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"I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side."
US General Curtis LeMay, commander of the 1945 Tokyo fire bombing operation.

The raids on Tokyo in 1945 resulted in more that 100,000 deaths and a million injured. Many more were made homeless


  

VICTORY MAKES EVERYTHING LEGAL

Bombing of civilians from the air had been illegal in international law since 1907 though the major colonial powers thought nothing of bombing 'natives' who, in the eyes of the military and most politicians, did not count.

On the first day of the Second World War, President Roosevelt appealed to the warring powers to 'under no circumstances undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities.' By the end of August 1945 305,000 to 500,000 men women and children - largely civilians - had been killed by allied bombing.

Six years later on August 8, 1945, two days after the bombing of Hiroshima and the day before Nagasaki, the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France signed the so-called London Agreement, which made war crimes and crimes against humanity actions punishable in international court.

That sounded good. But there was a catch. How could they prevent the condemnation of their own systematic bombing of civilian residential areas in Germany and Japan, according to the rules that had been accepted before the war as valid international law, even by the Allies themselves? What would they say when German generals, brought to court for destroying entire villages in actions against partisans, responded that they had done precisely what the Allied bombers had done to German cities and villages?

In his concluding report, prosecutor Telford Taylor declared both German and Allied bombing innocent, since 'the air bombardment of cities and factories has become a recognized part of modern warfare, as practiced by all nations.’ The bombing of civilians had, according to the court, become customary law. The fourth Hague Convention of 1907, which forbids air bombardment of civilians, was not applied during the Second World War and thereby, according to the court, had lost its validity. So rather than establishing that the Allies, too - in fact, especially the Allies - had committed this kind of war crime. the American prosecutor declared that the law had been rendered invalid by the actions of the Allies.