Monday, August 9, 2010

Frim Douhet to "Better Red than Dead"

The Littleboy Nuclear Weapon, Droped on Hiroshima, August 6, 1945
To understand the why of the weaponization of nuclear power we must go back to Guilin Douhet. Douhet was an Italian General, who knew next to nothing about aircraft. He was not a pilot and he had not flown more than two or three times during his life. Yet Douhet was the great theorist about air warfare.

Douhet who published his trites on air power between World War I and II. He believed that air power was a tool for breaking civilian moral. By bombing enemy cities, combatants could bring enemy peoples to their knees. During World War II the German Luftwaffe , then the RAF and finally the American Army Air Force attempted to apply Douhet's doctrines to winning the war. Rotterdam was the first city to fall victim of Douhet's doctrine. The Luftwaffe attempted to coerce Dutch surrender by bombing Rotterdam. The bombing and the subsequent fires leveled one square mile of the city. The Dutch Army surrendered shortly after the bombing ended.

Following Rotterdam, German cities and their population became fair game for the RAF, but first London was to become a the next testing ground for Douhet's doctrine. During the 1940 Blitz, the Germans attempted to destroy London by day and night bombing.
War correspondent Ernie pile wrote:
"It was a night when London was ringed and stabbed with fire.

They came just after dark, and somehow you could sense from the quick, bitter firing of the guns that there was to be no monkey business this night.

Shortly after the sirens wailed you could hear the Germans grinding overhead. In my room, with its black curtains drawn across the windows, you could feel the shake from the guns. You could hear the boom, crump, crump, crump, of heavy bombs at their work of tearing buildings apart. They were not too far away.

Half an hour after the firing started I gathered a couple of friends and went to a high, darkened balcony that gave us a view of a third of the entire circle of London. As we stepped out onto the balcony a vast inner excitement came over all of us-an excitement that had neither fear nor horror in it, because it was too full of awe.

You have all seen big fires, but I doubt if you have ever seen the whole horizon of a city lined with great fires - scores of them, perhaps hundreds.

There was something inspiring just in the awful savagery of it.

The closest fires were near enough for us to hear the crackling flames and the yells of firemen. Little fires grew into big ones even as we watched. Big ones died down under the firemen's valor, only to break out again later.

About every two minutes a new wave of planes would be over. The motors seemed to grind rather than roar, and to have an angry pulsation, like a bee buzzing in blind fury.

The guns did not make a constant overwhelming din as in those terrible days of September. They were intermittent - sometimes a few seconds apart, sometimes a minute or more. Their sound was sharp, near by; and soft and muffled, far away. They were everywhere over London.

Into the dark shadowed spaces below us, while we watched, whole batches of incendiary bombs fell. We saw two dozen go off in two seconds. They flashed terrifically, then quickly simmered down to pin points of dazzling white, burning ferociously. These white pin points would go out one by one, as the unseen heroes of the moment smothered them with sand. But also, while we watched, other pin points would burn on, and soon a yellow flame would leap up from the white center. They had done their work - another building was on fire.

The greatest of all the fires was directly in front of us. Flames seemed to whip hundreds of feet into the air. Pinkish-white smoke ballooned upward in a great cloud, and out of this cloud there gradually took shape - so faintly at first that we weren't sure we saw correctly - the gigantic dome of St. Paul's Cathedral.

St. Paul's was surrounded by fire, but it came through. It stood there in its enormous proportions - growing slowly clearer and clearer, the way objects take shape at dawn. It was like a picture of some miraculous figure that appears before peace-hungry soldiers on a battlefield.

The streets below us were semi-illuminated from the glow. Immediately above the fires the sky was red and angry, and overhead, making a ceiling in the vast heavens, there was a cloud of smoke all in pink. Up in that pink shrouding there were tiny, brilliant specks of flashing light-antiaircraft shells bursting. After the flash you could hear the sound.
Despite the intensive bombing campaign, despite the terror that Pile witnessed, and despite the significant damage to their city, Londoners' moral did not collapse, indeed just the opposite occurred. British resolve was actually enhanced as the British people endured the Blitz.

The RAF bomber command, under the leadership of Author "Bomber" Harris was to pay the people of Germany back many times for the damage that their bombers had done London. The RAF bombing raids on German cities killed 600,000 people and left city after city destroyed. One raid on Hamburg - one of many - killed 50,000 people. The bombing of Dresden - a city of no military importance - killed 130,000 people.

But in terms of warfare against civilians the British were strictly armatures compared to the Germans and the Japanese. According to Chalmers Johnson,
The Germans killed six million Jews and 20 million Russians; the Japanese slaughtered as many as 30 million Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians and Burmese, at least 23 million of them ethnic Chinese.
As was the case with the Germans, the Japanese people were made to pay a high price for the war their leaders had made. In one night, March 10, 1945, a firestorm caused by a bombing raid on Tokyo killed 100,000 people and injured another 100,000, 375,000 more were left homeless. An estimated 500,000 Japanese were killed by the American bombing campaign, mostly horribly. As with British attacks on German cities, the B-29 raids used fire bombs and were carried out at night. Fires merged into huge conflagrations, called fire storms snuffing out thousands of lives in huge conflagrations.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be viewed in the context of the World War II war on civilians. Military theorists should have known from the British experience that strategic bombing of cities failed to do what General Douhet and his followers believed, that is bring an enemy population to its knees. Instead, bombing, if anything, increased public resolve to support the war. In this respect, Douhet's doctrine can be viewed as a failure, and this was probably a finding of post WW II surveys of bombing effectiveness. The lesson, however, took a long time to work its way through to military leaders. American Military doctrine not only endorsed the concept of strategic bombing, but with atomic weapons, strategic bombing offered the capacity to destroy an enemy's society. With the advent of the hydrogen bomb, the goal of demoralizing an enemy was superseded by the potential to kill the enemies people in truly massive numbers.

During the 1950's the Soviet's developed their own intercontinental bombers. The American response was to launch a civil defense effort, but civil defense of against thermonuclear weapons required the evacuation of target cities. Assume that a city is evacuated before an H-bomb strike. What do you do with the people after the bombing. There would be nothing to go back too in a city leveled by an H-Bomb. Rebuilding would take at least a generation, and in the mean time what can be done with the evacuees was a problem no one even wanted to think about.

There were those who thought that dealing with the evacuees in a post-apocalyptic order, because the whole evacuation process was likely to breakdown in a massive traffic jam. A significant number of people would not be able to get out of the city in time, and they would not pose a problem post- H-bomb.

With the emergence of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, the notion of evacuating cities fell by the wayside. By this time, thinking about strategic bombing had begun to change. Targets were no longer cities, rather they were industries and facilities in the cities that contributed to a nations war making ability. Missiles carried multiple warheads, each individually targeted. Individually warheads were much smaller boosted nuclear weapons, instead of the classic H-bombs, but 10 small warheads could do as much damage, and kill as many people as one large thermonuclear blast. The survivors would have little to look forward to in a wrecked and radioactive city, devastated by multiple nuclear explosions, each 2 to 3 times larger than the Hiroshima A-bomb.

At that point war began to become obsolete. Not little wars, but big World War II wars. Theorists talked about Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD. War had to be avoided. War had become the supreme folly, yet the fiction that there was a cold war, and that it was possible for the United States and the Soviet Union to go to war, had to be maintained for the sake of intimidating the other side. Only with the threat that the most terrible of weapons might be used, was it held that that they posed a credible deterrent.

Within the context of MAD doctrine, a national leadership had to be prepared to sacrifice its people, and the tools of its civilization, in order that its treat to use nuclear weapons might be taken seriously. Thus national leaders were, in effect, using their own people as hostages in the event of a nuclear conflict. Given the value which some people place on their own lives, we can understand why it was that some people took umbrage at being held hostage by a national leadership which was at least in theory was still prepared to sacrifice its people, in order to carry out its war aims.

Douhet had maintained that strategic bombing could demoralize a civil population. Yet by the last third of the 20th century, the simple threat of war, coupled with the potential for destruction that war could bring about, was enough to make rational people wonder whether surrender were not the preferable option, when confronted with the threat of nuclear war.

In memory of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who died on August 6 and 9, 1945.
The Hiroshima peace bell, Oak Ridge, Tennessee


LarryD said...

It should be noted that the Russian leadership in the Kremlin never subscribed to the MAD doctrine.

Fortunately the situation never arose where they thought a first strike was feasible.

Charles Barton said...

Larry, i actually thought about the Soviet Civil Defense Doctrine. When push came to shove during the Cuban-Missile crisis, the Soviets backed away from a crisis. The Soviet leaders were aware that the cost of nuclear war would be too high. The Sovietologist could undoubtedly tell us a great deal more.

NNadir said...

LarryD: At least one historian makes the claim that Stalin was planning a first srike on the United States.

This would be Edvard Radzinsky, whose Stalin is an interesting, if partisan, read.

Radzinsky makes a circumstantial case, both for this claim, about Stalin's plan for a "first strike," and the case that Khruschev, Malenkov and Beria - possibly with Molotov's acquisence - murdered Stalin before he could murder them.

Stalin, according to Radzinsky had become so disconnected from reality that he believed that the United States would lose the exchange.

LarryD said...

Remember, Stalin's criteria for winning was almost certainly a lot looser than ours was, as long as the Kremlin would remain on top of the heap, horrendous casualties were acceptable.

What's scary about the Iranian mullahs is their theology posits a winning scenario even though Iran is exterminated. You can't deter people like that.

John Beck said...

What's the point of the posting? If it was not for the bombing of Japan, we would be speaking German or Japanese right now. Additionally, America would not have the great experiences of developing nuclear power we have today.

Peace is great, but peace does not create new technologies for power and advancements in human society.

Space programs in the early years were military projection, not just science projects.

The job of man is to kill one another until peace comes, then decide we hate each other again and kill one other again with better, bigger, faster, and smarter technology.

Charles Barton said...

John Beck, You write, "If it was not for the bombing of Japan, we would be speaking German or Japanese right now." Please, get a grip. Germany was already defeated, and Japan had already lost the war by the beginning of summer, 1945. The bombings were about convincing the Japanese leadership of the hopelessness of the Japanese situation, not winning the war.


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