As an interested reader of, rather than expert on, military history I remember the progressive debunking of aerial bombing campaigns as a weapon of war. (Never mind the tormented ethics of ‘collateral damage’, innocence, and so on.) In ascending order of bombing on Britain in 1940-1, Germany 1942-5, and Vietnam 1965-71, we found that instead of cowing a population into submission the bombing campaigns strengthened the adversary’s determination to fight on. Even the impact on industrial and military capacity was surprisingly limited, save perhaps for destruction of Germany’s synthetic oil plants when the Second World War was nearly over anyway.
Accordingly, I matured on the idea that ‘carpet bombing’ had been discredited on purely pragmatic grounds as ineffective and even counterproductive. Yet now the so-called international community are all back to relying on air bombing again.
Admittedly, smart technology allows more precision with targeting together with the remote controlled drone strikes. Yet no one denies that plenty of civilians can still get killed, with all that that implies. The cynical point of air bombardment now is to enable politicians to say they are ‘taking action’ without the risks that attach to real warfare; a syndrome already apparent with the Libyan bombing campaign in 2011. But that example already warns us that without, first, ‘boots on the ground’ and then, second, political, economic, and cultural strategies to remove the deepseated conflicts in the entire Nigeria to Pakistan region, the West’s (and Russia’s) own security will not be secured at all. But addressing long-term strategy means addressing the West’s own political, cultural, and ethical incoherence. Which politicians are going to do that?