The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg

The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg

Author:Daniel Ellsberg
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing




Bombing Cities

Where did the road to doomsday begin?138

The fission-bomb mechanism that made it possible was first envisioned by theoretical physicists. It was then tested in the desert at Alamogordo, New Mexico. Its potential was finally revealed to the world in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But before that, when and how did it become possible to imagine that setting fire to cities and burning civilians from the sky was not only an acceptable but also a necessary way to wage war? What change in consciousness transformed what had previously been regarded as an unspeakable war crime into the official policy of the world’s leading democracies?

That change preceded the formal dawn of the nuclear era, but it relied on two crucial developments, which happened to converge in World War II: first, the belief by some militarists that airpower was the key to victory; and second, the increasing willingness by civilian leadership and air commanders to regard cities—which is to say, civilian populations—as legitimate military targets. Each of those developments has its own particular history.

The beginning of World War II in Europe provides an available benchmark as to what the conscience of humanity up to that time deemed natural and reasonable when it came to waging war. On September 1, 1939, the day Hitler invaded Poland—marking the official outbreak of World War II—President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed this appeal to all the belligerent states:

The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians139 in unfortified centers of population during the course of the hostilities which have raged in various quarters of the earth during the past few years, which have resulted in the maiming and death of thousands of defenseless men, women and children, has sickened the hearts of civilized men and women and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.

If resort is had to this form of human barbarism during the period of the tragic conflagration with which the world is now confronted, hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings who have no responsibility for, and who are not even remotely participating in, the hostilities which have now broken out, will lose their lives.

I am therefore directing this urgent appeal to every Government which may be engaged in hostilities publicly to affirm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities, upon the understanding that these same rules of warfare will be scrupulously observed by all of their opponents. I request an immediate reply.

The very next day, Britain (before it had formally declared war on Germany) gave that affirmation, declaring that the British and French would “conduct hostilities with a firm desire140 to spare the civilian population” and had already sent explicit instructions to the commanders of their armed forces prohibiting the bombardment “of any except strictly military objectives in the narrowest sense of the word.”

This was shortly followed by a similar agreement from Germany. In fact, none of these governments, at


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