Subject Area



In the final two years of the Second World War, the United States abandoned daylight precision bombing for terror bombing. During the interwar years, the United States cited international norms and laws to speak out against unjust air attacks by Germany and Japan. Even during the United States’ period of neutrality, President Franklin Roosevelt criticized Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for their tactics. But, as the war dragged on, the ferocity and persistence of the Nazis forced the United States to change their approach to strategic bombing. With fewer military industrial targets remaining and Allied casualties rising, the US began to target civilian populations in refugee-packed German cities like Berlin and Dresden. Similarly, in the Pacific Theater, the United States implemented the same harrowing tactics with the fire raid on Tokyo. Following the Allied victory, international law was amended to prevent unethical air attacks in the future.

The transition from conventional to terror bombing was not done overnight. Rather it was a logical and gradual process that was thought out by many of the military’s top officials. As the Allied forces laid waste to Germany’s air force and military modes of production, the subsequent invasion of Nazi held Europe led many leaders to believe the war would be over quickly. However, as the Allied breakout of France stalled, plans were drafted to reconsider the approach of strategic bombing. At first, these “morale” bombings were shelved for being too unethical. Still, Allied casualties continued to rise and Germany caught the Allies by surprise with their counterattack at the Battle of the Bulge. Growing increasingly desperate to end the war quicker to save lives, Allied officials believed terror bombing could be extremely effective in forcing the German government to surrender. Starting with major population centers, the Allies attempted to break the spirit of the German people. Hoping to force the civilian population to plead to their government for peace, the strategy implemented by the Allied air forces left a devastating impact on the crewmen and civilians alike. Straying away from years of ethical bombing practice, the Allies resorted to methods that they ascribed to the very enemy they were fighting.


Providence College

Academic Year



Spring 2021





.pdf (text searchable)