Rules of War
Protection of civilian populations is also a primary concern of the rules governing aerial warfare. Indiscriminate bombing of undefended cities or other areas densely inhabited by civilians is considered a serious war crime. Aerial bombardment of private property that is unrelated to military operations, such as private homes, commercial establishments, philanthropic institutions, historical landmarks, and educational facilities, is also forbidden. Aerial assaults on hospitals, public or private, are banned as well.
The incidental destruction of private property during an aerial attack may not violate the rules of war, however, if the attack is carried out for military purposes. These include the interdiction of military communication and transportation, the enervation of military forces and installations, and the destruction of factories manufacturing arms or military supplies. Nonetheless, the bombing of such targets may
be illegal if it endangers high concentrations of civilians, and the stated military objective is unclear or unimportant.
Rules regarding aerial warfare are frequently violated. During World War II, both the Axis and the Allied powers engaged in bombing attacks that inflicted high casualties directly on civilian populations. In the Battle of Britain, the German Luftwaffe bombed certain English cities to weaken the residents' will to resist. Without discriminating between military and noncombatant targets, the Allies bombed Dresden and Hamburg in Germany and Tokyo and Yokohama, and the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, killing over 100,000 Japanese civilians in the first ten seconds after the first blast. Since World War II, improved fighter planes and anti-aircraft defenses have made surgical aerial assaults more difficult.
Aircraft must be identified by external markings to allow belligerents to distinguish military from civilian aerial units. Additionally, such markings allow neutral countries to identify their own aircraft and permit the peaceful entry of aerial medical units onto a battlefield. Regardless of the nature of an aerial unit, belligerents are prohibited from firing on persons parachuting from a disabled aircraft, unless they are paratroopers engaged in an ESPIONAGE mission. Distinguishing paratroopers from other parachutists is left to the discretion of individual pilots and gunners.
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