Strategic bombing

Okay, so most people on this site agree that things like the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were immoral because they deliberately targeted civilians and used an “ends justify the means” mentality. My question is would the strategic bombings of factories during WWII also count as immoral or would they be considered acceptable?

Keep in mind I’m not talking about bombing civilian houses, just factories that make weapons/steel/fuel for the enemy. Obviously these factories would have civilians in them, but the desired effect is to destroy the factories, not kill the civilians, and the collateral damage would be kept to a minimum. Nevertheless, civilians would die in the bombings. Would it be moral or immoral?

My own thinking would be that bombing factories, especially those supplying war materiel, would be justified.

Of course thinking of WW-II, that was sometimes not the sole purpose of bombing. Indiscriminate bombing of cities was carried on both sides for the purpose of demoralization of the populace.

A further aspect is that in WW-II there were no “smart” bombs. Bombing was not so precise as today, and if there were civilian casualties, well, that just added to the aspect of demoralizing the enemy, including the civilians.

The German V-2 rockets were notoriously imprecise; they could only hope to hit a target by pure luck. But the primary intent was to demoralize the British, as was the conventional bombing of London.

And it has been argued that even the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were primarily intended to shorten the war by inducing a Japanese surrender, and that in doing so, they saved lives on both sides.

War is not moral. Don’t expect it to be. End of discussion.


If one side tries to be chivalrous, the other side will use it against them.

If both sides are chivalrous, the war will never start.


I wonder, If your family was working in this factory
would you think it moral or immoral to bomb it?

Just curious:tiphat:

Questions like that don’t help with the moral issue.

You could have family fighting in the troops of the other side, as well.


Then wouldn’t that mean morality
is based on an individual’s interpretation?

It means that is wartime, morality is irretrievably clouded.


I understand what you are saying.

I took the OP’s question to be about
the morality of the act overall and not just at that time.
so looking back at the event, was it a moral act.
(I may have interpreted the question incorrectly though).

maybe the only moral bombing of factories during WWII would have been with warning shots away from the factory to allow time for evacuation, or to have dropped the Hiroshima bombs in the bay clearly visible as a warning/threat. But war is messy and sometimes victory or defeat rests, or appears to rest, on taking advantage of brief lulls or a few hours of settled weather in a storm.

Politically, also, it’s impossible to sacrifice the lives of your defenders in favor of those of the enemy.

There is no real difference between attacking a factory that is making munitions, versus attacking the transportation lines getting them to the front, or the rear-echelon bases whence the munitions are distributed. Not everybody in the war-machine’s body wears s uniform.


While this is routinely the rationale given for those bombings, it is not suffient to demonstrate morality under Catholic Theology. Good Intentions and Consequences are necessary but not sufficient to make an act moral.

The ultimate decision as to whether an act is moral or not may, in some circumstances, come down to a prudential judgement.

We know what is absolutely forbidden Eg. To set about murdering innocents. Shooting the innocent children of an attacking dictator one by one to make him cease his attack is unambiguously immoral.

But in war, there are acts which are not intrinsically wrong (eg. Striking a dangerous military target) and conducted for good intention, but where the balance of good and evil in the consequences need to be weighed. That is hard.

If ISIS grew to the point where they might have a real chance of taking over the world. I think at that point all the rules of nice would get tossed out the window. At that point it’s kill or be killed. And their civilians would get cast more as accomplices than victims. Or something.



Sadly, there is often no time to weigh morals while a war is in progress.


Yeah. Sometimes the strongest moral position is that your tribe wins. No deeper options possible.

A little background if I may. The German used fake outer walls on most of their factories. That way, if a bomb fell close enough, depending on its size (500 lb, 1,000 lb, 2,000 lb), the concussion and shrapnel from the blast would be taken mostly or partly by the fake outer wall. The problem was, all bombs were gravity bombs. That means they just fell out of the plane to earth. The person aiming the bombs, the Bombardier, had to take into account altitude, wind direction, and the speed of the aircraft. If the bombs were falling from 30,000 feet (or about 5 miles up to avoid enemy anti-aircraft guns), the distance by which the bombs could hit or miss was called “Circular Error Probable.” Early in the war, bombs missed their targets by 2 miles on average. As the war progressed, the CEP was reduced to 1,000 yards or about three quarters of a mile. So yes, a large bomb could not hit its target and hit something else too often. The Germans would even pile debris on the roofs of factory buildings so that aircraft that were later sent to photograph the area to determine how much of the target was destroyed would return photos that showed the target was moderately to severely damaged when, in fact, it was hardly damaged at all and returned to full production the following day.

The other thing to consider was as the war progressed, the Germans began to disperse their factories aboveground to remote locations and buildings that looked residential, and they also went underground. Very large bombs were dropped to get at underground installations. Camouflaged, one-story buildings were also used in wooded areas.

It would be appropriate to break the target areas down into three categories: cities, towns and shops located on farmland. The potential for civilian casualties generally dropped as bombers went after targets further away from cities. But, take D-Day for example. Due to unexpected intermittent cloud cover, the bombers missed their target area by two miles and “the result was a lot of dead French cows.” And one more thing. Even on clear days, and depending on the direction of the wind, containers containing substances that would produce smoke were lit on the ground to obscure the target, making it more difficult to bomb it accurately.

Except in those cases where bombers or fighter-bombers flew a lot lower, and usually got shot down in greater numbers, the only hope for civilians was bomb shelters once the warning had been issued.

I don’t have the number of civilian casualties due to bombing at hand.

To answer your question, yes, it was moral to bomb factories that produced weapons, including steel mills, trains that carried munitions and oil refineries and storage facilities, with the latter sometimes being protected by an outer concrete blast wall around each storage tank.

The stated goal was to deprive the enemy of the weapons and fuel he needed to keep fighting, shortening the war.


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