Bromides about Bombing

A fact that every politician and news talking-head in the world seems to be certain of is that you can’t win a war by air power alone.  Even the media-hired retired generals throw it out as an absolute truth of warfare, as if it had fallen from the lips of Sun Tzu himself.  Ask anyone, civilian, military, whatever, and he will quickly inform you of the truth of that unassailable rule of modern warfare.

But when has any nation ever in history attempted to prevail in war by the singular use of airpower?  “It has never happened because it just won’t work.”  And how do you know that with such certainty if you acknowledge it has never been tried?

The first use of massive airpower and strategic bombing took place in WWII, in Europe and in the Pacific war.  The allied air forces were bombing Nazi Germany into rubble when we launched our invasion of Europe.  What if we had just continued the strategic bombing campaign and hadn’t invaded?  We were in the very deliberate process of destroying the German homeland with massive bombing raids, which, if continued, would have eventually eliminated Nazi Germany’s ability to wage war and demoralized the population.  German troops deployed about Europe required huge logistical support from the homeland, and the allied bombing campaigns were destroying both the sources of those essential supplies and the supply lines needed to get those materials to the troops.  And the cruel reality the Germans had to swallow was that America could build bombers and bombs undeterred while German infrastructure had no hope of being rebuilt under the bombing onslaught.

Who can say that the allied bombing campaign, pursued with the same intensity and ferocity, couldn’t have brought Nazi Germany to the surrender table?  Want to know the real reason why it was necessary to invade Europe?  Because if we hadn’t, the massed and marching Russian Bear would have erected its Iron Curtain on Omaha Beach, extending north to Denmark and south to Gibraltar, to effect its Sovietized Europe.

It was a bit different with the Japanese, whose major population centers we were burning into oblivion with our firebombing campaigns, designed specifically to take advantage of the Japanese tradition of building their homes cheek by jowl in metropolitan areas with highly flammable materials.  Yes, we nuked two cities, to bring them more quickly to the surrender table, but how much more of the non-nuclear incendiary destruction of their cities could they have withstood before acknowledging that we had bombed them into submission?  Their capability to wage war had been reduced to the point that such civilian casualties no longer justified continuing.

I was an infantry NCO in Vietnam in an area where the B-52 Arc Light Operations took place.  A part of our mission was to patrol into the targeted areas post-bombing to assess the effectiveness of the aerial raids.  The assessment was easy because it was a slam-dunk; nothing lived in those long, wide, and unfortunate carpet bombing patterns except perhaps recently arrived insects in the water pooled in the huge craters.  Human and animal life simply was no longer to be seen.  Did it work?  Well, by the end of the 1972 bombing campaign, our battle assessment experts were finding it difficult to locate additional targets worthy of a B-52 sortie.

The North Vietnamese came to the peace table in Paris because they had come to the realization that we were quite capable of bombing their ancient civilization, of which they are so proud, all the way back into the very pre-civilized Stone Age.  Or rather, we would have rendered them so militarily defenseless that the always feared invasion from the ancient enemy to the north would be a cakewalk, and they would once again be enslaved by the hated Chinese for a few additional centuries.

So, again, just whose conventional wisdom is it that you can’t win wars by bombing alone?  Agreed, you cannot seize and hold terrain.  But if your strategic objective is not to occupy your enemy’s homeland, but rather just to render that enemy incapable of further and future aggression against you and your allies, then where does an all-out bombing campaign come up short?  Lastly, how do we know the truth of this so-called wisdom if we’ve not tried it?

With today’s technology, America may still not have the ability to prevent the formation and depredations of terrorist organizations, but it damned well has the capability of denying such organizations the ability to form the maneuverable forces needed to seize geography from other nations.  There is no way in hell ISIS can form into a boundaried, functioning caliphate if we choose not to let it do so.  Let them declare their caliphate, but then let them live with the reality their religious fervor has brought them: a bleak and barren no-man’s land, where every human movement is suspect and carries the peril of sudden death from the skies.

Before we risk any more American lives on the ground in this conflict, let’s test this hypothesis that we can’t win with just airpower.

A fact that every politician and news talking-head in the world seems to be certain of is that you can’t win a war by air power alone.  Even the media-hired retired generals throw it out as an absolute truth of warfare, as if it had fallen from the lips of Sun Tzu himself.  Ask anyone, civilian, military, whatever, and he will quickly inform you of the truth of that unassailable rule of modern warfare.

But when has any nation ever in history attempted to prevail in war by the singular use of airpower?  “It has never happened because it just won’t work.”  And how do you know that with such certainty if you acknowledge it has never been tried?

The first use of massive airpower and strategic bombing took place in WWII, in Europe and in the Pacific war.  The allied air forces were bombing Nazi Germany into rubble when we launched our invasion of Europe.  What if we had just continued the strategic bombing campaign and hadn’t invaded?  We were in the very deliberate process of destroying the German homeland with massive bombing raids, which, if continued, would have eventually eliminated Nazi Germany’s ability to wage war and demoralized the population.  German troops deployed about Europe required huge logistical support from the homeland, and the allied bombing campaigns were destroying both the sources of those essential supplies and the supply lines needed to get those materials to the troops.  And the cruel reality the Germans had to swallow was that America could build bombers and bombs undeterred while German infrastructure had no hope of being rebuilt under the bombing onslaught.

Who can say that the allied bombing campaign, pursued with the same intensity and ferocity, couldn’t have brought Nazi Germany to the surrender table?  Want to know the real reason why it was necessary to invade Europe?  Because if we hadn’t, the massed and marching Russian Bear would have erected its Iron Curtain on Omaha Beach, extending north to Denmark and south to Gibraltar, to effect its Sovietized Europe.

It was a bit different with the Japanese, whose major population centers we were burning into oblivion with our firebombing campaigns, designed specifically to take advantage of the Japanese tradition of building their homes cheek by jowl in metropolitan areas with highly flammable materials.  Yes, we nuked two cities, to bring them more quickly to the surrender table, but how much more of the non-nuclear incendiary destruction of their cities could they have withstood before acknowledging that we had bombed them into submission?  Their capability to wage war had been reduced to the point that such civilian casualties no longer justified continuing.

I was an infantry NCO in Vietnam in an area where the B-52 Arc Light Operations took place.  A part of our mission was to patrol into the targeted areas post-bombing to assess the effectiveness of the aerial raids.  The assessment was easy because it was a slam-dunk; nothing lived in those long, wide, and unfortunate carpet bombing patterns except perhaps recently arrived insects in the water pooled in the huge craters.  Human and animal life simply was no longer to be seen.  Did it work?  Well, by the end of the 1972 bombing campaign, our battle assessment experts were finding it difficult to locate additional targets worthy of a B-52 sortie.

The North Vietnamese came to the peace table in Paris because they had come to the realization that we were quite capable of bombing their ancient civilization, of which they are so proud, all the way back into the very pre-civilized Stone Age.  Or rather, we would have rendered them so militarily defenseless that the always feared invasion from the ancient enemy to the north would be a cakewalk, and they would once again be enslaved by the hated Chinese for a few additional centuries.

So, again, just whose conventional wisdom is it that you can’t win wars by bombing alone?  Agreed, you cannot seize and hold terrain.  But if your strategic objective is not to occupy your enemy’s homeland, but rather just to render that enemy incapable of further and future aggression against you and your allies, then where does an all-out bombing campaign come up short?  Lastly, how do we know the truth of this so-called wisdom if we’ve not tried it?

With today’s technology, America may still not have the ability to prevent the formation and depredations of terrorist organizations, but it damned well has the capability of denying such organizations the ability to form the maneuverable forces needed to seize geography from other nations.  There is no way in hell ISIS can form into a boundaried, functioning caliphate if we choose not to let it do so.  Let them declare their caliphate, but then let them live with the reality their religious fervor has brought them: a bleak and barren no-man’s land, where every human movement is suspect and carries the peril of sudden death from the skies.

Before we risk any more American lives on the ground in this conflict, let’s test this hypothesis that we can’t win with just airpower.