The American bombing of Tokyo (March 1945) and Hiroshima (August 1945) were war crimes (see addendum) promoted by President Truman. Both raids were criminal because the slaughter of civilians was intentional. Civilian deaths occur during bombing raids. They are unavoidable collateral damage. They are not a legal issue. Intentionality is the sole criterion here. The purpose of both raids was the slaughter of civilians. Both Tokyo and Hiroshima were destroyed to intimidate the Japanese government. Worse, President Truman, the US Commander-in-Chief, used the A-Bomb as a weapon of vengeance. Truman wanted to punish the Japanese people*. The US air force, in Spring 1945, had ‘open skies’ because the Japanese didn’t have adequate air defences. The air raids on Tokyo and Hiroshima were a merciless demonstration of total military superiority with outcomes that were certain.
Every aspect of the raids was intentional. Tokyo was a largely wooden city, which is why fire-bombing was employed. The fire-bombing slaughtered circa 88-125,000 people on the night of 9-10 March, 1945 with a further million rendered homeless. It was a war crime and a crime against humanity. Burning Tokyo to the ground didn’t end the war. Hiroshima was a further demonstration of the futility of resistance. Hiroshima was destroyed on the 6th August, 1945 with a single bomb. This raid is iconic not because of death and destruction, which was commonplace, but because one plane and one bomb obliterated the city.
Operation Meetinghouse was the code name for the destruction of Tokyo. 334 planes set off but only 279 planes dropped fire-bombs. Every pilot knew and understood the plan. The first planes created fires and those following dropped fire-bombs into the flames intensifying the carnage. People were the target: factories, railways, army units (or whatever**) were the new collateral damage. This is archetypal criminality. Nobody was prosecuted because America won the war. Could any of the pilots have done any differently than fulfil their duty? Air force pilots obey orders. Disobedience is a breach of military law for which there are severe penalties. At the Nuremberg Trials obeying orders didn’t relieve responsibility when those orders are criminal. But then Germany lost.
The bombing of Hiroshima differed from Tokyo not in outcomes but because it’s possible to identify who launched the A-Bomb. This criminal action can be identified as belonging to Captain Tibbets who released the A-bomb. The bombing of Hiroshima was filmed by the US air force***. They were proud of their technology and the scale of the consequential slaughter. All of this accurately reflected the opinions of their Commander-in-Chief. Tibbets returned to base as a hero and was immediately decorated. None of the participants felt they had done anything but good on August 6th 1945. Economists working for the air force were very impressed with the increased productivity of the bombing operation: one plane replacing 334 planes with no loss of killing capacity.
The Nuremberg Trials were predicated on the belief that any sentient person knows that slaughtering millions in concentration camps and elsewhere is a crime against humanity. Likewise slaughtering tens of thousands of people in Japanese cities couldn’t be seen as anything other than a crime. The nature of the raids on Tokyo and Hiroshima was indiscriminate slaughter of non-military participants. They were killed because they were Japanese. These two raids were genocide and therefore both war crimes and crimes against humanity. Harry S Truman issued illegal orders and was a war criminal as were those who fulfilled his wishes.
THE GENEVA CONVENTIONS OF 12 AUGUST 1949
PART II General Protection of Populations against certain consequences of War
Article 13 The provisions of Part II cover the whole of the populations of the countries in conflict, without any adverse distinction based, in particular, on race, nationality, religion or political opinion, and are intended to alleviate the sufferings caused by war.
b) civilian persons who take no part in hostilities, and who, while they reside in the zones, perform no work of a military character.
Crimes Against Humanity (article 6c)
“Crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against civilian populations, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.”
*President Truman was unequivocal about his reasons for approving the use of the A-Bomb. “The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold.”
Public Papers of the Presidents: Harry S Truman, 1945 p 197
**Infrastructure, sewage, water supplies, telecoms, would all be good examples.
***In 1946 there was as report on the consequences of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which showed that the Japanese people were no more intimidated by the A-Bomb than they had been by fire bombing. The report is here http://www.bradford-delong.com/2016/06/liveblogging-world-war-ii-june-20-1946-letter-to-harry-s-truman.html#more