America’s Love Affair with Bombing Others Into Submission


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A resident of Wolmi Island, South Korea speaks, as quoted in the New York Times, August 3, 2008. “When the napalm hit our village, many people were still sleeping in their homes. Those who survived the flames ran to the tidal flats. We were trying to show the American pilots that we were civilians. But they strafed us, women and children.”

Americans have been bombing civilians for quite some time. In school we were told that the Rules of War impelled us, the good guys, to only deliberately target soldiers, and that any civilians causalities were “collateral damage” and accidental, but if this ever was the case it has not been so for some time. Napalm was developed as a way to most effectively burn down Japanese cities, causing huge fire storms as the paper and wood buildings caught fire. The canisters we dropped were designed to break through the roof of a house and detonate in the main living area. We were targeting civilians.

The firebombing of Tokyo, Dresden and Berlin were designed to force a surrender by demoralizing the populace. In Korea, we did the same, and seriously considered dropping nuclear weapons on the huge Chinese army that was massed along the Yala river border. It was only at the last-minute that President Truman stopped General MacArthur from doing so, for in fact the nuclear bombs had already been deployed.

During the Vietnam War, operations Rolling Thunder and Linebacker dropped four millions pounds of bombs on North Vietnam, mostly on Haiphong and Hanoi but we bombed neighboring Laos almost daily for eight years, dropping more explosives on that country than the allies dropped in all of World War II. Again, we were not targeting soldiers, but civilians. Laos had no army to speak of, but the population of that poor country was reduced to living in caves, because anything that moved became a target. We were trying to stop supplies moving along the area we dubbed the “Ho Chi Minh Trail.” It wasn’t much of a trail at first, but that didn’t stop us from daily B-52 bombing runs and finally considering using nuclear weapons to take out convoys of wagons, bicycles and mules until someone had the sense to say that would be a very bad idea, possibly sparking Russian or Chinese retaliation in kind. Curtis Lemay, the U.S. Air Force General who had been responsible for the fire-bombing of so many Japanese cities, vowed that we would bomb Vietnam “back to the stone age.”

America is addicted to the idea that we can exercise persuasive military might without putting “boots on the ground,” by bombing people from plans that are so high up they can’t be shot down. Now in addition to bombers we have drones that can fire missiles, so the notion is even more attractive. Remote control bullying.

One thing we certainly accomplish by bombing people who don’t agree with us is that we make generations of these same people hate us. When fire rains down from the sky, the death toll is indiscriminate. Korea, Laos and Vietnam tell stories of villagers hiding in caves who were incinerated by napalm strikes.

North Korea’s hatred of the United States is so highly developed it would be funny if it weren’t grounded in a resentment that simply won’t die. They still blame us for everything bad that happens in their country. This resulted from a United Nations Police Action (as was the Vietnam War) where we had not formally declared war. There was no truce because there was so surrender. But there was and is hatred, lingering smoldering hatred that will take many years to extinguish.

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BOMBING AS AN INEFFECTIVE FORM OF PERSUASION


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I was born in 1950, five years after the end of the Second World War. My country has been at war somewhere in the world for as long as I’ve been alive, with brief time off in the mid to late fifties in order to re-group. Even then, we were engaged in a “cold war,” stockpiling nuclear weapons as fast as we could make them, and the rockets to carry them across the world at many times the speed of sound.

When I was a child, we were told that our country observed certain “rules of war,” because we were the good guys and always took the moral high ground. We didn’t target civilians and we took prisoners of war and treated them humanely. By the way, I’ve heard of German prisoners of war, but never Japanese. Did they all commit hari kari?

Maybe we observed the Geneva Convention sometime before World War II, but it certainly wasn’t our experience or intention after we invented napalm and firebombed many Japanese cities and a few German ones. They weren’t military targets. We were trying to kill as many civilians as possible, in order to demoralize our enemies so they’d surrender.

It worked, we won. Then we took the same strategy to Vietnam and it didn’t work. In case anyone still believes the bullshit that we spun and resulted in Kissinger being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the North Vietnamese finally won the right to live in a Communist country. After twenty years of fighting foreign invaders, they unified their nation. It cost them millions of lives but they won.

So we learned our lesson. No more boots on the ground. Air attacks are the way we prosecute war now, and we no longer pretend that civilian deaths are “collateral damage.”

We no longer carpet bomb countries from 30,000 feet, we engage in “precision bombing,” often using unmanned drones. The accuracy rate has improved dramatically. Sure, we still take out a funeral procession or wedding party by mistake, but in general it’s no longer a mass slaughter. But we’re still bombing people. We’re still telling other people what they can and cannot do with their own countries. This hasn’t changed.

Bombing is a lousy way to persuade other countries to change their ways. Even though there’s a good chance we bombed ourselves in 9/11, we certainly didn’t learn any lessons from the experience of being bombed. One delusional Muslim teenager fashioned a shoe bomb for himself on an airplane and the rest of us are still taking off our shoes in airports ten years later.

We have fashioned a police state so large it may be impossible to dismantle it. That seems to be the main lesson we learned from being bombed.

When General MacArthur was in charge of our forces in North Korea, he suggested we drop fifty nuclear weapons along the border of North Korea and China. Truman fired him, but the next year General Curtis LeMay was ready to drop even more nuclear weapons. Truman never gave the order to do so.

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To this day the North Koreans hate us with an almost unimaginable intensity.

I spent some time in Nicaragua, which is a socialist verging on Communist country. They endured a civil war that lasted from the late seventies to the eighties, finally overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship. The Sandanistas who emerged victorious were not to Reagan’s liking, so he and his cronies cooked up a scheme to sell arms to Iran in order to finance an illegal backing of contra-revolutionaires, or “Contras,” mostly the remnants of Somoza’s highly corrupt national guard. This prolonged the Nicaraguan civil war by several years, but the Contras were eventually defeated as well. When I traveled the country I half-expected the common folk to hate Americans, but most of them had no memory or experience of that time.

Their struggle for independence was fought by citizen soldiers, some women, committed to freedom from Somoza and the U.S. Here’s a picture of one of them nursing her baby while dutifully carrying her carbine.

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