War is a brutal buiness and until World War a case can be made that the greatest crime was launching a war, especially an aggressibd war. I the developinvg field of internaztional law is that a state has the fright to defend itself and its people. And beginning in the 19th century we brgin to see the negotation of interntional conventions to protect those caught up in war, especially prisoners of war. And the evolving code of military conduct was that civilians should be protected if at all possible. World War II was thus unique in modern history because the war aims of the Axis powers was not only to destroy the armed firces of enemy powers, but the murder of vast amounts of civilians iin the tons of millions. Despite the advances in military weapons and ordinance. there were fewer combat deaths in World War II than World War I. The massive death toll in World War II was in civilians and to a lesser but still important treatment of POWs. The great bulk of war crimes committed during World War II were committed by the Axis Powers and the Soviet Union. The Germans as a major war goal was to murder tens of millions of people (Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and Balts) so they could remake the ethnic map of Europe. The relevations of the Holocust are terrifying enough, less well known is the even greater crimes that the NAZIs were planning after they won the War. The Soviets were intent on a similar goal, although implementation was restrained after the German invasion because of the need for aid from he Allied powers. The Japanese goal was less to remake the ehnic map of Europe, but to use force and terror to cow the Chinese abd others into submission and absolute disregard for lives lost. The Axis Powers (especially Germany and Japan) were some of the most perpetrators of war crimes in modern history. These were not isolated excesses of individual soldiers and commanders, but carefully planned regime policies and prigrams. And self-deffense was not involved in that the Axis and Soviets were the countries that launched the War. And as mentioned, they were not only will to accdept mass slaughter, but that slaugher was in the case of Germany a primary war aim. A range of factors fed into the apauling toll of civilians, including NAZI and Japanese race theory, a desire for 'living space', Sovit class struggle, existing ethnic and nationalist conflicts. In the mind of perpetrator, this justified noy onky the murder of individuals, but whole groups and classes of people, including womrn and children. Even before the end of the War, details began to leak out about the conduct of the Axis powerws, although Stalin was more sucessful in covering Soviet crime which began well before the War. There were also war crimes committed by Allied countries, but mostly by individual soldiers and minisule in comparison to the crimes perpetrated by the Axis and Soviets.
The war crimes committed in World War II were so extensive that it is difficult to compile a list or eeven categories. It may be best to use the categories used by the Allies after the War at the IMT trials in Germany and Japan. The charter for thev IMT trials listed three categories: 1) crimes against peace, which meant the preparation and initiation of a war of aggression, 2) war crimes meaning 'conventional war crimes', including the murder, ill treatment, and deportation of prisoners of war, and 3) crimes against humanity, which included political, racial, and religious persecution of civilians. This third category included the Holocaust and other acts which are now called genocide. Using these categories is useful because the trials were the most detailed assessment of war crimes and thus how much information is organized. There are weaknesses though becuse a lot of relevatiins and information have come out since the IMT trials were conducted. And they did not consider Allied and Soviet conduct. War is a brutal buiness and until World War a case can be made that the greatest crime was launching a war, especially an aggressibd war. I the developinvg field of internaztional law is that a state has the fright to defend itself and its people. And beginning in the 19th century we brgin to see the negotation of interntional conventions to protect those caught up in war, especially prisoners of war. And the evolving code of military conduct was that civilians should be protected if at all possible. World War II was thus unique in modern history because the war aims of the Axis powers was not only to destroy the armed firces of enemy powers, but the murder of vast amounts of civilians iin the tons of millions. Despite the advances in military weapons and ordinance. there were fewer combat deaths in World War II than World War I. The massive death toll in World war II was in civilians and to a lesser but still important treatment of POWs.
Crimes against peace, meant the preparation and initiation of a war of aggression. A war of aggression essentially means a war in which the justification of self defense can not be used. At the Nuremberg IMT Trials, this was defined as "planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing". During the trial there were actually two separate but related inditements: 1) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace abd 2) Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace. It is true that this was a ex post facto formulation, but it was merely the end result og a long tradition of international law begun in the Middle Ages and part of the Christian nd Islamic Just Law docrtine in which the principle of sekf-defense was firmly established. It became a major factor in World War I in which the Germans launched the War by invading neutral Belgium (1914). And there were pre-War internationalk traties, including the Kellog Briand Pact--the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War (1928). All of the major World War II belgerants either signed the Pact or later agreed to it, including the Axis powers and the Soviet Union. The War was clearly initiated by the Axis powers, primarily Germany, but subsequently Japan. Both Germany and Japan engagd in aggressions before the War and then much more expansibe aggressions once the war began. Italy primarily joined in the War after the Germans achieved major victories, but also participated in several invasions before and during the War without German support: Ethiopia (1935), Albania (1939), and Greece (1940). The Soviet Union was not judged in Nuremberg, but in fact was guilty of cromes against the peace. The Soviets became a NAZI ally when they signed the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact which made the War posible (August 1939). It was not just Gwrmany that launched the War by invading Poland, The Soviet Union invaded Poland from the East. The hard pressed Allies lacking the needed military capability only declared war on Germany. Subsequently the Soviets invaded or annexed territory in Finland (1939), Estonia (1940), Latvia (1940), and Lithuania (1940), and Romania (1940). When the Soviets invaded Finlanbd, the llies considered declaring war on the Soviet Union, but wiseky decided aginst it.
War crimes meant 'conventional war crimes', including the murder, ill treatment, and deportation of prisoners of war and civilians. .
At Nuremberg Crimes Against Humanity were described as "Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, 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." In the Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of German Major War Criminals the IMT Court also stated, "The Tribunal therefore cannot make a general declaration that the acts before 1939 were crimes against humanity within the meaning of the Charter, but from the beginning of the war in 1939 war crimes were committed on a vast scale, which were also crimes against humanity; and insofar as the inhumane acts charged in the Indictment, and committed after the beginning of the war, did not constitute war crimes, they were all committed in execution of, or in connection with, the aggressive war, and therefore constituted crimes against humanity. [Judgement: Avalon Project] Crimes against humanity included the political, racial, and religious persecution of civilians. This third category included the Holocaust and other acts what are now called genocide. Using these categories is useful because the trials were the most detailed assessment of war crimes and thus how much information is organized.
The great bulk of war crimes committed during World War II were committed by the Axis Powers and the Soviet Union. The Germans as a major war goal was to murder tens of millions of people (Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and Balts) so they could remake the ethnic map of Europe. The relevations of the Holocust are terrifying enough, less well known is the even greater crimes that the NAZIs were planning after they won the War. The Soviets were intent on a similar goal, although implementation was restrained after the German invasion because of the need for aid from he Allied powers. The Japanese goal was less to remake the ehnic map of Europe, but to use force and terror to cow the Chinese abd others into submission and absolute disregard for lives lost. The Axis Powers (especially Germany and Japan) were some of the most perpetrators of war crimes in modern history. These were not isolated excesses of individual soldiers and commanders, but carefully planned regime policies and prigrams. And self-deffense was not involved in that the Axis and Soviets were the countries that launched the War. And as mentioned, they were not only will to accdept mass slaughter, but that slaugher was in the case of Germany a primary war aim. A range of factors fed into the apauling toll of civilians, including NAZI and Japanese race theory, a desire for 'living space', Sovit class struggle, existing ethnic and nationalist conflicts. In the mind of perpetrator, this justified noy onky the murder of individuals, but whole groups and classes of people, including womrn and children. Even before the end of the War, details began to leak out about the conduct of the Axis powerws, although Stalin was more sucessful in covering Soviet crime which began well before the War. There were also war crimes committed by Allied countries, but mostly by individual soldiers and minisule in comparison to the crimes perpetrated by the Axis and Soviets.
The United States has been charged with war crimes by both the Axis powers during the war and by revisionist groups after the War by revisionist historians and idealogues who do not like the simple fact that American payed a key role in saving Western civilization. Rgese charges are largely specious, but need to be addressed so the charges do not go unnswered. Even before the War ended, the Germans and Japanese were charging that the Americans were committing war crimes. The primary charge was the bombing of German cities as part of the strategic bombing campaign. A lesser complaint after the War was the treatment of German POWs. The major charge is the strategic bombing campaign which was responsible for the heavy bombing of Germnan cities. And it is true that before the War this would have been considered a war crime. German bombing was seen as a war crime during Workd war I. President Roosevelt in fact described bombing civilians as a a war crime during the inter-War era. This does not mean that the American strategic bombing campaign during the War should be classified as a war crime. There are several factors here that need to be considered.
First, it was the first the Japanese (in China), the Italians (in Ethiopia and Spain), and then the Germans (in Spain and Poland) that began bombing cities both before and at the onset of the war. And most of these bombing campaigns were done with little or no actual militry targets. Thus it is not a war crime to use weapons and methods used bythe enemy. Here the doctrine of self-defense exonerates the United States. And this is the case even though, the American strategic bombing campaign far exceeded the Axis campaigns in size and intensity. This is the responsibility of the Axis leaders for wageing aggressive war and especially war against the United States.
Second, the circumstances of the War gave the Allied powers not only the right to use whatever weaons availble, but the moral obligation to do so. The Germans were coductinfg a well thoughout plan of genocide, carefully detailed in Generalplan Ost. The Hunger Plan was part of that unimagenabley horific effort. Thus the Allies powers were entitled to pursue the War with any means availble.
Third, the American strategic air campaign was designed from the beginning to be a pin-point effort to destroy German industry using the Norden Bomb Site. And this meant that cities would he hit, because German industry was primaily located in the cities. Now given the limits of World War II technology, much of the bomb load mised the targets abd fell on civilian areas of the cities. Had the Axis not begun the War by bombing civilians and involved in genocide, this would have forced the American air commanders to reconsider ther operations.
Much has been said about the American decesion to use the atomic bomb against Japan. But the same arguments that justify the strategic bombing campaign also justify the use of the two atomic bombs. And in addition the casualties pail kinto insigbicance in comparison to Japanese actions like the Rape of Nanking. In addition, the bombs ironically not only saved American lives but millions of Japanese lives.
The other major charge levied against the Unites is the treatment of German POWs. Given German treatment of POWs, this charge is patently absurd. But it is true that American militry authoritie did not take proper care of the huge numbers of POWs surrendering in the Reich. Here a mix of logistical problems as well as animosity toward the Germans as the the horrors of NAZI war crimes surfaced. That said the important statistic is survivability. And here some fairly reliable statistics are available. They show that almost all Axis POWs taken by the Americans survived the War which certainly was not the case for the POWs taken by the Grmans. It is truethat the Germans treated Western Allies POWs bettr than Polish and Soviet POWs, but the death rate in German POW camps, including those for the Western POWs, was far highet than in American POWs camps. And there were no massacers of German POWs as was the case for American POWs. Nor were German POWs transferred to horific concentration cmps as were American POWs, especially Jewish GIs.
Britaiun's heroic resistance to HAZI aggression is as Prime Minister Churchill assured them the country's finest hour. And their role in helping to save Western Civilkization an enormous bequest to humanity. As with America, there are thoise in Britin and abroad tht would dispsrage that achievement. German propagand during the War blamed the conflict on the Allies (Britain and France) who after the Germans invaded Poland declared war. The Allies delayed the declaration of war for 3 days in the vain hope that war could be avoided and Hitler would order the Panzers back. Fuzzy mined observers often sympathetiuc to the NAZIs use this to charge that it was the Allies who began the War. There is no real doubt that it was Hitler, with Stalin's collusion, that launched the War. He had come close to launching the War a year earlier at Munich using the arguments that the Germans in the Sydetenland should be part of the Reich (September 1938). He assured Prime Minister Chamberlain at Munich that he wanted 'no Czechs'. Only a few months later he invaded what remained of Czechoslovakia as well as a slize of Lithuania (March 1938). This made it clear that he was not just concerned with Germans. The allies had no choice , but to honor their treaty obligaions to Poland. Thus Britain can not be charged with waging aggressive war, here it is clearly the Axis power and the Soviets that are fully culpable. If the British are to be criticized it is for not standing up to Hitler earlier, not for declaring war in 1939. Abandoning the Czchs to Hitler's tender mercies was a shamefull act. The British are also charged with war crimes for the strategic bombing campaign. And it is true that they did target Germany's civilian population. But again the same factors we discussed with the United States also apply to Britain. It was the Germans who lunched the War and began bombing civilians. The same issues discussed aboce concerning the American strategic bombing campign apply to Britain as well. A Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris fortold, "The Germas sewed the winds. Now they wll inherit the wirld wind." It is disengenous to think that after the Germans turned British cities into glowing embers that the British would be full of Christian charity as they persecuted the war. The major stain on the British War effort is the Bengali Famine. This is not fall easily in the war crime category. It surely falls within the realm of the tragic and colonial incompetence category. We also are unsure about the role of the Congress Party. We suspect that if they had been less obstructive that the Indian coloial administration wold have functiined more effectively. Oerhaps readers will know more about it. Another sad page in Britain's war history is turning anti-Soviet forces over to Stalin after the war.
Bulgaria was forced ito th Axis by Hitler and thus a junior partner. The Bulgarians did their be to stauy out if the War and refused to particupate in Barbaross. They were given a slice of Greece to administer and the Bulgarian Army there participated in the Holocaust.
Canada's role in Wotld war II was exemplery. and the Canadians like the other Dominions joined Britain before they were dircrly threatened. We know of no major charges of war crimes against the Canadins. The only such charge would be the Canadian participation in the allied strategic bombing campaign. Herethe same factors that rebuttle the charges against the American Air Forces and British Bomber Command apply to the Canadians.
Croatia was one of the countries most guilty of war crimes. It was a German pupet state foirmed out of Yugoslavia. Abd during the German occupation of Yugoslvia conducted horific actions against Jews, Muslims, and Serbs. The actions of the Udstace even appaled German occupation forces.
Chin awas one of the major victims of World war II. he Japabese waged aggrssive war, seizing Manchuria (1931) and themn invading China proper (1937). Ecen before the 1937 invasion, Japanese forces were present in northern China. The Japanese committed horific war crimes in China. Outside of the Holocaust, the most horific war crimes of the War were committed by the Japanese in China. The Japanese concept of waging war became the 'Three Alls'. Most Japanese people even today do not appreciate the barbarity with which their country pursued the war in China. The Japanese term was the 'China Incident'. not wanting to azdmot that it was a war. The Chinese war effort was mostly fought in China itself by the Nationalits. The major action which may be called a war crime was that of the Nationlist and to a lesser extent the Communist forces in extracting men and food from the peasantry. This became a major problem as the war dragged on and the Japanese seized moe and more of China;s aggricultural lnd. Refugees poured into the Nationalist controlled areas. And the Government was hard pressed to feed the population, refugees, and its armies. Millions woud die of starvation and related diseases.
The French played a relatively small part in world war II, unlike their role in World War I. The Germans accuded the British of French of starting the War by declaring war (September 1939). And after defeating the French (June 1940), the Germans imposed enormous reparations on them which helped finance the Germn war effort. Eeing defeated is not a war crime, but the French like the Serbs in World War II could have continued the war. Doing business with the NAZIs was not only a failure of the French nation, but misguided because had the Germans won the War, France as we know it would have disappeared from history and the map of Europe. The primary war crime was committed by the Vichy regime which with little or no compulsion joined in with the NAZO Holocaust of the Jews.
NAZI crimality is often described as war crimes. The killing was not limited to the War, but the great bulk of the killing did take place during the War--but often not part of military operations. There were actual war crimes, but the most horrendous crimes were killing civilians that were not a threat and had nothing to do with the war. German military successes early in the War put the NAZIs in a position to carry out these crimes and the killing was conducted during the War. And not all of the killing was done by NAZI organizations. The Wehrmacht was involved as well doctors iand nurses in civilian hospitals and healt facilities. The ultimate authority for these actions, however was the NAZI government instaled by Reich F�hrer Adolf Hitler. The most serious war crimes was the mistreatment and muder of POWS. Here there was a destinction between POWs in the East and West. Not only did huge numbers of Russian and Polish POWs perish, but large numbers of prisoners were executed as a result of the Commisar and Commando Orders. Both prisoners and and civilians were killed as a result of the Reprisal order. The NAZI engineered Holocaust of the Jews is the best documented example of mass murder in history. This is because the NAZIs lost World War II and the copious records they took along with the testimony of individuals conducting the Holocust and their surviving victims have left us with a chilling historical record. The NAZI Holocaust succeeded in killing about 6 million Jews. This was not the largest instance of mass murder in history, but is perhaps the most horific because of the way the SS industrialized the killing process. Another 6 million non-Jews perished, mosrtly Eastern Europeans. Many perished as a result of the NAZI slave and forced labor prograjmns to support yhe war effort. Less well understood is the fact that if the NAZIs had succedded in would have been only the first chapter in a terrifying rengineering of the Human race. High on the NAZI list of untermench were the Slavs of Eastern Rurope. The NAZIs killed many more people than Jews in their preliminary efforts to build a new German empire in the Occupied East. There was also the Lebensborn program aimed at children. In all the NAZIs probably killed more than 20 million people. The NAZI penchant for killing was such that they killed millions of people who could have assisted in their war effort. And as a result, before the Allies destroyed German industry in the strategic bombing campaign, there was a severe labor shortage in the Reich. The subject of NAZI war crimes does not address the crimes committed in Germany agaist Germans. Here again, children were one of the main targets. The domestic programs were outgrowths of the German eugenics movement and included the Hereditary Health Courts and sterilization progrm. Here the most horrendous undertaking ws the T-4 Program.
Hungary was another junior Axis partner. The Hungarians were drawn into the German orbit by geography and the opportunity to expand territory at the expense of Czechos;ovakia, Yugoslaviam and Romania. The country had no desire to participate in a general European war. And did not paricipate with Barbarossa in a meaningful way (June 1941). Hitler demanded participation in what proved to be the disaterous 1942 campaign. We are not sure about the conduct of Hungarian forces in the Soviet Union. We do know that the Hungarian Army committed war crimes in occupied Yugoslab=via against Jews. Actions against Hungarian Jews was more vatied. The Hungarian Army helped deport some Jews, but once the German war effirt began togo bad the Fovernment bnned deportations. Most of actions against Hungarian Jews began after the Germn invasion.
Italy innitiated aggresive war and committed terrible war crimes in Ethiopia before World War II, including the use of poison gas. Other aggresive actiins included involvement in the Spanish Civil War and the invasion of Albania (1039) and Greece (1940). The primary war crime was participation in agressive war when Mussolini with no justification except to share the spoils of war declared war on Britain and France (June 1940). The Italians did not share the German racial obsession, although Mussolini was presured to enact race laws as well. The Italians in their occupation of Yugoslavia dis not participate in the Holocaust. Thge Jews there were not targeted until the Italians Armistice (Sepfenber 1943) and the Germans occupied the former Italian zone.
Japan did not and does not today admit the full extent of its responsibility for launching World War II. Many Japanese attempt to hide the extent of their country's war crimes and prefer to view their country as a victim of the War. The list of Japanese attrocities and war is very long, involving the deaths of millions, mostly innocent civilians. The list in its entirity is too long to list here, but we need to mention some of the most grevious attrocities committed by the Imperial armed forces. The primary war crime is the launching of aggerssive war first against China (1937) and then the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands (1941). Specific examples include the terror bombing of undefended Chinese cities (Shanghai); mascres of Chinese civilians (the Rape of Nanking), use of biologcal and chenical weapons, mistreatment and massacres of Allied POWs (the Batan Death March), abuse of civilain internees, use of slave labor, conscription of civilian women for prostitution (Korean comfort women).
Romania had joint the Allies during World war I. This and the Ploesti oil fields ,made them a major focus of Germany policy in the Balkns. Germany even the expanded Reich under Hitler had no important source of nationa oil, a huge problem for a country preparing to wage a massive mechanized war. The Sobiers seized a large part of northeastern Romania (1940). Hitler than assigned other areas to World war I allies, Hungary and Bulgaria. Romanian than became part ofc the developing dispute betweenthe NAZIs and Soviets over the division of Eastern Europe. Hitler stepped in to make sure that Stalin could not seize more of Romania, especially the Ploesti oil fields. Romania thus became a junior Axis parner, but a major participant in Barbarossa (June 1941). The Romanian Army committed extensive killing operations of Jews, bith in the northeastern provinces reclaimed from the Soviets and in the Ukjraine as the German Panzer rolled east.
Slovakia used the German invasion of Czechoslovakia to declare their independence. In the process thy lost substantial territory to the Hungarians. The Slovaks becamne a loyal NAZI puppet state. One way to show their loyalty was to offer up their Jewish popultion to the Germans. Anti-Semetic laws were pssed and the Jews largely concentrated. This was all done by the Slovaks themselves. As a result, they were quickly transported and killed in the death camps across the border in Germzn ocvcupied Poland. As a result of their collavboration they were spared some of the sharper aspects of the occupstion regime visited on the Czechs.
Judgement: The Law Relating to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. The IMT Court documents havce been archived on the internet as part od the Yale Univesity Avalon Project.
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