On the contrary, the issue of defense vs. offense can be made with regard to quality. If a city is occupied by ground troops and they have no AA guns, and there are no fighter bases within range, the city would be undefended against air bombardment. But you'll remember I have addressed this point in my previous post, go read again that for the answer.
3c. In theory, yes, you could withdraw all your AA and fighters from your cities and state they are undefended. Unfortunately, that's not the choice that was made, was it? But apart from that, the Convention is not the end of the matter. One should read, among other things, the manuals of the individual armed forces that were meant to explain and implement the laws, for further explanation of these concepts. For instance, an Italian manual stated that the presence of ordnance made a location a military target; the presence of ordnance made defense a possibility, and therefore the location became a legitimate target. And where are you producing your ordnance if not in those cities?

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Post by Damas » 09 Mar 2005 16:03

Okay. I hear what you say. I would like very much to talk with you about this subject but I find your tone, the wording not to my personal liking. I'm sorry about that and I prefer to end this discussion from my part.
Thank you for your messages and your time.

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Post by Curioso » 14 Mar 2005 11:50

Damas wrote:Curioso:
Okay. I hear what you say. I would like very much to talk with you about this subject but I find your tone, the wording not to my personal liking. I'm sorry about that and I prefer to end this discussion from my part.
Thank you for your messages and your time.

A pity you disliked my tone. Fortunately, the facts I mentioned have no tone, and they provided you with the answers you needed. Glad to have been of help.

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