What “total war” on al Qaeda in Iraq would entail; and the morality of Allied bombing in World War II

(Note: Be sure to see Diana West’s reply, further down in this entry. Also the latter part of the thread turns into a vigorous discussion about the American bombing of German and Japanese cities in the war.)

Reading Diana West’s July 13 column, “Total War, Total Victory,” which she showed to Sen. Arlen Spector while they were sitting together on an Amtrak train, I’m not persuaded by its main thesis. I agree with West that even a “success” in Iraq would only mean a Shi’ite sharia pro-Iranian state, and that a Democrat-style withdrawal would be a victory for al Qaeda. I agree with her that a war on Iran is necessary (nuclear weapons in the hands of that regime are unacceptable, period). Where I part from her is her advocacy of “total war” on Al Qaeda in Iraq:

So let’s destroy al Qaeda in Iraq … and any other threats including Iranian-supported Iraqi Shi’ite forces…. [C]atastrophic destruction … is, and has always been, the price of total victory. It’s something that never makes anyone “happy,” but previous generations have found it necessary…. Presumably, our military could destroy Iraqi terror-towns and strongholds with a well-guided aerial bombing campaign, and thus go a long way toward bringing this whole war to an end.

Does West think that the al Qaeda fighters are gathered en masse in discrete targets, such as a few towns, which we can simply destroy along with their civilian population, and that this will destroy al Qaeda? All experiences tells us that as soon as we started such a bombing campaign, al Qaeda would spread out through the civilian population in central Iraq, leaving us no target at all. No target at all, that is, unless, in order to kill al Qaeda, we literally killed all the Iraqis in the Sunni part of Iraq—a good five million people. If West is not talking about killing five million Iraqi Sunnis in order to wipe out al Qaeda, I don’t know what she’s talking about. And if she is talking about it, then I have to agree with what Sen. Spector said to her: “I don’t think we’re prepared to take the kind of civilian casualties that you describe.”

- end of initial entry -

Michael Jose writes:

Hey, are you an Iraqi or an American? Not being willing to commit genocide is the type of impotence that the World War II generation would not have.

Sorry, channeling Diana West for a minute….

Mark Jaws writes:

Although I have not been to Iraq since Desert Storm during which I served as Order of Battle Officer for U.S. VII Corps, my current job keeps me abreast of current events there. In fact, over the past four years I have read over 5,000 detainee reports and I can tell you that we have screwed up this effort from the very beginning. First, we did not declare curfews and martial law and rather than kill those who were caught outside their homes at night with weapons, we detained them and let the majority of them go within six months.

Since the populace knows that the U.S. does not mean business and cannot guarantee their safety, many of them will yield to al Qaeda blackmail.

Never in the course of American history have our political elites been so out of touch with the common soldier and the common citizen. They truly have not the slightest clue.

Charles G. writes:

Diana West wrote: “The men who decimated German and Japanese cities as part of the effort to win World War II as quickly as possible would have been perplexed by descendants who now send American troops house to booby-trapped house and expect to achieve anything but more war, “limited” though it may be.”

Actually, the consensus opinion regarding the aerial bombardment of civilian targets in WW2 is that it contributed little or nothing to the victory. We had to march into Germany and destroy their armies and occupy their territory. German and Japanese armaments output rose throughout the war, regardless of the bombing of industrial, not to mention civilian, targets. Japan was induced to surrender only upon the false premise that we had many more atomic weapons to drop on their cities. Actually, we did not and it’s a good thing they thought we did. So the lesson is that terror bombing on a mass scale is not the route to victory. Of course, with nuclear weapons we could simply eliminate the entire Muslim population. But as Senator Spector noted, that’s not in the cards.

Jim C. writes:

I would not agree with Arlen Spector on anything. He had the kooky vote on Clinton impeachment and he was responsible for the Able Danger investigation terminating among other things. I’ll take Diana West in my foxhole and you can have Spector in yours. I’ll also take Mark Jaws. When you throw Diana overboard who’s left?

LA replies:

Who’s throwing anybody overboard? My gosh, I disagree with one point West makes in one column, and I’m throwing her overboard.

P.S. I’ve touted West’s columns probably more than anyone else in America.

Mark Jaws writes:

I have to disagree with Charles G, who claims that the massive aerial bombardments of Japan and Germany did not yield the desired effects.

Actually this is a subject which I know a little about, having studied the air campaign against Germany during my time in the military’s Post-Graduate Intelligence Program at the Defense Intelligence Agency. While it is true that in sheer numbers German industrial production increased in the 1943-1945 time frame, it did not increase as much as it could have, given the extensive measures the Nazis employed to increase weapons production.

Furthermore, the calls to avenge German civilian casualities from the aeriel bombings caused the Nazis to invest in programs such as the V-1 rocket which sucked massive amounts of resources out of their conventional weapons programs. I don’t recall the exact numbers, but had the Germans used the tremendous amount of assets necessary to build the V-1, I believe they could have outfitted several armor divisions and a dozen or so air defense regiments.

James N. writes:

Here is a comment I posted on Free Republic 52 hours after Tower One fell to the ground. The text says:

As I see it, there are three options:

1) Surrender. This means the end of globalization, withdrawal of any Americans who will come home to our shores, expulsion of the third world rabble from our land, and a militant defense of CONUS. [LA note: CONUS is a military abbreviation for continental or contiguous United States, the lower 48. Also, why would a U.S. surrender to Muslims lead to expulsion of third-world immigrants from the U.S.?] I think this will prove more popular as an option than it appears now. Thirty years of Barney, Mr. Rogers, militant feminism and unrestricted immigration may have made this our only choice.

2) Trivial retaliation, and continued globalization with inadequate security. I expect Bush to choose this option. By trivial, I do not mean a few cruise missiles—I expect him to fight a Vietnam war in South Asia. We will have many dead, but we will not have victory—and we will have many more committed “terrorists” after we are finished than we do now. The toll on American assets abroad and on our national territory over the next hundred years will be horrific.

3) Carthaginian peace. There is a reason no young Japanese men are crashing planes into our aircraft carriers. It does not require “killing them all” or “paving Afghanistan,” or any of that other BS. It does require turning the enemy masses from their present course, which empowers, encourages, and facilitates the martyrs of the future. We can (and we probably will) kill most of the present fighters—but we can’t kill the system that births them unless we exceed the pain tolerance of their societies. This will be bloody, it will take years, and our European “allies” are going to turn on us after a few weeks.

I favor #3. I would reluctantly settle for #1.

I’m pretty sure we are going to get #2.

The inevitability of repeating Vietnam has haunted me constantly since then, now coupled with the related problem of allowing the enemy soldiers to flood into the country and remain unmolested. WHY this has happened, WHY we are so different than we were in 1941, is an intellectual problem of major proportions.

After all, the simplest thing in the world after 9/11 would have been to cancel the permissions by which our enemies sojourn here, round them up, and send them home. If an idiot were in charge of this scenario in 1941, or 1961 for that matter, this would have been done within three days.

Near the end of my comment, I said “we must be willing to exceed the pain tolerance of their societies”. This is what Senator Spector is unwilling to do. He told Diana West, “I don’t think we’re prepared to take (meaning inflict) the type of civilian casualties you are talking about”.

It’s a peculiar locution he uses, substituting “prepared to TAKE” for “prepared to INFLICT”, as if the necessary enemy casualties, instead of happening to THEM were happening to US. This is, of course, because the Senator and his educated brethren no longer distinguish them from us.

LA replies:

James’s predictions made on September 13, 2001 are pretty impressive.

I want to clarify that when I said I agreed with Spector, that was within the context of my interpretation of the real meaning of West’s military proposal, which was: I see no reason to believe that destroying a few towns would destroy al Qaeda in Iraq. I think the al Qaeda members would fade into the general Sunni population, in which case an application of West’s strategy (i.e., kill the civilians among whom the al Qaeda fighters are hiding) would require killing literally the entire Sunni population of Iraq, five million people.

Now Spector was not rejecting killing five million civilians. He was rejecting killing maybe several thousand civilians. So let me ask James N. Does he see genocide—exterminating the entire Sunni Arab population of Iraq—as something he would support? Further, does he see a rejection of such a course (by me, not by Spector, since Spector wasn’t responding to such a scenario) as a sign that one no longer distinguishes them from us?

James N. writes:

Well, of course I don’t support genocide. I’m a little disappointed that a master of relevant distinctions such as yourself would imagine that I do.

Let’s clarify our terms. I do not consider the war to break the fighting spirit of the Japanese and to turn them from their course of hostility towards us and savagery on the battlefield was a “genocide.” In fact, the population of Japan rose between 1941 and 1945, so if it was genocide it wasn’t a very good job.

In my post which you kindly referenced, under item #3, I thought I made that clear. To reiterate from that posting, “There is a reason no young Japanese men are crashing planes into our aircraft carriers. It does not require “killing them all” or “paving Afghanistan,” or any of that other BS. It does require turning the enemy masses from their present course, whih empowers, encourages, and facilitates the martyrs of the future. We can (and we probably will) kill most of the present fighters-but we can’t kill the system that births them unless we exceed the pain tolerance of their societies. This will be bloody, it will take years … ”

I don’t KNOW what amount of carnage will be required to make aggressive Islam involute again. But I know that we are not even trying to find out. The martial history of the Arabs suggests the answer is , “not much.”

LA replies:

I was not saying you support genocide. I was asking you a question that logically proceeded from the preceding discussion. That is, if you support Carthaginian-peace type measures, i.e., the complete destruction of Carthage (which I think involved the complete physicial destruction of the city of Carthage, not of its population), you would presumably support West’s hard-line position, and since I argued that the real implication of West’s position was the killing of all Sunnis in Iraq, would you support that?

Now you could say I’m misinterpreting her position. I think she would too. But as you will see from her recent comment in the thread (see below), she has not directly responded to my point about the implication of her position.

A reader writes:

If Islamic extremists continue to have wide support and their terrorism escalates to nuclear and WMD attacks, inevitably it will lead to total war of survival-annihilation between all non-Muslims and all Muslims. The Muslim world must understand unambiguously that their survival depends on stopping their support and taking action to eliminate the extremists.

LA replies:

I agree on general principles with what you said.

However, the issue raised by Diana West is not the total war against WMD-wielding Muslims you’re talking about, but a strategy to defeat al Qaeda insurgents in Iraq. How many civilians should we be willing to kill in order to destroy al Qaeda in Iraq?

The reader replies:

I agree with you, impossible to get them without killing everyone, which is certainly not rational or in any way justified under the current scenario of this mixture of insurgency/civil war/al Quada. But that just reinforces what I said in the first place that if they start using nuclear and WMDs, that we may have no choice but to go against all Muslims.

Steven Warshawsky writes:

Charles G’s comment regarding the allegedly meaningless role of “aerial bombardment” to military victory during World War Two deserves a response:

CG begins by trotting out an appeal to “consensus opinion” to support his position that strategic bombing “contributed little or nothing to the victory.” What consensus is he refering to? The consensus of New Left historians who have been bad-mouthing Allied actions in WWII for decades, including, of course, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan? I recommend Why The Allies Won, by Richard Overy, who offers an intelligent and balanced analysis of the important role of strategic bombing in the war. Yes, there are many opinions about the effectivenss of the bombing campaign, and many criticisms about how it was conceived and carried out. But only those who are opposed to the bombing on political or moral grounds believe that it contributed “nothing” to the war.

The strategic bombing campaign allowed the Anglo-American allies to project power against Nazi Germany before they had the capability to do so with land forces. The air war forced the Germans to devote resources to homeland defense that could have been used for offensive purposes against the Soviet Union or elsewhere. And the bombing campaign retarded German and Japanese war production. To believe otherwise is to deny the negative economic effects of widespread destruction (remember 9/11?), and the need to devote resources towards locating production facilities in hidden/defensible areas. It is elementary economic logic that the German and Japanese economies were less efficient than they would have been in the absence of the bombing. By how much? It is impossible to know, of course, because we cannot “replay” history under different conditions, i.e., without a strategic bombing campaign during the war. On the other hand, if CG is right, one would have to believe that, had the Axis been able to inflict similar destruction on the United States, that wouldn’t have had any effect on our ability to arm ourselves and our allies. Absurd.

Moreover, just because bombing was less sophisticated 60+ years ago, does not mean that it was not an important military tactic. Today, through satellite technology, we can identify and target vital industrial, transportation, and communications centers much more accurately. Destroying these targets is part of any effective war fighting strategy, now and then.

As for “terror bombing,” that’s a somewhat different issue. My own view is that in the context of total war, inflicting massive death and destruction on the enemy population is a critical part of a successful strategy. Certainly, it is most important to kill as many of the enemy’s young men as possible. But true victory—meaning the enemy’s complete and self-conscious capitulation—is unlikely to be achieved if the enemy does not feel itself to have been crushed by a superior foe. This won’t happen if the people at the “home front” do not experience the same defeat that their armies are suffering on the battlefield.

Diana West, to whom I sent this blog entry, writes:

Hi Larry.

Thanks for sending. I have responded to your initial post.

My main thesis here is that we should realize that our tunnel vision on Iraq is both obscuring and causing us to fail to deal with far greater threats in Iran, Syria, etc.

That said, I do believe we should eliminate any jihadist forces in Iraq we deem to pose a threat to our interests as part of a serious effort to destroy the larger, regional jihadist threat—a mission that has absolutely nothing to do with our current objective of making the Iraqi parliament function.

As for your objections to my argument, I don’t think the limited war dynamic you describe would follow from the tactics of a more total war effort—the kind of warfare more familiar to a Patton or a LeMay. Imagine, for example, if the US had actually destroyed some of the terror towns in the “triangle of death” where our three soldiers were kidnapped a couple of months ago. These towns were described in various news accounts as being riddled with jihadists. Locals fed our men hundreds of false leads as they risked life and limb combing the booby-trapped area for weeks, as you probably recall (and, indeed, we suffered casualties during the fruitless search). If our military had actually destroyed such an area, or some part of such an area, it seems highly unlikely that the jihadists would continue to respond in exactly the same way they now respond to our “limited” tactics and PC ROE—namely, sending Americans down booby-trapped streets in bomb-laced towns (just where the jihadists want us) and phoning up lawyers for permission to shoot. (How the jihadists must laugh at us.) You say they would continue setting themselves up among new population centers and begging for more following some massive American action? I doubt it. And what about non-combatant attitudes? Everything would change in light of our suddenly unfettered tactics, and we would also gain the advantage of unpredictability. Right now, the jihadists know where they are safe and how to operate unchallenged.

As for whether jihadist forces are gathered en masse anywhere, our military certainly seems to believe that—otherwise why would they have massed 10,000 American troops for the recent assault on Baquba? And remember Fallujah.

LA replies:


Thanks for this.

Your key argument here is that if we destroyed some town or towns where al Qaeda had gathered, that would discourage further gathering of al Qaeda in other towns and also make civilians not want al Qaeda around. But in a sense that was exactly my point. The scenario I laid out in my initial post is that in response to the kind of U.S. attack you propose, al Qaeda would cease to gather as a discrete, massed, identifiable force anywhere, but rather would spread in ones and twos and threes throughout the Sunni part of Iraq where they would cease to be targets of our forces. At which point the only way we could kill all the al Qaeda people in Iraq would be to kill all the Sunnis in Iraq.

LA continues:

I want to underscore a key point in Miss West’s e-mail that I did not pick up from her article when I first read it: her strategy for total war against al Qaeda in Iraq is not in the context of our present policy of propping up the Iraqi government, but in the context of “destroying the larger, regional jihadist threat.”

Mark Jaws writes:

Many of you probably are aware of the article Tom Friedman wrote shortly after 2001 called “Hama Rules.” Here are its first three paragraphs:

In February 1982 the secular Syrian government of President Hafez al-Assad faced a mortal threat from Islamic extremists, who sought to topple the Assad regime. How did it respond? President Assad identified the rebellion as emanating from Syria’s fourth-largest city—Hama—and he literally leveled it, pounding the fundamentalist neighborhoods with artillery for days. Once the guns fell silent, he plowed up the rubble and bulldozed it flat, into vast parking lots. Amnesty International estimated that 10,000 to 25,000 Syrians, mostly civilians, were killed in the merciless crackdown. Syria has not had a Muslim extremist problem since.

I visited Hama a few months after it was leveled. The regime actually wanted Syrians to go see it, to contemplate Hama’s silence and to reflect on its meaning. I wrote afterward, “The whole town looked as though a tornado had swept back and forth over it for a week—but this was not the work of mother nature.

This was “Hama Rules”—the real rules of Middle East politics—and Hama Rules are no rules at all. I tell this story not to suggest this should be America’s approach. We can’t go around leveling cities. We need to be much more focused, selective and smart in uprooting the terrorists.

I happen to believe that there is an effective medium between the wimpy PC rules of engagement we now employ and the Hama Rules imposed by Syria back in 1982. As I said earlier, if we had declared martial law in March 2003 and decreed anyone caught outside their homes with weapons would be shot on sight, we would have convinced many of the fence straddlers among the Iraq populace that (1) we meant business, and (2) we would take the terrorists off of the streets—FOR GOOD.

My work in counterintelligence analysis brings me into constant contact with mid-level officers and NCOs who have been deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. More than two years ago you could not find many who did not support the Bush Iraq policy. Now, I cannot find any who do. They know that their hands are tied and despite all of the great work these intelligence professionals do, more often than not the U.S. concedes to the wishes of the Iraqi government to release Shia terrorists. (We do the same thing with Sunni troublemakers as well.) As they and I say, “If the U.S. is not in Iraq to win, then get the hell out.”

LA replies:

While I agree and have said the same myself many times, this does not answer the current Bushian argument, which is that we cannot leave because it would result in a blood bath. I’ve given my own response to that here. What is Mark’s view?

Charles G. writes:

I find it appalling that after the incredibly inhumane events of the 20th century people are still to be found who find the purposeful killing of civilians in time of war to be justified. Using mass murder techniques to foil an enemy (who might also be using mass murder) can never be sanctioned by a Christian soldier. Collateral damage, yes. Deliberate targeting of civilian areas, no. Our leaders were quite aware when they switched their strategy from targeted bombing to area-wide bombing in WW2 that they were violating the rules of war. They were motivated by the feeling at the time, as expressed very forcefully by Bomber Harris, that bombing German (and Japanese) cities indiscriminately would bring the Germans to their knees. Harris was even opposed to operation Overlord because he said it would be unnecessary. Neither the madness of German and Soviet mass murders nor the madness of Allied bombing zeal can ever be “explained away.” The farther away we get from the lunacy of total war, the more lunatic it actually seems.

I have to respond to one person’s statement that by bombing civilian targets we forced the Germans to use their valuable assets to reciprocate when those assets could have been used to produce more armored divisions. The sword cuts both ways. The ratio of aerial bombing in tonnage was 315 to one in favor of the Allies. For every ton of German bombs dropped, the Allies dropped 315. A generous ratio. If we had used our valuable resources in other areas, such as speeding up the production of the atomic bomb or even transferring some of those resources to the hard pressed soldiers and sailors in the Pacific, might that not have been of equal value to the Allied side? It will always be a shell game when considering the optimal allocation of resources in war time.

I detect an element of sheer revenge in some of the comments above and I believe this to be beneath the contempt of a Christian. Christians, no matter how hard pressed, NEVER make war on civilians gratuitously. Especially for the ghoulish purposes of revenge.

LA replies:

Charles makes strong points, but I don’t see anyone here advocating civilian bombing for revenge. The concern of everyone here is, what will we need to do to protect America/civilization/humanity from jihadists with WMDs?

Let me qualify that. Steven Warshawsky was retrospectively justifying the mass civilian bombing by the allies in World War II. I must say I’ve never seen anyone affirm that policy so ringingly as he has done.

Personally I am not persuaded that the bombing of German civilian centers was necessary from the point of view of winning the war. As for the use of the A-bombs on Japan, every time I have considered that issue, I have come back to the conclusion that not only was it necessary and justified, but it was a god-send. Yes, it put the people of those two cities into a hell on earth. But it was the only way to end the war, and, by doing so, it saved Japan from the total destruction—and probably millions of civilians deaths—that would have been the only way to defeat Japan in the absence of that surrender.

Other than the mass destruction of Japanese cities on one hand, and the even more destructive invasion of Japan on the other, the only other option would have been to leave the Japanese regime in place.

In the case of Germany, it seems likely that Germany would have been defeated without the civilian bombing. But here I will do something I rarely do and go for relativistic reasoning. If, instead of thinking about the event 60 years after it occurred, I had been alive during World War II and fighting this total enemy, Nazi Germany, whose aim was the enslavement of the world and the destruction of all nations and of civilization itself, would I have thought, “If the bombing of cities and the mass killing of civilians, even if it is not absolutely necessary for our ultimate victory, will nevertheless help weaken this total enemy and help hasten his defeat and decrease the number of our casualties, then it is acceptable”? I cannot say definitively that I would not have said that.

Charles G. writes:

Ah, but you see, the problem is that when you throw in the fact that the enormous thousand plane bombing raids over cities like Dresden and Hamburg were carried out EVEN AS GERMANY WAS COLLAPSING LATE IN THE WAR and victory was clearly in sight, the argument becomes obviated. Not only that, but the U.S. announced its policy of unrestricted bombing of Japanese cities right after Pearl Harbor. Now the Japanese attack may have been infamous, but Pearl Harbor was a military target and involved very few civilian casualties. Yet, contrary to international law, the U.S. announced that it would target civilians. [LA replies: Why would the U.S. announce, right at the start of the war, “We’re going to target civilians”? It doesn’t make sense for multiple reasons.] This is not good. It is why WW2 will always be looked back on with horror by future (civilized) persons. No war up to that time had ever abandoned so completely the rules of war so painstakingly worked out over a series of centuries. About the only rule we followed was the military use of poison gas (I’m sure the Germans would have used it if they had had any hope of its success … but even they weren’t that insane.) It was truly a return to barbarism with no quarter asked or given, much the same as had been the case in the ancient world. Are we headed there again? God let it not be so. If we can’t defeat barbaric enemies without ourselves stooping to the same level of barbarity, what in God’s name is the point? I submit that a strong, Christian ethic will always triumph over barbarism without the need to resort to barbaric means. Anyone who has read about Charlemagne’s epic 30 year struggle against the Saxons will immediately understand this age-old dilemma.

But I agree that we are digressing. The original argument about using terror techniques against Iraqi civilians would not only be immoral, but ultimately useless unless we proceeded to exterminate a SIGNIFICANT percentage of the population. But not only could a Christian soldier not take part in such a genocidal program, but the program itself, whereas it might indeed cow Muslims for a while, would simply turn the Al Qaida elements into full fledged Islamic epic heroes for all time. Your original proposal of separation from the Muslim world seems to me to be the only rational alternative. We do lightning raids and search and destroy whenever necessary from a safe distance and we do not involve ourselves in the interminable and bewilderingly irrational religious arguments of Islam. We successfully contained the Soviet Union, we can do the same with Islam.

LA replies:

Well, we can’t quite leave World War II yet. Charles G. has made an implication I’m not sure he would stand behind. He writes:

“If we can’t defeat barbaric enemies without ourselves stooping to the same level of barbarity, what in God’s name is the point?”

The obvious question this raises is: what if there had been no way of defeating Japan and Germany without barbarity? Would Charles then have said that there would “be no point” in defeating Japan and Germany? In fact, the allies did use the barbarity that Charles condemns; therefore according to him there was no point in our defeating Japan and Germany We might as well have let them win. That is what he clearly seems to be saying here. I respectfully submit that Charles, perhaps without realizing it, has gone over to an almost reactive anti-war position in which he is suggesting that America and Britain were evil to fight and win World War II.

Then Charles says:

“I submit that a strong, Christian ethic will always triumph over barbarism without the need to resort to barbaric means. Anyone who has read about Charlemagne’s epic 30 year struggle against the Saxons will immediately understand this age-old dilemma.”

I ask VFR posters not to make allusions to historical facts without making their meaning plain. I have read about Charlemagne’s endless struggles against the Saxons, and I still do not get Charles’s point here. Presumably Charles means that Charlemagne used harsh methods against the Saxons. But in that case, Christianity did not and could not triumph over barbarism without barbaric means, which would seem to undercut Charles’s point that “a strong, Christian ethic will always triumph over barbarism without the need to resort to barbaric means.”

Let me add that within my present incomplete knowledge of the issue, I think the bombing of Dresden and other civilian mass bombings late in the war were war crimes. I don’t know that it can be argued that those bombings helped the allied war effort in any way commensurable with the killing and destruction they caused.

Mark Jaws replies:

I said: “If the U.S. is not in Iraq to win, then get the hell out.”

LA said: “While I agree and have said the same myself many times, this does not answer the current Bushian argument, which is that we cannot leave because it would result in a blood bath. I’ve given my own response to that here. What is Mark’s view?”

The Mark Jaws view very much coincides with that of LA.

As someone who has worked with Arabs during war and during peace and has lots of Army friends and colleagues who have EXTENSIVELY worked with Saudis and Kuwaitis, I will forever maintain that we are wasting our time in Iraq and with any policy that depends on the ability of these inherently incompetent third worlders to assume a role of responsibility in the modern world. Saddam was able to preside over Iraq via “Hama Rules,” and only with Hama Rules.

My prescription is to declare victory (after all, we did defeat their army and remove their dictator) and withdraw to positions where we can seize the oil fields if necessary. If there is a bloodbath, it will be between al Qaeda and Sunni Islam on one side and Iran and some of Shia Iraq on the other. Many Shiite Iraqis are Arabs first, and Shia second. During Saddam’s reign they fled to Iran out of desperation and have reluctantly taken aid from their neighbor in order to defeat Sunni and al Qaeda insurgents. Many of the Iraqi Shiite miliita leaders know they are playing with fire by taking Iranian money and weaponry, which”h comes with strings attached.

Does anyone in the Bush Administration really think that the Sunni Arabic world is going to allow non-Arab and non-Sunni Iranians to take control over an Arab country formerly ruled by Sunnis? I don’t think so. I can even imagine Iraq devolving into a Vietnam situation for the Iranians, which could only be a plus for the West.

Charles G. writes:

I apologize for not explaining my allusion to Charlemagne. As the struggle with the Saxons went on over the years, there occurred a tit-for- tat series of increasingly destructive raids. Charlemagne at first restrained his forces from acts of reprisal that were gratuitously murderous, even though sorely tried by the Saxons. At last, after he thought he had an agreement, a particularly vicious Saxon raid ensued. Charlemagne, still relatively young at the time, lost his patience and after a sweep through the suspected Saxon district, he rounded up all the men suspected of being part of the recent raid and had them beheaded, even without hard evidence that they were guilty. That was four thousand men beheaded … in one day. It did not stop the raids and Charlemagne was later engulfed with remorse which he carried to the end of his days. Even in such brutal times as he lived, the essential Christian nature of Charlemagne shone through.

As far as the contention that we have to stoop to barbarity sometimes in order to defeat an enemy, I simply reject it. Modern warfare is itself a form of barbarism in that it entails the kind of destructive power that also destroys non-military targets. Even with the best of intentions a war between two nations armed with modern weaponry will take a fearful toll of civilians if fought in the vicinity of towns and cities, where of course, most of the industrial and military targets are often located. I’m not denying the necessity of collateral damage. That is the tragedy of modern warfare. But no one is ever going to convince me that by DELIBERATELY targeting civilians as we did in Japan and Germany, we somehow took a step that either hastened the end of fighting or dealt the enemy a blow at their morale. It simply made the war an existential struggle devoid of meaning, and this is part of the spiritual malaise that has afflicted Europeans after the war. In order for our side to maintain the high moral ground, we must be manfully resist the urge to engage in cheap revenge and meet the ENEMY wherever he is, no matter what the sacrifice in terms of our own losses. In the long run, it is better for our side to take greater casualties and win honorably than to take the easier way out by deliberately killing innocent civilians. America and Britain were not evil for fighting Germany and Japan, but they harbored evil men in their midst who were blind to Christian ethics in their zeal to win at any cost. Our leadership failed us at those critical moments.

Lawrence, you ask why the U.S. would announce right at the start of the war with Japan that we would target civilians, and that it would make no sense. But that is precisely what happened. See the next to the last chapter in Stromberg’s “A History of Western Civilization” where this is discussed. It seems incredible to us today, but our policy right at the beginning of WW2 was to wage total war in every sense of the term. We had no choice but to fight, but we did have the ability to choose HOW to fight.

LA replies:

Alright, the key dividing line for Charles is deliberate targeting of civilians. In that case we could not have bombed Japanese cities and we could not have used the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To defeat Japan we would have had to invade the Island, which would have become a giant Okinawa or giant Iwo Jima. We would have had to destroy much of Japan and a major portion of its civilian population—as collateral losses, mind you—as well as suffer a projected one million U.S. casualties. It would have dwarfed in horror the entire Pacific war up to that time. The horror would have been so great it would tempt America to give it up and leave the insane Japanese regime in place.

Charles writes: “It simply made the war an existential struggle devoid of meaning, and this is part of the spiritual malaise that has afflicted Europeans after the war.”

We’ve been hearing for decades how Europe has turned against the nation state because of World War II, as though it was all the nations of Europe who did those terrible things, when in fact it was just one nation, Nazi Germany. I’ve never been able to figure out how Germany’s guilt became the guilt of Germany’s victims.

And now Charles is telling us that the attacks on civilians by Britain and the U.S. are responsible for the spiritual malaise in post war Europe. Why purportedly bad actions by the U.S. would make the war meaningless and make Europeans generally feel that life is meaningless, while they did not have the same effect on Americans, is a hard one to figure.

In any case, (1) the Europeans feel guilty about nationhood, because of the German nations’s crimes, and (2) the Europeans are afflicted with spiritual malaise, because of America’s crimes. There’s something off here.

Tom S. writes:

Contrary to what some of your correspondents have stated, at no time did the United States carry out strategic bombing with the idea of deliberately killing civilians. Gen. Ira Eaker specifically stated that he “did not wish to unleash the strategic bomber against the man in the street” and we did not do so. Over Germany, almost all American raids were either daylight precision raids, aimed at specific industries, or attempts to use radar to pinpoint-bomb similar facilities. Now, in the 1940’s radar bombardment was very inaccurate, so these raids operationally took on the character of area bombing, but the idea was always to hit war industries, and transportation. In the case of Japan, once again, industry was LeMay’s target. Japanese industry was dispersed in thousands of “home workshops” located in civilian areas, so these were targeted by LeMay. He knew that there would be heavy civilian casualties, and he accepted this, but he always emphasized that industry was his target. In fact, he believed that high civilian casualties would be counterproductive, as it might lead to pressure to end the raids. The attitudes of the time probably led to higher collateral civilian casualties than we would accept today, but the U.S. Air Force never had a policy of seeking to maximize civilian casualties.

As for the British Bomber Command, Harris did deliberately target civilian worker housing and city centers, hoping to de-house Germany’s war workforce and disrupt transportation, so that industrial production and transport would cease. Once again, war industry was the target, if only at second hand. Of course, Harris hoped that being rendered homeless would also damage German morale, but this was always secondary. He wanted Germany’s civilian population dispersed, not dead.

A couple of more legalistic points are in order here. First, under international law as it existed in 1941, cities were classified as either “open cities” or “fortresses”. Open cities were purely civilian, were to be left undefended, and were not to be used for warlike purposes or attacked. Fortresses were defended localities, military cities that were legitimate targets. The Allies considered German and Japanese cities, with their massive war industries, bristling anti-aircraft defenses, and huge garrisons, to be fortresses liable to attack, and they were treated as such. This goes a long way towards explaining why the Allies treated enemy cities as they did 1941-1945.

A second point; under both international law and Christian Just War doctrine as understood at the time, civilians and civilian property could lawfully be attacked if it aided the enemy’s war effort. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 states “The wanton destruction of the property of… non-combatants, where it does not or will not minister maintenance or help to the state or its army, is likewise devoid of the requisite condition of necessity.” Obviously, if such property DOES “minister maintenance or help to the enemy state or its army” it becomes a legitimate target. Thus, attacks on the German and Japanese infrastructure were regarded as both legal and just.

Incidentally, the Hamburg raid was carried out in 1943. If Nazi Germany was “finished” at that time, some one had neglected to tell the Germans, who were busily developing ballistic missiles, nerve gas, and superheavy tanks, gassing Jews as fast as they could round the up, and, incidentally, shooting at my Dad, who was fighting them at the time. As for Dresden, several recent books have shed much light on this controversial raid, which was at any rate carried out at the behest of the Soviets. Take a look at this link, for starters; http://www.afa.org/magazine/oct2004/1004dresden.asp

In short, those who characterize Allied air tactics in WWII as immoral simply do not know what they are talking about. They are often well-meaning people who have been victimized by Anti-Western propaganda, second-guessing, and by researchers who misunderstand both warfare and the state of international law in the 1940’s, or who have deliberately tried to de-legitimize airpower, because it is one of the West’s most effective weapons. Air atrocities certainly existed, but they were general the acts of individuals, not Allied Policy.

Sorry about the length of this comment, but there is a move afoot, both from the paleo right and the pomo left, to discredit our country’s effort in the Second World War. The Americans and Britons who died in that war deserve better from us, the beneficiaries of their sacrifice.

Tom S. continues:

A few points in response to several comments of Charles G.:

“It was truly a return to barbarism with no quarter asked or given, much the same as had been the case in the ancient world.”

That American forces “gave no quarter” would have come as a surprise to the hundreds of thousands of Axis prisoners captured in WWII, many of whom returned to the United States to live after the war.

“Neither the madness of German and Soviet mass murders nor the madness of Allied bombing zeal can ever be “explained away.”

Is Charles G. actually comparing the U.S. bombing of defended military targets, with thousands of flak guns and hundreds of fighters blasting away at the attackers, and possible summary execution awaiting them on the ground, to the mass murders of the Nazis and Soviets? I stand in awe…

“If we had used our valuable resources in other areas, such as speeding up the production of the atomic bomb or even transferring some of those resources to the hard pressed soldiers and sailors in the Pacific, might that not have been of equal value to the Allied side?”

Possibly, but is Mr. G. saying that the atomic bomb was ok, but conventional attacks were not? A nuanced position, to be sure.

“In the long run, it is better for our side to take greater casualties and win honorably than to take the easier way out by deliberately killing innocent civilians.”

We did win honorably, and I trust Mr. G. is volunteering to be one of the casualties? And what if we don’t win at all, and Nazi and State Shinto values are all that are left?

“See the next to the last chapter in Stromberg’s “A History of Western Civilization” where this is discussed.”

I’m not familiar with this work, but since the U.S. Air Force has never admitted targeting civilians at all during the war, I’d be VERY skeptical about this. General histories are often quite unreliable on specific points. By the way, “Total War” does not mean “mass murder of civilians”.

There seems to be a rash of self appointed Christian moralists at large these days, all full of advice as to how we should have won WWII, and I’ve had about enough. The U.S. was far more of a Christian nation then than it was today, and many Christians put the lives on the line for what they believed. To say, or even imply, that there was any sort of moral comparability between the Allies and the Axis is repulsive, ahistorical, and absurd. The men and women who fought WWII were certainly not saints, but they did what they thought was right at the time, and prayed for God to vindicate the right. We should do so well in our current struggle.

LA replies:

This is an impressive presentation by Tom S.

This passage by Charles G. quoted by Tom had skipped by me when I first read it:

“Neither the madness of German and Soviet mass murders nor the madness of Allied bombing zeal can ever be “explained away.”

I hope Charles did not really mean to suggest a moral equivalence between the Nazi extermination camps, and the Allied bombing raids that were aimed at destroying the regime that was running those camps?

Also, while Tom has introduced more nuance and legal background into the discussion, showing that, at least formally and technically, the U.S. was not seeking to kill civilians, is he saying that this was true in all cases? Is he saying that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki raids were not aimed at killing civilians? Yes, President Truman said the Hiroshima bomb was aimed at war plants. Maybe he had to say that to ease his mind about what was happening. But everyone knew this was about committing mass slaughter in order to push the Japanese to surrender, no?

Also, after the initial raid on Tokyo that turned into a much vaster fire-storm than had been expected, Le May led further raids of the same nature, right? Maybe in some formalistic, abstract way they said this was not INTENDED to kill civilians, but they knew it was mass killing and destructoin of civlilian areas. Le May said himself that if the tables were turned he could be tried for war crimes.

This comment from Charles G. came in before Tom’s comments that are posted above. I replied to Charles privately, and didn’t hear back from him, so now here is his comment and my reply.

Charles G. writes:

Now you’re making me out to be a pacifist, German sympathizer. Is there no room for the Christian attitude of restraint in this debate? It’s simple. Unless it is absolutely necessary, you do not target areas likely to kill innocent civilians. (Bombing the Ruhr was necessary, regardless of civilians living nearby. Bombing downtown Hamburg, Munich, Milan and Dresden was not.) Nor do you treat civilian casualties in a cavalier manner. Nor do you use barbaric retaliation as a means of striking the enemy. Area wide bombings in residential areas, whether by Nazis, Japanese, Soviets or Allies was wicked. “Revenge is mine, saith the Lord.” I spelled out quite precisely what I meant in the entry above and I don’t see how it can be misconstrued to mean any more than what it says, regardless of the spin that is placed on it.

And all this hypothetical reasoning about “what if so-and-so” doesn’t get us anywhere because we already know the historical facts, and we have the historical evidence of the discussions that took place and why the decisions were reached. We should never have allowed some of those military decisions and we should have restrained monsters like Bomber Harris during the latter phase of the war and sent them off to a sanitarium to collect their senses. What is the point of even having rules of war if you are going to pick and choose when to apply them? We should always play by those rules because winning a war, even one as desperate as WW2, can be accomplished without resort to wanton atrocities. Don’t believe that Heidegger’s existentialist philosophy did not become transformed by WW2 and spill over into other devastated countries? Where did Sartre’s and Camus’s existentialism emerge from? Oddly, it not only worked its way into other nations, but it somehow segued over into a Marxist slant. Curiouser and curiouser. Marxism was supposed to be impervious to such Western decadence as existentialism. But it wasn’t. All those Frenchmen, Belgians, Dutch, Poles and Italians standing around on piles of rubble that used to be their cities shouting “We won!” were soon sobered by the reality, and, to quote Shakespeare, “their faces were soon sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”

I make no opprobrious judgement on why they lost their faith in God, but I think one can get an idea. As an aside, my father took part in that war and was horrified by the gratuitous violence. He was as brave as the next man, but came away with conflicted emotions over some of the questionable tactics. He went to his grave believing that the targeting of civilian areas for aerial bombing had been wrong, that we were winning overwhelmingly anyway. And there were many men like him. He was buried three years ago at a military cemetery with full honors in the presence of a US naval contingent. So this is not just my point of view from a safe vantage point, it is a valid argument which has been raised ever since the end of the war by many men of good will and service to their nation who fought in that war. Don’t twist my words. I don’t say ALL veterans felt that way. We may not agree about this, but there is no point in trying to impugn my motivation for making the argument. I’m sincere and I believe that Christians have an obligation to do their part in modern warfare by restraining overzealous individuals who lose sight of the moral implications of their actions. If we don’t, who will? This applies just as much today as it did 62 years ago. If we finally decide to liquidate the Iranian nuclear facilities, I expect moral restraint to be exercised even though I also would expect the attack to be overwhelming, highly targeted and devastating to Iran. In such an attack, civilian casualties would be their responsibility, not ours. They’ve been warned.

LA replies:

Charles, I don’t understand why you feel I am misrepresenting you or twisting your words. I felt I was responding to a clear red line you laid down: No deliberate killing of civilians. I then concluded that that standard would have forbidden the mass bombing of Japanese cities and the atomic bomb attacks, which in turn would have either required the horrible invasion of Japan or that we give up and let the Japanese regime survive.

Please tell me how I am misrepresenting your position.

Tom S. replies:
Thank you for your indulgence in printing my (rather long) comments, and your excellent questions.

As for LeMay, it’s an interesting fact that the later fire raids killed far fewer people than the initial Tokyo raid did; the Tokyo raid was so deadly because it was the first, and the Japanese civilians did not really understand what was happening. Some survivors have maintained that they thought that the Americans were dropping flares. They very soon learned to flee as soon as the “flares” started to fall, hence death tolls in later raids of about 1/20th of the initial raid. Certainly LeMay knew that civilians would die in large numbers; but he did not will their deaths. Of course, when discussing morality, intent is everything.

As for Hiroshima, it’s important to keep in mind that no one really knew what they were dealing with in 1945—the scientists thought that deadly radiation would be carried upward and dispersed, and the U.S. Air Force thought that most civilians would be in air raid shelters. It’s also important to note that “ground zero” for the bomb was supposed to be the HQ of the Japanese Second Army, certainly a military target. There is every indication that Truman considered the Hiroshima attack to be a simple extension of normal strategic bombing, only carried out in an incredibly efficient manner. It should also be noted that the plans to invade Japan included the use of several atomic bombs; the “invade/drop the bomb” choice is a false one.

In the event, this was not borne out. The Japanese civilians, believing that one bomber could not be a threat, were not even warned of its approach, and hence were caught in the open; radiation turned out to be a bigger factor than anyone believed; and the bomb destroyed far more than was intended, missing its intended target by a mile. It’s notable that the death toll in Hiroshima was far higher than in Nagasaki, even tough the Nagasaki bomb was “better.”

As for the acceptance of mass slaughter, it’s pretty evident that Truman wanted to destroy the city; not so evident that he wanted to massacre the inhabitants. He was hoping that the fact that one bomb could destroy a city would influence the Japanese leadership. Oddly enough, most American generals and statesmen in 1945 probably didn’t think that the Japanese leadership cared about their civilian population, and so didn’t place much military value on simply killing them.

I would state my position this way; almost all civilians killed in Allied air raids in WWII were considered to be “collateral damage” at the time. Obviously, the Allied leadership in WWII was willing to accept far higher levels of collateral damage than we would be willing to accept today, but they did not seek to gratuitously kill civilians, and they were far and away morally superior to their Axis and Soviet counterparts.

LA replies:

It’s fair that the distinction between willing the deaths of civilians, and accepting the deaths as an inevitable result of the attack, be made. There is certainly a difference. But how big and how real a difference is it? Statements like, “[I]t’s pretty evident that Truman wanted to destroy the city; not so evident that he wanted to massacre the inhabitants,” start to get hard to swallow.

Tom S. writes:

1. I agree with Charles G. that Christians should abide by Just War strictures. I argue that our airmen in WWII believed that they were doing so, and in fact did so.

2. Lots of people believed that strategic bombing was not effective or wrong, including Patton. Certainly no one is a German sympathiser for believing this, but I don’t agree with it. Nor do most Americans who lived at that time.

3. My father served in WWII as well, and I respect Charles G.s father’s opinion. His father and my father lived through things that he and can only have nightmares about, and they did it all for us. In the shadow of such courage, we can agree to disagree—but please, let’s not have any more comparisons between our noble cause and the Nazi or Communist terror.

P.S.—I believe that Diana West is wrong, in this case—mass bombing of Iraqi cities would be wrong, for all the reasons that it was right in WWII.

Charles G. writes:

First, I don’t believe in the conventional wisdom that dropping an atom bomb on a large metropolitan area was necessary to win the war. Nor do I believe it would have been necessary to invade the island in order to overthrow the government there. It was stupid of us to demand an unconditional surrender of Japan. They were finished. They could not move anywhere without being pounced on. All their industrial facilities were in shreds, they had no access to oil or any other raw materials like iron and coal, and they had no electricity. They were through. Yes they had an army, but it was impotent and tied down to the islands. If we had laid down conditions and kept up a highly targeted bombing campaign, the Japanese themselves would have come forward and surrendered. They had no other choice. Also, we could have demonstrated our capability by dropping those bombs elsewhere instead of the center of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’m no military expert, but I wonder if any of the above was considered. I’d enjoy someone’s input who knows more about it. I’m just never going to be comfortable with dropping nuclear devices on large cities.

So the “red line” I laid down is still the one I stand by. No deliberate killing of civilians. And I’m not making a moral equivalent about wartime atrocities. (Your description.) But the dreary fact remains that an innocent civilian is not particularly fussy about where the bomb that targets her is manufactured. She would prefer not to die while taking her child on a stroll.

I have enjoyed the discussion. On to another thread!!

LA replies:

Ok, we’ve finally got from Charles the radically different war strategy that is entailed by his condemnation of the actual strategy pursued by the U.S. in the Pacific. He would have had the U.S. do something like what the anti-war people were urging vis a vis Iraq in ‘90-91 and in 2003: NOT to bomb Japanese cities, whether with conventional bombs or the atomic bomb; NOT to invade Japan, but rather to surround Japan in a kind of giant blockade, and squeeze it until it cries uncle. On one hand, I congratulate Charles for the audacity of his, as he sees it, Christian way of war against Imperial Japan. On the other hand, it seems unreal, off the planet. Instead of actually crushing the enemy, the U.S. would have had to lob little selective bombing strikes at this target or that, deliberately not using our power, while the Japanese, seeing that we lacked the will for victory, would have a chance to recover their strength, find all kinds of new ways to harm us, and keep the war going indefinitely.

Maybe in some better, future world, such a war might be possible and winnable. In the actual world of the 1940s, Charles’s idea strikes me as an escapist, though principled, fantasy.

I think the reason the Japanese became a peaceful, unthreatening country after 1945 was that the U.S. had crushed them. I think anything short of crushing them would have left their crazed, banzai, destroy-all-outsiders mentality intact. That sounds brutal, but I think that’s the reality. America used great violence, in order to achieve real peace. But if the Japanese had maintained any will and capacity to use violence, there never would have been peace.

Tom S. writes:

But of course, a blockade would have resulted in the deaths therough starvation of millions of innocent Japanese civilians—you can bet that Tojo would have got the last chunk of sushi in Tokyo. Would that have really been more “moral”? As Mr. G. aply points out, civilians don’t really care whether what kills them is “moral” or not. Besides, Japan was developing its own atom bomb, and considering biological warfare against the continental U.S. What would six more months have brought?

It’s a strange “moral” solution that ends up with millions more dead, on both sides. Of course true statesmanship consists of keeping us out of such situations. The time to have prevented Dresden and Hiroshima was in 1936 or so…

Mark Jaws writes:

Tom S was right on the mark! While I can appreciate what Charles G has to say, his type of remarks are typical of those living in an affluent, complacent society, many of whose citizens have forgotten the costs and sacrifices of previous generations.

A Christian warrior can fight as viciously as the savage to subdue the barbarian, but when the battle is over the warrior does not become the barbarian. Our own Civil War and WW2 are fine examples. General Sherman loved the South and demolished it in order to preserve the Union. Eisenhower was interested in killing as many Nazi fanatics as possible and when Allied armies encountered stiff resistance in German towns and villages, the artillery and airstrikes were called in to level them. We won—that’s what matters—and furthermore, we did not become like the Nazis. Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima were followed by Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It To Beaver.

Here is what the Catholic Church says in its recent Catechism. I am quoting from paragraph 2309, page 556.

  • The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subbject to rigourous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain (I think the Nazis meet this objective)

  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

  • there must be serious prospects of success;

  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. I am of the opinion the last sub-bullet justifies the Allied air campaign from 1943-45 and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. [Last sub-bullet?] Had we not eliminated the evil of German and Japanese militarism, far more would have died. As I and others have mentioned earlier in this thread, the Allied bombings caused the Germans to divert much of their resources to the V-1 program—resources which otherwise would have gone to fielding more combat units.

We should move on to discussing the current situation in Iraq, for example, Fallujah. Would we have been justified to obliterate that city in late 2004 knowing it was a hotbed for al Qaeda and Sunni extremists? I say we should have warned civilians to leave and then flattened it. Any one who fights a war in the Middle East with one hand behind his back in order to win hearts and minds, will win neither war nor minds.

This discussion continues in a new entry.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 20, 2007 08:23 PM | Send

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