Pro-Bomb Propaganda: Why Do So Many Americans Support Deadly Aerial Warfare?
April 21, 2017 Robert Bateman / Esquire Magazine
Some 90 years of domestic propaganda has changed the way Americans think about war. In most countries, war means armed people involved in up-close-and-personal violence, usually somewhere close to (or within) specific borders. The "military-industrial complex" has used its large public-relations budgets to promote the idea of the antiseptic use of weapons striking from the sky against distant enemies. The American public gobbles it up--just like other Madison Avenue and Hollywood products.
(April 13, 2017) -- Mother of all bombs GBU-43 B Massive Ordnance Air Blast. US on 04.11.2017 dropped the most powerful conventional bomb in its arsenal on Nangarhar, Afghanistan. The bomb, known in military ranks as "MOAB," or the "mother of all bombs," was used Thursday for the first time in combat, though it was developed in the early 2000s.
Drone Footage Shows MOAB Drop in Afghanistan
(April 14, 2017) -- Video shows the moment of impact when a U.S. 'Mother of all Bombs' was dropped on an ISIS cave and tunnel system in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Russia tests world's most powerful bomb RT
(September 12, 2007) -- The Russian military says it has successfully tested the world's most powerful non-nuclear bomb. The device is said to be as potent as an atomic explosion, but without radioactive fallout. Until now, the U.S. had the most powerful vacuum bomb, which was tested in 2003.
(April 13, 2017) -- On Thursday, the United States dropped the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) -- the so-called "Mother of All Bombs" -- for the first time in combat history. The 21,000-pound bomb was targeted at ISIS in Nangarrhar, Afghanistan, and the blast ratio is reportedly one mile in each direction. Boom-wise, it is one step down from a nuke. But the reaction to the strike on your social feeds may surprise you.
Just last week the president got a significant bump in the polls; take a close look at this one from CBS News. It seems that, so long as the means of employment of state-sanctioned violence involves weapons fired from afar and/or dropped from the sky, some 57 percent of Americans approved of the limited use of force represented by the strike last week against Syria.
But when asked if they were willing to see American ground forces pushing forward in Syria, that approval rate dropped to 18 percent. This is not an insignificant difference. The question, of course, is why is this disparity so large.
Some 90 years of domestic propaganda has fundamentally shifted the way that Americans think about war, compared to citizens of most of the rest of the world. In most countries, war means primarily one thing: armed people involved in up-close and personal violence, usually somewhere close to (or within) a specific country's borders.
In general, that is a traumatic thing, no matter which side has the upper hand. There is really no other option when you lack much in the way of aircraft or a functional off-shore navy capable of more than close-to-shore operations.
Although the United States fought one significant expeditionary war at the end of the 19th Century (the Spanish-American War) it had quickly recoiled from the results almost as enthusiastically as it had plunged into that conflict in the first place.
In 1898, Americans' visions of war and defense were still founded in the apocalyptic experience of the Civil War. So barring the possibility of a dramatic falling out with the British Empire, we felt secure behind our oceanic moats and our coastline defenses.
Our Army was, once again, reduced. By 1907, the US Army was down to some 64,000 men to defend not only the continental United States, but also our newly gained de facto colonies of Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Defense was a function of our navy intercepting any invasion fleet and coastal defense artillery fortifications backed by a rapidly raised militia now known as the National Guard.
World War I, which started for us Americans just 100 years ago last week, really got the ball rolling on the process that changed America from a nation that had such a limited vision of war to one that increasingly saw war as something that happens "over there," the further the better. At the core of this was the development of both a significant globe-spanning navy and, increasingly, airpower.
Throughout the period from 1918 through 1941, there was an ever-rising tide of both news and propaganda put out by the advocates of airpower that painted the new tool of the airplane as the ultimate weapon for a nation leery of getting involved in another major conflict.
After World War II, airpower advocates conducted their own internal studies of operations both in Europe and the Pacific, which essentially self-validated pre-war theories. It should be noted that even well into 1944, the Army Air Corps generals were arguing against even conducting an invasion of Europe, contending that they could still win the war exclusively from the air. The resultant self-congratulatory nature of the post-war surveys only makes sense when seen in that context.
With a new global threat in the Soviet Union, and the unleashing of the atom, the jihadists of airpower now saw an opening with the newly formed US Air Force taking the leading role as defenders of the nation, mostly at the expense of the ground forces.
Wars, they posited, were now mostly about striking from the sky, removing the need for American ground forces because no enemy could possibly stand up to the might of our fighters and bombers, as had been explained by those post-WWII surveys. (Collectively known as the US Strategic Bombing Surveys.)
As my fellow military historian Gian Gentile put it later, reality was not really an inhibiter. From <>How Effective Is Strategic Bombing?
The clear perception of the soundness of strategic bombing in World War II, as manifested in the USSBS reports, became muddled in the limited wars of Korea and Vietnam. American airmen in those wars chafed at the restrictions placed on them by their political leaders.
If the correct approach to strategic air power was to attack the war-making capacity of the enemy, in Korean and Vietnam that approach proved difficult to carry out.
Since the use of airpower in Korea and Vietnam did not fit the airmen's conception of strategic bombing, an extensive evaluation along the lines of the World War II USSBS was not conducted. It was not until the American Air Force perceived great success after the Persian Gulf War in 1991 that a USSBS-like assessment of air power was commissioned and carried out.
In other words, when the evidence of the effectiveness in the reality of most of the second half of the 20th Century did not fit their theory, the airpower folks decided not to even study the topic. Of course, what they wanted post-Desert Storm was a validation, but though that post-conflict study largely undercut their thesis, that fact was not widely reported.
Instead, what America got was what came via CNN and the like, a triumphal parade of "Victory Through Airpower," which led pretty much directly to the concept/theory of "Shock and Awe" that we saw in 2003, and which has worked so well for us in the 14 years since, wouldn't you say?
Still, the huge corporations that form what Dwight Eisenhower called "the military-industrial complex" have correspondingly large public-relations budgets, as does the USAF and the US Navy (all three of which so want people to understand how important their F-35s and B-2s are, let alone their Tomahawks) so that chimera of perpetual peace in America via the antiseptic use of weapons striking from the sky against distant enemies remains one that the American public gobbles up, as it does many other Madison Avenue and Hollywood products.
American civilians have been exposed to 90 years of radio, print, and silver screen documentaries from what is now the USAF and USN as well as the gigantic corporations that create their tools for a significant profit. Add to that the present-day plethora of the same stories.
Is this any wonder that, generally speaking, the American public thinks that violence committed antiseptically from afar really does change war and makes it viable to just hit targets from the sky and, voila, war is won?
Your mileage may vary.
But it does help you see how we, almost uniquely, have a general population that thinks that a few bombs or missiles coming in from the sky doesn't actually matter all that much. The American public, unique in the world, has been sold a bill of goods for more than 90 years. And, thanks to slick propaganda, they bought it back then and they buy it now.
Robert Bateman is the great-grandson of a WWI pilot and the grandson of a WWII bomber pilot. He spent 25 years as a soldier and is a contributor to Esquire's Politics Blog with Charles P. Pierce and a Fellow at New America. His next book is about doctrine, technology, and the culture of the Army between the World Wars (Knopf, 2018). As always he can always be reached at R_Bateman_LTC@hotmail.com
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