Films on Bombing Civilians

Bombing innocent civilians began in World War 2 when Germany bombed London and Coventry, so the Allies retaliated by bombing German cities. Targeting cities and civilians was viewed as a psychological weapon to break the enemy’s will to fight. From 1940–1941, Germany used this weapon in its ‘Blitz’ against Britain. The Allies’ controversial firebombings of Hamburg (1943), Dresden (1945) and other German cities followed. Then firebombing of Tokyo destroyed 16 square miles (41 km²) of the city and over 100,000 people died in the fire storm. It was the deadliest single bombing raid of any kind in terms of lives lost, in all of military aviation history. The percentage of civilians versus soldiers killed by bombing has increased in subsequent wars.


Bombers & Bombing Raids: 1939-1942

Documentary 2005 NR 54 minutes. Germany’s Luftwaffe fighter squadrons proved a challenging enemy with their well-designed aircraft, which included the Heinkel He-111, Dornier D0-17 and Junkers JU-88 Schnellbombers. Featuring dramatic footage, this documentary chronicles battles from the years 1939-42, focusing on combat involving the Luftwaffe bomber squadrons. Bombing raids from North Africa to northern Norway and the Battle of Stalingrad are examined.

Bombing of Germany

Documentary American Experience 2010 TV-14 51 minutes. The little-discussed aerial bombing campaign carried out by the Allies against Germany during World War II is the focus of this gripping entry in PBS’s award-winning “American Experience” series. Is it ever ethical to bomb civilian targets? Or was it a greater moral imperative for the Allies to win the war? Historians, ethicists and military personnel discuss these questions and more as the debate about the nature of warfare continues.

Germany Year Zero

Drama 1948 NR 71 minutes. Filmed in Berlin after it was destroyed by bombing, a shocking sight. Roberto Rossellini completes his World War II trilogy with a poignant story about 12-year-old Edmund (Edmund Moeschke), who must support his dying father in war-torn Berlin’s black market and falls in with a dangerous Nazi sympathizer (Ernst Pittschau). It’s survival of the fittest on the streets, and Edmund has to steal in order to survive. In his desperate state of mind, the impressionable youth begins to follow Nazi propaganda. The film explores the physical and emotional devastation of Berlin through the eyes of a boy.


Docudrama 1972 R 103 minutes. Kurt Vonnegut’s multilayered novel makes it to the big screen in fine fettle as a haunting, poetic and funny elegy involving Billie Pilgrim (Michael Sacks), who survives the horrific firebombing of Dresden at the end of World War II. Pilgrim subsequently lives out simultaneous past lives as a POW and a well-loved zoo resident on the planet Tralfamadore, and a present-day life as an aging optometrist from New York.

Two Women

Drama 1960 NR 99 minutes. Sophia Loren gives an Oscar-winning performance in director Vittorio De Sica’s moving World War II classic. Loren plays widowed shopkeeper Cesira, who flees occupied Rome with her 13-year-old daughter as Allied bombs pound the city. When bombed-out tracks halt their train, they must make their way on foot amid numerous threats — from strafing Allied fighters to soldiers who paw at mother and daughter.

Daylight Bombing Raids Over Europe

Documentary 2008 NR 57 minutes. This film delves into the U.S. Army Air Force’s air raid bombing campaign against Germany during World War II — which relied on massive bomber formations accompanied by fighter escorts — and its terrible aftermath. Also addressed is the United States’ strategic bombing campaign against Japan, which ended with the unleashing of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Hiroshima (2005)

Documentary BBC History of World War II 2005 NR 90 minutes. This fascinating documentary recounts the world’s first nuclear attack and examines the alarming repercussions. Covering a three-week period from the New Mexico test blast to dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, the program chronicles America’s political gamble and the planning for the momentous event. Archival film, dramatizations and special effects take viewers aboard the Enola Gay and inside the exploding bomb.

Hiroshima (1995)

Docudrama (1995) PG. This made-for-television drama recreates the events that led up to the Hiroshima bombing, which ultimately ended World War II. As President Harry Truman (Kenneth Welsh) takes office, he’s forced to weigh the price of war. He knows his decisions could kill, or save, countless lives; after he authorizes the nuclear weapons program, his decisions carry even more serious consequences. Koreyoshi Kurahara and Roger Spottiswoode direct.

White Light / Black Rain
The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Documentary 2007 TV-14 85 minutes. Filmed 60 years after the U.S. nuclear attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this documentary features interviews with atomic bomb survivors, who help shed light on the tragic events. Tens of thousands of people — the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians — perished in the bombings. Veteran filmmaker Steven Okazaki continues his tradition of carefully exploring the human side of difficult social issues. See Full Review

Black Rain

Drama 1989 NR 123 minutes. Yasuko (Yoshiko Tanaka) and her family contend with radiation-induced illness and their positions as social outcasts in postwar Japan after surviving America’s 1945 atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima. Will Yasuko be able to find a man who’ll marry her? Japanese writer-director Shohei Imamura’s irony-rich film, which is based on Ibuse Masuji’s novel, also stars Kazuo Kitamura, Etsuko Ichihara and Shoichi Ozawa.

Lifting the Fog
The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Documentary 1992 NR 60 minutes. This documentary examines the facts behind the U.S. atomic bomb assaults on Nagasaki and Hiroshima during World War II, gathering information from all sides to provide a balanced discussion of this controversial subject. Archival footage, interviews with historians and dramatizations based on real journal entries from the period help to paint a detailed picture of the circumstances surrounding these notorious events.


Battle’s Poison Cloud

Documentary 2004 NR 56 minutes. In this critically acclaimed exposé, filmmaker Cecile Trijssenaar documents the record numbers of birth defects and other health problems related to the lingering toxins of Agent Orange that had been sprayed over the landscape of Vietnam by U.S. troops. Even after the war ended, a cloud of tragedy remained due to the 17 million gallons of the chemical weapon that was dumped. The film calls for an admission of culpability and a much-needed cleanup.

Sir! No Sir!

Documentary 2005 NR 84 minutes. Filmmaker and activist David Zeiger’s documentary chronicles the largely forgotten antiwar activities of American GIs and other members of the military during the Vietnam era — actions that put them in greater peril than civilian protesters. Powerful and surprising, the film weaves together the stories of veterans who participated in the opposition movement, an effort that, by the early 1970s, found widespread support from civilians and troops alike.


Documentary 2001 NR 56m. Director Jack Silberman presents a compelling documentary on an emotional topic: the tragic presence of millions of unexploded cluster bombs in the fields and jungles of Laos, long after the U.S. military deposited them there during the Vietnam War. An estimated 90 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973, and since the end of America’s “secret” war there, the lethal devices have wounded more than 12,000 people.

Hearts and Minds

Documentary 1974 R 112 minutes. An Academy Award-winning documentary that casts a sharp eye toward the U.S. government’s costly — in terms of lives, budget and honor — all-out effort during the Vietnam War. Director Peter Davis uses his own war footage, newsreels, presidential speeches and interviews with the likes of Robert Kennedy, Gen. William Westmoreland and Daniel Ellsberg to provide a compelling argument against war.

The War at Home

Documentary 1979 UR 100 minutes.  Documentarians Barry Alexander Brown and Glenn Silber vividly chronicle the Vietnam War protest movement of the 1960s and ’70s at the University of Wisconsin in a film that incorporates rare raw footage. The overall effect is an incisive depiction of how anti-war acrimony in the United States spread from committed activists to fraternity row on college campuses to the business community at large.


The Panama Deception

Documentary 1992 NR 91 minutes. Filmmakers Barbara Trent and David Kasper explain the untold truths behind the United States’ 1989 invasion of Panama in this hard-hitting documentary that illuminates the complex relationship between Gen. Manuel Noriega and the CIA and U.S. government. Juxtaposing interviews with experts and eyewitnesses with historical media reports, the film shows how the press helped win the American public’s approval despite widespread condemnation abroad. See Full Review


Inside Shock and Awe

Documentary National Geographic 2005 TV-PG 52m. This documentary takes you into the besieged city of Baghdad with the soldiers assigned to Shock and Awe, the mission that launched Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. Using weapons such as Tomahawk cruise missiles, B-2 stealth bombers, F-117 fighters and precision-guided bombs, Americans had hoped to surprise the reigning government so that they would buckle under the onslaught quickly. But the war didn’t quite go as planned.


Remote Control War

Documentary 2011 NR 52m. Killer robots sound like the stuff of science fiction, but as an increasingly integral part of today’s technology-driven warfare, remotely controlled military devices are helping to save some human lives … and destroy others.


Dirty Wars

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr 26m. A 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, this film explores America’s controversial covert operations around the globe. It documents journalist Jeremy Scahill’s extremely courageous mission to look clearly at what the “war on terror” has actually produced and what that means for the future of the world. A key point that this guy makes is that there are unofficial/undeclared ‘wars’ led by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and they are doing ‘illegal’ things. JSOC’s primary mission is to identify and eliminate terror cells worldwide. JSOC killed Bin Laden in his home. This film brings to light US special operations that the everyday person may not know about – that’s good. It tells the truth about how a majority of our government leaders believe that killing of innocent civilians are just a byproduct of war that can’t be avoided. Much of this film shows emotion of people who have fallen victim to U.S. special forces attacks. Digging bullets out of murdered pregnant women to cover up their atrocities! The section on the killing of two Americans by drone without a trial gave me new insight into how Awlaki had been transformed from support to opposition, and I was shocked at a picture of his 16 year old son assassinated two weeks later. Journalists protect this nation from abuses of power and Scahill’s work is a prime example of this. For Jeremy Scahill to have the desire to expose the secret operations that are going on all over the world so the public will be informed is a good thing. He is not criticizing the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend the nation, rather the people giving them the orders, and especially the complete lack of oversight of JSOC by the military and the government. The narrative tries to illustrate that the war on terror just breeds more terrorism. How is this different from the many “enemies of the state” killed by Stalin, and Hitler, the South American dictators, and other dictators worldwide throughout history? Even for someone who has decent familiarity with some of the questionable things going on in U.S. foreign policy, there will certainly be many new facts here. My issue is the “look at me!” way in which it is covered. It says something about a film, and the people making it, if the subject matter is given less screen time than the creators. Jeremy Scahill’s book (same title) is an engrossing but long slog through all the terrible things the U.S. government is doing, through our extremely expensive military might, to “keep us safe.” As expected, the book was much, much more thorough with a lot more information. The film should be viewed as a complement to the book, not a substitute.


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