“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, August 20, 2006


“Few polls were take to measure the air force’s success in public relations, but by June 1945 a Fortune survey indicated progress. As Fortune put it, “The people are sold on peace through air power.” On more subjective grounds, the air force also had reason for optimism as 1945 appraoched because doubts ere arising within the military establishment about public support for a large peacetime ground army. Arnold believed that Americans would support in its place a powerful air foce making few demands on manpower and responding to public anxieties, nourished by the air force itself, about defending against future Pearl Harbors.” The Rise of American Air Power: the creation of Armageddon by Michael Sherry

He sew his eyes shut
Because he is afraid to see – Nine Inch Nails

The conclusion I draw from my last post is nothing so facile as that all wars are one war. That is an analytic dead end. But I’d suggest that the set of wars that have taken place between 1939 and, say, the beginning of the Heat Death era, around 2040, form a distinct, unified historical epoch. And that war, here, has to include events that are usually segregated from it – the mass transformation of infrastructure that appeared all across the globe (dams, irrigation systems, road systems, the dispersal of urban areas into subways), the great scientific and technological research systems, the psychology-education complex – etc.

We are citizens of the wars. War men and women, war races. Human product among low use populations – this should be the caption for much of our history at the moment. We have devised elaborate plots behind which the parts actually fit together, the hidden patterns come alive, and we love them. We are entertained infinitely by our own destruction. And such has been the creation of cosmo-polemos.

This is why I find articles like Ralph’s fascinating. It begins with those events that have been rather forgotten relative to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“On the night of 9 March 1945, 325 B-29 ‘Superfortresses’, based in the Marianas and under the command of Major General Curtis E. LeMay, dropped 1665 tons of bombs, all of which were incendiaries,on the heart of residential Tokyo. The bombs generated a ferocious, unstoppable firestorm that consumed 15.8 square miles of the city and killed a roughly estimated 100 000 of its citizens. The targeted residential zone bordered a large manufacturing sector of the city: consequently 22 numbered industrial targets were destroyed and struck from the target list the next morning. By official Japanese estimates, 267 171 buildings were levelled (one-quarter of the city), and 1 008 005 Japanese were left homeless.2 Viewed as a massive success by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), the Tokyo raid kicked off a firebombing campaign. that laid waste to more than 60 of Japan’s largest cities and killed hundreds of thousands of its civilians by the end of the Second World War.”

Historians of the war confront a puzzle, here. U.S. air policy, laid out in the 1930s, was very clear about what the Brits called ‘area bombing.’ Roosevelt, in a speech in 1939, said:

“The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians in unfortified centers of population during the course of the hostilities which have raged in various quarters of the earth during the past few years, which has resulted in the maiming and in the death of thousands of defenseless men, women and children has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.”

Roosevelt wasn’t just engaging in rhetoric. The U.S. air power policy developed in the thirties specifically aimed at destroying the industrial fabric of enemy power. In the air war over Germany, the U.S. tried, at least, to adhere to this policy. When, in 1945, Dresden was destroyed by an Anglo-American fleet of bombers, a British officer, C.M. Grierson, suggested at a press conference that the purpose was to kill civilians, it disturbed the American command. In fact, the destruction of German cities, Operation Clarion, was discussed and disputed with these issues in mind:

“Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker, former commander of the 8th Air Force in Germany, wrote to Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz (who was then co-ordinating Clarion) and asked him not to carry out the attack: ‘We should never allow the history of this war to convict us of throwing the strategic bomber against the man in the street.’12 Spaatz went ahead with Clarion anyway, but remained, according to one general’s diary, ‘determined that the American Air Forces will not end this war with a reputation for indiscriminate bombing’.”

Given this dialogue in the European theater, why was the Pacific theater so different?

Ralph’s structured answer gives weight to the logical development, out of precision bombing, of a terror bombing policy. But in practice, terror bombing was enacted due to the interplay between Curtis LeMay and General ‘Hap’ Hapgood Arnold. It was not planned, but emerged as an improvisation from a context in which it was dialectically prefigured -- by which I simply mean that the boundaries that defined the industrial attrition policy were always subject to change, and were never anchored to any logical constant. Both LeMay and Hapgood knew that they were facing a potential crisis: peace. Hapgood was a strong advocate of strengthening the Air Force and keeping it independent from the army. Independence meant resources.

The Committee assessing the air war over Japan, as Ralph describes it, went from advocating the destruction of industry according to the thirties strategic framework to consideration of the “intriguing idea,” as one General put it, of promoting “complete chaos” in six cities by killing “584,000 people.” But this was put in terms of its economic effects – for killing people as people did make one feel a bit of a heel. Rather, the 584,000 would be workers. Human product. Subtract workers and you effect the economy.

These thoughts, then, were in the Air Force mind. And there were threats closing in:

“The pressure to do ever more for the purpose of air force independence manifested itself in many ways. First to feel it were those within the B-29 programme. As mentioned above, Arnold had risked his career for this US$3 billion endeavour. It was the B-29 that could grant air force independence, because it was the weapon that could deliver fire-power in ways the army and navy could not. But Arnold constantly risked losing his B-29s to the insatiable needs of the army and navy. In early 1944 Arnold specifically designed the 20th Air Force (which would contain the XX and XXI Bomber Commands) to be as far removed from other branches of the military as possible. In a novel fashion, the 20th reported not to the army, but directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Arnold, a member of the JCS, was both commanding general of the 20th as well as executive agent for the JCS in the Pentagon.36 The JCS created the broad strategic framework, but within that framework Arnold
could do essentially whatever he wanted.37

“Command freedom did not guarantee wartime independence, however. Arnold was very candid in his memoirs about his fears that the Air Forces would be subordinated in the Pacific theatre. He recalled that Admiral King, the highly effective commander of the US Fleet, said, ‘Trouble with all this rearrangement and reorganization is your Air Force, Hap. If you would take your Air Force and bring it over to the Navy, then the Navy … would be the largest and most powerful force in the world.’38 Arnold certainly had no desire to follow this plan, and was instead determined to keep his 20th as far from naval operations as possible. But even if Arnold maintained an independent air arm, he still would have to prove he was achieving results with his B-29s in order to keep them.”

Keeping what you got – this is the essence of great drama. Arnold, like the Golem in Lord of the Rings, wanted his precious. And the navy was threatening to take his precious away. And what stood between him and his loss? A buncha Japanese civilians.

These rivalries have become a thing of comedy. However, the 584,000 Japanese, in addition to contributing to the war effort, were notoriously humorless, which meant that, as they were dying, they wouldn’t be dying of laughter. Which is funny, since laughter is the best medicine.

So, 1944 was coming to a close, and the precision bombing campaign, which Arnold had entrusted to the man who developed the precision bombing strategy, Hansell, had been pounding Japan. Precision bombing depended on the relatively primitive guiding technology the air force had, and on weather. The publicity was bad about the bombing of the steel factories that were targeted according to the earlier protocol, since they stubbornly withstood bombardment. In the meantime, over in China, Curtis LeMay was doing wonders. Somehow, his B-29s were getting to their targets in Japan at twice the rate of Hansell’s.

So it all started to click. If precision bombing depended on such complexities, perhaps one could considering widening the cone of destruction. Hansell was asked to make a whole incendiary strike on Nagoya. The purpose was specifically to kill civilians. Hansell answered back:

“I have with great difficulty implanted the principle that our mission is the destruction of selected primary targets by sustained and determined attacks using precision bombing methods … We are just
beginning to get results … I am concerned that a change to area bombing of the cities will undermine the progress we have made.”

Well, this resistance was no good.

“Arnold did not want to hear about any more problems from Hansell; he was impatient, and wanted reports of big results. As he said himself, the ‘best evidence of how you are getting along is the pictures of the destruction that you have accomplished against your primary targets’.53 Hansell was not providing these pictures. Shortly after Hansell’s interview, Arnold made the decision to relieve Hansell and replace him with LeMay. Norstad delivered the news to Hansell in person on 6 January. Again, Hansell was shocked, but now also extremely disappointed. General Arnold wrote to him soon after, explaining his reasoning for the change in command: ‘The job from now on is no longer planning and pioneering. It has become one of operating. LeMay … should be our best qualified operator.’54 This small statement is most revealing. Arnold did not want a planner in charge of his B-29s: he needed someone who would just get things done; again, he wanted results – and fast.”

One often reads about how the Truman White House had its eye on the Soviets during the last phase of the war against Japan. Or that the main point, vide Paul Fussell, was to save American lives. But we should also remember how many eyes were turned to Boeing. And how easily we can go from precision bombing to ‘area bombing.’ In fact, it seems to be the history of the use of American air power after WWII.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's just great stuff, man. I don't really have anything to contribute here, but I appreciate what you're doing.