Aerial Bombardment of Civilian Populations

August 11, 1938

Report Outline
Menace to Cities of Aerial Bombing
Aerial Bombardment in International Law
Aerial Bombardment in Practice
Legal and Practical Defences Against Air Bombing

Menace to Cities of Aerial Bombing

The conscience of the world has been shocked repeatedly during: the last six years by the killing and maiming of tens of thousands of women and children in aerial bombardments of open cities. The round-the-world flight of Howard Hughes and recent transatlantic flights including the nonstop voyage of a 24-passenger German transport plane from Berlin to New York, have brought home to civilians everywhere the realization that no city is immune from possible aerial attack.

Diplomats of the world have failed almost completely to write any international convention or agreement which might call a halt to the menace of bombs dropped on civilians from airplanes. Since the first convention with respect to aerial bombing expired in 1904, a number of international conferences have discussed the subject, but no new agreement has been ratified, and efforts directed toward the limitation of air armaments have met with no success. Authoritative protests have come recently from many countries, but the existence of war in Spain and China virtually destroys any possibility of international agreement at the present time. All of the major powers are actively engaged in building up their air forces, with special emphasis on bombers, and the technical performance of bombing planes is still being rapidly improved.

Military experts, however, are beginning to question the strategic value of bombing civilians. Repeated air attacks have failed to subdue such cities as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Canton. Airplane bombing may have played some part in the capture of Bilbao and Shanghai, but instead of weakening the morale of civilian populations, bomb attacks seem to have strengthened the will to resist in most cases.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Ethics in War
Jul. 13, 2012  Privatizing the Military
Aug. 06, 2010  Drone Warfare Updated
May 2010  Confronting Rape as a War Crime
Jan. 2010  Truth Commissions
Feb. 27, 2009  Closing Guantánamo Updated
Jul. 2008  Child Soldiers
Sep. 2007  Torture Debate
Aug. 25, 2006  Treatment of Detainees
Apr. 18, 2003  Torture
Dec. 13, 2002  Ethics of War
Sep. 13, 2002  New Defense Priorities
Jul. 07, 1995  War Crimes
Apr. 26, 1972  Status of War Prisoners
Oct. 07, 1970  Military Justice
Jul. 12, 1967  Treatment of War Prisoners
Dec. 03, 1952  War Prisoner Repatriation
Sep. 07, 1948  War Trials and Future Peace
Jul. 07, 1945  Enemy Property
Nov. 20, 1943  Courts-Martial and Military Law
Mar. 15, 1943  War Guilt Trials
Mar. 30, 1942  War Atrocities
Feb. 02, 1942  Prisoners of War
Aug. 11, 1938  Aerial Bombardment of Civilian Populations
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Arms Control and Disarmament
International Law and Agreements
War and Conflict