WE HAVE all witnessed the horror of aerial bombardments, which more often than not kills and maims civilians.

Distressing TV images of homes, businesses, even hospitals wrecked by missiles are commonplace during times of conflict.

In a thought-provoking book, The Zeus Complex, social and peace researcher Peter Nias examines the development of civilian aerial bombardment, looking at the history, myths, religion and human rights issues surrounding this appalling, all too common, occurrence.

The first aerial bombing took place in the Turkish-Italian War in 1911. In 1912 in the Moroccan War the French and Spanish used aerial bombing to subdue the population.

While many would associate aerial bombing with the Second World War, in fact the First World War saw both naval and air bombardment of civilians. Zeppelins were extensively used to bomb civilians in London, the Midlands and North. Among the towns hit was Folkestone, in 1917, where at least 71 civilians, including 25 children died.

‘It was acknowledged at the time in Folkestone that the bombing was the cause of ‘significant civilian mental trauma,’ writes Peter. Shockingly, this was the only comment on adverse civilian mental health found anywhere by author Suzie Grogan when researching a book on the conflict.

The Second World War brought huge civilian deaths along with increased awareness of human rights.

‘When did public criticism of civilian casualties in a war start to become a significant factor in political decision-making, in any part of the world?’ asks Peter. ‘It may have been because of the growth and influence of the wider rights of humans, both formal and informal.’

In 1950, Human Rights Day was established as December 10, that being the day in 1948 that the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This has been and is celebrated by events annually ever since.

Certain phrases, such as ‘collateral damage’ have been used to justify actions, writes Peter.

‘The military and politicians tend to refer to ‘collateral damage’ as the accidental killing of civilians in military actions, and also claim that the number of civilians killed is proportionate to achieving the military objective, ie the fact that they were in the way was just unfortunate and their deaths were excusable because of it, despite effort to avoid them.’

The Bradford-based author examines man’s attempts to minimise collateral damage through technology, yet such advancements do not seem to have stemmed the tide of deaths, many avoidable and some due to human error.

‘The organisation Action on Armed Violence reported that in 2015, across the world, civilians comprised 76 per cent of all deaths and injury caused by explosive weapons. The numbers had increased by half since 2011. Of these 28 per cent were caused by air-launched weapons.’

Nuclear warfare and poison gas attacks can affect populations long after conflicts have ended.

This thought-provoking book is not about blame nor responsibility, but rather it investigates how respect for the rights of human beings may influence military action and possibly encourage politicians to seek non-military solutions.

The book also includes a chapter on monuments and memorialising. Only from the 20th century have civilian deaths and damage been enumerated in any way. Often numbers are approximate, deliberately ignored or under (or over) estimated. Even when they are known, such deaths are rarely later memorialised, or if so very discreetly.

Containing numerous photographs and illustrations, The Zeus Complex - which has a foreword by Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford - raises uncomfortable questions.

Children play with ‘war toys’, including bombing aeroplanes, writes Peter, ‘but invariably they are ‘fighting’ armies. ‘It would be very rare, would it not, for those toys to be used to play at bombarding civilians. Perhaps such children subconsciously draw the line at that as being ‘unfair’.’

*The Zeus Complex, a manifesto against aerial bombardment of civilians by Peter Nias is available from Waterstones.com priced £5.