In the news today is the commemoration of seventy years since the Second World War “Blitz” on the UK. The Luftwaffe’s change of tactics — from attacking the RAF to gain air superiority, to attacking cities — was the result of a direct command from Hitler. (I’m amused by neo-Nazi idolization of Hitler. As well as being a psychopathic dictator, he was also an immense and complete wanker who sabotaged his country’s war effort numerous times.)
The claimed justification for the Blitz was that it would frighten and demoralize the civilian population to such an extent that it would become impossible to fight the war effectively and a German invasion would be facilitated. That plan was about as likely to succeed as finishing off Churchill with a comedy exploding cigar.
That first Blitz on the British public lasted for 50 days, with more than 50,000 killed; but the actual impact on the progress of the war was negligible. Then a large proportion of the German air force was withdrawn to prepare for the attack on the Soviet Union, another genius masterstroke from Hitler, and eventually the balance of hostilities turned against Germany, particularly when the Unites States entered the war.
You might have thought that the British would have learned the real lesson of the Blitz: that terror bombing is ineffective. But RAF Bomber Command then carried out exactly the same kind of attacks against German cities. The claimed justification for the campaign was that it would frighten and demoralize the civilian population to such an extent that it would become impossible to fight the war effectively and an Allied invasion would be facilitated. That plan was about as likely to succeed as finishing off Hitler with a comedy exploding veggie-burger.
As an example of the difficulty of interfering with an enemy’s war effort with bombs, the famous “Dam Busters” raids, at great cost, knocked out production at several important factories in the Ruhr valley, but everything was going again within a few weeks.
(It is true that Japan was forced to surrender by the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but perhaps atomic weapons are something quite different to terror bombing rather than an extension to it. A matter of sheer scale.)
It’s now a cliche that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But it’s true. Bombing Gaza: did not work. The IRA’s terror bombing campaign: did not work. ETA’s terror bombing campaign: did not work. 9/11 attacks: did not work. Carpet bombing Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia: did not work. Terror attacks on civilians, whether by state armed forces or by non-state organisations, never have a major effect. That’s because the attacks aren’t attacks on the people who make decisions: they’re safe in their bunkers, or behind an arrray of security guards.
In the UK today, the focus is on victims and survivors of the Blitz, but it would be good also to remember the futility of mass attacks on civilians within the greater futility of war.