Throughout the history of the United States there have been many significant wars and battles fought. Some have been fought on the home soil of the nation; others have been fought on and in foreign lands. During each of these wars or battles the United Sates maintained a common practice of not targeting civilian populations. While at times supply lines or critical infrastructure were targeted, the specific targeting of civilians for the purpose of inflicting bodily harm or death was avoided at all costs. This all changed during World War II. As a result of the tactics being utilized by Germany and Japan, the military leaders and the policy makers of the United States began to alter course and adopt the strategy of Total Warfare just as their adversaries had.
This shift in policy was not immediate and over time became accepted by the citizens of the United States as more and more acts of aggression by the enemy were perpetrated. Citizens and leaders of the United States became more and more accepting of the fact that violent acts of war were going to continue and therefore any means necessary to end the aggression should be employed, including Total Warfare. It is this shift in attitude that presents specific questions in relations to the acts of Total Warfare carried out by the United States and fellow belligerents during World War II.
Question number one is, “Are deliberate attacks against civilians’ legitimate acts of war?” This question not only includes attacks that are of the physical nature, it also addresses the use of psychological warfare or attacks against civilians. The deliberate attacking of civilians as legitimate acts during war utilizing aggressive means such as bombings and prisoner capture can be legitimate so long as the reason behind it can be supported both morally and legally. The legality issue arises from the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. These conventions addressed the issue of war and put in place specific rules when engaged in combat. Unfortunately, these conventions only dealt with existing technology at the time to include land and sea maneuvers. Air striking capabilities had yet to be invented.
Opportunities were provided to address air strikes and apply rules to them; however few were interested in signing treaties or recognizing the 1923 Hague Rules of Air Warfare because of advancements in bombers and technology. Leaders within the military, as well as leaders of the allied nations did not wish to lose a tactical advantage. The conclusion of the Nuremberg Trials resulted in a declaration that Total Warfare has become a standard practice of war now.
From the standpoint of legality, use of psychological methods as well as military methods of warfare against civilians can be legal and legitimate. Psychological warfare is a relatively new method of warfare. Up until World War II the United States had engaged in very little psychological warfare. The contemporary PSYOP doctrine of the United...