Swans Commentary » swans.com September 11, 2006  



Blowback From Shock And Awe


by Philip Greenspan





(Swans - September 11, 2006)  It is extremely hard to admit a mistake, particularly when a great deal is at stake. The more one is committed to a decision the more one insists that the decision is correct and hangs on persistently and immutably. World leaders and their military advisors refuse to accept reality when a war that they enthusiastically embarked upon turns sour.

World War I was commenced by belligerents who assumed the fighting would end by Christmas. The trench warfare that developed chewed up lives relentlessly but brought only insignificant territorial gains. It was apparent that a stalemate existed and continuation was futile. The pro-war politicians and generals, however, would not face the facts or admit mistakes. The war grinded on until the fresh US troops put the coup de grâce on the exhausted Germans to end the slaughter. Vietnam was another disaster that lasted for years and years because the obdurate authorities refused to acknowledge defeat. The public, having turned against the Johnson war, elected Nixon, a hawk, who deceitfully promised his plan would end it. Not only did he continue the war but he expanded it into Laos and Cambodia. To appease the public, he slowly reduced the number of fighting troops. An unprecedented mutiny by the GIs that made continuation impossible finally stopped the mayhem.

Many well-known pro-war advocates have already admitted that the Iraq occupation is a lost cause. A more circumspect media is no longer as hawkish, and such prominent pundits as Thomas Friedman and George Will have discarded thoughts of a favorable Iraq outcome. The remaining pro-war advocates are primarily the politicians who got the country into the mess and will hang on for the long run, insisting that they must support the troops -- creating more casualties and more losses with no end in sight. The politicians -- exemplars of American-style democracy -- are responding, not to their legitimate constituents, but to the wishes of those whom they truly represent, the power elite, headed by the notorious military-industrial complex whose profits will keep gushing forth as long as the guns keep firing away.

The bloody nose Israel received in south Lebanon has not shaken its leaders' confidence in military solutions. If anything, their humiliation has inspired them to pursue their upcoming exploits more vigorously to reassert the myth of Israeli invincibility, distract domestic attention from Israel's defeat at the hands of Hezbollah, and demonstrate to its generous American benefactor the reliability of the Israeli army.

The same "shock and awe" bombing campaign that the Bush administration thought would cower the Iraqis was employed by the Israelis in Lebanon. "Shock and awe" -- what is it? A tactic that relies upon fear to scare the populous into submission. A raucous, unbearable combination of harsh, blazing, and flashing lights; cacophonously loud, shrill, and screeching sounds; with destruction and death cascading every which way! Terrorism? Yes, TERRORISM! That's what it is. Terrorism to the nth degree! Well, with all its sound and fury, it didn't work. Not only did it not subdue that small country but it alienated Israel's former Christian allies, whom the Israelis assumed would blame Hezbollah for what transpired. Instead those former allies, along with the rest of the Middle East, supported Hezbollah and its charismatic leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who has now become their hero.

Giulio Douhet was the earliest advocate of victory via the airplane. He theorized that the devastation it could cause against important targets such as population centers, transportation hubs, industrial plants, etc. would create such havoc that the public would demand an immediate halt to a war. Without doubt the airplane has created havoc and turned the public, which had previously been spared the violence of wars, into unwilling casualties and participants. Guernica, the famed mural by Pablo Picasso, was inspired by the ghastly devastation rained upon a Northern Spanish city by the Nazis in an early bombing test during the Spanish Civil War. It stunned the world; but compared to the horrors of later bombings it is a minor incident. And contrary to Douhet's theory it did not end that war. Hermann Goering assured his fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, when the British were the only power at war with Germany, that the Luftwaffer could bring them down. The merciless bombing of Britain, however, did not turn the trick. Rather than demanding an end to the war, the stiff-upper-lipped British held out alone for a year against the formidable Nazi war machine. The U.S. and other world powers soon not only copied but outdid in death and destruction what they had condemned the Nazis for doing. Over the years the ever-increasing horrors of the air bombardments -- Rotterdam, Coventry, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Iraq, Lebanon -- have shocked the world.

During all that time the advocates of air power persisted in their belief of Douhet's theory that air power could win wars. Enough is now known to prove this theory wrong. Assessments of WWII bombings revealed that important war plants were restored to operations relatively soon after bombing. Rather than demanding peace the morale of the citizenry became more supportive of their government's wartime activities. Didn't the atomic bombing of Japan end that war? Yes, but as far back as May 1945 the Japanese were ready to throw in the sponge. They had asked neutral countries and the Soviets to advise the allies that they were anxious to negotiate for peace.

The ultimate refutation of Douhet's theory is the war in Vietnam. Vietnam along with Cambodia and Laos were inundated with more ordinance than was fired by all the Allied and Axis Powers during WWII. While it was sufficient to bring down the Axis Powers who at the height of their wartime power occupied almost all of Europe, parts of North Africa, and a sizeable portion of South East Asia, it was insufficient to knock out the Vietnamese, who fought fiercely for almost thirty years before they eventually triumphed.

The Vietnamese were victorious because they employed a new style of warfare, a style defined by William S. Lind as a "Fourth Generation War" (4GW). Since the end of WWII, weak Third World countries throughout Africa and Asia miraculously overthrew their more powerful and wealthy colonial masters. Against all odds they prevailed over and over again. These were wars where the underdogs lost all the battles but ultimately prevailed. 4GW is now tying down the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here again, those firmly believing in the old established methods of waging war have closed their minds. Instead of modifying their strategy and tactics to thwart this new challenge, the U.S. and Israel are relying on what has proven to be ineffective in 4GW: firepower. Bombing has unwillingly involved the civilians in warfare. Rather than crying for a cessation of the war those civilians have become loyalists to the insurgents.

The failure to realistically assess changing situations, admit mistakes, and modify tactics places both the U.S. and Israel deeper and deeper into trouble. If and when the U.S. moves against Syria and/or Iran -- a likely but most unwise decision -- it will again rely on Douhet's disproved theory. The blowback of that "shock and awe" bombing campaign will exacerbate an already precarious situation and hasten the eventual bankruptcy of the U.S. and its junior partner Israel!


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Philip Greenspan on Swans (with bio).



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/pgreen96.html
Published September 11, 2006