Just War Part 14: Holy War Protest

Neither America’s nor Britain’s population protested on a large scale Allied bombing campaigns during World War II. Many historians say that a sort of holy war mentality had taken over, overriding any moral outrage the population would have ordinarily expressed. Americans and Brits are said to have “feared the consequence of not acting forcefully against incarnate evil.”(1)

“It was not clear that moral rules applied in this situation.” (2)

In the holy war climate of World War II – a battle against Satan himself – moral was whatever brought victory. But not everyone felt this way. Some clung to traditional Just War doctrine. In Britain there was Dr. George Bell, Bishop of Chichester who told a very angry and unreceptive House of Lords…

“Even if it was permissible to kill men and women at work in factories, it was not permissible to kill men and women in their homes.”(3)

In America twenty-eight prominent ministers published a letter protesting the bombing of civilians in Germany. The Assistant Secretary of War, Robert Lovett, took their letter to Air Force officials and warned them of the risk of continued negative public opinion if the Allied bombing strategy did not change. The decision was then made not to publicly announce “indiscriminate bombing” as official military policy but no change was made to strategy.(4)

Some of the Just War tradition remained in the conscience of the American and British people, even if not heeded by their military and government.


  • 1. Peter Mayhew, A Theology of Force and Violence (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1989)
  • 2. Louis A. Manzo, Morailty in War Fighting and Strategic Bombing in World War II (Air Force Historical Foundation, 1992)
  • 3. Calvocoressi and Wint, Total War
  • 4. Schaffer, American Military Ethics in World War II