Over a hundred people have been killed in an attack in Paris.
Predictably, there are immediate calls to bomb somewhere. Anywhere. Syria. That’s this week’s country that ‘they’ come from. Before that it was supposed to be Iraq and before that it was supposed to be Afghanistan. Both times we invaded the country. We bombed it. Somehow, they keep on coming and we pretend we don’t know why.
Bombing is what we do best. It won the Second World War. It is also precisely and utterly and completely useless as a response to asymmetric threats – ones where the enemy doesn’t conveniently wear a different shaped hat.
Allied air power was decisive. Its victory was complete. It brought the economy that sustained the enemy’s armed forces to virtual collapse. It brought home to …people the full impact of modern war with all its horror and suffering. Its imprint will be lasting.
Domination of the air was essential. Without it, attacks on the basic economy of the enemy could not have been delivered in sufficient force and with sufficient freedom to bring effective and lasting results.
The mental reaction of ….people to air attack is significant. Under ruthless control they showed surprising resistance to the terror and hardships of repeated air attack, to the destruction of their homes and belongings and to the conditions under which they were reduced to live. Their morale, their belief in ultimate victory of satisfactory compromise and their confidence in their leaders declined, but they continued to work efficiently as long as the physical means of production remained. The power of a police state over its people cannot be over-emphasised.
The most serious (air) attacks were those which destroyed the industry or service which most indispensably served other industries. Whatever the target system, no indispensible industry was permanently put out of commission by a single attack. Persistent re-attack was necessary.
This was the conclusion of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, dated September 30, 1945 that I just happened to have about my person, as you do. It was put together by a team of over 1,000 observers, documenting records not just in England and the US, but in smashed German town halls and burned out bunkers. Three of the team were killed getting this information. That’s how close to the front line they operated. They wanted the absolute facts to justify the greatest expenditure on bombing the world had seen.
It was headed up by J K Galbraith. Earlier in the war he had calculated the optimal number of machine guns the B17 bomber should carry to balance the weight of the guns and their ammunition needed to defend the aircraft against the weight of the bombs or fuel the aircraft could carry if it didn’t have any guns at all.
His career was derailed by this report. The US Army Airforce, struggling to break free of the Army and become an independent organisation (as it did) did not appreciate a report saying that basically, bombing doesn’t work unless you bomb an entire country flat. And even then, the people left will pretty much carry on as normal, as best they can. This was not what the high command wanted to hear. At all.
As it isn’t now. Bombing is a nice, simple solution. It looks good on TV. You can interview Our Brave Boys in their multi-million pound aircraft and talk about knights of the air and evoke the Battle of Britain, as British politicians have already done. And unless you bomb an entire country out of the twentieth century, it’s not going to work. Bombing Syria ignores the fact that a lot of it is already bombed flat. It ignores the fact that the main industry is oil and we certainly are not going to start bombing that. Turkey already buys oil from ISIS, which isn’t something you’ll see in the tabloids a lot, although the story has been in the Financial Times for weeks.
And anyway, we’re supposed to be ‘liberating’ the Syrians, which is quite difficult to do if we’ve killed them all in airstrikes, notwithstanding that last year David Cameron wanted to go to war on the same side as ISIS, who according to Senator Rand Paul and others has been massively helped by the United States government. General Wesley Clerk has gone on record saying that US allies created ISIS. He also said the decision to go to war with Iraq was made because nobody knew what else to do, but they had to look busy.
So some people got killed on what had been a good night out and they will again. They always have. It’s what humans do. It is a total tragedy for everyone involved. The bigger tragedy is we never do anything to stop it happening. Just bomb some more.
The great lesson to be learned in the battered towns of England and the ruined cities of Germany is that the best way to win a war is to prevent it from occurring. That must be the ultimate end to which our best efforts are devoted.
Nobody wanted to hear that then. Nobody wants to hear it now. This is our tragedy, the one that really affects us all.