05 June 2015

Cognitive Reality of Strategic Bombing

High Value Targets Exist in the Eye of the Beholder

Few people appreciate that the leadership liquidation strategy of the drone war is merely old wine in a new bottle.  It is a logical extension of the strategic bombing doctrine developed in the 1930s and first executed in WWII.  This doctrine posits that target analysts located far from the scene of action can identify the critical nodes in an adversary’s infrastructure which can then be taken out in a systematic program of precision attacks.  This central premise of strategic thinking has remained unchanged from the identification of ball bearing factories in Germany by the Combined Services Targeting Committee during WWII to the picking of individual terrorists to be killed by precision drone strikes in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), based on the analysis of the “signatures” emitted by these terrorists by the members of President Obama’s NSC kill list panel.  This CIA report will give the reader access to some of the banal considerations the CIA purports to use — or says it should use — in the thought process that identifies and picks the individual “high value targets” — i.e. those individual people who must be liquidated — in its targeted killing strategy.

Yet, the central feature of every strategic bombing campaign is that the number of targets in the master target lists purporting to map these critical nodes always grows wildly once the bombing begins; a phenomenon that suggests the node may not have been so critical to begin with.*  The target proliferation phenomenon has held true regardless of the level of precision in the bombardment. It can be seen in every so-called “strategic" bombing campaign to date, regardless of how the nodes have been defined:  WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Gulf War I, Kosovo, and Gulf War II, and the GWOT (where the analysis of critical nodes reaches its reductio ad absurdum of indentifying those specific individuals who must be destroyed.)  

Attached below are excerpts from a recent report, Germany's Forgotten Victims, in the Guardian that reminds us of how this mentality can mutate into the blind butchery of carpet bombing, as happened in the case of the RAF’s night bombing of Germany in WWII** 
* One possible theoretical exception might have been the Single Integrated Operational Plan (or SIOP) which laid out the target base and weapons laydown for nuclear strikes on Soviet Union during the Cold War.  By the mid-70s, we had far more nuclear warheads than targets and there was no hope of growing the SIOP target list to the point that it was large enough to absorb all the weapons — consequently there was a lot of unnecessary double and triple targeting of even unimportant targets to use up the available nucs.  Fortunately, this possible exception to the target proliferation rule was never tested.

** The RAF night bombing campaign is certainly one of the three candidates for being the most imprecise, most pointless, and most murderous strategic bombing campaigns ever attempted.  The other contenders being the USAAF fire and atomic bombing of Japanese cities and its fire bombing of North Korea’s cities).

Germany's forgotten victims
Luke Harding explains why a new book on the allied bombing of German cities in the 1940s has created controversy
Luke Harding, Guardian, Wednesday 22 October 2003 20.03 BST
More than half a century on, the allied bombing of Germany's cities during the second world war remains a controversial topic.
On Wednesday, Britain's ambassador to Germany, Sir Peter Torry, travelled to the city of Kassel to mark the 60th anniversary of its destruction by British warplanes. Around 10,000 people died on the night of October 22 1943, when an immense firestorm swept the city. …
…  Last week, one of Germany's most controversial historians, Jörg Friedrich, published a new photo book about the issue. Called Brandstätten, or Fire Sites, it contains some of the most grisly images from the war ever to be published. None of them have been seen before. …
… In his book, Friedrich argues that the RAF's relentless campaign against Germany during the final months of the war served no military purpose. Instead, he says that Winston Churchill's decision to drop more bombs on a shattered Germany between January and May 1945, most of them on small German towns of little strategic value, was a war crime. …
…  Around 600,000 German civilians died during the allies' wartime raids on Germany, including 76,000 German children, Friedrich says. In July 1943, during a single night in Hamburg, 45,000 people perished in a vast firestorm. …
”If you destroy a landscape of 160 cities, most of medieval origin, you do something to the cultural identity of a people. All I do is describe it," he said. …
… His book recognises that Germany initiated the air war in the autumn of 1940, when 14,000 British civilians died in German raids launched from the French and Belgian coasts.
It was only in the summer of 1943 that Britain's air marshal Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris was able to respond. At first, RAF bombers were sent out in daylight to attack military targets, but a loss of aircraft forced a change in tactics.
The RAF began to bomb German cities during the night, an indiscriminate strategy causing huge civilian casualties. The attack on Hamburg, however terrible, could be justified on the grounds that the city was the centre of German submarine production, Friedrich concedes.
But, he argues, other raids on smaller, provincial towns could not. On February 16 1945, British bombers attacked the tiny town of Pforzheim, killing one-third of its 63,000 inhabitants.

In the official British history of the air war, Pforzheim merits only a footnote, despite the epic scale of the slaughter. "The RAF had run out of targets. The raid was most cruel," Friedrich says.