Saturday, 22 June 2024

    Strategic Bombing and Gentle War

    by Navy Capt (ret) Pete O’Brien

    Much of the modern way of war springs from the writings of 4 men from the 1920s: Gen. Giulio Douhet, LtGen. Walther Wever, Marshal Hugh Montague “Boom” Trenchard, and of course, Col. Billy Mitchell.All were believers in “strategic bombing,” the idea that bombing the right targets would destroy morale while also destroying industrial capacity and disabling lines of communication, and drive any nation to surrender.Over the years the theory, particularly in the west, has undergone some modifications. In particular, extremely precise weaponry has been lashed up with ever more refined concepts of the laws of wars to yield a theory of war that entails pinpoint destruction of weapons, disabling of means of production and key infrastructure with a minimum of weapons, and at the same time generating a minimum number of casualties.

    While there are arguments that in some cases it has nearly worked, there are much more extensive arguments that it has not. In those few cases when wars have truly been fought at full tilt, strategic bombing has proven to be an important, indeed essential element of modern war, but not the sufficient or decisive element of victory. And at the same time, strategic bombing has invariably stiffened enemy morale and enemy will. The one argument that most often comes up in defense of strategic bombing is, of course, Japan, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    There will be no effort made to settle that question here, but there’s certainly a good deal of evidence that, short of the Emperor’s direct intervention, the Japanese people were prepared to keep fighting. What were they fighting for? You can argue that what they were fighting for was the Emperor. World War II saw Mussolini and the Fascists destroyed, and then Hitler and the Nazis destroyed; surrenders followed. Japan surrendered but the Emperor remained in place. Yes, the country became a constitutional monarchy. But anyone who has ever seen the Japanese people react to the presence of their Emperor will tell you that there is still a very deep, visceral love of the Emperor among nearly all Japanese. So, while we said “unconditional surrender,” the Emperor and his family were not removed.There are, in the end, only two kinds of war: limited and unlimited.

    Despite thousands of theorists trying to develop new types of war, in the end, war comes down to a simple question: are you fighting to destroy the other government? If yes, your war is unlimited, if not, then no. The question can, of course be turned around: is the other guy trying to wipe out your government, yes or no?What has that got to do with today?

    There are two very real hot wars being fought today: the Russia – Ukraine war, which began with Russia trying to eliminate the Ukrainian government (unlimited war) and Ukraine simply wanting to survive (limited war).

    The war has arguably expanded into Ukraine and the EU / NATO hoping to extend the war long enough that the Putin government is overthrown by some means. In practical terms, Ukraine is now in an unlimited war with Russia.The Israel – Hamas war is also unlimited in both cases, as Hamas has made it quite clear they intend not simply to turn over the government of Israel, but to eliminate Israel, and indeed, Israelis. The Israelis wish to eliminate Hamas; unlimited war. And while the Russian – Ukraine war began in the west as a limited war, there’s a long list of leading figures in Washington and Europe who are now calling call for severe weakening of Russia while insisting Putin has to go. Some talk of the break up of Russia. The Ukrainian government has enacted laws making it illegal to seek a truce with Putin. In short, the war has evolved into unlimited goals.

    In the case of Hamas and Israel, Hamas and its supporters repeatedly call for the destruction of 100% of Israel and essentially all Israelis. No one in Russia is calling for the killing of all Ukrainians, not even the quite rabid Dmitry Medvedev; meanwhile some Israeli allies increasingly, bizarrely, call for Israel assuming limited war goals.

    So, how does all this end?

    In Ukraine, the war is now in its 27th month. One might argue, that it’s in its 242nd month. One could even argue that the war began in 1648 with the Cossack Rebellion (I’ve heard several Ukrainians argue that very thing). Without a very great deal of outside help Ukraine will not be able to destroy the Russian government nor dictate terms to Moscow. Russia can, by continuing this war of attrition, spend the next 10 years destroying Ukraine. That is a horrible prospect, but it is certainly one approach. It also may well be the approach Moscow has taken.

    Cutting that baby in two yields a Korean DMZ-like solution, which so far everyone seems to reject. As for Israel, it’s hard to imagine any possible solution at all, whether the Netanyahu government remains in power or not. Israel is not going to yield, nor can they. Hamas has quite explicitly called for wiping out Israel and Israelis and continues to do so. There is no benefit to Israel in stopping this war.

    As for calls for Israel to be more “humane” in their waging of war, it’s worth looking at the words of a theorist on war who came well before the proponents of air power – Clausewitz:Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst. The maximum use of force is in no way incompatible with the simultaneous use of the intellect. If one side uses force without compunction, undeterred by the bloodshed it involves, while the other side refrains, the first will gain the upper hand. That side will force the other to follow suit; each will drive its opponent toward extremes, and the only limiting factors are the counterpoises inherent in war.

    In Ukraine one might argue that there’s possibly some sort of middle ground, a ceasefire similar to what existed between 2014 and 2022, with a much more robust DMZ. Perhaps, perhaps not. But in Israel such a solution seems to be a death sentence for Israel. As for now, the wars will go on.