22 SEPTEMBER 1939, Page 5

AIR-WAR AND THE CITIES T HE present complete immunity of London

and other British cities from aerial attack, and the similar immunity of French towns far behind the lines, may merely be due to the fact that the Germans have not yet got into their stride on the Western front. La guerre totale has been waged in Poland, but not yet against Britain and France. How long will this last? There is no need to assume that the enemy will be capable of doing such damage to our towns as they have done to Polish. Our defences are powerful, and our Air Force can give blows as hard as it receives, and is actually better situated for attack than are the Germans. But their command may think it worth while to try. We know much, but not all, about the invasion of Poland. There has not yet been opportunity for close inquiry on the spot or for the sifting of evidence. We know that very early in the proceedings the German Air Force, in vastly superior strength, was able to attack the Polish air-bases with deadly effect ; that road-junctions, depots and other military objectives were successfully bombed ; and that open towns and even villages of no military importance were subjected to repeated ruthless bombardment. What we should like to know for certain is what part this bombing of civilians played in the collapse of Poland, and how far it was deliberate policy.

Here, as it happens, we have evidence which has already been abundantly sifted from German air activity in the Spanish War, and in particular against the Basques. In Spain German air strategy differed from that of the Spaniards and the Italians. In the cases of the latter, their bombardments, disastrous as they were in killing civilians, usually admit of explanation on the ground that the civiiians were near " military objec- tives." That is not so in an essential part of the policy of bombardment adopted by the predominantly German force that operated against the Basques in 1937. Mr. George L. Steer, in The Tree of Gernika, written after prolonged inquiries on the spot, at the time and after- wards, explains exactly what happened at Durango, at Gernika, and in Bilbao itself. Besides aerial attacks on the front line, on road traffic, and baseline villages— which are true " military objectives "—the Germans . adopted " a new method of war, more terrible than any practised at Madrid " in bombing the purely civilian populations of Durango and Gernika :— The object of this bombardment, part No. 4 of the German plan, was to terrify civilians, and to knock so many houses across the roads that they would be impassab'c to motor-transport. Civilian morale is an extremely important element of war in any vo'untary o: militia system; where the conduct of war depends not so much on direction from above but on willingness to fight for an ideal, an army and the civilian population which it protects are so tightly linked that changes in their feeling, either towards fear or enthusiasm, become common property at once. . . . The Germans wanted to strike terror into everyone who lived in Durango, everyone who passed through it. and everyone who heard of it. And again ; " Gernika, like Durango, was bombed in order to terrify the civil population, and through them the militia." The morale of the civilians cracked before that of the army in the field. The latter was attacked from behind. The " mystique of the air " drugged the rearguard ; and " the rearguard re-injected the troops with the opium in double portion."

Now, for Basques it is easy to substitute Poles. Against the latter, similarly situated, the same long-thought-out, deliberate policy was pursued with unrelenting frightful- ness. Military objectives were hit hard, but to under- mine the fighting morale of the troops at the front the morale of the civilian population in the rear was sub- jected to the ordeal of repeated terrific bombardments. That, there can be little doubt, was an important element in German military policy against Poland, and helps to explain the rapid crumpling up of armies whose troops in the field displayed exemplary courage. The question arises, will the Germans attempt to apply such methods in the West?

That they would do so if they could and if they dared cannot be doubted. To strike at the civilian morale when it is vulnerable is part of the now established Nazi plan of campaign. But is it vulnerable in the West? German planes will be met on equal terms by Allied planes, and those which get past them have still to reckon with strong anti-aircraft defences. There is, moreover, a deterrent factor in the knowledge that whatever one side can do the other can do also. In responding to President Roosevelt's appeal to refrain from aerial bom- bardment of civilians, the Allies have given their under- taking, so long as their opponents keep the word they also have given. In view of the ease with which Hitler breaks his word sanctions seem more likely to weigh with him than solemn promises. The knowledge that our bombers are perhaps the best in the world, and that we have the power to retaliate may lead Hitler to conclude that honesty in this category is the best policy—that Germany will not be safe if London and Paris are bombed. Berlin itself, the city which Hitler has taken pride in rebuilding, is by no means out of range. But it is not, as we understand the term, a " military objec- tive." Nor is London, or Paris, or Lyons, or Man- chester or Leeds.

What, then, are the military objectives which we regard as legitimate objects of attack? The code drafted by the Commission of Jurists at The Hague in 1923 has not been embodied in an international convention, but it has been accepted in most countries, in theory at least, as an adequate statement of accepted right—even, we are told, by the Navy Department in Japan. Under this code it is lawful to bombard military forces, military works, establishments or depOts, factories constituting important and well-known centres engaged in the manu- facture of armaments, munitions or distinctively military supplies, lines of communication or transport used for military purposes. But the rules explicitly forbid the bombardment of military establishments or depots, or factories constituting important and well-known centres engaged in the manufacture of arms, where such locali- ties cannot be attacked "without the indiscriminate bom- bardment of the civil population."

That last rule is important. It was violated by Ger- man aeroplanes in Spain. It has been violated in Poland. If the rule is respected by Germans in England it would mean that London is immune, and that the existence of the arsenal at Woolwich is no legitimate pretext :or bombarding its East End. If London and Paris are not immune, how can Hitler expect that Berlin, or Cologne or Munich should be immune? It is not the Britt' h intention to attack such towns. Is Hitler willing, from self-interest, to put aside the considered policy he has adopted in Poland, and fight according to rule, as we are prepared to do, and in accordance with his own promise?