The Essential Barbarism of War from the Air


Just posted at Mother Jones (via Tomdispatch): Tom Engelhardt, in a terrific essay, takes up the subject of war from the air, setting the Israeli campaign against Lebanon in the context of history. He traces the rise of air power and notes its tendency, always, to concentrate its destruction on the civilian structure of a society. It’s an essentially barbaric form of warfare, he writes, and no less so for having become real-time TV entertainment.

He concludes:

“As air wars go, the one in Lebanon may seem strikingly directed against the civilian infrastructure and against society; in that, however, it is historically anything but unique. It might even be said that war from the air, since first launched in Europe’s colonies early in the last century, has always been essentially directed against civilians. As in World War II, air power — no matter its stated targets — almost invariably turns out to be worst for civilians and, in the end, to be aimed at society itself. In that way, its damage is anything but ‘collateral,’ never truly ‘surgical,’ and never in its overall effect ‘precise.’ Even when it doesn’t start that way, the frustration of not working as planned, of not breaking the ‘will,’ invariably leads, as with the Israelis, to ever wider, ever fiercer versions of the same, which, if allowed to proceed to their logical conclusion, will bring down not society’s will, but society itself.

“For the Lebanese prime minister what Israel has been doing to his country may be ‘barbaric destruction’; but, in our world, air power has long been robbed of its barbarism (suicide air missions excepted). For us, air war involves dumb hits by smart bombs, collateral damage, and surgery that may do in the patient, but it’s not barbaric. For that you need to personally cut off a head.

Read the piece in full here.

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