Was the bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki a war crime?

The Wikipedia definition of war crime includes intentionally killing civilians and the destruction of civilian property.

  • You can make an argument for anything. – user1530 May 3 '17 at 21:00
  • Editing based on first comment. – BigDataLouie May 3 '17 at 21:02
  • You're either asking something too broad (yes, anyone can argue this one way or the other) or way too narrow (per that very specific shortened definition, also yes...buildings were destroyed). – user1530 May 3 '17 at 21:05
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    No. Because Allies won. </cynic> – user4012 May 4 '17 at 1:28
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    From which year is that definition of war crime? Because many war crimes were defined post-WWII, the definition of "war crime" in 1945 might not have included that phrase. – Sjoerd May 4 '17 at 3:26

Technically, using the definition you provided at the point in time I posted this "intentionally killing civilians and the destruction of civilian property," it was not a war crime. The locations were chosen because of existing military infrastructure. Indeed, civilian buildings were also destroyed, but according to the Wikipedia article, the intent was also to attack civilians working in the industry:

Like most strategic bombing during World War II, the aim of the USAAF offensive against Japan was to destroy the enemy's war industries, kill or disable civilian employees of these industries, and undermine civilian morale. Civilians who took part in the war effort through such activities as building fortifications and manufacturing munitions and other war materials in factories and workshops were considered combatants in a legal sense and therefore liable to be attacked.

Unfortunately, I don't have access to all the primary sources, but the footnotes reference the two books listed below. The first one is available on Google Books (page 83, the page mentioned in the footnote, is visible).

The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America

Blankets of Fire: U.S. Bombers over Japan during World War II

EDIT: After a bit more research, it seems the general consensus is, or at least, according to the International Criminial Court (ICC), these attacks are not considered war crimes. According to Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, "war crimes" is defined as:

Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts against persons or property protected under the provisions of the relevant Geneva Convention

Several examples are explicitly mentioned thereafter.

The Fourth Geneva Convention takes into account the actions of multiple parties during World War II, and many people were charged with war crimes ranging from prisoner abuse to inhumane medical experimentation. I could not find any evidence of U.S. leaders being charged with war crimes for the attacks (either separately or both). However, I came across several blogs and news sites with a quote attributed to Telford Taylor, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials:

“The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable, but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki.”

It's also worth mentioning that U.S. military dropped millions of leaflets warning the Japanese people in over a dozen cites that had been targeted.

Though one could debate the myriad reasons behind the bombings, it seems pretty clear that killing thousands of innocent civilians was not one of them. And for all intents and purposes, they are not considered war crimes.

Other sources of interest.

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  • That's a pretty broad view of combatant. Can you get a non-American source that supports that definition? – user9389 May 3 '17 at 21:43
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    @notstoreboughtdirt Both sides in Europe selected targets using that definition. As a result, it will be hard to find a WWII-era source that doesn't support those targets. Also note that the "Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War" is post-WWII. – Sjoerd May 4 '17 at 2:43
  • @notstoreboughtdirt I agree, it is a pretty broad definition. So I did a little more research, and though I was unable to find a non-American source to support that definition, I edited my answer with what I did find. – aonophoenix May 4 '17 at 3:23
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    In "Civilians who took part in the war effort through such activities as building fortifications and manufacturing munitions and other war materials in factories and workshops", is the part after "such as" meant to be a few examples of war-supporting activities, or a restricted list? (I am not a Native speaker). In the first case, this is broad and since most of belligerents had a war economy during WWII, almost any civilian could be targeted. – Taladris May 4 '17 at 4:16
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    @Taladris, Those are just a few examples of war-supporting activities. Bombings in WWII were a rather broad affair. – A Bailey May 4 '17 at 13:01

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