By Philippe Lazzarini
November 8, 2023
WN: Listen to President Roosevelt in 1939:
September 1, 1939—5 a.m.
The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Kennedy)1
Washington, September 1, 1939—5 a.m.
You are to deliver the following message immediately in the name of the President to the Government to which you are accredited. Transmit at once by telegram the reply which may be made:
The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians 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 has resulted in the maiming and in the death of thousands of defenseless men, women and children, has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.
If resort is had to this form of inhuman 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 addressing 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. Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
We read though in Targeting Civilians:
In the 1930s, both the United States and Britain refrained from targeting civilians in wartime bombings regarding such actions as savage and ruthless. Indeed, before the war began, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made a parliamentary speech declaring that it was “against international law to bomb civilians as such and to make deliberate attacks on the civilian population.” The American State Department made a similar statement in 1937 condemning the Japanese bombing of Chinese cities, “Any general bombing of an extensive area wherein there resides a large population engaged in peaceful pursuits is unwarranted and contrary to the principles of law and humanity.” President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the issue as well calling civilian bombing “inhuman barbarism.”But the onset of World War II began the transition away from these earlier beliefs. The movement was first initiated by Winston Churchill and the British government in response to Germany’s dropping of bombs on London. It was at this point when Churchill articulated the need for an “absolutely devastating exterminating attack by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland.” Also pushing Britain toward this change in policy was the fact that military officials began to realize that the bombs being dropped from aircrafts were not accurate enough to destroy specific targets (i.e. bases, factories), and thus a more effective use of these bombs would be to direct them at cities where there destruction would have more severe effects.
If resort is had to this form of inhuman barbarism during the period of the tragic conflagration with which the world is now confronted. . .
Thus, in 1942 under the command of Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, the Royal Air Force shifted its focus toward destroying “the morale of the enemy civil population.” In the summer of 1942, the United States Air Force joined the strategic bombing campaign of Britain. While the US had tried to avoid bombing civilian populations, daytime “precision bombing” had become a costly liability because German day fighters were able to detect and destroy many American fighter planes. Together under this new policy of “strategic bombing”, Great Britain and the United States command dropped thousands of firebombs on the cities of Cologne, Hamburg and Dresden incurring huge casualties.
In 1945, the US extended their policy of targeting innocent civilians to the cities of Japan, resulting in even greater destruction than any of the European campaigns. In fact, one night’s worth of fire raiding on
Tokyo claimed the lives of more than 80,000 civilians, more than the casualties incurred from the atomic bomb detonation in Nagasaki. The United States would continue to drop incendiary bombs on innocent, Japanese women and children until the equally horrific use of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan to surrender.
Britain and America’s shift in policy from respecting the human rights of innocent citizens during war to specifically targeting peaceful, non-strategic populations reflects the monstrosity of war, and the way in which its cruel realities erode the moral principles that govern our world society. World War II polarized the world the way people viewed humanity. People were either allies or enemies, good or evil. There was no in between and unfortunately, such inhumane and oversimplified distinctions resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent citizens in the bombing campaigns of the Second World War.
One may logically conclude from Roosevelt’s communication that after 1939, the “civilized world” simply stopped being “civilized.” And 6 years later, not once but twice, the supposedly most civilized country in the world (with all Allies in lockstep, mind you!) unleashed on humanity the most unimaginable barbarous monstrosity ever: the atomic bomb.
One wonders: If they could have, what do you suppose the victims might have thought about Western civilization–a split second before being obliterated forever without trace?
And the U.S., Canada, at least, cheer on the “civilized” slaughter in Gaza, as an Israeli right to carry out inhuman barbarism against the Gazan civilian population. . .
But of course: Roosevelt was living in a fantasy, not the real, world, when he called on the “civilized” world to condemn Germany, and not to engage in similar barbarity.
And so lives the West still in such a fantasy world, yet all the while like Nero fiddling with elite distractions, while the rest of the world experiences conflagration from said “civilized world.”
My, how proudly Western we in the West must rightly feel about what we have delivered to the rest of the world! “The White Man’s Burden” has been delightfully taken up by us, and surely the “uncivilized world” must be grateful?! . . .
“Water? bread?” These were the questions on the lips of every child I met in Gaza last week as I visited one of the UNRWA shelters in Rafah. I was the first senior U.N. official to enter Gaza since Oct. 7, the day Hamas militants killed more than 1,400 Israeli civilians. In over 30 years of working in conflict zones, my encounter with these desperate children was one of the saddest of my career.
I will never forget the children’s faces. As I listened to their stories, I had to keep reminding myself that we were inside a school that had been converted into a shelter — a place that in peacetime is a place for learning, laughter and play. The Ministry of Health in Gaza reports that more than 4,000 of the civilians killed in this war have been children. This one-month toll is higher than the number of children killed in all conflicts around the world in any given year since 2019.
For many Palestinians, this exodus is reminiscent of the original displacement of more than 700,000 people from their towns and villages in 1948, also known as the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic). They read stories of a leaked Israeli government white paper suggesting they be expelled into Sinai. Their fears are compounded when they hear Israeli politicians and others referring to people in Gaza as “human animals” and “terrorists,” or calling for “erasing Gaza and its people” — dehumanizing language I did not think I would hear in the 21st century.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was right to warn Israelis this week, insisting there be “no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza. Not now, not after the war.” He should go further and call for an immediate cease-fire. The siege of Gaza must end, and continuous humanitarian aid must be allowed to flow into the Gaza Strip without restrictions.
This must be done in the name of basic human rights. But it should also be done to avert an even greater calamity. The collective punishment being meted out to the civilians in Gaza is being extended into the West Bank, where people have been forced from their land or worse, for no reason other than that they are Palestinian. This risks widening the war and setting the whole of the Middle East ablaze.
Please click on: The carnage must stop. Time for a ceasefire in Gaza.
- Sent also to Paris (No. 700), to Rome (No. 85), to Berlin (No. 388), and to Warsaw (No. 52).