US terror bombing

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Mon Mar 29 13:56:04 PST 1999

This is marred by Trot boilerplate, but it's still a fine example of why Workers Vanguard used to be worth reading when Jan Norden was editing it.

Yeah, yeah, NATO is just bombing military targets, not civilians, though there are 500,000 refugees and hundreds of thousands of others who are feeling mighty inconvenienced. But who would trust an entity with a history like this to bomb humanely?

"Liberals have often sought to distance themselves from the policy of strategic bombing...."

Sorry for any scanning glitches - it doesn't work well from yellowing newsprint.



THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF U.S. TERROR BOMBING How Washington Perfected Hitler's Schrecklichkeit Workers Vanguard, March 1, 1991

Video images of laser-guided 'smart" bombs homing in on their targets, generals talking of "precision bombing," vague references to "collateral damage": the Pentagon has worked up A cult of high-tech as Washington's propaganda machine is spreading the lie that the U.S. air assault against Iraq is a "clean" war. And meanwhile Iraqi civilians are deliberately incinerated in a bomb shelter in Baghdad. The roads of Iraq have become killing fields, lined with the bombed-out wreckage of cars and trucks. In two recent atrocities, bombers targeted buses loaded with civilians, killing a total of 60 people. The "surgical strikes" are hitting hospitals where doctors perform surgery on mutilated women and children.

The orgy of destruction has leveled power plants, factories, warehouses, bridges, roads, phone installations-the entire infrastructure of the country. The city of Basra in southern Iraq, which has been singled out for special devastation, was simply declared by U.S. military authorities to be a "military town." Pentagon spokesmen classify any civilian target hit as "dual purpose," both military and civilian. According to our estimate the U.S. is dropping at least 16,000 tons of bombs a day, so after 40 days of air war, with 100,000 sorties flown, the U.S. has dropped on Iraq almost a quarter of the total tonnage dropped by all the belligerent powers in World War II!

Uneasy with the "bad press" that the bombing of civilians is getting, the New York Times (14 February) asked plaintively: "Why not stop bombing cities?"

Liberals have often sought to distance themselves from the policy of strategic bombing, arguing that in any case it is "ineffective" in destroying a country's ability to wage war. This is the argument of economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who headed the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey in World War II. Galbraith writes that his study showed, "Germany's industrial production-weapons and munitions, in particular-continued to increase, with no visible halt until nearly the end of the war" (Los Angeles Times, 10 February).

What Galbraith leaves unsaid is that the nose dive in production in those final months was because of the mass terror bombing campaign which deliberately targeted and massacred hundreds of thousands of industrial workers.

Colonel Harry Summers Jr., the Vietnam War historian and former professor of strategy at the Army War College, was blunter. In a column titled "'Collateral Damage' a Familiar, Often Intended, Part of War" (Los Angeles Times, 8 February), Summers noted that the deliberate targeting of the civilian population in order to break the will to resist "didn't start with 'We had to destroy the town in order to save it,' the unfortunate remark of the young Army officer in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam war...." The carpetbombing of Vietnam only continued the U.S. forces' "scorched earth" policy in Korea, the firebombing campaign in Germany and Japan and-the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In our last issue ("Terror Bombing Has Not Broken Iraq," WV No. 520, 15 February) we noted that "in World War 11 Hitler adopted a policy of Schrecklichkeit, deliberate terrorizing of the 'enemy' population," but "the Allies outdid the Nazis in this department." The "democratic" imperialists in fact had a preference for mass slaughter through air power, which kept the horrendous casualties at a distance.

The Allies pursued the policy of mass terror bombing of civilians with increasing ferocity throughout World War 11, raising it to unspeakable dimensions. Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are among the many cities which were transformed into fiery crematoriums for their working populations. In Germany, Allied bombers deliberately massacred some 600,000 civilians; in Japan hundreds of thousands died under U.S. bombs. In sum, almost one million civilians were deliberately massacred by Allied terror bombing.

Schrecklichkeit U.S.-Style

In the Dictionary of Historical Terms (1983) by Chris Cook, Schrecklichkeit is defined as the "deliberate policy of committing atrocities to subdue a subject people." Louis L. Snyder's Historical Guide to World War 11 (1982) writes that "The bombing of Warsaw early in the war made it clear to the Allies how Hitler intended to fight his war. It was to be Schrecklichkeit ('frightfulness') with no regard for the civilian population." The Luftwaffe began the Blitzkrieg (lightning war) by destroying the Polish Air Force on the ground, and for six days 400 German bombers. battered the city day and night.

The next year, the Germans put an end to the Sitzkrieg (sitting war), the period of inactivity on the Western Front between September 1939 and May 1940 called the "phony war" in. English, by employing the same policy against the Dutch port of Rotterdam. In an act of gratuitous cruelty (the city had already surrendered), Stuka dive-bombers leveled the center of the city. In repeated attacks on London's civilian population througbout 1940, German bombers killed some 30,000 people as they tried to bomb the': population into submission I I Later that same year, when Hitler's plans for an invasion of Britain were frustrated, he, took out his revenge on, the city of Coventry, killing over 500 people in a ten-hour bombing raid.

The policy of terror bombing civilians in order to undermine the ability to wage war was first systematically developed by the Italian general Giulio Douhet. His ideas on air war had a decisive influence in shaping American military doctrine. Colonel Summers refers to Douhet's 1921 treatise, The Command of the Air, reprinted by the U.S. Office of Air Force. History in 1983, as a "masterwork." And a recent U.S. Air Force publication calls him a "prophet of the air" (Thomas Greer, The Development of Air Doctrine in the Army Air Arm 1917-1941 [1985]). What they fail to mention is that this "prophet" was commissioner of aviation in Mussolini's fascist regime. Here is Douhet's strategy for waging air war:

"What civil or military authority could keep order, public services functioning, and production going under such a threat'? And even if a semblance of order was maintained and some work done, would not the sight of a single enemy plane be enough to stampede the population into panic? In short, normal life would be impossible in this constant nightmare of imminent death and destruction.... "A complete breakdown of the social structure cannot but take place in a country subjected to this kind of merciless pounding from the air. The time would soon come when, to put an end to horror and suffering, the people themselves, driven by the instinct of self-preservation, would rise up and demand an end to the war." -quoted in Edward Earle, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hiller (1952)

>From the start, U.S. air commanders embraced Douhet's policy of terror
bombing as a way to limit their casualties and win wars "on the cheap." His ideas were taken up almost word for word - and rendered even more brutal - by "Billy" Mitchell, one of the first chiefs of the U.S. air service in the '20s. Mitchell wrote that instead of destroying cities it might be preferable to eliminate the civilian population with "a few gas bombs." Decades later, this same concept was behind the neutron bomb, a particularly "dirty" nuclear device designed to maximize deaths through radiation and minimize bomb blast damage to structures.

Douhet's doctrine was incorporated in the official Air Force textbook used until World War 11 which, according to Greer's official Air Force history, "established national morale and industry as more crucial objectives than enemy armies. The easiest and cheapest way to win a war was thought to be by air attack upon the enemy's population and production facilities." Military historian John Keegan correctly pointed out that this policy "depended ultimately upon class bias-the judgment that the latent discontents of the proletariat were the Achilles heel of an industrial state" (The Second World War [19891).

Class hatred of the industrial proletariat is so pervasive in the documents of Allied military and political leaders that it is impossible to cite more than a fraction of the documents which explicitly affirm that the target of strategic bombing was to be the workers themselves. The future British chief of air staff John Slessor summed it up with imperial snideness:

"in air operations against production the weight of attack will inevitably fall upon a vitally important, and not by nature very amenable, section of the community-the industrial workers, whose morale and sticking power cannot be expected to equal that of the disciplined soldier." -quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (1979)

And the official British history of the air war cites the February 1942 bombing directive which notes that the "primary object" of the bombing "should now be focused on the morale of the enemy civil population and in particular, of the industrial workers" (see Charles Webster and Noble Frankland, The Strategic, Air Offensive Against Germany: 1939-1945 [196 11). There is a widespread myth -that,unlike the British who engaged in indiscriminate "area" bombing against civilians, the U.S. carried out "precision" bombing against military and industrial targets. This myth is rooted in what was essentially a division of labor between the two Allied imperialist powers. The British, saddled with antiquated bombers and without long-range fighter protection, were forced to limit themselves to night; raids. Their notorious inaccuracy is highlighted in Len Deighton's novel, Bomber, which details the horrendous destruction inflicted on a German town by British bombers who got lost on a night. raid.

One could hardly pretend that these raids were anything but indiscriminate terror directed against civilians, and British military leaders openly extolled the supposed efficacy of mass terror bombing. U.S. bombers, less vulnerable and (starting in early 1944) protected by a fleet of long-range fighters, were able to carry out daylight bombing raids. Drawing German fighters into a headto-head air war of attrition, they eventually depleted Germany's home defenses (while most of the Luftwaffe was on the Eastern Front facing the Soviet Army). This permitted the Allies toward the end of the war to bomb German cities with virtual impunity.

Most often it made scarcely any difference to those on the ground whether they were being subjected to U.S. "precision" bombing or British "area" bombing, since most U.S. bombs missed their assigned targets anyway and fell on surrounding working-class residential areas. Then as today, U.S. commanders generated a cult of high-tech arms, claiming that U.S. bombers equipped with the "top secret" Norden bomb sight could drop a bomb "into a pickle barrel." In reality, an estimated one-half of U.S. bombs were dropped through cloud cover or at night where the average bombing error was about three miles off target. And of those bombs dropped in daylight under clear conditions, at most half fell within onequarter mile of the target point (John Ellis, Brute Force: Allied Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War [1990]. The myth that U.S. air strikes did not target civilians has been reinforced by a concerted whitewash by U.S. officials which started during World War 11, keeping military memos "clean" of any hint of targeting civilians. In an important study, historian Ronald Schaffer notes:

"High-ranking officers sent official messages to one another which caused the record to suggest that AAF [Army Air Forces] practice fitted with the official policy. Yet these officers knew this was not the case.... [U.S. deputy air commander] Anderson and his colleagues were protecting the image of the AAF from historians and other investigators." -"American Military Ethics in World War II, The Bombing of German Civilians," Journal of American History, September 1980

Schaffer reveals that when the British and U.S. Combined Chiefs of Staff met to approve the terror bombing attacks on Berlin, Dresden and other cities, FDR's representative intervened to advise not to "record" such a decision.

This concern for prettifying the historical record was the. cause of a cynical "doublespeak" in U.S. military documents. After preparing a series of daylight raids with incendiary bombs against .densely built-up sections of German cities, U.S. commander Arnold informed the Air Staff in Washington: .'the way to stop the killing of civilians is to cause so much damage and destruction and deaththat the civilians will demand that their government cease fighting. This doesn't mean that we are making civilians or civilian institutions a war objective...."

Favorably contrasting U.S. military censorship in World War 11 with the Pentagon's "arrogant" but "so far successful" control of the press in the Persian Gulf War, Walter Cronkite wrote that army censors in Britain "held up my report that the Eighth Air Force had bombed Germany through a solid cloud cover," since supposedly "we were practicing only precision bombing on military targets." The Luftwaffe knew the reality, Cronkite pointed out: "The truth was not being withheld from Germans but Americans" (Newsweek, 25 February).

Incinerating the German Proletariat

in their drive to raze entire cities, the Allies eventually succeeded in provoking through incendiary bombing a horrible new phenomenon in warfare, the firestorm. They discovered that by concentrating sufficient fire in one area they could create an infernal microclimate in which an entire city was transformed into a blast furnace, enormously multiplying the bombs' murderous effects. The areas which were chosen for immolation were invariably the working-class districts.

The first firestorm took place in Hamburg, which the Allies bombed in July 1943, targeting the most heavily built-up and densely populated area. As in subsequent firebombings, both incendiary and high-explosive bombs were dropped; the latter were used to destroy metallic roofs and windows and expose the building interiors to the conflagration: "People died within seconds of being subjected to the unimaginable heat, dying from oxygenlack, carbon monoxide poisoning, even incandescence" (Chaz Bowyer, Air War Over Europe [1981].. Some 50,000 civilians died in Hamburg. In the civilian bomb shelters the intense heat melted metal pots and pans. Photos taken when the shelters were opened show piles of grey ash outlining where the bodies had lain.

Allied bombers continued to wage an escalating war of extermination against Germany's cities. Toward the fall of 1944, as the Allies achieved supremacy in the skies over Germany and could concentrate their fire undeterred, they succeeded with regularity in provoking firestorms - in Kassel, Würzburg, Darmstadt, Heilbronn, Wuppertal, Weser, Magdeburg, and culminating in the incredible butchery of Dresden. The Allies experimented on the best way to provoke the desired effect. Different bombing patterns were tried to give the deadliest concentration of incendiary bombs (the optimum was found to be a "fan" pattern which was then used on Dresden).

The Allies' firebombing of Dresden was the most terrible of all air raids on Germany - possibly the greatest single massacre in history. Prime Minister Winston Churchill berated British air minister Archibald Sinclair to get him to target' "Berlin, and no doubt other large cities in East Germany." In February 1945 British bombers, virtually unhindered by fighters or antiaircraft fire, dropped thousands of blast bombs and almost 650,000 incendiaries on Dresden, provoking a firestorm which was visible for200 miles. The next morning 300 U.S. bombers blasted the still-burning city through the smoke and cloud cover (U.S. authorities would later present this as "precision" bombing of the rail yards). Escorting U.S. fighters strafed bombed-out survivors huddled on the banks of the Elbe.

The horrendous level of civilian casualties has been a subject of controversy for years. The city was swollen to twice its peacetime size by refugees fleeing fighting in the East, and these were concentrated in the railway terminal area which was ground zero for the bombs. For many years the figure of 225,000 was the standard estimate of the number of dead. The Americans and British have tried to reduce the figure to 60,000, which is absurdly low, while "the German Federal Bureau of Statistics in Wiesbaden claims that it was 600,000" (Janusz Piekalkiewicz, The Air War: 1939-1945 [1985]).

The grisly destruction of Dresden (which contained no important military or even industrial targets) provoked a wave of revulsion. In response to an AP story on "deliberate terror bombing," U.S. air commanders, after consultation with General Eisenhower, issued guidelines for officers on how to answer questions:

"A. That there has been no change in bombing policy;

"B. The United States Strategic Air Forces have always directed their attacks against military objectives and will continue to do so;

"C. The story was erroneously passed by censor."

Identical guidelines must have been issued by the Pentagon "spin doctors" on how to respond over the criminal U.S. bombing of the Baghdad shelter.

Histories of the air war in Europe generally explain the destruction of Dresden as an effort to facilitate the Soviet advance by blocking German reinforcements headed to the Eastern Front. In reality, the reason for extending the campaign of terror bombings to Dresden and other cities in eastern Germany was, as General David Schlatter, Eisenhower's deputy chief of air staff, noted at the time in his diary:

"I feel that our air forces are the blue chips with which we will approach the post-war treaty table, and that this operation will add immeasurably to their strength, or rather to the Russian knowledge of their strength."

Firebombing and A-Bombing Japan

At the very moment that American authorities were cynically denying wanton attacks on civilians in Dresden, they were preparing for the firebombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities. In the hysterical climate of anti-Japanese racism, U.S. officials felt less compunction than in Germany to camouflage the massacres. U.S. bombers launched massive firebomb raids on Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe and Nagoya, destroying a total built-up, area of 50, miles square. The most horrendous bloodletting came in Tokyo where in a single raid in March 1945 some 100,000 people perished as "canals boiled, metal melted, and buildings and human beings burst spontaneously into flames" (John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War [1986]).

By August 1945 fully 58 cities had been destroyed by firebombing. General Curtis LeMay, who commanded the raids, was forced to temporarily check his bloodlust after three weeks because he had run out of his entire supply of 10,000 tons of incendiary bombs. This was the same LeMay who as head of the Air Force at the outset of the Vietnam War called for bombing Vietnam "back to the Stone Age." In their savage attempt to crush a social revolution, they dropped unthinkable quantities. of napalm, cluster bombs and high explosives, carpetbombing from Saigon to Hanoibefore they were driven out by the heroic Vietnamese workers and peasants.

On 6 August 1945 the- U.S. dropped. the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and, three days later, on Nagasaki, slaughtering over 200,000 people. Untold thousands were left suffering from excruciating bums, radiation sickness and genetic defects. In choosing these cities, Secretary of War Henry Stimson said there

,..Should be a "war plant employing a large number of workers closely surrounded by workers' houses" (see our article "Racism, Anti-Sovietism and Atomic Holocaust," WV No. 459, 12 August 1988). In addition to the Japanese working people killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, over 10,000 Korean - and many Chinese forced laborers died. Yet President Truman cynically claimed that Hiroshima was a "military base" which was targeted "because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians" (Truman Speaks [1960]).

As we wrote a decade ago:

"With racist calculation the already defeated Japanese were chosen as the human testing ground to prove to American imperialism's opponentsespecially the USSR-that the USA will stop at nothing to maintain world domination." -"Hiroshima Day: To Remember Is Not Enough!" WV No. 263, 5 September 1980

Air War Against the Workers

World War II closed as it had opened with the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians, but the bourgeoisie had pushed its criminal massacres to a truly monstrous scale. The 1937 terror bombing of Manchuria by the Japanese and the German blitz of Coventry and London were among the war crimes for which Japanese and German leaders were executed by the victorious Allies. (The latter were considerably less offended when German bombers sowed terror in Spain while fighting in support of Franco-the horror of which was captured in Picasso's mural Guernica.) Rarely has the stark hypocrisy,of the bourgeoisie been morepatent. Allied prosecutors sat amid the ruins of Nuremberg and Tokyo as they condemned their vanquished foe for killing "men, women and children alike."

In reality, all the imperialist bourgeoisies had seized upon air power, from the earliest days of its development, as an effective instrument of mass terror for keeping their subject peoples in place. From the early '20s, the British used frequent air strikes in Iraq to terrorize rebellious Kurds and others. In India, British bombers killed thousands in smashing the 1942 "Quit India" movement. The French sent their bombers against Damascus in 19-26 to crush a nationalist revolt. In 1945 they massacred tens of thousands of Algerians as an incipient colonial revolt was drowned in blood. The Italians used the horrors of aerial bombardment in the '30s in conquering Ethiopia.

The U.S. bourgeoisie distinguished itself by carrying out terror bombing against its own population,, against black people. In May 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma a group of 75 armed blacks showed up at a jail to defend a young black man (arrested after falling against a, white woman) from a lynch mob. A report at the time describes how "the, white mobs, numbering by then more, than 10,000, invaded the negro section, the colored men resisting determinedly" (Literary Digest, 18 June 1921). The heart of the segregated black community of Tulsa was set on fire and allowed to burn to the ground as police dropped dynamite from commandeered private planes against blacks who had taken up arms to defend themselves against white racists. Dozens of people were killed, mostly blacks, and thousands of blacks were locked up in concentration camps (see "The Day They Bombed Blacks in Tulsa," WV No. 380, 31 May 1985).

And then, six years ago, on 13 May 1985 the home of Philadelphia MOVE was bombed from the air by a police helicopter, with the approval of black Democrat mayor Wilson Goode and the aid of U.S.. officials going right up to Ronald Reagan's White House. The resulting fire incinerated five black children and six black men and women and destroyed entire blocks of the black neighborhood. This heinous crime, symbol of the harsh brutality of the Reagan years, was intended to be a threatening message to blacks, workers and. all oppressed (see "Philly Inferno, Racist Murder!" WV No. 380, 31 May 1985).

>From the time it was developed, air power has had a special attraction for
the bourgeoisie as a weapon which can inflict unimaginable devastation at a distance, anonymously, and "on the cheap." And the principal victims have always been the workers, oppressed minorities and colonial peoples. Historian John Keegan quotes British military strategist B.H. Liddell. Hart to the effect that bombing attacks would provoke "the slum districts maddened into the impulse to break loose and maraud." The aim was to "stampede" the working people into rising up against their rulers, as General Douhet advocated. This reflected, wrote Keegan, "the ruling classes' prevailing fear of insurrection, perhaps leading to revolution, which the success of the Bolsheviks in war-torn Russia had rekindled throughout Europe after 1917" (The Second World War).

Certainly the bourgeoisie expected its bombing campaign to provoke chaos and social breakdown-in their class-limited view, this is no doubt how they summed up the Bolshevik Revolution. But sheer terrorization of the population does not lead to rebellion, nor did the terror bombing by either imperialist coalition in World War II succeed in breaking civilian will to fight. Allied "strategic bombing" didn't work in Germany, The 900-day-long German siege of Leningrad, reducing the population to starvation, didn't break the will of the people of Leningrad, who rose fiercely to defend the gains of their revolution against the Nazi invaders. And in the extreme case of the Jewish ghettos of East Europe, Hitler's genocidal. destruction inspired the relative few who survived to become hardened, heroic fighters against the Third Reich.

As the U.S. imperialists rain hideous death and destruction on the working people of Iraq, we Trotskyists reaffirm our dedication to leading a true Bolshevik Revolution-to working-class power-which can put an end to imperialism and its ghastly wars.

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