A History of Bombing
The New Press writes:
On November 1, 1911, Lieutnant Cavotti leaned out of the cockpit of his delicate aircraft and. Holding a Haasen hand grenade, began one of the most devastating military tactics of the twentieth century: aerial Bombing.
Praise for the Swedish edition of A History of Bombing:
A History of Bombing
Drawing on a rich range of sources, from popular fiction, to first hand accounts by the victims and perpetrators of bombing, from official government documents, to his own personal experiences as a child, parent and grandparent, Lindqvist unearths the fascinating history of the development of air power. He exposes the racist assumptions underlying colonial bombing campaigns in North Africa, and France and England's use of bombing to subdue postwar independence movements; and he probes the psychology of Bomber Harris. He sets out the recipe for napalm, and the science of smart bombs, and he asks some uncomfortable questions: did bombs ever produce the expected results? Is bombing civilians a war crime, and if so why have the laws of war and international justice proved so impotent? Why can´t the truth about Hiroshima be told in the Air and Space museum in Washington?
Lindqvist has constructed the book in an ingenious way: as a sort of labyrinth in which the reader is offered a number of paths through a century of war. This makes for a fascinating reading experience, allowing us to grasp the chaos of history, and the way in which different narratives attempt to make sense of it.
Moving, harrowing, enraging, sometimes blackly funny, A History of Bombing is a remarkable experiment in historiography and a deeply necessary and important book.
Sven Lindqvist was born in 1932 in Stockholm, where he still lives. He has travelled extensively through Asia, Africa and Latin America, and is the author of thirty books, including the highly acclaimed Desert Divers and Exterminate All the Brutes, both available from Granta books. A History of Bombing was universally praised on its publication in Sweden, and was awarded several prizes, including a major prize from the Swedish Academy.
Praise for Desert Divers:
"Gripping from start to finish" Geoff Dyer
"Enthralling…a small oasis in a desert of mediocrity" Sebastian Shakespeare, Literary Review
Praise for Exterminate All The Brutes:
"This powerful book has haunted me for months" Anthony Sattin, Sunday Times
Praise for A History of Bombing:
The book begins:
Twentytwo ways into the book
"Bang, you're dead!" we said. "I got you!" we said. When we played, it was always war. A bunch of us together, one-on-one, or in solitary fantasies-always war, always death.
"Don't play like that," our parents said, "you could grow up that way." Some threat-there was no way we would rather be. We didn't need war toys. Any old stick became a weapon in our hands, and pinecones were bombs. I cannot recall taking a single piss during my childhood, whether outside or at home in the outhouse, when I didn't choose a target and bomb it. At five years of age I was already a seasoned bombardier.
"If everyone plays war," said my mother, "there will be war." And she was quite right-there was.
In the beginning was the bomb. It consisted of a pipe, like a bamboo pipe of the type abundant in China, filled with an explosive, like gunpowder, which the Chinese had discovered as early as the ninth century. If one closed this pipe at both ends, it became a bomb.
When the pipe was opened at one end, it was blown forward by the explosion. The bomb then became a rocket. It soon developed into a two-stage rocket-a large rocket that rose into the air and released a shower of small rockets over the enemy. The Chinese used rockets of this type in their defense of Kaifeng in 1232. The rocket weapon spread via the Arabs and Indians to Europe around 1250-but it was forgotten again until the English rediscovered it at the beginning of the 19th century.
If the rocket was opened at the other end the bomb became a gun or a cannon. The explosion blew out whatever had been tamped into the pipe, like a bullet or another, smaller bomb, called a shell. Both the gun and the cannon had been fully developed in China by 1280 and reached Europe thirty years later.
Good morning! My name is Meister. Professor Meister. I will be lecturing today on the history of the future as depicted in Three Hundred Years Hence by William D. Hay. When this book came out in 1881, my time lay three hundred years ahead of the reader's. Today the society of United Man, in which I live, has drawn much closer to you. But my situation as narrator is essentially unchanged. I am speaking of your future, which for me is history. I know what is going to happen to you, since for me it has already happened.
The first bomb dropped from an airplane exploded in an oasis outside Tripoli on November 1, 1911.
"The Italians have dropped bombs from an airplane," reported Dagens Nyheter the next day. "One of the aviators successfully released several bombs in the camp of the enemy, with good results."
It was Lieutenant Guilio Cavotti who leaned out of his delicate monoplane and dropped the bomb-a Danish Haasen hand-grenade-on the North African oasis Tagiura near Tripoli. Several moments later he attacked the oasis Ain Zara. Four bombs in total, each weighing two kilos, were dropped during this first air attack.
The laws of war have always answered two questions. When may one wage war? What is permissible in war?
And international law has always given two completely different answers to these questions, depending on who the enemy is. The laws of war protect enemies of the same race, class, and culture. The laws of war leave the foreign and the alien without protection.
When is one allowed to wage war against savages and barbarians? Answer: always. What is permissible in wars against savages and barbarians? Answer: anything.
In an illustration in Jules Verne's The Flight of Engineer Roburs (1886), the airship glides majestically over Paris, the capital of Europe. Powerful searchlights shine on the waters of the Seine, over the quays, bridges, and facades. Astonished but unperturbed, the people gaze up into the sky, amazed at the unusual sight but without fear, without feeling the need to seek cover. In the next illustration the airship floats just as majestically and inaccessibly over Africa. But here it is not a matter merely of illumination. Here the engineer intervenes in the events on the ground. With the natural authority assumed by the civilized to police the savage, he stops a crime from taking place. The airship's weapons come into play, and death and destruction rain down on the black criminals, who, screaming in terror, try to escape the murderous fire.
Jeremy Tuft is an over-protected, middle-aged, middle-class man, helpless without his privileges. In Edward Shanks' novel of the future, People of the Ruins (1920), his London is bombed and gassed. When Jeremy comes miraculously to life in the ruins, he finds himself in a new Middle Ages. The English have become savages who live among the ruins of the twentieth century, a civilization incomprehensible to them.
Shanks's novel employs a thoroughly modern theme. In 1920, British planes bombed the "mad mullah" in Somaliland, thus beginning the systematic bombardment of savages and barbarians in the interwar period. In precisely that same year, 1920, the first of a long series of novels was published in which England is bombed back to barbarism, and the English themselves become savages.
The First World War killed ten million people and wounded twenty million. Was it a crime against humanity? Or was it quite all right, as long as the dead and wounded were young, armed men?
An unknown number of children and elderly died of hunger and disease as a consequence of the British naval blockade against Germany. Was that a crime against humanity? Or was it quite all right, since the English couldn't help the fact that the Germans sent the little food they had to the front, letting the children and elderly starve?
The slaughter at the front seemed meaningless even as it was going on. The war had dug in and got stuck, and the military looked desperately for a new, more mobile way to wage war. Flight seemed to offer the most obvious solution. Air attacks against the civilian population would force rapid results and ultimate victories.
But "the colonial short-cut" was forbidden in Europe. Here it was a crime against humanity to save the lives of soldiers by bombing women, children, and old people. Human rights seemed to forbid what military necessity seemed to demand - a contracition that has colored our entire century.
Everyone knows about Guernica in Chechaouen. In Guernica no one has ever heard of Chechaouen. And yet they are sister cities. Two small cities, clinging to mountainsides, a few miles from the northern coast of Spain and Morocco, respectively. Both of them are very old-Guernica was founded in 1366, and Chechaouen in 1471. Both are holy places-Guernica has the sacred oak of the Basque people, and Chechaouen has Moulay Abdessalam Ben Mchich's sacred grave. Both are capitals-Guernica for the Basques, and Chechaouen for the Jibala people. Both had populations of about 6,000 when they were bombed, Guernica in 1937 and Chechaouen 1925. Both were bombed by legionnaires-Guernica by Germans serving under Franco, and Chechaouen by Americans under French command, serving the interests of the Spanish colonial power. Both had their turn to be "discovered" by a Times correspondent-Guernica by George Steer, Chechaouen by Walter Harris, who wrote:
On the tenth of May in 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister of England. On the eleventh of May, he gave the order to bomb Germany.
"It was a splendid decision," writes J. M. Spaight, expert on international law and Secretary of the British Air Ministry. Thanks to that decision, the English to-day can walk with their heads held high. When Churchill began to bomb Germany, he knew that the Germans did not want a bombing war. Their airforce, unlike the British, was not made for heavy bombs . Churchill went on bombing, even though he knew that reprisals were unavoidable. He consciously sacrificed London and other English cities for the sake of freedom and civilization. "It was a splendid decision."
During the summer of 1948 I lived with a working-class family in St. Albans, outside London. It was a cold summer, and when we sat and drank tea in the evenings we often lit the electric heater, which was made to look like a glowing heap of coal. Somehow my thoughts flew to the burned-out cities of Germany, and I told them how the the train had struggled, hour after hour, to make its way through the blackened ruins of what once were the homes of human beings.
"We were bombing military transports on the railways," my host family said. If some houses by the side of the railway were damaged it was unfortunate, but unavoidable. "It was war, you know."
"This is not a question of 'a few houses,' I said. "Hamburg was razed by British bombs. This was the third time I traveled through the city, and I have seen nothing but ruins."
"That must have been the Americans," said my host. "British bombers never attacked civilians."
"I am sorry to contradict you, but it was the other way around. The Americans bombed the industries by day and the British the residential areas by night. That was the general pattern, I'm afraid."
"I am not going to listen to any more German war propaganda in my house," my host cut me short. " British bombers attacked military targets, period."
In the spring of 1941 a series of mysterious explosions occurred at a DuPont factory for the production of synthetic dyes. The Harvard chemist Louis Fieser was assigned to investigate the cause and he found, more or less by chance, that when burned, the fluid divinylacetylene converted into to a sticky goo with an unusually strong adhesive power. It occurred to him that such a liquid, if it were enclosed in a bomb, could be spread in the form of burning, sticky, lumps that would cling to buildings and people and could be neither extinguished nor removed.
On the tenth of December in 1903 (a week before the first airplane left the ground) the Curies accepted the Nobel Prize in physics. They had shown that radioactive material could release enormous amounts of energy.
The series of discoveries had unfolded at a dizzying speed. The radiation that Röntgen had discovered by chance in 1895 led Becquerel to the discovery of radioactivity in uranium the very next year, then to Thomson's discovery of the "planets" around the nucleus of the atom-the electrons, and finally in 1898 to Marie Curie's discovery of radium and polonium. And in 1903 the future Nobel laureate in physics, Frederick Soddy, was already giving a talk before the Royal Corps of Engineers on atomic power as the superweapon of the future. The idea of an atomic weapon seems not to have been particularly frightening since weapons in general were something used primarily in the colonies, and thus posed no threat to ordinary well-behaved European citizens. An imagination unworried by fear could play with the idea.
The Smithsonian Institute is the collective name of a group of museums that constitute the national memory of the United States. The most beloved of these is the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Around eight million people visit it each year, making it the world's most visited museum.
The only possible rival is the famous Shinto temple Yasukuni and its museum in Tokyo. There, too, around eight million people come each year. And Yasukuni, too, serves as the memory of a nation-or more precisely, the Japanese nation's memory of its wars.
“In Hiroshima, everything was over in a second. But the bomb itself is not over. It is still here, awaiting its next opportunity,” says Faos Cheeror, an Eastern European refugee whom South African writer Horace Rose met in London, late in the summer of 1945.
“Truman says that atomic power is much too terrible to be unleashed in a lawless world.”
“Truman said that after he had already unleashed it.”
“He used the bomb to shorten the war and save lives.”
“You belong to a nation of hypocrites, my friend,” says Faos. “I am thinking of the victims of the bomb in all those future wars, the wars that have already begun in the dreams of maniacs.”
In The Maniac’s Dream, A Novel of the Atomic Bomb (1946) we are allowed a look into those dreams, and we see the atom bomb destroy New York and London. But actually it is not the Londoners the Maniac hates and reviles, but the Blacks of his own country. They are subhuman apes, whose existence is justified only by their service to whites. To attribute human desires and feelings to them would be ridiculous. When they rise up against their oppressors, he doesn’t hesitate for a moment to let the atom bomb destroy them.
“A land which had been brilliantly alive with colour, movement and activity, was utterly and completely motionless, utterly and completely dumb.”
While everyone's attention was diverted by the superweapon and the necessity of avoiding total destruction, bombing took up its old role of securing European colonial power. The same old bombs were dropped, the same old villages burned. The wars were reported as "police actions" to "reinstate order" or fight "terrorists." Only slowly and reluctantly did Europe admit that these wars were wars and that the struggle concerned the right to independence.
On the 25th of June in 1950 I found myself in the gallery at the United Nations Security Council. I was a year away from high school graduation and was going to enter compulsory military service the following fall. I had received a scholarship to study "international relations." That was why I was sitting there listening as the Security Council decided to intervene in the Korean War.
What would Sweden's position be? Strong forces demanded that we should participate. I was constantly asked about it in New York. Suddenly international relations were no longer something that just adults concerned themselves with, way up there. The demand was being made of me. It was I, personally, who would have to shoot and bomb. I, who at this point, at the beginning of the war, had scarcely heard of Korea.
I sat down in the UN library and tried to figure out why I should kill or be killed.
On the 27th of January, 1796, the young researcher Charles Cuvier gave his first public lecture at the Institute de France in Paris. Before a deeply shocked audience he proved that the species created by God were not eternal. They could, he said, "become extinct" in a kind of "revolution of the earth." And we, the new tribes that have taken their place could ourselves be destroyed one day, and replaced by others.
"Meidiguozhuyi shi quan shijie renminde zui xiongede diren."
Those were the first words I had to learn when I was studying Chinese at Peking University in the winter of 1961. The phrase was terribly difficult, partially because I considered the statement false. "American imperialism is the most evil enemy of all the world's people." I found myself constantly protesting against the Chinese government's distorted image of American policies.
"Throughout its history, the U.S. has defended the peoples' right to self-determination," I said. "That will be the case in Vietnam, as well."
"You underestimate the free press in America," I said. "The facts always come out, sooner or later. You can't overrule public opinion in a democracy. You won't get re-elected that way."
"Only Congress can declare war," I explained to my Chinese hosts. Do you think that Congress, only ten years after Korea, will send its constituents and their children to die in a new Asian war? Never. It will never happen. There will be no war in Vietnam.
Once upon a time there was a Frenchman, an American, and a German. The Frenchman wanted to prove that the world turns. The American wanted to fly to Mars in a space ship. The German wanted to go to the North Pole in a submarine. Along with some other monomaniac dreamers, they created an instrument that could aim a rocket out into space and get it to deliver a dozen hydrogen bombs, each to its own separate address on the other side of the globe, more accurately than the postal service, faster than flight, and with the proverbial "surgical precision".
If the dum-dum bullet is forbidden by the rules of war on account of the unnecessary pain it causes (it has and it continues to be), how can the hydrogen bomb be legal? If the rules of war forbid weapons that do not distinguish between non-combatants and combatants, how could weapons that spread uncontainable radioactivity over large areas be legal? How could military strategies that cold-bloodedly calculate tens or hundreds of millions of civilian victims be legal?
And if through the use of precise weapon systems one could reduce the number of victims in the first round to just a few million while holding the enemies' big cities hostage-would the weapons have become more legal? If the "surgical" attacks then escalated to a general atomic war that destroyed all of humankind-could those who made the decisions declare with good conscience that they had, in any case, remained within the bounds of the law?
"War," said the great military theoretician Karl von Clausewitz, "is nothing but a duel on a larger scale."
That was at the beginning of the 19th century. Today we are no longer dueling. That two grown men would believe their honor demanded that they meet at dawn in order to give one of them the opportunity to murder the other in a ceremonial ritual-the mere thought has become absurd, even ridiculous.
And war? Will it one day be equally absurd?