In his 1944 book, Bombing Vindicated, former Principal Secretary of the Air Ministry J.M. Spaight, revealed that on May 11, 1940 the British government had commenced unrestricted bombing of German cities, known as “The Splendid Decision,” to which the Germans responded in kind. Spaight traces this decision to 1936 when Bomber Command was organized, with “the whole raison d’ etre of Bomber Command was to bomb Germany should she be our enemy.” Visiting Germany as a military observer during the Franco-Prussian War, General Philip Sheridan, known for his brutal devastation of Americans in the Shenandoah Valley, was surprised that the Germans did not starve and torch their French enemies. By 1940, they had learned Sheridan’s lesson.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Principles of International Justice Left in Ruins
“Nothing better illustrates how hell may be paved by good intentions which crumble than the war-crimes trials themselves. No doubt many who supported them were motivated by primitive Mongol demands for the massacre of defeated enemies, by “scientific” Marxian precepts which called for the liquidation of elements that could not be assimilated into a proletarian and totalitarian society, and by a purely vindictive desire for revenge.
On the other hand, many sincerely believed that the trial and punishment of men, many of whom had certainly been guilty of ordering or permitting unspeakable and boundless cruelties, would both reduce the prospect of future wars and make any that did take place more humane and restrained. During the Second World war, even Germany and Russia, despite their mass butcheries in the war in the East, refrained from using such lethal weapons, already in plentiful reserve, as poison gas and disease germs, for fear of possible retaliation.
The war-trials, by making it crystal clear that the losers will, henceforth, be subjected to such trials, regarded as aggressors whether they were or not (it was not emphasized at Nurnberg that England and France declared war on Germany), and be hanged or subjected to long prison terms, whether guilty as charged or not, made it inevitable that all the restraints that survived the Second world war would be thrown to the winds in the third – as even the limited war in Korea has demonstrated.
Since nothing worse can happen to a national war leader than to be disgraced, tortured and hanged, if defeated, there is no logical psychological reason for failing to throw in everything which may promise victory, however lethal and barbarous.
By 1952, the only belief of the early post-war years which still survived more or less unshaken was the belief that the Second World War had at least resulted in the establishment of new international standards of justice. As we have seen, as late as March 1951, the then British attorney-general, Sir Hartley Shawcross, was able, without making himself ridiculous, to put forward a moving appeal that what he called the principles of international justice established at Nurnberg should not be undermined for purposes of political expediency.
This comforting belief remained unshaken until it was reported in July 1952, that the Chinese Communists had indicated an intention to subject in due course certain of their prisoners of war captured in the Korean campaign to war-trials carried out “in accordance with the principles established by the international military tribunals of Nurnberg and Tokyo.”
In thousands of homes on both sides of the Atlantic the matter ceased to be an academic problem whether certain more or less worthy or unworthy foreigners had been unjustly condemned a few years before.
The anxious relatives of the British and American soldiers, sailors and airmen serving in Korea – and of those in the armed forces who might later be called upon to serve in Korea – had no difficulty in foreseeing what would be the result of war-trials carried out “in accordance with the Nurnberg principles.” All the illusions on this subject instantly vanished.
What may be regarded as the obituary notice of the Nurnberg war-trials was pronounced by Ex-Lord Chancellor Maugham in a letter to the London Times of July 25, 1952. “The Nurnberg Tribunal,” declared Lord Maugham, “never purported to lay down “principles” for all mankind.”
Perhaps it was always an unreasonable hope that the British Air Ministry’s “Splendid Decision” of May 11, 1940, would result in the establishment of any principles. The eighteen Whitley bombers which left England on that memorable spring night, in what now seems the remote past, did not set forth to establish principles.
The bombs which they dropped in the darkness on the countryside of Westphalia may, indeed, by chance have hit railway installations. Perhaps it is best to regard this historic air raid as a symbolic act, unconnected with corpses or debris, which left behind it in ruins nothing more substantial than the principles of civilized warfare that had been established in Europe for over two hundred years.
Similarly, the war-trials which were the outcome of that perhaps equally splendid decision taken at the Tehran Conference in 1943, did not, as we are now informed, lead to the establishment of any new principles of justice. Perhaps some day it may become generally agreed that, without establishing any new principles of justice, the war-trials actually left in ruins the principles of justice which had been accepted without question by all civilized peoples for many centuries.
Indiscriminate bombing invincibly linked warfare with barbaric military practices and ghastly mortality. All this would be intensified by the extensive use of guided missiles in later wars. The war-crimes trials at Nurnberg, Tokyo and elsewhere linked postwar procedures with juristic barbarism and made mandatory the utilization of the most savage methods of warfare in order to avert defeat and judicial lynching.”
(Advance to Barbarism, F.J.P. Veale, C.C. Nelson Publishing Company, 1953, pp. 293-297)