The United States has repeatedly shown its willingness to target civilian populations with weapons of mass destruction, especially via the carpet-bombing of cities and infrastructures. It is the only nation to have ever used nuclear devices in war, and upon civilian targets. Among the structures bombed have been desalinization plants, water treatment facilities, police stations, electrical substations and generators, radar and communications stations, hospitals, highway, railway and other transportation facilities, factories for the manufacture of metal, plastic and wood products, and numerous other civilian centers. Countless examples of this behavior have been witnessed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Regime Change in the US: Proposal from a Concerned Citizen
A continuation of Diplomacy Works, Violence Doesn't:
Case study: Did bombing Germany work?
Warmongers seem to believe bombing enemy countries and killing civilians is an effective policy. The best evidence they can offer is our bombing of Hiroshima, Tokyo, and Dresden in World War II. But as the following commentaries suggest, our fire-bombing of German civilians in Dresden is really a poor example.
From the LA Times, 10/29/01:
The Rarely Told Story of WWII
By CALEB TINBERGEN
In his Oct. 19 column ("Looking to Past to See the Present"), Howard Rosenberg compares the "sanitized" images of our war in Afghanistan with the harrowing battle scenes in HBO's "Band of Brothers," which he claims "brought home" the true horrors of war.
Rosenberg's analogy is correct only to a point.
Hollywood and the American public have always loved the images of heroic young GIs battling German soldiers in Europe (witness the popularity of films such as "Saving Private Ryan" and the "Greatest Generation" books). However, as accurate as these images are, they are also somewhat "sanitized" because they don't tell the full story of how we won the war in Europe. What brought Germany to its knees was U.S. and British aerial bombing. This aspect of the war is rarely dramatized.
Obviously, dropping bombs from on high is less dramatic than going toe-to-toe with German soldiers on the ground, but I suspect there's another reason for Hollywood's reluctance to bring attention to the bombing campaign: In our bombing of Germany, heavily populated civilian districts were intentionally targeted. The idea was that by targeting the civilian population, we would disrupt Germany's economy, destroy the morale of its citizens and create chaos by rendering millions of people homeless.
Low-income areas were especially targeted for destruction because the population was denser and the buildings closer together. In February 1942, Allied bombers were specifically instructed to concentrate on built-up residential areas instead of targets such as dockyards and factories.
It was a brutal way to win a war—and it worked like a charm. By the war's end, more than 2.3 million German civilians were dead, about one-third of them killed in air raids (60,000 of these air raid victims were not even Germans; they were foreign laborers, including Jews).
We used a similar bombing strategy against Japan, but the death toll from both atomic bombs does not equal the death toll from the fire and phosphorous bombs used against Germany. (These bombs created a firestorm that was so intense, German civilians were baked alive in their basement bomb shelters.)
Why is this information relevant today? Because today's Americans have been led to believe that in a "good war," civilians aren't targeted. With every news release about Afghani civilians killed by stray American missiles, many Americans react with righteous indignation. "How can we kill innocent civilians? Why, we're as bad as the terrorists!" Hollywood helps foster the notion that we fought World War II in a strictly ethical way, but the truth is that the destruction of the brutal Nazi empire came about only through brutal methods.
By facing the non-sanitized reality of World War II, we can confront the assumptions and prejudices that color our views of the current war. If millions of civilian deaths were necessary to bring down Nazi Germany (a country that never attacked the United States), are not some civilian deaths to be expected—dare I say tolerated—in our war against Islamic fascists, who've already killed more Americans than died on D-day?
Most Germans voted against Hitler in the election of 1932. The German civilians who were burned alive in our bombing raids were no more likely to be Nazis than the Afghani civilians who've been hit by U.S. missiles are likely to be Taliban sympathizers.
Many liberals insist that the U.S. only kills civilians in our wars against "people of color." This assumption is seriously challenged when one realizes that no war in U.S. history claimed more civilian lives than our war against Germany.
Hollywood does no public service by "cleaning up" our conduct during World War II. The public should know the full story of how the "greatest generation" won the war. Without all of the facts, we are not able to ask ourselves, and our consciences, the right questions: Did the "greatest generation" lack our moral compass and restraint, or do we lack their resolve to do whatever's necessary to excise a cancerous growth from the body of nations?
The answers to these questions are subjective. From my perspective, as the son of Holocaust survivors, I sympathize with the plight of Afghani women, who have been burdened by the Taliban with restrictions that are actually more oppressive than the racist Nuremberg Laws passed by the Nazis in 1935. To me, there is little difference between the Islamic fascists who seek to control the Muslim world and the fascists of the 1930s who tried to control Europe.
By sanitizing our war against the fascists of old, Hollywood may be hobbling our ability to deal with the fascists of today, by creating the impression that "good wars" are, by definition, fought in a "good" way.
The reality of our victory in World War II isn't pretty, but that doesn't mean we should avert our eyes—especially not right now.
Caleb Tinbergen is president of the Tinbergen Archives, a Holocaust education and research facility in Beverly Hills.
From the letters to the LA Times, 11/3/01:
Tinbergen claims that the U.S. bombing of German civilians in World War II "worked like a charm" in helping the Allies defeat Germany. Actually, there is much controversy about the bombing's effects, with some military experts concluding that it was counterproductive because it stiffened German morale and opposition.
And from the letters to the LA Times, 11/5/01:
Caleb Tinbergen is correct in his assessment that Hollywood tends to overlook our past history of bombing civilian populations ("The Rarely Told Story of WWII," Oct. 29). However, he then makes a giant leap, unsubstantiated by history, in suggesting that killing civilians "worked like a charm" though it was a "brutal way to win a war."
Where is his evidence that killing 2.3 million German civilians won the war? In fact, the war was won by the Allied armies three years after the Allied bombs destroyed Dresden. One can make the exact opposite argument: The two-thirds of the population that did not vote for Hitler may have been reluctant to believe the Nazi teachings that the British were inhuman devils. After seeing their neighborhoods destroyed by British air raids, it must have been difficult to believe otherwise. One could argue that the tenacity of their teenage children recruits in fighting to the bitter end was the result of these civilian raids.
Tinbergen's arguments that the ends justify the means can only lead to general immorality on all sides. Then it is only our superior military that makes us "superior" instead of our dedication to liberty, freedom and the highest principles of mankind.
Tinbergen correctly urges us to acknowledge the intentional targeting of civilian populations in Germany by Allied bombers during World War II. Unfortunately, he proceeds to analyze and justify these tactics by trotting out a sadly outdated and discredited set of myths.
The attacks on Germany's civilians were indeed an attempt to destroy the enemy's morale and economy, but the solid and honest scholarship of the past few decades has shown that this "brutal way to win a war" did not "work like a charm."
Our air campaign over Germany was a tragic, bloody and confounding mix of bravery, sacrifice and pointless, unimaginable cruelty in the service of vengeance, a campaign that ended up as a strategic failure and a stunningly inefficient tactical maneuver.
The further, and perhaps equally disconcerting, truth is that one cannot effectively extrapolate from the circumstances of that very different war—with its entirely different technologies, terrain, opponents, tactics and objectives (both ours and our enemies')—any inherently valuable strategic or tactical imperatives for modern conflicts.
We can and will attempt to use experience to inform our decisions, and that is why it is critical that we discard old and inaccurate readings of the historical record, no matter how difficult it may be to face the facts of our own errors and miscalculations.
I found Tinbergen's Counterpunch interesting and partly agree with him: specifically the way our media propagandize America's role, what he refers to as "sanitizing."
He should, however, make a distinction between carpet bombing Germany and Japan, countries whose governments declared war and whose armies were engaged in military battles against the United States, and Afghanistan, whose government or "regime," as we call it, has not declared war and whose army is not fighting us.
Afghanistan is only accused of "harboring" our latest Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, so we have begun to bomb that country. The situations are not parallel—except that we may be able bring down the Taliban by bombing the country at length.
Of course, that is not a clearly proven successful strategy, as we have been bombing Iraq for a decade and Saddam Hussein is still in power. So no clear answer as far as I am concerned, but some of us were hoping for a world court solution to a criminal act by criminals.
I vigorously differ with Tinbergen as to what brought Germany to its knees. It was the Russian army advancing on Berlin after obliterating the Wehrmacht with tanks and infantry and in so doing cutting off the vital supplies of oil, natural gas, and resources to maintain a war machine; it was the defeat of German Gen. Erwin Rommel in Africa, which cut off the Middle East resources; and it was the onslaught of the American infantry eventually pushing in from the west.
The untold story of WWII are the generals who, to this day, say sending young men to their deaths in airplanes and killing civilians without mercy was the proper and correct choice. Unfortunately, the legacy of those generals lives on, and their sons and students trained at West Point, at Annapolis and the Air Force Academy try to convince us now that bombing from high altitude without seeing the destruction you sow is a good thing. That's a legacy we can do without and a story that does, in fact, need to be told.
If only Tinbergen would broaden his horizons. Instead of setting his moral compass by the wholesale bombing of WWII, he should go back to World War I.
Early in that war, when zeppelins were just starting their nightly raids on London, Bernard Shaw warned that Germany might widen its aerial attacks. He wrote to the Times of London to urge that air-raid shelters be built for schoolchildren. The Times' editors responded by roundly berating Shaw for daring to suggest that a civilized nation like Germany would stoop so low as to bomb civilians from the air.
To suggest that this moral indignation arises from the failings of Hollywood is to slander the decency of humans everywhere. It is an intrinsic part of our humanity to take offense at massacres of innocents. If anything, what blunts this outrage is a climate of acquiescence in which neither the news nor entertainment media have the guts to challenge a war machine guilty of such atrocities.
The moral indignation that Tinbergen views as a casualty of war is our most precious commodity as humans. It is exactly what separates us from those who turn jetliners into bombs that kill secretaries and waiters. To surrender that, in our rage-blinded desire to "defeat" them, is to hand them a moral victory. In any case, it was never Hollywood that created the impression that "good wars" are fought in a "good" way. History shows us that that is exactly how wars were traditionally fought. Leaving behind their women and offspring, armies of grown men went out to meet in battlefields far removed from their homes. Those who put their lives at the greatest risk were the leaders who marched at their head. Compare that with how wars are fought today. The leaders hole up in mountain caves or Oval Offices that are as impregnable as modern ingenuity can make them, while their followers, many barely out of their teens, are recruited to go off and slaughter each other, along with any women and children who get in the way.
Comment: Is it okay to tolerate civilian deaths while killing Islamic fascists? Is it okay to tolerate civilian deaths while killing American imperialists? The answer is the same in both cases: Hell, no.
Bombing "simply didn't work"
From the LA Times, 3/28/03:
Beyond Slaughter: Memories of '45
The bombing of Baghdad cannot be compared to the Allies' incineration of German cities in WWII.
By Jorg Friedrich, Special to The Times
At high noon on March 12, 1945, just eight weeks before the capitulation of Germany to the Allied forces, 1,000 American planes attacked the city of Swinemuende on the Baltic coast of Germany. The city, crammed with refugees from eastern Germany who had been ethnically cleansed and systematically raped by the Red Army, was bombed mercilessly and sprayed by machine gun fire from American dive bombers, which chased people through the city.
Of the city's 25,000 civilians, 23,000 were killed that night.
A similar fate befell the city of Wurzburg just four days later, when 225 Lancaster bombers dispatched by British bomber command dropped 1,100 tons of bombs. The city — a bishop's seat in southern Germany, one of the jewels of European rococo style — was destroyed by flames in 17 minutes. Although the end of the war was imminent, 6,000 civilians were killed that night.
This was more than "shock and awe": This was the final months of the relentless, five-year Allied bombing campaign that took civilian deaths to their apex — bombing, burning, incinerating the cities of Germany in a round-the-clock effort to destroy morale, foment insurrection and weaken the industrial heart and soul of Adolf Hitler's war machine.
This was no Iraq. Despite comparisons made in recent days between the bombing of German cities and the "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad, this was actually the opposite. Instead of seeking to avoid civilian casualties as they are doing today, the Americans and British in the 1940s sought to maximize them.
Forty-five thousand people were killed in Hamburg during the air attacks; 50,000 in Dresden, 12,000 in Berlin, 10,000 in Kassel, 5,500 in Frankfurt and so on. In Pforzheim, a city of 63,000, one-third of the population was incinerated in one night in February 1945, even as the war was coming to a close.
Night after night after night, entire cities were lighted on fire, like a nonnuclear version of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Never before in modern history had a civilian population endured such a military assault. One and a half million bombs were dropped on 161 German cities and 800 villages over five years, leaving half a million civilians dead, including 75,000 children. An additional 78,000 of Hitler's slave workers and prisoners of war were killed.
No one was ever punished for these acts. The winners, not surprisingly, didn't indict themselves for war crimes.
And, in fact, there was nothing technically illegal about their actions.
According to Telford Taylor, the chief U.S. prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials, there was no international agreement limiting aerial bombardment to military targets — so, technically, the bombing was legal.
Nevertheless, it was unprecedented and beyond any of the customs of war. The war itself was just, but the means by which it was conducted were unjust and unimaginable.
And worst of all, the bombing was an unmitigated failure. It simply didn't work. It weakened Hitler but didn't lead to his overthrow. It didn't destroy morale or incite rebellion; 75,000 children killed and it didn't do anything except, perhaps, strengthen the resolve of the German people against the Allies.
For years afterward, Germans didn't mention these things. We lost the war, and rightly so. Now we were making peace with the world, and it seemed wrong, somehow, to speak about the wounds that had been inflicted on us by countries that were now our allies, our protectors.
In the years that followed, none of the numerous British and American historians of the bombing campaign fairly described the tragedy of mass destruction and massacre wreaked on the German cities. Even German historians who knew better didn't dare to describe the devastation unleashed by the Allies.
At a press conference last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted comparisons had been made between the current campaign and the bombings in Germany. It's a laughable comparison.
You cannot compare the mass destruction of incendiary warfare — aimed at killing civilians in extraordinary numbers — with the noisy but relatively precise and targeted attacks on Baghdad. Such comparisons are far too kind to Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the British leader of the Allied air campaign.
The difference is this: In Baghdad today, civilian deaths constitute failure; in WWII Germany, they meant success. The U.S. would be a pariah in world opinion today if it targeted even one Iraqi city the way it attacked German cities relentlessly for five years.
A better comparison is to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. If the Iraqi leader were to use chemical or biological weapons — which strike civilian and military targets indiscriminately over a large territory — that would be comparable. Then Hussein would be the true heir of "Bomber" Harris.
Jorg Friedrich, a military historian, is author of "Der Brand" ("The Fire"), a history of the Allied air campaign against Germany during World War II.
The Allies' "moral shortcuts"
From the LA Times, 5/8/05:
V-E Day — a Soiled Victory
A look at the WWII Allies' moral shortcuts.
By Niall Ferguson
Niall Ferguson's latest book, "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire," has just been published in paperback by Penguin.
World War II was the most destructive event in human history. It transformed the world more profoundly than any other man-made calamity, including all the great political revolutions. Perhaps as many as 57 million people died prematurely as a result of organized violence on a scale never seen before or since. Nearly 300,000 Americans lost their lives; 670,000 were wounded. All told, the lives of more than 16 million were disrupted by service in the armed forces.
Today — the 60th anniversary of V-E Day — is a time to remember those who lost their lives in the war and to show our respect for the now elderly survivors. But it is also a day when many young Americans may ask their elders some difficult questions. What was it all for? Why did so many millions of men spend nearly six years (longer in Asia) determinedly trying to slaughter one another, and one another's families?
At first sight, perhaps, those aren't hard questions. So monstrous were the crimes perpetrated by Nazi Germany — symbolized by Auschwitz — that many of us, Britons, Americans and Russians alike, derive an enduring satisfaction from the belief that in fighting Hitler our grandfathers were engaged in a just war. The men of 1945, we say, belonged to "the greatest generation," which fought for democracy and freedom against dictatorship and genocide.
We forget all too easily the extent to which our side also meted out death to innocent men, women and children in pursuit of victory. We forget the terrible moral compromises that were the price of winning the war.
Most historians today would give the lion's share of the credit for the Allied victory to the Soviet Union. It was, after all, the Soviets who suffered the largest number of wartime casualties (about 25 million). That reflected in large measure the appalling barbarity with which the Germans waged the war on the Eastern Front. Yet it also reflected the indifference of Stalin's totalitarian regime to the lives and rights of its own citizens. It might have been expected that in the crisis of war, Stalin would suspend the terror that had characterized his regime in the 1930s. On the contrary. The lowest estimates for the period (1942-1945) indicate that 7 million Soviet citizens lost their lives via political executions, deportations or death in the gulag system. All of this reminds us that to defeat an enemy they routinely denounced as barbaric, the Western powers made common cause with an ally that was morally little better.
Moreover, the destruction caused by the British and American air forces in their bombing campaigns against civilian populations in Germany and Japan is hardly something we can look back on with pride. Hamburg was destroyed in a firestorm code-named Operation Gomorrah; about 45,000 people died. Similar numbers perished when Dresden was bombed. Tokyo was literally incinerated in a raid that killed between 83,000 and 100,000 people — maybe more.
Such bombing was precisely what the U.S. State Department had denounced as "unwarranted and contrary to principles of law and humanity" in 1937, when the Japanese bombed Chinese cities. And it was precisely what Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill's predecessor as prime minister, had dismissed as "mere terrorism," to which "His Majesty's government [would] never resort."
Was this carnage in any sense justifiable? For many years it was fashionable to deny that the bombing made any significant contribution to the Allied victory. Certainly, the damage to German and Japanese morale was far less than the prewar strategists had predicted.
But bombing Germany did divert air cover away from the Eastern Front. In the spring of 1943, 70% of German fighters were in the western European theater, leaving German ground forces in the east increasingly vulnerable to Soviet air attacks. Lack of air cover was one of the reasons the German tanks were beaten at Kursk.
Strategic bombing also greatly hampered Albert Speer's considerable efforts to mobilize the Nazi economy for total war. In January 1945, Speer and his colleagues calculated the damage done in terms of what they couldn't produce: 35% fewer tanks than planned, 31% fewer aircraft and 42% fewer trucks. The impact of bombing on the Japanese economy was even more devastating.
And yet the moral cost of this strategy, whatever its military benefits, was appallingly high. What happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki is said to have ushered in a new atomic age. It also represented the extent to which the Allies threw moral restraint aside in their pursuit of victory.
After the war, the charges against the Japanese leaders who stood trial included "the wholesale destruction of human lives, not alone on the field of battle … but in the homes, hospitals, and orphanages, in factories and fields." Yet this had been the very essence of the Allied policy of strategic bombing. At Potsdam and in the subsequent Nuremberg trials the victors also struck splendidly sanctimonious poses. The leaders of Germany and Japan had "set in motion evils which [left] no home in the world untouched." Yet the Soviet Union had been on Hitler's side in 1939 — something the Baltic states invaded by Stalin have not forgotten.
As for the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, it suffered a similar fate in 1945. Britain had gone to war with Germany ostensibly to prevent Poland from being overrun by Germany, as Czechoslovakia had been. Yet within a few years of the war's end, the whole of Eastern and Central Europe up to the River Elbe was firmly under Stalin's iron fist.
None of this is intended to detract from the valor of the millions of Allied service personnel who lost or risked their lives in World War II. Nor is it to deny that the war had to be fought to rid the world of two of the most evil empires in all history. There is a moral difference between Auschwitz and Hiroshima. The Axis cities would never have been bombed if the Axis powers had not launched their war of aggression. And the Axis powers would have killed even more innocent people had it not been for the determination of the Allied powers to prevail.
Nevertheless, we would do well, this V-E Day, to face some harsh realities about the nature of the Allied victory — if only to remind ourselves about the nature of all wars. To win World War II, we joined forces with a despot who was every bit as brutal a tyrant as Hitler; we adopted tactics that we ourselves had said were depraved; and we left too many of those we set out to liberate firmly in the grip of totalitarianism.
For all these reasons, the victory we commemorate needs to understood for what it was: a tainted triumph.
Why bombing doesn't work
Continuity in the Nature of War: Psychological Responses to "Distant Punishment"
By Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman, USA (Ret)
With the 1921 publication of his book, Command of the Air, Guilio Douhet became one of the world's first recognized airpower adherents, claiming that the disintegration of nations brought about by attrition in World War I would be accomplished directly by aerial forces in the future. Since then airpower advocates have repeatedly proclaimed their ability to win wars solely through what has accurately been termed "distant punishment." But Douhet had an excuse that present day "air barons" do not: his belief was based upon current scientific theory. That is, current as of 80 years ago. A theory which has since been soundly disproven and is no longer accepted by any scientific body.
The Origin of the Myth of Distant Punishment
During World War I the probability of a soldier becoming a psychiatric casualty was greater than that of being killed by enemy fire. This was a new phenomenon in human history, resulting from the manifestation of day-and-night combat for months on end. When these hundreds-of-thousands of psychiatric casualties began to occur in World War I, they were termed "shell shock" and it was sincerely (and quite incorrectly) believed by psychiatrists that these casualties were a result of the physical impact of prolonged concussions on the brain.
At the end of World War I, psychiatrists and psychologists proposed a theory that similar concussions, delivered by air and inflicted on enemy troop concentrations and civilian populations in cities, would result in massive civilian psychiatric casualties. As a result of this fallacy, air power adherents sincerely envisioned vast numbers of "gibbering lunatics" being driven from enemy cities by a rain of bombs.
The fields of psychiatry and psychology were truly "voodoo sciences" during this period, far removed from the scientific body of experimental-based, peer-reviewed, replicatable data that has been so painfully established in the Post-World War II era. And it was this tragically flawed but widely accepted conclusion by the embryonic science of psychiatry that formed the theoretical foundation for the German attempt to bomb Britain into submission at the beginning of World War II, and the subsequent Allied attempt to do the same to Germany.
This unpredictable, uncontrollable reign of shock, horror, and terror inflicted on civilian populations in World War II is exactly what psychiatrists and psychologists believed to be responsible for the vast numbers of psychiatric casualties suffered by soldiers in World War I. And yet the Rand Corporation's Strategic Bombing Study published in 1949 found that there was only a very slight increase in the incidence of psychological disorders in these populations as compared to peacetime rates. In the words of historian Paul Fussell, the post-World War II studies, ascertained that: "German military and industrial production seemed to increase" just like civilian determination not to surrender "the more bombs were dropped."
The Real Cause of Psychiatric Casualties
Today the science of psychology knows that it is not fear of death or injury that causes psychiatric casualties. Modern society pursues fear through everything from roller coasters, to action and horror movies, to rock climbing, and a hundred other legal and illegal means. Fear itself is seldom a cause of trauma in everyday peacetime existence, but facing close-range interpersonal aggression is a traumatizing experience of an entirely different magnitude.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association affirms this when it notes that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) "...may be especially severe or longer lasting when the stressor is of human design." The DSM goes on to note that PTSD resulting from natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes is comparatively rare and mild, but acute cases of PTSD will consistently result from torture or rape. Ultimately, like tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes, bombs from 20,000 feet are simply not "personal" and are significantly less traumatic — to both the victim and aggressor.
When snakes, heights or darkness causes an intense fear reaction in an individual it is considered a phobia, a dysfunction, an abnormality. But it is very natural and normal to respond to an attacking, aggressive fellow human being with a phobic-scale response. This is a universal human phobia. More than anything else in life, it is the potential for intentional, overt, human confrontation that has the greatest ability to modify and influence the behavior of human beings.
What this means to us today is that the entire body of psychology and psychiatry, and the entire body of history in this field, all affirm that a soldier, police officer, or peacekeeper on the street is infinitely more effective at influencing behavior than any quantity of impersonal bombs in the air, no matter how "smart" those bombs may be. Anything else is simply wishful thinking.
Psychologically, aerial and artillery bombardments are effective, but only in the front lines when they are combined with the threat of the physical attack which usually follows such bombardments.
This is why there were massed psychiatric casualties following World War I artillery bombardments, but World War II's strategic bombing of population centers were surprisingly counter-productive in breaking the enemy's will. Such bombardments without an accompanying close-range assault, or at least the threat of such an assault, are ineffective and may even serve no other purpose than to inoculate the enemy and to stiffen his will and resolve.
This is why inserting combat units in the enemy's rear is infinitely more important and effective than even the most comprehensive bombardments in his rear, or attrition along his front. We saw this in the early years of the Korean War where the rate of psychiatric casualties was almost seven times higher than the average rate for World War II. Only after the war settled down, lines stabilized, and the threat of having enemy in our rear areas decreased, did the average rate go down to that of World War II. Just the potential of close-up, inescapable, interpersonal confrontation is more effective and has greater impact on the behavior of soldiers and civilians than the actual presence of inescapable, impersonal death and destruction.
The Death of a Myth
The lure of a sterile, distant, "clean" airpower victory seems to be embedded in the human psyche. Many politicians, and a certain breed of warrior, are deeply troubled by the prospect of face-to-face confrontation. And, while they want desperately to inflict their will upon their opponent, they strive to find some way to do so without having to physically confront that opponent, and without having to personally witness the effects of their actions.
Thus the myth of distant punishment fulfills a deep-seated need, rooted in the avoidance of personal confrontation, and an unwillingness to deal with the consequences of combat. And across the generations airpower adherents have believed with all their hearts, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, in the myth that they can "wave the magic bombers and just make the bad man go away."
The innocent civilians they kill in this process they euphemistically deny by simply terming them "collateral damage." And the consistent history of the ineffectiveness of distant punishment they simply choose to ignore, or to rationalize by saying, "This time it will work because ... our bombs are more accurate ... or more powerful." Or whatever. But they refuse to acknowledge that, while the nature of weapons may change, the basic nature of human beings does not change. Human nature is one of the constants of warfare, and what did not work before will not work now.
Our perennial air power adherents base their calls for distant punishment on a myth, which in turn is based on long-debunked "scientific conclusions" that are close to a century old — the equivalent of basing your space program on the flat earth theory. Thus it is time to drive a stake through the heart of this myth and bury it once and for all. The basic concept is about as morally, scientifically, and politically sound as claiming that you can police New York City with cruise missiles.
Outside the cloistered halls of denial among a small community at the Air War College there is no significant body of support for the airpower adherents, except in the recurrent wishful thinking of politicians and the twisted, self-serving logic of the aerospace industry, both of which are pandered to quite shamelessly by the bomber lobby. What we have here is a situation very similar to the tobacco lobby, with their own pet researchers in the Tobacco Institute, who continue to tout the party line in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
I would submit to you that using distant punishment to influence a nation is like trying to get rid of the rats living in an inhabited residence, without ever entering the building. You can successfully influence the rats' behavior by burning the house down (as we did in Dresden), or blowing the house up (as we did in Hiroshima), or even by tossing in canisters of nerve gas. But the human inhabitants of the building, on whose behalf we are supposedly working, and the residents of neighboring houses, all tend to strongly disapprove of such strategies.
The obvious answer is to go into the building with our traps, cats, ferrets, and rat terriers, and to clean up the filth that the rats live in and on. But instead of doing this, some among our military community are still too fastidious to enter the building and confront the rats, and they have come up with the bizarre idea of placing snipers at the windows and periodically firing at the rats with shotguns and high powered rifles. The fact that this strategy is totally ineffective at controlling rats, and that it seriously endangers the innocent residents of the building, is completely inconsequential to the adherents of this distant punishment strategy.
Immoral and Soon to be Illegal?
It has been my pleasure in recent months to correspond extensively with Dr. Robin Coupland, of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in Geneva, and editor of the ICRC report on "The SIrUS Project." This is an extensive body of research involving a database of over 26,000 war-wounded patients at Red Cross hospitals around the world since 1991. The objective of his work has been to determine which weapons inflict what the Geneva Convention identifies as "superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering." The upshot of this research is that an extensive body of data now exists to demonstrate what we all know: small arms fire kills or injures comparatively few non-combatants, but instruments of "distant punishment," (land mines, aerial bombing, and artillery), are responsible for the vast majority of the indiscriminate slaughter of non-combatants in war.
What I am telling you is that there is a tremendously influential force at play in the world today which is determined to see to it that artillery and aerial bombs will follow the land mine down the endangered species path already trod by gas warfare. Whether we like it or not, with few exceptions, those who propose to use "distant punishment" as national policy will soon see the day when they are considered as immoral international criminals, little different from the way Saddam Hussein is viewed today.
We cannot escape from the fact that, whether we like it or not, in the eyes of an increasingly large and influential body of individuals in this post-Cold War era, those who advocate distant punishment are really asking for license to murder civilians, and tax dollars to do it with.
American GIs, as combatants or peacekeepers, in the streets of a foreign nation have always been our best ambassadors, and American bombers dropping impersonal death and destruction from overhead have always been our worst. To have a national policy that relies on distant punishment in the form of bombers is to put our very worst foot forward.
There can be little doubt that the execution of a policy based on strategic bombing is likely to explode in our faces. To explode figuratively, as CNN insures that we can no longer deny the heaps of dead and wounded women and children that in the past we have written off as "collateral damage." And then to explode quite literally, as enraged nationalists are inspired to return the favor of butchering innocent women and children through terrorist attacks along the line of the Oklahoma City bombing — or, God forbid, with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
What I have presented here has also been presented in my book, On Killing , which was nominated for a Pulitzer prize and has been positively reviewed in over 100 periodicals in over 30 nations. The implications of distant punishment outlined here have also been integral to my entry on "Aggression and Violence" in the Oxford Companion to American Military History, and my entries on "The Psychological Effects of Combat" and "The Evolution of Weaponry" in the Academic Press Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict, all with extensive peer reviews and all without dissent. I have lectured on this subject to 20 different colleges and universities in the U.S. and Europe, and as the plenary speaker to a British military historian's convention, as well as conducting in-service training at the local, state, and regional level to numerous psychiatric, psychological and mental health organizations. Again, this has all been completely without dissent or controversy.
The bottom line is that, outside of a small cabal in the hallowed halls of the Air War College, and some self-serving members of the aerospace industry, there is no intellectual, historical or scientific basis of support for distant punishment as national policy.
There can be no doubt. There can be no denial. The irrefutable truth is that, with very, very few exceptions, distant punishment in the form of aerial bombing is: psychiatrically unsound, psychologically impotent, strategically counterproductive, morally bankrupt, and likely to soon be illegal.
Thus there is very little justification for basing national policy on the effectiveness of air strikes. Or for directing precious national resources toward conducting any air strike. Unless it is in support of, and directed by, ground troops who can and will psychologically exploit it. Ground troops who will also have the moral courage to subsequently accept direct personal and national responsibility for whatever death and destruction results from that air strike. Nothing else should be acceptable for a democratic nation in the post-Cold War era.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
U.S. Army (Retired)
Director, Killology Research Group
. . .
All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.
Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.
Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.