Category Archives: Modern Social History

The Battle of Midway: The not-so decisive battle

Between 4-7 June, 1942 just a month after the Battle of the Coral Sea, and six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese developed a battle plan to try to take the Midway Atoll, and draw the American carrier fleet into a trap.   This plan was named ‘Operation MI’, whereby Japan hoped to crush the American Pacific Fleet decisively.  The plan would allow them to take the Midway Atoll to assert their dominance in the Pacific, closing the gap in their northern defences[1] and forcing the US into a negotiated peace.  Unfortunately for the Japanese, instead of a decisive win, the Imperial Japanese Navy indisputably lost.  The Battle of Midway was a won decisively by the US fleet.

Decisive /dɪˈsʌɪsɪv/1. settling an issue; producing a definite result [2]

That the US won this battle ‘decisively’ is uncontentious, however when discussing the Battle of Midway, there are many who claim this win was something more; not only was the battle won decisively, but that this battle was ‘decisive’ for the outcome of the Pacific War itself.  Could Midway really have been ‘decisive’ for the Pacific War? H. P. Willmott says no.  He argues that the Battle of Midway should not be considered ‘decisive’ for the Pacific War, because this would be to use the term in a way different to its accepted meaning.  For Midway to have been ‘decisive’ for the Pacific War, Willmott suggests that it must satisfy at least one of three primary conditions:  A Japanese win must have been able to change the outcome of the war; The American victory must have caused a ‘death knell’ for Japanese forces; or that the Pacific War for the US hinged on such a victory, without which their situation could not have been reversed.  Willmott suggests, and this essay concurs, that none of these conditions are sufficiently met to consider Midway ‘decisive’; rather, Midway should be seen as a (large) part of a campaign which started with the Battle of the Coral Sea, and ended with the Battle of Guadalcanal.

A Japanese win at Midway, a different outcome for the Pacific War?

Implicit in the choice of Midway as the ‘decisive moment’ in the Pacific war is the judgment that from this point defeat was inevitable for Japan. This idea of inevitability hinges on the assumption that there were genuine alternatives to the outcome of the war, and that Midway created the conditions for the US victory. However this is highly doubtful, because Midway was only a naval battle, and ‘even great victories do not necessarily decide the outcome of conflict at sea, let alone on land’[3].  Likewise, it can be argued that there were only two outcomes possible in the Pacific War; a US military win, or a win/win negotiated peace, since a mere prolongation of the Pacific War, without affecting the final outcome, would have been insufficient to be considered ‘decisive’.

It must be considered if the Japanese could have been victorious against the US. Realistically, the US decision to implement a ‘total war’ strategy meant that the US was not in significant danger of ‘losing’ the Pacific War.  This may have prolonged the timeframe for victory, and been achieved with greater human and materiel losses on both sides[4], though it was highly doubtful that the Japanese could have overcome the significant economic and resource issues they had.  The Pacific war was never really militarily ‘winnable’ by the Japanese; they simply did not have the economic power, industrial strength, or the materiel or human resources to win a total war against the US.  The industrial power of the U.S gave them the capacity to inflict their revenge upon the Japanese; it was merely a matter of time.

If Japanese defeat was inevitable, then there could be no ‘decisive’ battles at all, save for perhaps the initial attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941; as Willmott notes, ‘the notion of an inevitable victory is irreconcilable with that of a decisive battle’[5].  If there was a possibility of a different outcome, it was in a possible negotiation of peace, which, all things considered, was highly unlikely to have been successful[6]. The Pacific War, for the Japanese, was never supposed to be a militarily won engagement.  Japan knew they would be unable to keep pace with the Americans; Yamamoto is purported to have understood this well, given his time at Harvard, in the USA.  He is purported to have said ‘Anyone who has seen the auto factories in Detroit and the oil fields in Texas […] knows that Japan lacks the national power for a naval race with America’[7]. Instead, the Japanese objectives in the war, at least initially, were to gain leverage for recognition of their political objectives.  The Midway operation, like the attack on Pearl Harbor six months earlier, was not part of a campaign for the conquest of the United States, but was aimed at its elimination as a strategic Pacific power, thereby giving Japan carte blanche in establishing its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.  The aim was to encourage the US to deem the Pacific too costly to be worthwhile.

American victory, Japanese ‘death knell’?

That was their primary reason for Midway – they aimed to force the Americans to agree to a favourable peace deal through a ‘decisive’ win.  Instead, Midway exacerbated an already problematic asset gap, since Japan had far less capacity to recoup those losses.  At Midway, the US lost one destroyer, one aircraft carrier and 147 aircraft, but for these losses, they destroyed Japans four best aircraft carriers, along with their entire crews, air crews, and aircraft, and a cruiser[8]. However, while these losses at Midway were devastating, ‘the American victory […] did not immediately alleviate the Japanese threat in the Central and South Pacific, nor did it win back one foot of conquered soil’[9].  According to Willmott, for a standalone naval victory like Midway to be ‘decisive’, it would have been necessary to prove to the other side that the costs of engaging were too high, forcing a negotiation for surrender or bilateral peace.  Midway did not meet this ‘death knell’ criteria; in order to create this situation, assets that were never at risk at Midway would have needed to be under threat or lost; troops, industry, and infrastructure.

According to Spector, the Japanese still had sufficient forces after Midway to again take the initiative for another try at the US fleet[10]. The Japanese still held the overall balance of power in the Pacific, and at best, still retained a degree of naval superiority in the Pacific after Midway; at worst, they had a rough parity.  This meant that if they had maintained the initiative, and pursued aggressively, they may have been able to break the American sea lines of communications to Australia[11].  This superiority, as discussed previously, was known to be time sensitive; they knew they would have to act before the US could use their economy to full effect.  In spite of this, the Japanese were still a strong threat to any action in the Pacific after Midway. They could still perform offensive operations, both naval and land-based; they had not wagered enough at Midway to force them to surrender; and their appropriated territories in the Pacific had defences strong enough to cause concern.  While the loss of four carriers made it difficult for the Japanese to support their ground forces, it was not a significant enough loss for them to deem it too costly to continue the war – they still had those other forces, and control of resources in South East Asia.  The Pacific War was far too extensive to have been decided on the basis of one single, purely naval battle. It is difficult, therefore, to justify Midway as the ‘decisive’ point in the Pacific; it merely provided a ‘short breathing space’[12] for the Americans.

Victory in the Pacific hinged on Midway?

Since it has been shown already that it is highly doubtful that there could have been a different outcome to the Pacific War overall, how could a victory at Midway be required to win the Pacific War?  While it is certainly true that the US may not have been confident of committing to the later battle at Guadalcanal without a win at Midway[13], it is certainly likely that they would have continued the war; a ‘victory’ for Japan, consisting of their desired negotiated peace, was unlikely with the US emphasis on ‘absolute victory’[14], and later, with the joint Allied doctrine of ‘unconditional surrender’[15].  Given the differences in industrial strengths noted previously, there was little doubt that the US could out produce Japan; this alone meant that Midway would not prove ‘decisive’ in the context of the war.

There is also the follow on from their industrial capacity; even a US loss at Midway could have been made good in a short period of time[16].  The US had, or had the capacity to produce, replacements for every unit they fielded at Midway.  A loss at Midway would not have been critical to the US economy; perhaps the greatest difficulties with a loss at Midway were political.  In a counterfactual scenario posed by Isom, the additional time and materiel fielded by Japan in 1945 may have led to a greater reliance upon the support provided by the Soviet Union[17].  This could have led to a brokered occupation policy with the Soviets, providing a measure of control in Japan much as happened in Germany after the end of the War in the European theatre. This would have forced similar ideological concessions as those made in the European Theatre with the Soviet Union.  What this shows, though, is that even had greater effort been required without a Midway, or with a loss at Midway, the US would still be in a position to secure a victory in the Pacific.

Midway: Only ‘decisive’ as a component of a campaign

If Midway is to be considered ‘decisive’, Willmott convincingly argues that this could only be true if seen as an ‘admittedly large’[18] component of a campaign, which included the Battle of the Coral Sea beforehand, and the Battle of Guadalcanal after it.  The battle of the Coral Sea provided the benefit to morale, and reduced the pressure on the US. It also shifted the balance of power away from the Japanese, though not yet ‘to’ the US[19].  While the losses at the Battle of the Coral Sea favoured the Japanese, Willmott argues that it is not merely the numbers that matter[20]; it is, instead, the fact that at this stage of the war, the Japanese simply could not afford the waste of time and resources that they could not have recouped.  Their loss, while giving the appearance of a tactical victory, Willmott suggests actually created a strategic loss to their potential[21].

The Battle of Midway shifted the balance of power again; it created an increasingly significant asset gap in the Japanese forces, and the loss of carriers, along with their aircraft, damaged both Japanese air superiority, and offensive capability[22].  The Japanese lost the initiative; however it was not yet taken up by the US.  It was these factors that made Midway important, however they did not show their true impact until combined with the Battle of Guadalcanal, and the Island hopping campaign.

The Battle of Guadalcanal saw the Americans take up offense, and placed Japan on the defensive; it allowed the Americans exploit the losses of the Japanese in both the Coral Sea, and Midway to their full strategic potential.  While the battles in the Coral Sea and at Midway tore away Japanese assets, and damaged their defensive perimeter[23], the US needed these wins backed up at Guadalcanal in order to support the Solomons’ campaign, and to begin the hard trek to the end of the war in the Pacific.

 

This essay has argued that Willmott’s thesis that Midway alone was not decisive for the outcome of the Pacific War. Midway alone could not be decisive, because it could not have fulfilled the implications of the term; It could neither change the outcome of the war, cause a ‘death knell’ for Japanese forces, or been an irreversible hinge on which victory rested.  However, together with the battles of the Coral Sea, and of Guadalcanal, Midway can be seen as a piece of an important campaign that acted towards creating the conditions for victory in the Pacific.

 

 

Bibliography

Asada, S. From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States.  Annapolis, MD: US Naval Institute Press, 2013.

“Decisive.” In Oxford Dictionary of English, edited by Angus Stevenson Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.prospero.murdoch.edu.au/10.1093/acref/9780199571123.001.0001/m_en_gb0209960.

Isom, D.W. Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway.  Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007.

Lillian Goldman Law Library. “Casablanca Conference, Feb 12, 1943.”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/casablan.asp.

———. “Joint Session of the Congress Monday, December 8, 1941.”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/dec03.asp#address.

Murray, Williamson. “Allied Strategy in the First Phase of the Pacific War: Pearl Harbor and the U.S. Reaction.” In Eighth Forum, International Forum on War History: Strategy in the Pacific War. Tokyo, Japan: National institute for Defense Studies, 2009.

Roehrs, M.D., and W.A. Renzi. World War Two in the Pacific. M E Sharpe Incorporated, 2004.

Spector, R.H. Eagle against the Sun: The American War with Japan.  New York: Free Press, 1985.

Till, Geoffrey. “Midway: The Decisive Battle?”. Naval History 19, no. 5 (2005): 32-36.

Willmott, H.P. The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies, February to June 1942.  Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1983.

 


[1] H.P. Willmott, The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies, February to June 1942  (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1983), 67.

[2] “Decisive,” ed. Angus Stevenson, 3rd ed., Oxford Dictionary of English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010),  http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.prospero.murdoch.edu.au/10.1093/acref/9780199571123.001.0001/m_en_gb0209960.

[3] Geoffrey Till, “Midway: The Decisive Battle?,” Naval History 19, no. 5 (2005): 33.

[4] D.W. Isom, Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway  (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007), 293.

[5] Willmott, The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies, February to June 1942, 519.

[6] Isom, Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway, 207.

[7] S. Asada, From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States  (Annapolis, MD: US Naval Institute Press, 2013), 183.

[8] R.H. Spector, Eagle against the Sun: The American War with Japan  (New York: Free Press, 1985), 176.

[9] M.D. Roehrs and W.A. Renzi, World War Two in the Pacific  (M E Sharpe Incorporated, 2004), 105.

[10] Spector, Eagle against the Sun: The American War with Japan, 178.

[11] Williamson Murray, “Allied Strategy in the First Phase of the Pacific War: Pearl Harbor and the U.S. Reaction,” in Eighth Forum, International Forum on War History: Strategy in the Pacific War (Tokyo, Japan: National institute for Defense Studies, 2009), 53.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Willmott, The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies, February to June 1942, 514.

[14] Lillian Goldman Law Library, “Joint Session of the Congress Monday, December 8, 1941,”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/dec03.asp#address.

[15] “Casablanca Conference, Feb 12, 1943,”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/casablan.asp.

[16] Willmott, The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies, February to June 1942, 522.

[17] see Isom’s counterfactual scenario in Isom, Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway, 290-92 especially.

[18] Willmott, The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies, February to June 1942.

[19] The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies, February to June 1942, 514.

[20] The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies, February to June 1942, 517.

[21] The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies, February to June 1942, 518.

[22] The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies, February to June 1942, 514, 23.

[23] Till, “Midway: The Decisive Battle?.”

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Failed Revolutions: Hungary, 1956 and Czechoslovakia, 1968

Stalin’s death in 1953 sparked a new era in Cold War relations.  In spite of a leadership battle, the Soviets embarked on a series of reforms which began a thaw in East-West relations.  Khrushchev emerged as the leader in the Kremlin, and then in February 1956, gave a speech to the Twentieth Party Congress in which outlined his intent to carry out reforms towards ‘de-Stalinisation’.  Khrushchev inspired ‘de-Stalinisation’ of the Soviet bloc led to an increased hope for political and social change.   This speech sparked hope for political change, particularly in Eastern Europe.  This commitment to reform and move away from the ‘terror’ policies was tested in Poland between June and October that same year; riots and strikes occurred, and instead of being violently suppressed by a Soviet invasion, various concessions were granted[i].  The perception of success gave reformist communists, and the populations of the Eastern European nations hope, and increased expectations.  However, popular uprisings, like those seen in Hungary during 1956, and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, were crushed by a show of Soviet force.  

This show of force was the proximal cause of the failure of these revolts. There was a confluence of factors in the ultimate causes of their failure, so to find the ultimate cause(s) of their failure, it is necessary to consider the requirements for success.  The formation of the Post war world into two primary blocs was ‘the cornerstone of East-West relations’[ii], which led to the necessity of either Soviet benevolence, or support from the West in order for these revolts to succeed.  The Hungarian Uprising and the Prague Spring did not occur in a political vacuum; various preconditions and contemporary events played a role in the failure of these revolts. Nevertheless, three factors stand out: the geopolitical reality of the two rebellious States, the lack of outside support, and the increasingly radical demands of the population.  These three factors meant the revolts were doomed to failure.  First though, a brief outline of the two revolts.

The Revolts

On October 23, 1956, a peaceful student demonstration was held in Budapest, Hungary, in support of Polish reform.  As the crowd swelled to about two hundred thousand Hungarians, the demonstration quickly turned into a riot, and neither the AVH[iii], nor the Hungarian military could regain control[iv].  Erno Gero, Party Secretary in Hungary, formally requested Soviet military aid, which saw Soviet tanks in Budapest the next day.  Meanwhile, Imre Nagy, the former Prime Minister, was returned to the government in an attempt to placate the rebels.   Nagy called for a cease-fire on the 28th, and promised Soviet withdrawal, which was effected by the 30th October.  This, as it turned out, was not to last.  The Soviet Presidium, meeting 30th October, initially decided to withdraw and declared their willingness to negotiate with the new Hungarian government, however on 31st October the Presidium changed its mind; overnight they had decided to intervene.  The 1st November saw Nagy call for independence and a withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, and when the Soviets re-entered Hungary on the 4th November, Nagy pleaded to the UN to support Hungary’s independence.  No significant support was provided, and the Soviets crushed the revolt; the fighting lasted until the final wave of suppression on the 10th November.

Twelve years later, another reform project started in Czechoslovakia, this time much more organised.  The ‘Prague Spring’ was an ‘eight-month-long experiment’[v] to humanise socialism, modifying it to suit Czechoslovak conditions.  It came about after the loss of internal KSC[vi] party support for the then leader in Czechoslovakia, Antonin Novotny, due to a lack of positive economic and political reform. In early 1968 the ‘Stalinist’ era leader was ousted with the consent of Brezhnev, then Soviet Premier, who refused to support Novotny. Replacing him as First Secretary of the KSC was Alexander Dubcek, and soon after as President by Ludvik Svoboda.  This prepared the ground for Dubcek’s ‘Action Program’, a series of liberalisations including removal of censorship, some privatisation and greater democratic processes.  These reforms were instituted across several months, beginning in February – March 1968, Repeated warnings for moderation and limits by the Soviets had been ignored, and an increasingly demanding population had caused concern; a conservative wing in the government ‘invited’ the Soviets to put down the reformist government August 20-21, 1968.

Geopolitical concerns – The ‘buffer zone’ and a ‘contagion’

At the end of World War Two (WWII), The Soviet Union had been invaded several times in their recent history, and so, they demanded a ‘buffer zone’[vii] of communist friendly states over which they would have influence.  Based on agreements and military reality, the Soviets had achieved de facto control of Eastern Europe; the West allowed the ‘Iron Curtain’ to descend[viii].  McCauley suggests that this bipolarity formed out of WWII actually created a situation where each side, through ‘either passive acquiescence or more active measures’, supported the other in maintaining the status quo.

In 1956, Khrushchev was concerned that a departure from Hungary would leave holes in Soviet defences.  The Hungarian Uprising only occurred the year after Austria’s independence and the Belgrade Declaration[ix], so the possibility of Hungarian independence was unthinkable.  Hungary played a vital role in facilitating communication and control over the southern Communist states.  It was a link to Tito’s Yugoslavia, and helped ensure Yugoslavia was not isolated from the Soviets, which would risk closer ties with the West, and Western expansion.  Furthermore, the Suez crisis created an additional problem; knowing their limited capacity to act in the Middle-East at the time[x], the additional loss of Hungary would appear as though they were on a retreat from Empire – that they would not only be seen as weak in the Suez crisis, but as though they had given it up to the ‘imperialists’[xi].  Czechoslovakia also held a crucial location for the Soviets.  Not only did the State border the Soviet Union, but was a direct link to Western Germany; if Czechoslovakia was lost to Communism, then once again, the Soviets would have to be concerned over West-Germany, and Western invasion.  The loss of Czechoslovakia would also limit the capacity for communication between northern and southern Communist states[xii].

Both Khrushchev and Brezhnev were under pressure from within the CPSU, and in the other Communist states to take a hard line in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.  There was still a strong conservative wing in the CPSU, and noting that the after Stalin, the CPSU restored a significant degree of ‘collective leadership’[xiii], pacifying this group was a factor in securing these two States by force.  These two states had defied Soviet policy, and their reforms risked encouraging the populations in other Communist states.  Against Hungary in 1956, the neighbouring states were near unanimous; many states offered troops to quell the Uprising[xiv].  In 1968, it was predominantly East Germany and Poland offering strong arguments for Soviet intervention[xv].  At least part of this support was to avoid the possibility of a contagion – of revolts.  Both Khrushchev in 1956 and Brezhnev in 1968 were trying to avoid allowing these revolutions to spark a ‘snowball’ effect[xvi]. There was a great concern, not unjustified[xvii], that surrendering one satellite state under these sorts of conditions would set off a chain reaction of revolts; the Hungarian Uprising began itself as a protest in support of Polish concessions.  Further demonstrations occurred in the Soviet Union[xviii], and in this way, the intervention in Hungary and Czechoslovakia can be seen as sending a message to the whole of the Eastern Bloc that they remained under Soviet influence.

Increasingly Radical Demands in an Unprepared Leadership

Noting that they were geopolitically positioned in the Soviet sphere of influence, the demands made by the rebelling population were extreme; they were both idealistic and far-reaching[xix].  Furthermore, the demands became increasingly more fervent and radical as it progressed[xx]; the reform movement was outpacing the attempts to appease.  This was exacerbated by the lack of party control over the population and the media, and a failure of the leaders themselves.

In Hungary, the students’ organisation MEFESZ included the withdrawal of all Soviet troops; the reorganization of the government under Imre Nagy’s leadership; free elections for a new multi-party national assembly; various economic reforms; the rehabilitation of all victims of past injustices; and full freedom of speech and press[xxi].  Nagy was ‘reformed’ to the Communist leadership, but lost the initiative in managing the demands of the rebels, and selling reforms to Moscow[xxii].  Lack of firm leadership as the revolution gathered pace led to a loss of confidence by Moscow; rather than subduing the uprising, Nagy was attempting to keep pace with the accelerating events and increasingly radicalized popular demands[xxiii].

In Czechoslovakia, the Dubcek ‘Action Plan’ was really quite modest, but was seen as having wider potential[xxiv]; this was seen as positive by those supporting the reforms, and negative by those against them.  The reforms included removal of censorship, economic reforms towards a mixed economy, and the breakup of the unitary state into two.  When, on June 27, Czech intellectuals produced a two-thousand-word manifesto that advocated civil disobedience in order to ensure the continuation of the reform movement, even to the point of using weapons[xxv], this alarmed the anti-reformists in the Czechoslovak government, as well as the Soviets[xxvi].  For Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, it was very much a case of the offers of liberalisation provided simply prompted desire for even more liberalisation.

There was a distinct lack of forward thinking on the part of the leadership, particularly noting that they knew the system and their ‘comrades’ in the Soviet Union.  Events had resulted in unrealistic demands and expectations from the rank and file of the Revolt, producing a situation that the Soviets could probably not accept.  Many of the insurgents were determined to achieve their goals immediately, rather than settling for ill-defined negotiations that, once under way, would be subject to delay or derailment[xxvii].  They were idealistic, rather than pragmatic and patient[xxviii].  However justified they were, as valid as their claims may have been, as understandable the frustration, and as appealing their idealism, they should have tempered their enthusiasm.  The demand for ever wider reforms and the unwillingness to compromise or be patient with particular demands placed significant stress on the reformist government.  The necessity of placating the public, and the commitment to a new way, meant that they were unwilling to call for temperance, or use their power to halt insurgency.  A degree of self-censorship may have lessened the severity of the suppression, or removed its necessity by highlighting the lack of a threat the reforms actually posed.

(Lack of) Western Intervention

The only exit from Soviet Influence would seem to be with Western support; with plenty of reasons for the Soviet Union to interfere, there was still one possibility that gave pause: Western intervention.  Even before their entry into WWII, the US and Great Britain had signed the ‘Atlantic Charter’, highlighting a commitment to ‘freedom’ of peoples[xxix].  This was further bolstered by the commitment to the provision of political, military and economic assistance to nations under threat from external or internal authoritarian forces, as indicated by the Truman Doctrine[xxx].  Still further, the United States zealouslypromoted their doctrines of ‘liberation’ and ‘rollback’, rather than mere ‘containment’[xxxi].  However this would be shown as purely propaganda, in their response to the crisis in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.  In spite of this rhetoric, and the highly propagandist messages broadcast by the Western sponsored radio[xxxii], It was made very clear that the West would not support the Hungarians, even to the point of then President Eisenhower personally contacting the Soviets to ensure this was understood.  Bekes argues that the US administration was duplicitous in their policy; while being committed to these ideals in theory, they were thoroughly pragmatic to the point of immobility in practice.  They recognised the implicit international status quo that was firmly established by 1956, and they had no intentions of challenging this system[xxxiii].

After events in Hungary, Western propaganda decreased in intensity.  However in the 1960s there were moves towards ‘bridge building’ between the West and Czechoslovakia[xxxiv].  This, and Czechoslovakia’s geopolitical location in Europe, which shared borders with NATO West Germany, meant there was more of a chance the West would become involved.  Brezhnev   was concerned about risks of the conflict extending beyond Czechoslovakian borders, and becoming involved in a much bigger war than was necessary[xxxv]. However, then US President Johnson preferred to aim for a modus vivendi with the Soviets, focusing instead on setting up the SALT talks; the US was also otherwise distracted with the Vietnam War[xxxvi].

The West’s involvement in the both crises consisted of speeches which highlighted solidarity with the people, but refusal to intervene[xxxvii].  The West was not willing to provide support the liberation of these nations in Eastern Europe; ‘Defections from one sphere [of influence] would be exploited by the other only when it was clear that the first either could not or would not reassert control. Hence, the United States took advantage of departures from the Soviet bloc of Yugoslavia […]; it did not seek to do so in the case of Hungary in 1956 [or] Czechoslovakia in 1968’[xxxviii]

 

Both Hungary and Czechoslovakia were integral to the Soviet Union’s ‘security’, and the loss of one, or both, would cause significant problems for it.  The leadership in both revolts failed to manage social and political expectations and the enthusiasm of the population and the radical demands noting their position in Eastern Europe quickly became threatening to the Soviet Union.  After attempting political measures to rein in the satellite states, the Soviets decided to intervene militarily to quell resistance.  Since the Western priority was taking tentative steps towards détente, support from the West was not forthcoming.

 


[i] Though there was a degree of violence internally, suggesting the capacity of the government to control dissent was a factor in Soviet non-intervention. Johanna  Granville, “Poland and Hungary, 1956: A Comparative Essay Based on New Archival Findings,” in Revolution and Resistance in Eastern Europe: Challenges to Communist Rule, ed. Kevin McDermott and Matthew Stibbe (Oxford: Berg, 2006), 59.

[ii] Csaba Bekes, “The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Great Powers,” Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 13, no. 2 (1997): 51.

[iii] AVO (Allamvedelmi Osztaly), 1946-1950 / AVH (Allamvedelmi Hatosag), 1950-1956 – State Security Department.  Johanna Granville, “From the Archives of Warsaw and Budapest: A Comparison of the Events of 1956,” East European Politics & Societies 16, no. 2 (2002): 536, 39., note 47

[iv] In the case of the military, many were also unwilling to try; many ‘defected’ to support the revolt Granville, “Poland and Hungary, 1956: A Comparative Essay Based on New Archival Findings,” 61 – 62.

[v] Mark Kramer, “The Kremlin, the Prague Spring, and the Brezhnev Doctrine,” in Promises of 1968: Crisis, Illusion, and Utopia, ed. V. Tismăneanu (Budapest, Hungary: Central European University Press, 2011).

[vi] KSC (Komunistická strana Československa), the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia

[vii] Alan K. Henrikson, “Distance and Foreign Policy: A Political Geography Approach,” International Political Science Review / Revue internationale de science politique 23, no. 4 (2002): 455 – 56.

[viii] Bruce Kuniholm, “The Origins of the First Cold War: Methodologies, Values, and Their Implications for East-West Relations,” in The Cold War: Past and Present, ed. R. Crockatt and S. Smith (London: Allen & Unwin, 1987), 45 – 49.

[ix] FERENC A.  SZABÓ, “Hungary’s Geopolitical and Geostrategic Situation at the Time of the Revolution and Fight for Freedom of 1956,” Academic and Applied Research in Military Science (AARMS) 5, no. 4 (2006): 704; Csaba Békés, “The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Declaration of Neutrality,” Cold War History 6, no. 4 (2006): 480.

[x] Brian McCauley, “Hungary and Suez, 1956: The Limits of Soviet and American Power,” Journal of Contemporary History 16, no. 4 (1981): 794-95.

[xi] Cold War International History Project (CWIHP), “Stenographic Record of a 4 November 1956 Meeting of Party Activists,”  Istochnik 6(2003), http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/113337

[xii] J.R. Short, An Introduction to Political Geography  (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982), 76.

[xiii] J. Valenta, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968: Anatomy of a Decision  (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), 17.

[xiv] SZABÓ, “Hungary’s Geopolitical and Geostrategic Situation at the Time of the Revolution and Fight for Freedom of 1956; Amir  Weiner, “The Empires Pay a Visit: Gulag Returnees, East European Rebellions, and Soviet Frontier Politics,” The Journal of Modern History 78, no. 2 (2006): 352.

[xv] Valenta, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968: Anatomy of a Decision, 23.

[xvi] Kramer, “The Kremlin, the Prague Spring, and the Brezhnev Doctrine.”

[xvii] Protests occurred in support of both Hungary and Czechoslovakia in various places across the SU and East Europe.  Valenta, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968: Anatomy of a Decision, 24.

[xviii] Weiner, “The Empires Pay a Visit: Gulag Returnees, East European Rebellions, and Soviet Frontier Politics,” 354-59.

[xix] C. Gati, Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt  (Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2006), 158.

[xx] Laura Cashman, “Remembering 1948 and 1968: Reflections on Two Pivotal Years in Czech and Slovak History,” Europe-Asia Studies 60, no. 10 (2008): 1648.

[xxi] Document 24, in C. Békés, M. Byrne, and J. Rainer, “The” 1956 Hungarian Revolution: A History in Documents  (Central European.University Press, 2002), 188.

[xxii] Gati, Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt, 150.

[xxiii] Granville, “From the Archives of Warsaw and Budapest: A Comparison of the Events of 1956; Gati, Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt, 217.

[xxiv] J. Valenta, “The Soviet Union and East Central Europe: Crisis, Intervention, and Normalization,” in Communism in Eastern Europe, ed. T. Rakowska-Harmstone (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1984), 334.

[xxv] Mitchell Lerner, ““Trying to Find the Guy Who Invited Them”: Lyndon Johnson, Bridge Building, and the End Ofthe Prague Spring*,” Diplomatic History 32, no. 1 (2008): 92.

[xxvi] {Valenta@40

[xxvii] Mark Kramer, “New Evidence on Soviet Decision-Making and the 1956 Polish and Hungarian Crises,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin 8-9, no. Winter (1996/1997): 368.

[xxviii] Gati, Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt.

[xxix] Lillian Goldman Law Library, “Atlantic Charter August 14, 1941,”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/atlantic.asp.

[xxx] “Truman Doctrine: President Harry S. Truman’s Address before a Joint Session of Congress, March 12, 1947,”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/trudoc.asp.

[xxxi] McCauley, “Hungary and Suez, 1956: The Limits of Soviet and American Power,” 779.

[xxxii] Radio Free Europe, Voice of America; space precludes significant discussion.

[xxxiii] Csaba  Bekes, “The 1956 Hungarian Revolution in World Politics,”  The Hungarian Quarterly 36 no. Summer (1995), http://www.rev.hu/portal/page/portal/rev/tanulmanyok/1956/bcs5.

[xxxiv] In particular, trade/economic links with the US, but also wider social links; Lerner, ““Trying to Find the Guy Who Invited Them”: Lyndon Johnson, Bridge Building, and the End Ofthe Prague Spring*; John G. McGinn, “The Politics of Collective Inaction: NATO’s Response to the Prague Spring,” Journal of Cold War Studies 1, no. 3 (1999): 177.

[xxxv] Valenta, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968: Anatomy of a Decision.

[xxxvi] Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968: Anatomy of a Decision, 129-31.

[xxxvii] E.g. Dulles, as cited in McCauley, “Hungary and Suez, 1956: The Limits of Soviet and American Power,” 784.

[xxxviii] J.L. Gaddis, The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War  (Replica Books, 2001), 239.

Bibliography

Békés, C., M. Byrne, and J. Rainer. “The” 1956 Hungarian Revolution: A History in Documents. Central European.University Press, 2002.

Bekes, Csaba. “The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Great Powers.” Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 13, no. 2 (1997/06/01 1997): 51-66.

Békés, Csaba. “The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Declaration of Neutrality.” Cold War History 6, no. 4 (2006/11/01 2006): 477-500.

Bekes, Csaba “The 1956 Hungarian Revolution in World Politics.”  The Hungarian Quarterly 36 no. Summer (1995): 109-21. http://www.rev.hu/portal/page/portal/rev/tanulmanyok/1956/bcs5.

Cashman, Laura. “Remembering 1948 and 1968: Reflections on Two Pivotal Years in Czech and Slovak History.” Europe-Asia Studies 60, no. 10 (2008/12/01 2008): 1645-58.

Cold War International History Project (CWIHP). “Stenographic Record of a 4 November 1956 Meeting of Party Activists.”  Istochnik 6, (2003): 63-75. Published electronically November 04, 1956. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/113337

Gaddis, J.L. The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War. Replica Books, 2001.

Gati, C. Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt. Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2006.

Granville, Johanna. “From the Archives of Warsaw and Budapest: A Comparison of the Events of 1956.” East European Politics & Societies 16, no. 2 (May 1, 2002 2002): 521-63.

Granville, Johanna “Poland and Hungary, 1956: A Comparative Essay Based on New Archival Findings.” Chap. 4 In Revolution and Resistance in Eastern Europe: Challenges to Communist Rule, edited by Kevin McDermott and Matthew Stibbe, 57 – 77. Oxford: Berg, 2006.

Henrikson, Alan K. “Distance and Foreign Policy: A Political Geography Approach.” International Political Science Review / Revue internationale de science politique 23, no. 4 (2002): 437-66.

Kramer, Mark. “The Kremlin, the Prague Spring, and the Brezhnev Doctrine.” In Promises of 1968: Crisis, Illusion, and Utopia, edited by V. Tismăneanu, 285-370. Budapest, Hungary: Central European University Press, 2011.

———. “New Evidence on Soviet Decision-Making and the 1956 Polish and Hungarian Crises.” Cold War International History Project Bulletin 8-9, no. Winter (1996/1997): 358-84.

Kuniholm, Bruce. “The Origins of the First Cold War: Methodologies, Values, and Their Implications for East-West Relations.” Chap. 3 In The Cold War: Past and Present, edited by R. Crockatt and S. Smith, 37-57. London: Allen & Unwin, 1987.

Lerner, Mitchell. ““Trying to Find the Guy Who Invited Them”: Lyndon Johnson, Bridge Building, and the End Ofthe Prague Spring*.” Diplomatic History 32, no. 1 (2008): 77-103.

Lillian Goldman Law Library. “Atlantic Charter August 14, 1941.”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/atlantic.asp.

———. “Truman Doctrine: President Harry S. Truman’s Address before a Joint Session of Congress, March 12, 1947.”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/trudoc.asp.

McCauley, Brian. “Hungary and Suez, 1956: The Limits of Soviet and American Power.” Journal of Contemporary History 16, no. 4 (October 1, 1981 1981): 777-800.

McGinn, John G. “The Politics of Collective Inaction: NATO’s Response to the Prague Spring.” Journal of Cold War Studies 1, no. 3 (1999/09/01 1999): 111-38.

Short, J.R. An Introduction to Political Geography. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982.

SZABÓ, FERENC A. . “Hungary’s Geopolitical and Geostrategic Situation at the Time of the Revolution and Fight for Freedom of 1956.” Academic and Applied Research in Military Science (AARMS) 5, no. 4 (2006): 704 – 13.

Valenta, J. Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968: Anatomy of a Decision. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.

———. “The Soviet Union and East Central Europe: Crisis, Intervention, and Normalization.” Chap. 11 In Communism in Eastern Europe, edited by T. Rakowska-Harmstone, 329-59. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1984.

Weiner, Amir “The Empires Pay a Visit: Gulag Returnees, East European Rebellions, and Soviet Frontier Politics.” The Journal of Modern History 78, no. 2 (2006): 333-76.

 


Justifying Assassination: Heydrich and the Just War doctrine

Operation Anthropoid, the mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, is simultaneously seen as one of the bravest and one of the most terrible acts of Czech defiance during World War Two (WWII).  The event was marked by extreme reprisals by the Nazi regime which has led to an ongoing debate over the legality and morality of the assassination.  After a brief look at the scenario which led to the assassination, followed by an outline and explanation of the basic principles of the Just War doctrine, it will be demonstrated that under the circumstances, In spite of the devastating reprisals, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich was justified.

Assassination

The Czechoslovak nation was born out of the ashes of the First World War, in accordance with Section VII of the Versailles Treaty[1], and would virtually disappear two decades later, in the lead up to World War II.  The Nazi regime exploited unrest in the Sudetenland[2], a majority German speaking area on the shared borders with Germany, to gain cause for invading Czechoslovakia for their industrial capacity and natural resources[3].  The major 5 European powers, in order to attempt ‘appeasement’, passed the ‘Munich Agreement’ without consulting the fledgling State, providing Hitler with the Sudetenland. This land also contained significant Czech border military defences.

After the Munich Agreement, Nazi Germany occupied the Sudetenland.  Slovakia broke away from the Czech lands, forming their own fascist government, and forming an alliance with Germany.  Shortly after, in contravention of the Munich Agreement, and Article 81 of the Treaty of Versailles[4], Nazi Germany forced agreement[5] with the interim President into subsuming the Czech lands into the German Reich as the ‘Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia’.  This was quite obviously not what was desired by Czech citizens, and several resistance groups formed and attempted passive and active resistance measures such as intelligence gathering and civil disobedience to indicate displeasure with the status quo[6].  There is some evidence that resistance activities were having more effect, and increasing in number around the time of Operation Barbarossa[7], however, according to MacDonald, much of this resistance work was uncoordinated, and ineffective.  Furthermore, the quantity of resistance activities had been exaggerated for political purposes on both sides[8].

For the Government in Exile, headed by Benes, it was exaggerated for favour with the Allies; on the German side, it prompted a regime change in the Protectorate, from a ‘diplomatic’ von Neurath[9] to Reinhard Heydrich – a regime change that had deadly consequences for many, and subjugation under oppressing terror for others[10].  After several years of exile, working with the Allies, and attempting to inspire resistance at home, Edvard Benes and Frantisek Moravec developed a mission to convince the allies that Czechoslovakia was worth saving.  Two men from their small military were selected and trained for the mission in Britain, in conjunction with SOE, then were parachuted into the Protectorate on 28/29th December 1941[11].  Their task: the assassination of the Reichsprotektor, Reinhard Heydrich.

The plan did not go smoothly, but finally, on 27th May 1942, these two men attempted to assassinate the Reichprotektor. Whilst the attack initially appeared unsuccessful, injuries sustained by Heydrich in the attack led to his death on 4th June.  The reprisals were swift and severe; it is estimated that around 5000 people lost their lives, two villages, Lidice and Lezaky, were targeted, and in the case of Lidice, completely wiped off the map.  These reprisals have led to an ongoing debate over the relative worth of the assassination, and whether it can be justified.   The ‘Just War’ doctrine can give the tools to investigate this possibility.

Just War Doctrine

The Just War doctrine is an ethical calculus to determine the moral standing of a war, the Jus Ad Bellum, and particular conduct within that war, the Jus in Bello. It begins from the assumption that war is wrong, and from this, attempts to proscribe specifics on when, and how, a state may wage war.  The requirements of Jus Ad Bellum are that the conflict is: authorised by a legitimate authority; for a ‘Just Cause’; as a ‘last resort’ when other methods have failed, or are unable to be tried; undertaken with the ‘right intention’; when the war is amenable to success; and there is proportionality between the positives and negatives. Proportionality is also a requirement of Jus in Bello, the rules of conduct within the conflict, as are the requirements to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants, conformity to law[12], and refrain from ‘reprisals’, a like-for-like abuse of jus in bello[13].

Authorised

WWII was entered into with the agreements freely made between the allies, in response to the threat, and conduct of Germany.  There is no suggestion of incorrect authorisation for the larger context of WWII.  However, there may be some qualms about recognising the authority of ‘President’ Benes to order the Heydrich assassination.  President Benes resigned his post in 1938 under pressure from Germany, and went into voluntary exile prior to the annexation of the Czech lands.  He was replaced by Emil Hacha, who, following the Munich Agreement, and the secession of Slovakia, was coerced by Hitler into authorising the annexation of the remainder of the Czech lands.  Hacha remained in his post, largely as a figurehead; however this would present a prima facie case against the authority of Benes.

At the outbreak of WW2, Benes sought recognition as the leader of a Czech government in exile.  He managed the military actions of the Czech servicemen who had left during the takeover, as well as the negotiation of resistance activities in the Protectorate.  Together with other Czechs who had escaped, Benes formed a Government-in-Exile, and sought recognition by the Allies as the continuation of legal Czech Government.  With some hesitancy over legal status, Benes was recognised by France and Britain as the legal government of Czechoslovakia.  Based on the recognition of his Government-in-Exile, his former status as President, and the popularity of him at home[14], it would seem credible that Benes was suitably authorised to conduct military action against a hostile aggressor.

Just Cause and Last Resort

If it is granted that President Benes had the requisite authority to conduct war on behalf of the Czechs, the next consideration of the Just War principles is the reason for the conflict – and further, the reason for the particular action taken.  According to the Just War theory, a state may only engage in war ‘for a just cause’, which is usually limited to the resistance of aggression.  This can include defence of one’s own state, that of another, or punishment for a grievous wrongdoing[15].  Likewise, war should only be undertaken if all other possible avenues for peaceful resolution have been attempted, that is, as a last resort.

It is relatively uncontentious that WWII, on behalf of the Allies, was a war of self-defence that was only entered into after other diplomatic means had failed[16]. The Czechs had already attempted to use defence treaties with other nations as a disincentive to the Germans. They also did not contest the Munich Agreement, even though they were not party to the negotiations.  Arguably this was the most important attempt at diplomacy in the war; even the acceptance of German occupation was done with the intent to avoid mass casualties in war.  However, with the German response to occupation, and the severe repercussions of any act of civil disobedience, there was little hope of any alternative to a peaceful resolution of the occupation.

The appeasement was unsuccessful; following the annexation of the Sudetenland, Germany put pressure on Slovakia to secede, and then contravened the Munich Agreement, as well as the Treaty of Versailles, in occupying Czech lands.  Furthermore, the actions taken by both Reichsprotektors, but in particular Heydrich, not only killed and detained Czechs, but also placed the remainder constantly under threat. Therefore, it is clear to see that the Czechs had just cause, in defending their state from an aggressor.  More arguable is their just cause to punish, as in recent literature, the right to punish is considered eroded[17].  As noted by both Moravec and MacDonald, the primary service the Czechs were providing to the Allies was intelligence; they had largely steered clear of placing their people at greater risk than they already were – the decision of the Czech Government in Exile was clearly the last option available, and not a desired one[18].

Proper Intention

The proper intention, for the resort to war, is the aim to prosecute the states just cause.  According to the Just War theory, ‘[u]lterior’ or ‘irrational’ motives are inadmissible as motivation[19].  To determine whether the Czech decision to engage in assassination for the proper intention, it is necessary to consider the writing of Frantisek Moravec.  In his memoirs, he tries to give an account of the Government in Exile’s reasoning for the assassination.  He tells of two primary reasons: to highlight meaningful resistance to the Nazi regime, and to re-spark resistance efforts[20].  Both of these reasons aim at prosecution of a just cause – that of defending what was left of the Czech state from a hostile force.  However, these intentions can also be otherwise construed, particularly in the choice of assassinating Heydrich; ‘meaningful resistance’ in this context can be considered a purely political or punitive motive, just as ‘re-sparking the resistance’ can be seen as undertaking to intentionally risk harm to non-combatants.  This is an inherent difficulty in determining intent, and is difficult to resolve, since it ‘is largely based on perception and context’, and those using assassination as a policy tool ‘will deny they were motivated by politics’[21].  However, it should be noted that the presence of multiple motives does not necessarily delegitimise an attempt at self-defence[22].  Nor does it necessarily preclude defensive actions based on the probability of success.

Probability of Success

Just War theory aims to prevent needless deaths in service to a lost cause, and so under this theory, a state should only resort to war if the probability of success is high.  This would seem to indicate that the Czech leadership in exile may have ‘entered’ the war unjustly.  Nevertheless, there is some moral scope to consider even ‘hopeless’ actions to be undertaken in pursuit of justice, just as there are cases where inaction could be considered immoral[23], as the ‘success’ criterion fails to take into consideration the nature of the threat.  In some cases, the threat will justify an attempt that may not have immediate, measurable success[24].  In the case of WWII, against an aggressor with significantly greater power, the probability of success in war was quite low for the Czech nation, indeed, but for errors made, this point could have allowed the Nazi regime to overtake Western Europe.

Jus Ad Bellum

Proportionality

Proportionality must be considered at two stages in the Just War doctrine; as a feature of Jus Ad Bellum, and that of Jus in Bello.  Under Jus Ad Bellum, proportionality requires that the positive outcomes must be weighed against the expected negative outcomes, which includes foreseeable consequences to non-combatants.  The war must only take place if the benefits are proportional – the positives should exceed the negatives.

The main contention against the assassination is that the consequences outweighed the benefits.  Any attempt to justify the assassination will have to deal with the question of value: Was the life of one man, Heydrich, worth the lives of some 5000 civilians?  It is difficult to suggest, in considering the proportionality rule, that reprisals were an unforeseen side effect; resistance groups in Bohemia/Moravia had attempted to have the assassination called off due to what they saw as likely horrific consequences[25]. While it was clear to Benes and Moravec that reprisals would be severe, the answer must be yes.  They could not have foreseen the events that happened, nor can anyone see what may have happened in absence of the assassination.

While it is indeed possible that some of those targeted in reprisal may not have died, it is difficult to argue that if the assassination not taken place, then the majority would not have been targeted under some other auspice.  This is especially relevant noting that the figures suggest around 3500 of the some- 5000 people targeted in reprisal were Jews.  As Gerwarth explains, persecution of Jewish people in the Czech lands ‘had begun immediately after the German invasion’[26].  With an estimated 80,000 Jewish people killed from the Bohemia/Moravia area alone[27], it is difficult to claim the 3,000 Jews killed in reprisal would have escaped Nazi plans[28].  Likewise, with the infiltration of the underground in the Czech lands[29], every day brought the resistance members the chance to be discovered and either killed or detained.

Based on his previous positions and his actions while Reichsprotektor of Bohemia/Moravia, there was little doubt his influence and tactics would not continue – wherever he was positioned.  Heydrich’s task was not diplomatic, but one of combat[30], aimed at ridding the Protectorate of resistance, and increasing output for war efforts. Had he lived, it is entirely possible that his next position would be in France, which would have severely curtailed resistance there. Furthermore, noting his developing rapport with Hitler, he may have played a significantly greater role in the development of the war, and the efficiency of the holocaust[31].  Even granting that they died because of the assassination, which is not entirely uncontentious[32], the blame still cannot be morally ascribed to the Government-in-Exile in toto.  As Hauner has put it,

… those who argue that sparing Heydrich could have saved thousands of lives must also face the fact that every day of his service to the Third Reich meant the further perfection of the Nazi killing machine and the a more ruthlessly efficient genocide. By killing one of Hitler’s ablest lieutenants, the brutal regime and its collaborators were shaken, and the occupied peoples of Europe given hope[33].

There was a war going on: militaries were being decimated to defend their lands, and liberate those already forcibly taken; men, women and children were being killed or sent to concentration camps for arbitrary reasons; and even in areas under German rule, there were people risking, and losing their lives to resist the Nazi regime[34].  While being unsuccessful in its aim to re-spark the resistance, they did prosecute their main goal – meaningful resistance to an aggressor.  It removed not only the ‘local tyrant’, but also someone Hitler considered ‘irreplaceable’[35].  The assassination further enabled the continuity of the Czechoslovak state post-war, and removed the ‘stigma’ of dishonourable collaboration[36].

Jus in Bello

Proportionality and Discrimination (Non-Combatant Immunity)

Proportionality refers to the means, and degree to which a combatant may use force.  Under Jus in Bello, those in combat must only use only sufficient force to achieve their aims.  It would be unjust, therefore, to use nuclear weapons to terrorise a nation into unconditional surrender.  The assassins who killed Heydrich clearly fulfilled the requirements of proportionality for Jus in Bello; they killed only who they were sent for, using the minimum force required to complete their task, and did not kill another combatant, even when under threat[37].  The ‘assassins’ took great pains to minimise casualties amongst non-combatants; only targeting Heydrich, and firing warning shots into the air to avoid civilian incursion into the area.  This also shows their action to be just, under the requirement to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.

Legality

The legality of assassination is usually the most difficult to overcome, since it appears to depend on how you present it.  There is sometimes a distinction made between assassination, seen as killing someone, particularly a civilian, for political motives, and ‘targeted killing’, defined as the elimination of a military threat[38].  Hauner even considers labelling the assassination of Heydrich as ‘state-sponsored terrorism’[39], which is aligned closer to how the ‘assassins’ themselves saw their actions[40].  However, there is not such a clear demarcation between these titles. Heydrich, for example, was clearly: a public figure in the Protectorate killed in part for political purposes, i.e. regime change; a combatant killed in part for defence from aggression and prevention of further oppression; and was a tyrant killed by the ‘resistance’ for his tyranny.

However the assassination is labelled, it is necessary to consider international law of the time. The Hague Conventions, Section IV, Article 23 states that ‘[i]n addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden […] [t]o kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army’[41].  Since combatants are traditionally marked by visual indications of allegiance, such as uniforms or insignia, and the assassins were in civilian clothes, this has led some to believe there is a prima facie case for the illegality of the Heydrich assassination; ‘treachery’ is usually seen as akin to giving an enemy cause to believe you were not a threat and since the assassins were not wearing uniforms, they gave the illusion of being civilians.  However, as noted by Parks, the prevailing conditions in WWII often required the reliance on local resistance members, not uniformed military[42], and following the Heydrich case, this deficiency was recognised, and prompted a number of states to clarify their ‘law of war manuals’ to ensure that activity by resistance movements was not precluded.  Furthermore, as a legal combatant, Heydrich had no claim to immunity from attack[43], and as noted by Spaight, surprise is not a form of treachery[44].

No Reprisals

This final requirement is based around the idea that ‘an eye for an eye leaves us both blind’[45].  For an act to be a ‘reprisal’ in this context, it must be a violation of jus in bello in retaliation for another’s previous violation[46].  This rule acknowledges that tit-for-tat abuses of law do not lead to positive, peaceful outcomes.  This is also a common issue with the Heydrich case; assassination, being viewed with its negative connotations, is seen as an abuse of law in retaliation – ‘because he did it first’[47].  However, as seen in the previous section, assassination is a contentious description in itself, and that the Heydrich assassination could, in our modern terms, take on either one of the two other descriptions.  If we grant the outcome of the previous section, that it was not an unlawful act, it is clear that while we may consider the act ill-advised, it was certainly not a reprisal in the Just War sense.

While acknowledging the terrible loss of life which came as retribution for Heydrich’s death, It has been shown, using the Just War doctrine, and relevant historical data that the assassination was justified through the satisfaction of the requirements of Jus Ad Bellum and Jus in Bello.  While it did not achieve all its aims, it was a brave, perhaps ill-advised attempt to remove a tyrant, to stand up against an aggressive regime, and to ensure the continuity of a state that was hard won.

Bibliography

Bikár, František. “Czech Senator Warns against Hatred, Racism, Nationalism, Xenophobia.”  Romea.cz (2013). http://www.romea.cz/en/news/czech/czech-senator-warns-against-hatred-racism-nationalism-xenophobia.

Brownlee, Kimberley. “Civil Disobedience.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2010/entries/civil-disobedience.

Burian, Michal , Aleš  Knížek, Jiří  Rajlich, and Eduard Stehlík. Assassination: Operation Anthropoid 1941-1942.  Prague: Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic – Military Information and Service Agency (AVIS), 2002. http://www.army.cz/images/id_7001_8000/7419/assassination-en.pdf.

Canestaro, Nathan. “American Law and Policy on Assassinations of Foreign Leaders: The Practicality of Maintaining the Status Quo.” Boston College International and Comparative Law Review 26, no. 1 (2003): 1 – 34.

Geary, Dick. “The Nazi State and Society.” In Hitler and Nazism, edited by Dick Geary, 37-61, 1993.

Gerwarth, Robert. Hitlers Hangman: The Life of Heydrich.  London: Yale University Press, 2011.

Gould, Harry D. “What Happened to Punishment in the Just War Tradition?”. Chap. 4 In Ethics, Authority, and War: Non-State Actors and the Just War Tradition, edited by Eric A. Heinze and Brent J. Steele, 73 – 100. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Gross, Michael L. “Killing the Innocent: The Dilemma of Terrorism.” Chap. 8 In Moral Dilemmas of Modern War: Torture, Assassination, and Blackmail in an Age of Asymmetric Conflict, 178 – 204. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Hauner, Milan. “Terrorism and Heroism: The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.” World Policy Journal 24, no. 2 (Summer 2007): 85-89.

Hays Parks, W. “Executive Order 12333 and Assassination.” edited by Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Army. Washington DC: Department of the Army, 2002 (Reproduction).

Knoepfler, Stephen “Dead or Alive: The Future of U.S. Assassination Policy under a Just War Tradition.” New York University Journal of Law & Liberty 5, no. 457 (“?

Lillian Goldman Law Library. “Laws of War: Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague Iv); October 18, 1907.”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hague04.asp#art23.

———. “The Versailles Treaty June 28, 1919: Part III.”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/partiii.asp#art81.

MacDonald, Callum. The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich. 1st ed.  New York: Da Capo Press, 1998. 1989.

Meisels, Tamar. “Targeting Terror.” [In English]. Social Theory and Practice 30, no. 3 (2004): 297-326.

Moravec, F. Master of Spies: The Memoirs of General Frantisek Moravec. Bodley Head, 1975.

Orend, Brian. “War.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, 2009. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/war.

Statman, Daniel. “The Morality of Assassination: A Response to Gross.” Political Studies 51, no. 4 (2003): 775-79.

Statman, Daniel “On the Success Condition for Legitimate Self‐Defense.” Ethics 118, no. 4 (2008): 659-86.


[1] Lillian Goldman Law Library, “The Versailles Treaty June 28, 1919: Part III,”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/partiii.asp#art81.  Section VII.

[2] Callum MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 1st ed. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1998), 45, 49.

[3] Robert Gerwarth, Hitlers Hangman: The Life of Heydrich  (London: Yale University Press, 2011), 218.

[4] Lillian Goldman Law Library, “The Versailles Treaty June 28, 1919: Part III”.

[5] MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 64.

[6] The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 108.

[7] Gerwarth, Hitlers Hangman: The Life of Heydrich, 221.

[8] MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 78.

[9] The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 62; Gerwarth, Hitlers Hangman: The Life of Heydrich, 219.

[10] MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 107-18.

[11] Michal  Burian et al., Assassination: Operation Anthropoid 1941-1942, (Prague: Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic – Military Information and Service Agency (AVIS), 2002), http://www.army.cz/images/id_7001_8000/7419/assassination-en.pdf. 44; MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 128; Interestingly, the testimony in F. Moravec, Master of Spies: The Memoirs of General Frantisek Moravec  (Bodley Head, 1975), 202. claims a scheduled departure in ‘late April’.  With several sources corroborating the December date, the given month is considered to be a mistake.

[12] Brian Orend, “War,” ed. Edward N. Zalta, Fall 2008 ed., The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2009),  http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/war. In using the basic outline found here, I have merged 3 duties into one, so as to cover them all in a single discussion of ‘legality’.

[13] Ibid.

[14] MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 102-03.

[15] Orend, “War.”

[16] Even considering the justifiable concerns over the severity of sanctions in the Treaty of Versailles post-WWI, as discussed in  Lillian Goldman Law Library, “The Versailles Treaty June 28, 1919: Part III”.

[17] Harry D. Gould, “What Happened to Punishment in the Just War Tradition?,” in Ethics, Authority, and War: Non-State Actors and the Just War Tradition, ed. Eric A. Heinze and Brent J. Steele (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 73.

[18] Moravec, Master of Spies: The Memoirs of General Frantisek Moravec, 197; MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 71, 92-98; see also Milan Hauner, “Terrorism and Heroism: The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich,” World Policy Journal 24, no. 2 (2007): 86.  Hauner claims that Heydrich was the turning point in this policy.

[19] Orend, “War.”

[20] Moravec, Master of Spies: The Memoirs of General Frantisek Moravec, 196.

[21] Nathan Canestaro, “American Law and Policy on Assassinations of Foreign Leaders: The Practicality of Maintaining the Status Quo,” Boston College International and Comparative Law Review 26, no. 1 (2003): 11.

[22] Tamar Meisels, “Targeting Terror,” Social Theory and Practice 30, no. 3 (2004): 306-07.

[23] Daniel  Statman, “On the Success Condition for Legitimate Self‐Defense,” Ethics 118, no. 4 (2008): 666; Kimberley Brownlee, “Civil Disobedience,” ed. Edward N. Zalta, Spring 2010 ed., The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophyhttp://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2010/entries/civil-disobedience.

[24] Daniel Statman, “The Morality of Assassination: A Response to Gross,” Political Studies 51, no. 4 (2003): 778.

[25] MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 156.

[26] Gerwarth, Hitlers Hangman: The Life of Heydrich, 220.

[27] František Bikár, “Czech Senator Warns against Hatred, Racism, Nationalism, Xenophobia,”  Romea.cz(2013), http://www.romea.cz/en/news/czech/czech-senator-warns-against-hatred-racism-nationalism-xenophobia.

[28] This is not to suggest the loss of Jewish life is unimportant, merely that noting the anti-Semitism at the heart of Nazi Germany intended the expulsion/extermination of the entire Jewish population, that these people would have been targeted even had the assassination not provided the opportunity to purge them.

[29] MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 113; see also Gerwarth, Hitlers Hangman: The Life of Heydrich, 227.

[30] Hitlers Hangman: The Life of Heydrich, 226.

[31] MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 165-66.

[32] Meisels, “Targeting Terror,” 318, 21-22.

[33] Hauner, “Terrorism and Heroism: The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich,” 89.

[34] Resistance movements were dealt with harshly when found. Dick Geary, “The Nazi State and Society,” in Hitler and Nazism, ed. Dick Geary (1993), 40-42.

[35] MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 182.

[36] The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 200-04; see also Statman, “On the Success Condition for Legitimate Self‐Defense,” 667.

[37] MacDonald, The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, 172.

[38] Stephen  Knoepfler, “Dead or Alive: The Future of U.S. Assassination Policy under a Just War Tradition,” New York University Journal of Law & Liberty 5, no. 457: 467.

[39] Hauner, “Terrorism and Heroism: The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.”

[40] Burian et al., Assassination: Operation Anthropoid 1941-1942.

[41] Lillian Goldman Law Library, “Laws of War: Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague Iv); October 18, 1907,”  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hague04.asp#art23.

[42] W Hays Parks, “Executive Order 12333 and Assassination,” ed. Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Army, Memorandum of Law (Washington DC: Department of the Army, 2002 (Reproduction)), 5.

[43] “Executive Order 12333 and Assassination,” ed. Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Army, Memorandum of Law (Washington DC: Department of the Army, 2002 (Reproduction)), 3.

[44] as cited in Canestaro, “American Law and Policy on Assassinations of Foreign Leaders: The Practicality of Maintaining the Status Quo.”

[45] Orend, “War.”

[46] Michael L. Gross, “Killing the Innocent: The Dilemma of Terrorism,” in Moral Dilemmas of Modern War: Torture, Assassination, and Blackmail in an Age of Asymmetric Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 191-95.

[47] Meisels, “Targeting Terror,” 306-07.