Monday, June 22, 2015

The RAF Bombing Campaign in Germany: Ethical and Strategic Considerations

The RAF Bombing Campaign in Germany: Ethical and Strategic Considerations

Conscience is but a word that cowards use, Devis'd at first to keep the strong in awe. our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.

In the aftermath of the Allied strategic bombing campaign against Germany, some 300,000to 600,000 German civilians - mostly working-class people residing in the Reich's large, urban centers - had been killed by Allied air forces. Some five to seven and one-half million non-combatants had lost their homes in an assault on sometimes undefended German cities which began on a small scale but gained intensity and fury until, in the Winter of 1945, devastating raids took place in the cities of Berlin and Dresden, killing more than sixty thousand residents and refugees fleeing the Red Army in the east. In Germany's largest cities, some 40% of the dwellings were destroyed or heavily damaged. In this four and a half year program of attacking the morale of Germany's people, Britain's RAF had contributed by far the largest share and paid a heavy price: some 55,000 aircrew were killed over Germany or German-occupied territory.1 This paper will examine the evolution of the British morale bombing campaign through an ethical perspective, including reference to the just war tradition. Ethical arguments have been posited both for and against Bomber Command's decision to bomb noncombatants, and no policy which results in even unintended collateral deaths can be made without reference to the long just war tradition which has in part come to define the warring state and its place in the moral world. Can the morale campaign be ethically justified? If the RAF and the Air Staff, which had nominal control over Bomber Command, developed a relationship between mass bombing of civilians and the surrender of the German war machine and monitored the validity of this relationship, then there may have been a legitimate rationale for breaking the long-standing ethical injunctions against killing innocents. How did the British formulate the relationship between mass bombing of urban workers, shopkeepers and other noncombatants, and surrender of the German state? This is of vital importance, for the bombing of "innocents" has long been considered a most

unmilitary endeavor, and the way in which Bomber Command articulated its morale bombing policy will reveal the extent to which strategic, doctrinal and ethical issues were explored before the campaign commenced and during its execution. We will examine the analyses which drove - or sometimes challenged - morale bombing in the RAF. If the bombing of cities such as Hamburg represented the "murderous lust of a sadistic enemy...transcending all human experience" to some German residents, we will want to understand how such a deliberate campaign was justified and sought. Indeed, were the ethical issues actually addressed inside HM Government or was the utilitarian argument window dressing for a policy without an ethical or even a rational strategic basis? In order to answer this question, we will want to determine the extent of misgivings over the morale campaign within the military and in HM Government as well as the strategic and ethical underpinnings of the campaign. The article will explore how the few opponents of area bombing framed their arguments and compare those arguments with the Bomber Command's justification of its method and strategy. Finally, we will examine briefly the nature of American differences with their British partners at Bomber Command as well as whether ethical considerations played a role, internally or in the debate over bombing strategy.

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