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The American Way of Bombing

The American Way of Bombing: Changing Ethical and Legal Norms, from Flying Fortresses to Drones

Matthew Evangelista
Henry Shue
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    The American Way of Bombing
    Book Description:

    Aerial bombardment remains important to military strategy, but the norms governing bombing and the harm it imposes on civilians have evolved. The past century has seen everything from deliberate attacks against rebellious villagers by Italian and British colonial forces in the Middle East to scrupulous efforts to avoid "collateral damage" in the counterinsurgency and antiterrorist wars of today.The American Way of Bombingbrings together prominent military historians, practitioners, civilian and military legal experts, political scientists, philosophers, and anthropologists to explore the evolution of ethical and legal norms governing air warfare.

    Focusing primarily on the United States-as the world's preeminent military power and the one most frequently engaged in air warfare, its practice has influenced normative change in this domain, and will continue to do so-the authors address such topics as firebombing of cities during World War II; the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the deployment of airpower in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya; and the use of unmanned drones for surveillance and attacks on suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and elsewhere.

    Contributors:Tami Davis Biddle, U.S. Army War College; Sahr Conway-Lanz, Yale University Library; Neta C. Crawford, Boston University; Janina Dill, University of Oxford; Charles J. Dunlap Jr., Duke University; Matthew Evangelista, Cornell University; Charles Garraway, University of Essex; Hugh Gusterson, George Mason University; Richard W. Miller, Cornell University; Mary Ellen O'Connell, University of Notre Dame; Margarita H. Petrova, Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals; Klem Ryan, United Nations, South Sudan; Henry Shue, University of Oxford

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5457-8
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: The American Way of Bombing
    (pp. 1-24)
    Matthew Evangelista

    Aerial bombardment as a form of warfare is just about 100 years old and is showing no signs of decline. In the twenty-first century the United States has deployed airpower in military missions ranging from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the “humanitarian intervention” in Libya and the surveillance and attacks on suspected terrorists by remotely piloted drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. The norms governing bombing—and particularly the harm it imposes on civilians—have evolved considerably over a century: from deliberate attacks against rebellious villagers by Italian and British colonial forces in the Middle East to...

  5. Part I. Historical and Theoretical Perspectives

    • Chapter 1 Strategic Bombardment: Expectation, Theory, and Practice in the Early Twentieth Century
      (pp. 27-46)
      Tami Davis Biddle

      Even before human flight was possible, the idea of “strategic bombing” was imagined by those who envisioned the prospect of flying beyond armies and navies—the traditional guardians of nations—and attacking an enemy’s heartland directly. As this idea evolved, two subcomponents emerged. The first argued that crucial elements of an enemy’s war economy could be identified and attacked directly, destroying the enemy’s means to carry on. The second argued that an enemy population—unprotected and untrained for war—would cope poorly when bombs began to fall. That population’s acute awareness of its vulnerability would produce societal and political chaos,...

    • Chapter 2 Bombing Civilians after World War II: The Persistence of Norms against Targeting Civilians in the Korean War
      (pp. 47-63)
      Sahr Conway-Lanz

      World War II demonstrated an enormous shift in the technological capability of the United States to bring death and destruction to the civilian populations of its enemies through aerial attack. The American air forces undertook strategic bombing campaigns that pulverized and burned numerous German and Japanese cities, culminating in the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This bombing killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. Although the massive killing of noncombatants did not provoke widespread protests or recriminations among Americans at the time, the aftermath was not a simple story of acceptance of the practice as a common and legitimate method...

    • Chapter 3 Targeting Civilians and U.S. Strategic Bombing Norms: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?
      (pp. 64-86)
      Neta C. Crawford

      United States leaders’ normative beliefs about targeting civilians with conventional strategic bombing and the practices themselves have changed dramatically over the last nearly seventy years. Specifically, before and during World War II, and to a lesser degree in Korea, military and civilian leaders believed that targeting civilians was militarily necessary and effective. Perceptions of military necessity consistently trumped the value of civilian immunity, which itself was an emerging normative belief. It was considered acceptable to deliberately target civilians and to be relatively unconcerned when civilians were harmed incidentally as “collateral damage.” Targeting civilian morale and economic infrastructure generally led to...

    • Chapter 4 The Law Applies, But Which Law? A Consumer Guide to the Laws of War
      (pp. 87-106)
      Charles Garraway

      The law is a blunt instrument. It has always been so. Law by its nature is cast in stone. While it is not, like the law of the Medes and Persians, unalterable, it is not easy to change; that requires a formal process. It is therefore an uneasy bedfellow with more informal structures such as ethics or even justice itself. These latter concepts can evolve as situations and circumstances change, while the law stands firm, in some ways a bastion in a sea of uncertainty but at other times becoming powerless against the forces of nature.

      Law and ethics have...

  6. Part II. Interpreting, Criticizing, and Creating Legal Restrictions

    • Chapter 5 Clever or Clueless? Observations about Bombing Norm Debates
      (pp. 109-130)
      Charles J. Dunlap Jr.

      For those favorably disposed toward the overthrow of oppressive regimes occasioned by the momentous events in the Arab world of early 2011, the news of the effectiveness of air attacks against the forces of a dictator threatening brutality toward his own people is a welcome development. In the wake of NATO intervention against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in March of that year, theNew York Timescited an example of what allied air power had accomplished. It quoted “a rebel spokesman using the name Aiman” who described how government tanks and artillery had been firing into the...

    • Chapter 6 The American Way of Bombing and International Law: Two Logics of Warfare in Tension
      (pp. 131-144)
      Janina Dill

      In Afghanistan and Iraq, American bombs struck their targets with spectacular precision. Yet both wars took longer and were more costly than expected. They attracted vociferous criticism for the toll they took on the populations under attack, and unambiguous political victory arguably eluded the United States. In today’s wars the problem is no longer how to hit what you aim at, but to decide what you should aim at in the first place!¹ The question arises with particular acuteness in air warfare, where attacks tend to be preceded by considerable deliberation and often require a choice between objects. Air strikes...

    • Chapter 7 Force Protection, Military Advantage, and “Constant Care” for Civilians: The 1991 Bombing of Iraq
      (pp. 145-157)
      Henry Shue

      One of the most important and insistent challenges faced during war is making legally and morally defensible judgments about the protection of civilians and the protection of one’s own forces when the two are in tension. Another challenge is weighing each of these two against military advantage. The official final report on the Persian Gulf War of 1991 offers the following murky reading of international law: “An attacker must exercise reasonable precautions to minimize incidental or collateral injury to the civilian population or damage to civilian objects, consistent with mission accomplishment and allowable risk to the attacking forces.”¹ Does this...

    • Chapter 8 Civilian Deaths and American Power: Three Lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan
      (pp. 158-172)
      Richard W. Miller

      In Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has engaged in military violence by means including extremely extensive bombing, in a broad sense that includes firing missiles and launching powerful projectiles from tanks and artillery, as well as dropping bombs. I will argue that the practice of American bombing in these countries and of the monitoring of its toll provides evidence for three related claims of deep interest to those who seek to reduce civilians’ suffering in war. The first claim is explanatory: to the extent that changes in bombing practices from earlier wars have affected the vulnerability of civilians, the...

  7. Part III. Constructing New Norms

    • Chapter 9 Proportionality and Restraint on the Use of Force: The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations
      (pp. 175-190)
      Margarita H. Petrova

      The core of international humanitarian law (IHL) is an attempt to strike a balance between the necessity of waging war effectively and doing so in a humane manner that both limits wanton destruction and protects innocent civilians against the ravages of war. We see this consideration in the first international treaty on the conduct of war, the 1868 St. Petersburg Declaration, which tries to find a threshold at which “the necessities of war ought to yield to the requirements of humanity.” More than a century later the principle of proportionality was codified in Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions...

    • Chapter 10 Toward an Anthropology of Drones: Remaking Space, Time, and Valor in Combat
      (pp. 191-206)
      Hugh Gusterson

      Compare the following two accounts of battle. The first comes from Book III of Homer’sIliad:

      When they had thus armed, each amid his own people, they strode fierce of aspect into the open space, and both Trojans and Achaeans were struck with awe as they beheld them. They stood near one another on the measured ground, brandishing their spears, and each furious against the other. Alexandrus aimed first, and struck the round shield of the son of Atreus, but the spear did not pierce it, for the shield turned its point.

      Menelaus next took aim, praying to Father Jove...

    • Chapter 11 What’s Wrong with Drones? The Battlefield in International Humanitarian Law
      (pp. 207-223)
      Klem Ryan

      Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as U.S. president on the 20th of January 2013 which, as it happened, was also Martin Luther King Day. The coincidence led a journalist to quip that Obama’s speech heralding his second term should have been titled “I have a drone.”¹ The remark nicely encapsulates the dramatic escalation in the use of drones by the United States that has occurred within the last few years, an escalation that shows no sign of abating. The practice of waging wars using drones and thereby removing one belligerent’s combatants from the “battlefield” is a...

    • Chapter 12 Banning Autonomous Killing: The Legal and Ethical Requirement That Humans Make Near-Time Lethal Decisions
      (pp. 224-236)
      Mary Ellen O’Connell

      Long before the computerization of weapons technology, humanity debated the normative acceptability of new weapons.¹ The invention of the long bow, gunpowder, airplanes, weapons of mass destruction, and so on have all raised moral and legal concerns.² Unmanned aerial combat vehicles, or drones,³ became the focus of debate when the United States used a drone to launch a missile attack that killed several people in November 2001 in Afghanistan.⁴ It was the first known use of a drone, operated from a great distance, to kill. As the debate over drones grew, another debate, on the legality and morality of autonomous...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 237-300)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 301-302)
  10. Index
    (pp. 303-316)