In war, in the event of the imminent capture of a city, the government/military structure of the nation that controls the city will sometimes declare it an open city, thus announcing that they have abandoned all defensive efforts. The attacking armies of the opposing military will then be expected not to bomb or otherwise attack the city, but simply to march in. The concept aims at protecting the city's historic landmarks and resident civilians from an unnecessary battle.
Attacking forces do not always respect the declaration of an "open city." Defensive forces will use it as a political tactic as well. In some cases, the declaration of a city to be "open" is made by a side which is on the verge of defeat and surrender; in other cases, those making such a declaration are willing and able to fight on, but prefer that the specific city be spared.
Several cities were declared open during World War II:
- Brussels was declared an open city by the Belgian Government in 1940, during the Battle of Belgium. It was later occupied by the Germans.
- Paris was declared an open city by the French Government in June 1940 during the Battle of France.
- Belgrade was declared open in April 1941 by the Government of Yugoslavia, just before the Invasion of Yugoslavia. The German Wehrmacht did not respect the open city status and heavily bombed the city.
- Manila was declared an open city on 26 December 1941 by US general Douglas MacArthur, during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. The Imperial Japanese Army ignored the declaration and bombed the city.
- Batavia was declared an open city on 5 March 1942, after the Dutch Army was evacuated. The Japanese occupied the city the next day.
- Rome was declared open on 14 August 1943 by the Italian Government, following the cessation of Allied bombing. Subsequently Allied forces entered Rome in June 1944 and retreating German forces also declared Florence and Chieti on 24 March 1944 "open cities".
- Athens was declared an open city by the Germans on 11 October 1944.
- Hamburg was declared open on 3 May 1945 by the Germans, and was immediately occupied by the British.
Open cities in postwar Japan
In 1977, a far left group in Japan called the "National Open City Declaration Movement Network" began organizing activists to make cities preemptively declare themselves "defenseless" under the Geneva Convention, so that in the event of war, they would be legally forced to welcome any invasion. This is rejected by nearly all of Japan's political parties and the ruling government as inherently absurd, since Japan is not in a war, and in the event of war such a decision would have to be approved by the national government. However, the Social Democratic Party which was the junior party of the ruling coalition from 1994 to 1996 supported it.
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- Laws of war
- Rome, Open City (Roma città aperta), an Italian film (1945) about Rome's days as an open city.
- Murphy, Paul I. and Arlington, R. Rene. (1983) La Popessa: The Controversial Biography of Sister Pasqualina, the Most Powerful Woman in Vatican History. New York: Warner Books Inc. ISBN 0-446-51258-3, p. 210
- Protocol I. Wikisource. 1977.
- Veranneman, Jean-Michel (2014). Belgium in the Second World War. Pen and Sword. p. 35. ISBN 1783376074.
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- "Hamburg Declared Open City; British Occupy It". The Morning Bulletin (25,442): 1. 4 May 1945.
- Hiromichi Ikegami et al. "Let's protect Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution by declaring ourselves Defenseless Cities!" Municipality Research Company, 2006. ISBN 4880374504 (無防備地域宣言で憲法9条のまちをつくる) (Japanese)
- Prime Minister of Japan. Is it possible for a city to declare itself an "defenseless"? (Japanese)
- 月刊社会民主(Social Democrat Monthly), vol. 620, p. 8. 社会民主党全国連合機関紙宣伝局 (Social Democratic Party, National Alliance Communications Department)
- 月刊社会民主(Social Democrat Monthly), vol. 596, p. 2. 社会民主党全国連合機関紙宣伝局 (Social Democratic Party, National Alliance Communications Department)