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The German Campaign of Misrepresentation

'Whatever is bombed in another war,' said Lord Trenchard in the House of Lords on 15 March, 1939, 'nothing we can say or do will prevent enemy propaganda from asserting that women and children are bombed intentionally, because, of course, a large number of women and children will undoubtedly be hit.' The truth of his prediction was most abundantly proved in the course of the war which began less than six months later. From the first the German re-action to our air offensive took the form of representing it as an intentional attack on women and children. The chorus of denunciation of it on this score has gone on increasing in volume to the present day.

The extracts from Hitler's speeches quoted in Chapter II included a number of references to the ruthlessness of our raids as the Germans saw them. With our methods of brutality the German propagandists contrasted the burning German desire to save non-combatants from the rigours of war. One of them, speaking on the Berlin radio on 8 August, 1941, stated that the Führer had always been in favour of a convention to prevent the bombing of civilians in the interests of humanity. He was nothing of the sort. He was in favour of it in the military interests of Germany. He wanted a particular kind of convention which would have banned the type of bombing which did not suit his book but would have left the type which did perfectly uncontrolled. His proposals of 1935 and 1936 would not have prevented the bombing of Warsaw, Rotterdam or Belgrade. They would have prevented our raids on the Ruhr. It was to rise, indeed, to the height of impudence to

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mention the Führer and regard for the interests of humanity in the same breath. What Hitler really thought upon this subject has been disclosed by one who was formerly intimate with him.

Hitler and Humanitarianism

Herr Hermann Rauschning has put it on record that shortly after the Reichstag fire (27 February, 1933) Hitler summoned him, with Gauleiter Forster, to the Reich Chancellery to discuss a report on the Danzig situation. The discussion veered round to the subject of the place of brute force in government. 'I have no choice,' said Hitler, 'I must do things that cannot be measured by the yardstick of bourgeois squeamishness. . . . The world can only be ruled by fear.' The same subject came under discussion when Rauschning saw Hitler again, in the autumn of 1933, at Danzig. 'Brutality is respected,' Hitler said. 'Brutality and physical strength. . . . The people need wholesome fear. They want to fear something. They want someone to frighten them and make them shudderingly submissive. . . . Terror is the most effective political instrument. I shall not permit myself to be robbed, of it because a lot of stupid bourgeois mollycoddles choose to be offended by it. It is my duty to make use of every means of training the German people to severity and to prepare them for war. . . . My behaviour in war-time will be no different. The most horrible warfare is the kindest. I shall spread terror by the surprise employment of all my measures. The important thing is the sudden shock of an overwhelming fear of death.' [1]

The German Army's Ethics

Hitler's sudden conversion to humanitarianism under the stress of circumstance was accompanied, it seems, by a similar change of heart in the German military hier-

1 H. Rauschning, Hitler Speaks, 1939, pp. 87, 89, 90.



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archy. The German army, the world was solemnly assured by a quisling radio commentator, has always had a code of ethics which makes it unthinkable that war should be waged unchivalrously. Here is what Max Blockzijl said from the German-controlled station at Hilversum in the autumn of 1942:

'The German people have a great military tradition which the British have not; certainly not so far as the army is concerned. The German professional officers, who were always very numerous in Germany, stick particularly to their code of honour and chivalry. The English commanders are mostly dilettantes and are hastily recruited, under the pressure of emergency, from the most varied group of the population. They don't know the moral scruples which a German commander possesses as an inborn gift.' Hence, said Blockzijl, the Royal Air Force's attacks on women and children, hospitals, churches, historical buildings and monuments, whereas the Germans attacked only military objectives. If the Luftwaffe did bomb even industrial objectives, which he doubted, 'it was exclusively a retaliation measure, reprisals after endless warnings.' [1]

It is true that the German people have 'a great military tradition' and a numerous class of professional officers. How far have these assets served to assure humane treatment of enemy civilians? The answer will be apparent to anyone who has studied military history. In 1870 the German commander refused a request that the bombardment of Paris should be restricted to the Festungswerke. A similar practice was adopted at Péronne, and the result of a general bombardment of that town was that it was speedily captured. A regular investment (Belagerung), says a German professor, [2] a who approves the ruthless procedure

1 Quoted in Aeronautics, November, 1942, p. 63.

2 Dr. Heilbron of Breslau, article on Deutsch-Französicher Krieg in Strupp, Wörterbuch des Völkerrechts, 1924, pp. 232-3.


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adopted, would have cost 1,000 to 1,500 casualties to the besieged and 3,000 to 4,000 to the besiegers. These were reduced to a few hundred men, he states; he does not mention the fact that this saving of life was really effected by the expedient of intimidating the civilian population.

Psychological Bombardment

It was an example, in fact, of 'psychological bombardment', or, as the French jurists term it, pression psychologique, that is, bombardment of an invested town as a whole for the purpose of inducing the inhabitants to put pressure on the defending commander to surrender. Such a practice, say MM. Bonfils and Fauchille in their standard treatise, was first adopted by the Germans in the war of 1870-71. It subsequently became an accepted but regretted usage of war, as both Oppenheim and W. E. Hall admit in the works on International Law. It was roundly condemned from the first by the great German jurist, Bluntschli, who described it as 'entirely immoral'. 'It provokes hatred and vengeance,' he said, 'but has no decisive result.' [1] It is a strange turn of fate that Bluntschli's objection to, the practice,—and it is still the practice of the German army and air force, as Warsaw and Rotterdam prove—should have been resurrected by the present generation of Germans and twisted to apply to the much less questionable operation represented by the strategic bombing raid.

It was the argument used, for instance, by Suendermann, the deputy press chief in Berlin, in a talk with neutral journalists on 4 March, 1943. The 'terror raids' which, he said, the British had begun and to which Hitler had made no reply for six months, would never break the morale of the German civil population. He calmly ignored

1 Bonfils-Fauchille, Traité de Droit International, 8th Edition, Tome II, § 1197.


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the fact that the main purpose of our air offensive is to interfere with German war-production. In assuming that it was aimed only at morale-breaking he elevated a quite subsidiary and incidental result—it is not really a purpose—into the highest place and made use of an argument which was a valid objection to the German practice of psychological bombardment but not—except in a negligible degree—to our raiding of German armament centres.

The Bolshevising of War

Rather belatedly, German propaganda made the great discovery that the strategic air offensive was really the result of the Bolshevisation of war. The National Zeitung of Essen (Goering's paper) declared at the end of April, 1943:

'This war has taken on a new aspect which is represented above all by Bolshevism. The Bolshevisation of the war proves that the principle of terror, by which Bolshevism directs its internal policy, has become a method of warfare too. The manner in which the British and Americans plan and carry out their terror raids on German towns shows that these countries are under the influence of Bolshevism in many spheres. Today they are already Bolshevised, above all in one sphere, that of fighting ethics.' [1]

Only Teutonic incapacity to see any other view than the Teutonic could have been blind to the truth that Nazi domination is founded on terror, too, and that Germany has never scrupled to resort to frightfulness when it was necessary for a military end.

'Stop Bombing Civilians'

It is not to be supposed that all those whose consciences are troubled by the 'bombing of civilians' are either pro-Nazis or insincere and unpatriotic people. They are, most of them, people of high character, and they have the cour-

1 The Times, 30 April, 1943.


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age of their convictions. It is necessary to add, however, that they are misinformed people. They have not studied all the facts. They have formed their conclusions on ex pane evidence. A good example of the arguments which they rely upon is to be found in the pamphlet Stop Bombing Civilians! published by the 'Bombing Restriction Committee' whose address is 49 Parliament Hill, London, N.W.3, and whose purpose is thus set forth at the beginning of the pamphlet:

'To urge the Government to stop violating their declared policy of bombing only military objectives and particularly to cease causing the death of many thousands of civilians in their homes.'

The indictment is incorrectly drawn. The Government are not violating their declared policy. It was definitely stated by Captain Harold Balfour, the Under-Secretary of State for Air, in the House of Commons on 11 March, 1943, that we were still bombing only military objectives. 'I can give the assurance,' he told the House, 'that we are not bombing the women and children of Germany wantonly. If in the pursuit of our objective the German civilian population have to suffer, it is not our fault.' This, it will be seen, was a specific denial of the assertion that we were no longer aiming at military objectives and that we were attacking towns indiscriminately. I believe that denial to be correct, and I have at my disposal information which could not be available to the Bombing Restriction Committee.

The Committee weaken their case, first and in general, by overstating it, secondly, and in particular, by failing to distinguish between the two classes of 'civilians' whose positions must be differentiated if a discussion of the problem is to lead anywhere. They do admit that the civilians working in munition factories which are attacked are bound inevitably to suffer. They do not appear, however,

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to appreciate the necessary implications of that admission, and in any event they do not see, apparently, that transport workers are also in a special position.

To speak of the 'bombing of civilians' without qualification is really to confuse the issue. One must define one's terms. The old clear distinction between soldiers and civilians has been obscured. That is not to say that the whole population of an enemy country is subject to attack. Indiscriminate bombing is certainly not justifiable. The point to be remembered is that there is a difference between the civilians who are engaged in definitely warlike activities and those who are not. It is the latter who have a claim to immunity, not the former. The people who make and transport war material are, to the opposing belligerent, active, dangerous enemies. He is as fully entitled to try to put them out of action as if they were commissioned or enlisted soldiers. They are in fact warriors. The fact that they wear no uniform is immaterial. They are in no proper sense of the word non-combatants.

The change which the coming of flight has brought about is that these people, these warriors, can now be attacked even though an army stands between them and the invader. Another change has come to pass also. Today the weapons of war are made by millions of workers, men and women, in thousands of factories. Total war cannot be waged unless there are huge agglomerations of warriors on the home front. All these persons must be considered to be engaged in the preliminary process of the pre-fabricated battle to which reference has been made in Chapter IV.

Professor Rolland on Munition Workers


The view that such persons cannot be regarded as non-combatants is not a new one invented specially by Great Britain for the purpose of justifying the strategic air offensive against Germany. It was formulated nearly thirty


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years ago by a very eminent authority on International Law, a French professor. Professor Rolland of Nancy pointed out in 1916 that armament workers 'occupy a position intermediate between the combatants proper and the non-combatants who are still employed on their peacetime trades and professions. The reasons for sparing them are losing force. Fundamentally they are almost in exactly the same position as the men of the auxiliary services of the armies, and the latter are certainly legitimate objects of attack.' [1]

Professor Rolland made no mention of transport workers, but there is little doubt that he would have included them, at least so far as they were engaged in the conveying of armaments, in the category of workers who cannot be regarded as true non-combatants. Every argument which supports the inclusion of the makers of armaments in that category applies with no less force to the inclusion of those who convey to the armies or other forces the products of the factories. By no logical process of reasoning can the drivers, firemen, shunters, pointsmen and others who handle the rail traffic within the Krupps works at Essen and who, while doing so, are clearly not distinguishable from the men who make the armaments there, be considered to acquire a new and different status as soon as they have worked the trains out of the factory yards. It is a question, indeed, whether transportation is not more important than manufacture of armaments in modern war.

Transport Workers

Dr. Goebbels wrote in Das Reich in May, 1943: 'The outstanding problem of the war is mobility. The side which is able to send its troops and material to the battlefield of the moment in the most favourable circumstances

1 L. Rolland, Les Pratiques de la Guerre Aérienne dans le Conflit de 1914, et le Droit des Gens, in Revue de Droit International, Paris, 1916, p. 554.


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will win.' [1] That statement was, in effect, an admission of the necessity for and legitimacy of the Anglo-American raids on railway targets in Germany and German-occupied territories. How sustained and effective those raids have become was explained in an Air Ministry Bulletin dated 7 June, 1943.

It detailed the railway centres attacked during the month of May in France and Belgium as well as the results of the intruder operations against trains in the Low Countries, France and Germany. It showed how traffic had been dislocated by such attacks as those of the American bombers on the locomotive repair shops of Lille-Hellemmes on 13 January, 1943, and of our Lancasters on the Le Creusot works on 7 October, 1942. The result was that no repair work had been done in the two works since these raids up to the end of May. The final section of the Bulletin was as follows:

'Although little specific information is available about the German locomotive position, it seems clear that the improvement anticipated by the Germans this summer has not so far materialised. The principal reason for this is that the great building programme has fallen behind schedule. Part of the delay in fulfilling the programme may be ascribed to air raids on Henschels at Kassel, Krupps at Essen, Schneiders at Le Creusot, Fives-Lille, Batignolles at Nantes, Cockerill at Liège, the Lingen, Paderborn and Julich repair shops; and damage to the Duisburg and Düsseldorf sheds. In addition to the number of engines that have been destroyed by Fighter and Army Co-operation Commands, the damage to railway repair shops or locomotive depots in raids on Berlin, Essen, Munich, Nuremberg, Trier and Thionville, besides destroying engines, has been sufficiently heavy to reduce repair capacity at the shops for some time; the congestion at shops

1 Quoted in The Times, 22 May, 1943.


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which have not been attacked is such as to make impossible the complete transfer of work normally carried out in the damaged shops. It can be stated that the German locomotive position has clearly deteriorated and must be one of acute anxiety.'

The Real Non-Combatants

Armament and transport workers, as well as all the civilians enrolled in the service of passive defence—the fire-fighters, the fire-watchers, the rescue parties, the demolition squads—cannot be classed otherwise than as warriors in the new kind of war in which their work is as essential and, in principle, as warlike as that of the soldiers, sailors and airmen. No one would waste tears on them if they alone were the sufferers in the air attacks. Unfortunately, there are other victims whose connection with hostilities is too remote to justify their being brought into the same category and whom in any event it is neither the desire nor the interest of an enemy to kill or mutilate. No chivalrous airman wants to slaughter grandmothers or babies. The tragedy is that he may do so in trying to put the others out of action. It is an unintended, horrible, pitiable incident of war, but to say that is not to condemn air bombardment.

The justification of air bombardment is that it is essentially defensive in purpose. You kill and destroy to save yourself from being killed or destroyed. You can do so not merely on the field of battle, as in the older war, but wherever the arms which would have been used in the field are being made or conveyed. That is the case for the bombing of centres of war-production and transportation. Is it not possible that the secret of flight was given to man so that the weapons of war should perish?

There would in fact be no case against bombing if as great a degree of precision were possible as was thought

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at one time to be practicable. Conditions have changed even since Mr. Chamberlain explained in the House of Commons on 21 June, 1938, the view of the Government of the permissible limits of air attack. Deliberate attack on the civilian population was unlawful, but military targets might be bombed if they could be identified and if reasonable care were taken not to bomb civilians in their neighbourhood. It has become impossible to comply with these conditions to the full. Targets are no longer identifiable because belligerents have taken good care that they should not be identifiable. They have not only adopted the most elaborate schemes of camouflage but, as I have shown in Chapter IV, have protected all centres of war-production with very powerful defences. It would be suicide, normally, for a bomber formation to approach its target at a height at which precision of aim would be certain. The swift darting raids of such machines as the Mosquitoes or the fighter-bombers can be made at low heights, but they are not the raids which cause the heavy losses.



Air Attack and Submarine Attack


Should not bombing of populated centres then be abandoned? To do so would certainly save the lives of many whom it is no advantage to a belligerent to kill; on the contrary, it is better that, being 'useless mouths' in a blockaded country, they should live. To spare them might mean, however, that the lives of one's own fighting men were sacrificed. It is to save these men's lives to put a war-plant out of operation or to stop a trainload of munitions from reaching the front. And why should the enemy civilians have priority of consideration over our own civilians on the sea? The latter are killed in their hundreds by the U-boats which it is one of the objects of the air offensive to prevent from being built. It is a question of setting one tragedy against another.


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A liner with many passengers on board is torpedoed in the North Atlantic. Those who are not killed or drowned when she is hit or sinks take to the boats and drift perhaps for days in the Arctic cold, to perish after indescribable sufferings. They may include women and children. That tragedy would have been prevented if the particular U-boat which caused it had been smashed by our bombers while it was being built or after its completion. To have smashed it would have endangered the lives of the wives and children of the shipyard workers at the place of construction in Germany. A tragedy there might have averted the later tragedy of the sea. The lives of the German noncombatants who perish in an air attack are not more precious than those of our own non-combatants who would have had to pay the price of any forbearance shown by our airmen. It must not be forgotten, moreover, that the bombing of an urban factory engaged in war-production is not unlawful, [1] which the German technique of submarine warfare definitely is. [2]

1 The late Lord Birkenhead in his International Law, 6th Edition, edited by R. Moelwyn-Hughes, 1927, p. 205, referring to the evidence afforded by the events of the last war that 'the progressive doctrine of the distinction between armed forces and the civilian population is in danger of disappearing', quotes without expressing dissent Oppenheim's attribution of this to four causes, one of which Lord Birkenhead states thus:

'The employment of airships and aeroplanes for bombing not only troops and military fortifications but also lines of communications, factories and bridges outside the theatre of war—a mode of violence which it would be vain to consider illegal, and which cannot but result, especially when conducted at night, in injury to the civil population.'

2 Part IV of the London Naval Treaty of 1930 prohibited the sinking, or the rendering incapable of navigation, of a merchant vessel unless the passengers, crew and ship's papers were first placed in safety. When the Treaty was otherwise due to expire in 1936, the United States, Great Britain (for herself and the Dominions and India), France, Italy and Japan signed in London on 6 November, 1936, a Protocol incorporating Part IV of the Treaty, which Part thus remained in force. Germany acceded to this Protocol in 1936. (Oppenheim, International Law, 6th Edition, edited by H. Lauterpacht, 1940, § 194A).


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The Archbishop of York on Bombing

Dr. Garbett, the Archbishop of York, had some wise things to say on this subject in the York Diocesan Leaflet in June, 1943. He had been asked, he said, to join in protests against the bombing of German and Italian towns. He gave some reasons for his not being able to consent. 'The real justification for continuing this bombing is that it will shorten the war and may save thousands of lives. Those who demand the suspension of all bombing are advocating a policy which would condemn many more of our soldiers to death, and would postpone the hour of liberation which will alone save from massacre and torture those who are now in the power of the Nazis.'

'Often in life,' the Archbishop went on, 'there is no clear choice between absolute right and wrong; frequently the choice has to be made, of the lesser of two evils, and it is a lesser evil to bomb a war-loving Germany than to sacrifice the lives of thousands of our own fellow-countrymen who long for peace and to delay delivering millions now held in slavery. . . . However much we may deplore the sufferings of the civilian population and the destruction of their homes, and of beautiful buildings, we must continue to use our superiority in the air as a means of ending the war as speedily as we can, and then build up some strong central international order which will by force maintain peace until it is willingly accepted by all the nations.' [1]

A German Admission

There was in Germany, when it suited Germany's purpose, no hesitation to admit that the bombing of military objectives might have as an incidental consequence the injuring of civilian life and property, but that it was not the less lawful on that account. A German professor who

1 The Times, 25 June, 1943.

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wrote an apologia for the German air force in the last war emphasised the impracticability of ensuring complete immunity for women and children in air warfare. 'Germany cannot be reproached for killing women and children,' he said, 'because an airman cannot compute the exact spot on which he intends his missiles to strike. It is in accord with the tragic consequences of war that here, too, the innocent must suffer with the guilty.' [1]

The Toll of Blockade

Lamentable as is the killing of non-combatants proper when an industrial centre is bombed, the tragedy must be viewed not in isolation but against the sombre background of war. Some critics of bombing policy appear to lose perspective in this matter. They discuss the question without regard to certain other incidents of war and almost as if it were one which could be decided according to the standards applicable to preventible disasters in peace. That is to misconceive the whole situation. War is war, and it is horrible. The loss of civilian life which bombing causes is almost trivial in comparison with that due to blockade. In the war of 1914-18 the excess civilian mortality, as compared with the normal, amounted in Germany to about 700,000, while the deficit in the birth-rate in the four years was about 2,900,000. These figures compared with an excess mortality of 250,000 and a decrease in births of 600,000 in Britain during the four years. The difference between the German and the British figures must be attributed in large part to the action of the blockade. [2] History seems to be repeating itself in the present war. Some very significant statistics were published in Germany and summarised in The Times of 24 May, 1943.

1 Muller-Meiningen, Zusammenbruch des Völkerrechts, quoted by J. W. Garner, International Law in the World War, 1920, Vol. I, p. 488, note.

2 S. Dumas and K. O. Vedel-Peterson, Loss of Life Caused by War, Copenhagen, English translation, 1923, pp. 133-4.


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They showed that in the large towns of Germany, containing a population of 24,500,000, infant mortality per 1000 live births was 59 in 1941 and 69 in 1942; the rate for England and Wales in 1942 was 49. That difference of 20 per 1,000 births between the two countries must be attributed mainly to the strangle-hold of our blockade. The mortality for the whole population of Germany was 24 per cent higher in 1942 than in 1939. Deaths from tuberculosis and some other diseases rose substantially. The birthrate showed a dramatic fall; there were 80,000 fewer births in the large towns of Germany in 1942 than in 1940. For the whole of Germany the drop in the birth-rate indicated a loss of approximately 550,000 live births in 1942 as compared with 1939-40. It is hardly too much to say that these dry statistics are the tragic sign of a nation dying in the grip of sea power. Air power could never reap such a terrible harvest. Do those critics who devote so much attention to our bombing policy ever think of this other accompaniment or consequence of war?

The Military Balance Sheet

It is not uncommon for the critics, when baffled in their attempt to arraign strategic bombing on the humanitarian or ethical plane, to fall back on the argument of military expediency. Bombing, they sometimes assert, is not a profitable undertaking, in view of the heavy losses suffered by the raiders and the comparatively small extent of the damage which they can inflict upon a country geared for total war. Civilians are killed and mutilated but the enemy's war-potential is not seriously affected. That is a completely mistaken view. There is not a shadow of doubt that the strategic offensive conducted by Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force and the Bomber Command of the United States 8th Army Air Force is a militarily profitable undertaking. That being so, it is hardly reason-

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able to ask them as belligerents to forego the use of a mode of warfare against which the only remaining argument that can be urged is the humanitarian or ethical one. Such an argument has never been held to prevail against military interest. If the results of the employment of a weapon or a method of warfare are worth-while, belligerents will not be prepared to discard them. Only where they are not worth-while, that is, where giving up the use of them does not matter very much, has the humanitarian objection won the day. That was why explosive bullets were banned in the Declaration of St. Petersburg, whereas the larger projectiles remain lawful. To expect States as powerful in the air as we and the United States now are to abandon bombing, at all events during the current war, is to expect a miracle. It simply will not happen.

A Disclaimer

Let me end this chapter with a disclaimer, to prevent any possibility of misunderstanding. I seem in it to have been exalting military expediency and discounting the humane motive. I should like to make it clear that I am very far indeed from advocating anything in the nature of frightfulness in air warfare. 'War is cruelty,' Sherman—a humane man—told the citizens of Atlanta, 'and you cannot refine it.' To suppose that it can be anything else than cruelty is to dwell in cloud-cuckoo-land. But it, need not be wanton, brutal cruelty. There is a tendency in some quarters to regard as an unpractical idealist anyone who urges moderation in war. Well, great captains of the past have not been afraid to urge moderation.

Total war is not total destruction. Apparently some people in this country think it is, or that it should be. I have mentioned the 'Stop Bombing Civilians' cry. It is right and proper to mention also the 'Don't Stop Bombing Civilians' cry. It was uttered raucously by a Sunday jour-

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nal [1] a few days after Captain Harold Balfour had assured the House of Commons that we were not bombing the women and children of Germany wantonly. The paper had no patience with that sort of namby-pamby attitude to the question. In a leading article headed 'Apologies with our Bombs' it wanted to know why we were so solicitous for the civil population in the Reich. It was right that the German civilians should 'smell death at close quarters.' 'Now they are getting the stench of it.' That was excellent—if only our Government were not too much inclined to be merciful. By implication, if not in so many words, the paper called for the indiscriminate bombing of towns in Germany.


Most earnestly do I deprecate that sort of approach to this terribly grave and difficult problem. It is unworthy of the cause for which we and the other United Nations are in arms. That cause is, after all, the cause of humanity and of the individual's rights. It would not be consistent with our high purpose to hold that even in total war the individual life matters nothing, so long as an ulterior end can be attained. To slaughter and mutilate simply to impress upon the civil population the inadvisability of countenancing aggressive war would be, I suggest, to stain the sword of democracy.

The paper from which I have quoted above stated that the view which it propounded was that of the British public. I do not believe it is. I am certain it is not the view of the Royal Air Force. The officers and men of that great Service are realists. They know that war cannot be waged with kid gloves, that terrible things must happen in it, that the killing and wounding of innocent people cannot always be avoided. But they take no pleasure in the deliberate slaying or mutilating of the helpless, and most certainly they do not gloat over the sufferings of their victims. They are in fact far less bloodthirsty than some whose activities are less intimately connected with the tragic realities of modern war.


1 Sunday Dispatch, 14 March, 1943.