Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Modern War

This sobering post from Wretchard over at the Belmont Club is worth much contemplation by many and better minds than mine. Is a West committed to precision strikes and everything that implies along with it really ready to face up to an enemy like the one we’re facing? It may be that devotion to such things is a luxury born of our strength and out of our noble principles. But how long can we sustain that devotion without risking (at great cost) our ability to sustain ourselves?

It is not an easy question to answer and, I think, technology is not the only--or even the main-- reason we’re asking it. After all, Hezbollah and the rest of the terrorist thugs around the world are not exactly living in the dark ages of technology. And while they lack our resources, we underestimate their resourcefulness at our peril.

Discussions - 21 Comments

A much better article is here:

Also, does anyone know when Hezbollah was formed, and under what circumstances?

Wretchard’s post wildly overestimates the effect of "morale bombing." The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, which immediately after the war closely examined the effects of such bombing, concluded that enemy morale was virtually unaffected. Strategic bombing was important because it diverted German aircraft away from combat fronts for use in defense of factories. Also, "precision bombing" (okay, it wasn’t terribly precise) managed to bring German oil production to a virtual standstill.

To answer Mr. Klein’s question, Hezbollah was formed in the early 1980s--with substantial assistance from the Ayatollah’s regime in Iran--to resist the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.

One thing that strategic bombing may have done was make it clearer to the population that they really had lost, once they’d lost. One great tragedy of the first war is that many Germans were able to convince themselves that they had been betrayed, and had not really lost the war.

The losers of the second war had no such illusions.

But the USSBS nickel summary is in fact that the only strategic bombing that REALLY matters is nuclear.

Ed the Roman- Interesting thought. I would argue that the effect you are thinking of can not be produced by bombers (except perhaps of the nuclear kind), but instead by men. That is, the presence of foreign troops really drives home the point.

Perhaps the thing that I find most interesting in this terrible and rapidly disintegrating situation is the behind the scenes ballet being put on by Russia, Iran, and the United States.

I think the actual tactic of morale bombing are not necessarily the point: we as a nation (or the West as a civilization) have reached the point where we want to hurt our enemies as little as possible and still win. However, war is ugly and imprecise and whether or not we can win without "taking the gloves off" has yet to be seen. I think our penchant for precision bombing is just one of the symptom’s of a problem; just like our hysteria over 2,500 dead in Iraq is another symptom of the same problem.

As to the article’s legal commentary, I agree that our policy is out-dated. Osama bin Laden has declared war on us twice and takes sanctuary in foreign countries. How are we not in a state of international war? This is so frustrating to me. OK, I’m going for a run.

Does the U.S. have the will?

Generally, yes.

However, a significant portion of the U.S. either doesn’t have the will or the will is present while a Democrat is in office.

It’s unlikely to become a world war. It is very possible it will become a regional war beyond Israel/Palestine/Lebanon................ I am sure you can all agree that Hezbolla is not promoting neither the Palestinians intersts nor the interests of Lebanese.

Become a regional war?

It sure looks like one to me.

Paul, I agree with you that Hezbollah is promoting neither the Palestinians’ nor the Lebanese’s interests in this matter. However, they think Hezbollah is; was it Tocqueville who coined the phrase "self-interest properly understood"?

I agree with Andrew. I don’t think we have to make it a policy to actively engage in "morale bombing" but we do have to somehow steel ourselves to accept the consequences and costs of war if we mean to win it. The first question need not always be: how much collateral damage will it do?

The term "collateral damage" says it all. Civilian casualties aren’t "collateral damage" in morale bombing--they’re the whole point. And in that sense, morale bombing is dangerously similar to terrorism (aside from historically being ineffective).

John--then no, I don’t mean to argue for that. Purposeful and intentional targeting of civilians is quite like terrorism, as you say. I don’t know enough about our military history to argue about whether or not we have engaged in morale bombing as you describe it or whether it can be effective. But I assume you distinguish between the bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which seemed to be pretty effective but obviously went well beyond specific targets) and what the terrorists are doing to Israel right now.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were absolutely necessary against a stubborn, fight-to-the-death enemy. I agree that we shouldn’t specifically TARGET (in most cases) the civilian population of an enemy nation, but we also shouldn’t be quite so darned concerned about ONLY hitting enemy combatants or facilities that aid in their ability to make war. After all, were the civilian citizens of Germany and Japan completely innocent of their nations’ attrocities? While I won’t go so far as to say they had it coming, I would argue that they certainly weren’t without guilt.

So, what do you do when the enemy has weapons, men, and material with or among civilians?

What do you do? ... Nothing?

The same argument can be applied when the enemy uses civilians, even woman and children, not as combatants, but as human shields to fire behind from or around, which happened in Somalia by the way?

What do you do?

I’ve never heard of "morale" bombing. I have heard of "terror" bombing and I believe the allies openly referred to the night-time bombing of German cities as "terror" bombing. The USAC conducted day-time "strategic" bombing because we wanted to see that we were hitting military sites and industrial complexes used in the German war effort. The English bombed at night because it was harder for the Germans to shoot down what they couldn’t see, but the English couldn’t see what they were hitting either.

I read a book about Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 which dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, "Duty" by Bob Greene. Paul Tibbets is still frequently asked whether he regrets having dropped a bomb that killed 80,000 people. His response has never varied. He saved an estimated 1 million American and 5 million Japanese lives by dropping that bomb.

I don’t know what the rules of engagement are with regard to returning fire now. I did speak with a Marine sergeant who had been fired upon by enemy combatants who used human shields in Bosnia. He told me he sought and was denied permission to return fire because of the civilians.

Would victory come sooner if we had little or no regard for civilian casualties? Undoubtedly. Do we have the will to win this war while being as careful as possible to minimize civilian casualties?

This false sense of perfection of our military is not limited to the press... the Pentagon is prosecuting soldiers for mistaken recognition of civilians in Iraq. Even the desk riders, most of whom have never seen combat even in a conventional sense, don’t understand what it’s like in a gorilla war wher there are no uniforms to distinguish between the enemy and civilians.

It’s disgusting to think that we now have supposedly intelligent people who complain about disproportionality in responding to attacks on a nation. We used to fight wars to win, before Trumans fired McArthur over strategy in Korea... look what that’s led to... stalemates, not only in Korea, but in Viet Nam, in Iraq, etc. And, we’ve allowed the peace crowd to undermine our troops by allowing them to define combat rules for them... hello Supreme Court!

U.G., I hate to say this but part of me thinks that we may have been better off when our technology did not allow for so much precision. I think it made people more sensible and realistic as to what, exactly, war is all about--in all it’s horror and glory. But this is getting back to some of Peter Lawler’s points about the impersonalization that comes with advances in technology. Not enough people get their hands dirty anymore. Of course, I’m no Ludite . . . but I do think we ought to think more often and more seriously about the habits of mind that are sometimes lost as other physical and social habits and ways go the way of the horse and buggy. Perhaps, if those ways of thinking are deemed good, we can find other habits to re-aquaint us with and reinforce them.

Israel has what it takes to lay any and all of her enemies to waste. It’s just a question of escalation and political will.

Israel could end this current conflict by tonight if they wanted to, but they’d face international condemnation for reducing Lebanon- and Hezbollah- to glowing green shards of glass.

Julie, Some crunchiness is sneaking into your conservatism! Not that there’s anything wrong with that. People with considerable justice really do criticize Rumsfeld etc. for overestimating the effectiveness of our techno-precision and underestimating the personal element in our current strategy, and of course we libertarians often assume that it’s our technology and our "special persons" and not real persons that we know and love that take responsibility for our "war against terror"--which of course is really a war against clever and determined terrorists.

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