Saturday, July 26, 2008

Learning unlearned lessons all over again

Dear George,

War is a farce in which the human instinct to fight or flee is systematized and elevated to the level of an absurd burlesque that is as entertaining as it is brutal. But, the greatest farce on the battlefield is the army so mesmerized by its technology and weapon systems that it believes itself invincible.

While such a belief doesn’t guarantee victory, it does guarantee wealthy defense contractors.

Air power is an example of this hubric fascination with technology. In 1921, an Italian army general by the name of Giulio Douhet published his book, Command of the Air. In it, Douhet argued that aircraft, and particularly the bomber, rendered the infantry superfluous because airpower, alone, could bring an enemy to its knees.

The cornerstone of his theory was the terror bombing of civilian populations, which he believed would destroy morale to the point that enemy citizens would rise up, overthrow their government and sue for peace.

One man who really bought into Douhet’s theory was RAF Air Marshall Arthur “Bomber” Harris who introduced terror bombing to German civilians during World War II. The Americans soon followed suit, both in Germany and Japan.

The lesson not learned by World War II was that Douhet’s theory sucked. All terror bombing did was to stiffen an enemy’s resolve, as the Germans learned during the London Blitz. (Be careful about dragging out that old chestnut about Hiroshima forcing the Japanese to surrender. The Japanese had sued for peace before we dropped the bomb.)

Fortunately, one of war’s great paradoxes is that armies are incapable of carrying the lessons learned in one war onto the next. So it was that we tried to bomb Vietnam and Iraq into submission, without success.

Douhet’s theory did have one salutatory effect: Up until World War II, civilian casualties in a war ran around five percent. From World War II on, terror bombing increased that slice of the pie to the ninety percent range. War is even more of a turn-on than ever. Now an old man can really feel pumped when he starts one.

The beauty of hubris is that it is a real shape shifter, ready to attach itself to an infinite range of delusions. And I’m happy to say that our military strategists are on top of the next generation of military madness.

It seems that the progressive forces of neoliberal globalization are creating sprawling slums that have attached themselves to the metropolises of the Third World. This has the Pentagon worried. As one writer explains it, “[A] racist discourse of ‘feral cities’ haunts the imagination of military theoreticians. Considered a ‘breeding ground” of subversion by ruling class economists, politicians and sociologists, the urban battles of the future are being ‘wargamed’ today.’

The wave of the future is to redefine a terrorist as anyone who is both poor and pissed off.

The raucous humor in all of this is the conviction on the part of military planners that with the proper technology, it will be possible for the army of the future to exercise command and control over favelas and other slums that have spread without planning or reason into complex warrens of streets, alleys, tottering high rises and shanties.

The truth is that in doing battle with the slum “terrorists” of the future, military thinking will come a full circle and Douhet will reign once again as our planners discover that the only strategy for neutralizing the favelas will be firebombing them into oblivion.

Wholesale slaughter is the ultimate end product of military technology.

Your admirer,
Belacqua Jones


Anonymous said...

Ken Dunstan, Essex, UK
Air Marshall Arthur "Bomber" Harris, not Davis. But otherwise, an excellent post. We do, of course, have high-tech bombs that in 1991 could go down the chimney of a Baghdad Air Raid Shelter -oops, munitions dump/ military HQ/ name your excuse ... pity about the lousy intelligence ... Your comments about favelas and terminal pissed-offness as the roots of terrorism is right on the button. Heaven forbid that GW should ever understand this - he might want to talk to Hamas! And then where would our arms contracts be? What sort of a world would it be without enemies to frighten us?

Case Wagenvoord said...

Whoops! Sorry about the error. Thanks for pointing it out.