The Effect of Bombing Berlin

 Posted by on 26 June 2013 at 10:00 am  Foreign Policy, Military, World War 2
Jun 262013

Here’s an fascinating little story from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (available in paperback, kindle, and audible). It’s from pages 777-8.

And then suddenly Goering made his second tactical error, this one comparable in its consequences to Hitler’s calling off the armored attack on Dunkirk on May 24. It saved the battered, reeling R.A.F. and marked one of the major turning points of history’s first great battle in the air.

With the British fighter defense suffering losses in the air and on the ground which it could not for long sustain, the Luftwaffe switched its attack on September 7 to massive night bombings of London. The R.A.F. fighters were reprieved.

What had bappened in the German camp to cause this change in tactics which was destined to prove so fatal to the ambitions of Hitler and Goering?

The answer is full of irony.

To begin with, there was a minor navigational error by the pilots of a dozen German bombers on the night of August 23. Directed to drop their loads on aircraft factories and oil tanks on the outskirts of London, they missed their mark and dropped bombs on the center of the capital, blowing up some homes and killing some civilians. The British thought it was deliberate and as retaliation bombed Berlin the next evening.

It didn’t amount to much. There was a dense cloud cover over Berlin that night and only about half of the eighty-one R.A.F. bombers dispatched found the target. Material damage was negligible. But the effect on German morale was tremendous. For this was the first time that bombs had ever fallen on Berlin.

The Berliners are stunned [I wrote in my diary the next day, August 26]. They did not think it could ever happen. When this war began, Goering assured them it couldn’t … They believed him. Their disillusionment today therefore is all the greater. You have to see their faces to measure it.

Berlin was well defended by two great rings of antiaircraft and for three hours while the visiting bombers droned above the clouds, which prevented the hundreds of searchlight batteries from picking them up, the flak fire was the most intense I had ever seen. But not a single plane was brought down. The British also dropped a few leaflets saying that “the war which Hitler started will go on, and it will last as long as Hitler does.”

This was good propaganda, but the thud of exploding bombs was better. The R.A.F. came over in greater force on the night of August 28-29 and, as I noted in my diary, “for the first time killed Germans in the capital of the Reich.” The official count was ten killed and twenty-nine wounded. The Nazi bigwigs were outraged. Goebbels, who had ordered the press to publish only a few lines on the first attack, now gave instructions to cry out at the “brutality” of the British flyers in attacking the defenseless women and children of Berlin. Most of the capital’s dailies carried the same headline: COWARDLY BRITISH ATTACK. Two nights later, after the third raid, the headlines read: BRITISH AIR PIRATES OVER BERLIN!

The main effect of a week of constant British night bombings [I wrote in my diary on September 1] has been to spread great disillusionment among the people and sow doubt in their minds … Actually the bombings have not been very deadly.

That story, of course, made me think of John Lewis’ excellent book, Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History, available in hardcover and kindle.

Question on Compulsory Military Service

 Posted by on 3 May 2012 at 8:00 am  Career, Government, Military
May 032012

Fabian Bollinger, a Swiss supporter of Philosophy in Action, recently e-mailed me the following inquiry about pursuing a military career when a draft is in force:

As I’ve probably mentioned a million times before, Switzerland has compulsory military service, and I’m about to do mine (July through April). I am confident that you agree that compulsory service is a bad thing. (It’s particularly vile, in that if you can’t do military service, you have to pay compensation; this while they continually have to find new tasks for our military to do because they’ve already maxed out on the actual training they’re willing to do. In other words, there’s not even a semblance of an excuse of national security necessity, but they insist they’re entitled to your slave labor regardless.)

Now if I can withstand the first couple of weeks (and that’s a serious if), there’s the possibility of “continuing”, that is pursuing a higher rank. This seems quite attractive for a number of reasons: higher pay, more prestige, more brains required and exercised, more responsibility, etc. What attracts me particularly is that this way, instead of mindlessly accepting orders from above and be talked to, I actually get to set the tone and respectfulness of conversation myself, and I get to say so when I have a better idea, etc.

Are those valid reasons to choose this path in your opinion? (Once again, assuming I still want anything to with the military after the first couple of weeks.) Or am I sanctioning a system of slave labor by voluntarily putting myself in a position where I’m giving out orders to coerced recruits? Or am I overthinking this a little..?

I had to think on the question for a little while, as the answer didn’t seem obvious to me. Here’s what I wrote in reply a few days later:

You’re right that I think that compulsory military service is abhorrent, particularly when it’s not even required for national security. Now for the meaty question:

I don’t think that it’s morally wrong to pursue a career — or part of a career or advancement — in a military system that involves the draft. Military work is a valid type of work: it’s not like being a mob boss. The fact that people are drafted is not your moral responsibility in the slightest, so long as you oppose it. It’s something that’s forced on you and everyone else.

So I’d only say that it would be immoral (1) if you’re obliged to speak or write in favor of the draft against your will — or if you do that willingly or (2) if you relish the prospect of making the lives of draftees particularly miserable, knowing that they can’t do anything about it.

The second clearly wouldn’t be any kind of problem for you — that would be very psychologically twisted. And it doesn’t sound like the first would be issue either. So… go for it!

I hope that’s helpful!

I’d be interested in any thoughts on this matter, particularly from people with experience in the military, particularly in countries with a draft.

(FYI: Normally, I don’t answer e-mail questions of this kind… except from people who are regular contributors to Philosophy in Action. Even for regular contributors, I can’t make any guarantees, but I will do my best!)

Aug 242010

I heard about this disturbing case via the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Here’s part of the initial report posted to Truthout:

Pvt. Anthony Smith is the type of guy who stands up for what he believes in. That’s why he decided to hold his commanding officers accountable for punishing him and fellow soldiers after they refused to attend an evangelical Christian rock concert at the Fort Eustis military post in Virginia.

After a day of training at Fort Eustis, Smith and other trainees were normally released to have personal time, but on May 13, Smith and dozens of others were “required” to march in formation to a concert headlined by an evangelical Christian rock band. Smith spent six months training at Fort Eustis before moving to Arizona to serve on active duty with the National Guard.

“No option was presented to us off the bat,” Smith told Truthout about the required concert.

The Commanding General’s Spiritual Fitness Concert that Smith and others were told to attend was headlined by BarlowGirl, a “band of tender-hearted, beautiful young women who aren’t afraid to take an aggressive, almost warrior-like stance when it comes to spreading the gospel and serving God,” according to the group’s web site.

Even worse, soldiers were discouraged from filing a complaint about the incident. Even apart from the coercion of these soldiers, why oh why is our military hosting and paying for a “Spiritual Fitness Concerts” promoting evangelical Christianity? Here’s a bit on that:

The brainchild of Maj. Gen. Chambers, the Commanding General’s Spiritual Fitness Concert series was created at Fort Eustis when he was the commanding general there. In June 2008, Chambers brought the Christian concert series to Fort Lee, when he became its commanding general.

The point behind the concert series was to connect to young soldiers. “The easiest way to get to Soldiers today is through a phone or music,” Chambers told Fort Lee Public Affairs back in 2008. “Through those means, you can change behavior, and that’s what I’m looking forward to more than anything else.”

There isn’t much doubt that the concert series promotes religious belief. Chambers admitted as much to Fort Lee Public Affairs. “The idea is not to be a proponent for any one religion,” he said. “It’s to have a mix of different performers with different religious backgrounds.”

But Smith says he hasn’t heard of any act performing who wasn’t Christian. “I never once heard of a Muslim event or an atheist event,” he said. “The vast majority of them have to be Christian events.”

According to MRFF, the DoD has spent at least $300,000 on Christian musical acts for these events. For instance, since 2008, the DoD has paid $125,000 to the Street Level Artists Agency, which describes its mission as “Christian radicals … bringing the Gospel into the rock ‘n roll vernacular of the common man,” for performances at Forts Eustis and Lee since 2008, according to records on The agency represents Christian performers like David Phelps and Phil Keaggy, both of whom have played the concert series.

I hate to say it, but our military seems to be operating under the motto of “onward Christian soldiers.” That’s seriously disturbing.

John Lewis Interview in USN&WR

 Posted by on 31 March 2010 at 2:00 pm  History, Military
Mar 312010

The March 4, 2010 issue of US News & World Report has a nice interview with John Lewis on his new book Nothing Less Than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History.

Here’s a sample:

Why should nations go to war?

The actual goal of war, what we want, what we’re after when we fight, shouldn’t be the destruction of the hostile world. The reason we’re fighting… is because another side has decided to attack. The purpose of a war is to reverse that hostile decision. What we were after in Japan in 1945—and in Germany, for that matter—was to end those countries’ drives for aggressive military dominance.

(Read the full article.)

A World without Nuclear Weapons?

 Posted by on 8 January 2010 at 9:00 am  Foreign Policy, Military
Jan 082010

In the Fall 2009 issue of Daedalus, economist Thomas Schelling asks what would happen if President Obama had his way and we had a “A World Without Nuclear Weapons?

Schelling argues that, contrary to the optimists like Obama, the world would become far more unstable and dangerous.

One big problem is that the knowledge of how to create and deploy nuclear weapons wouldn’t disappear. Hence, if the major nuclear powers did decide to eliminate their active stockpiles, any global crisis would create a tremendous incentive for them to reconstitute and/or use their nukes as quickly as possible before hostile countries did the same.

Here are a couple of noteworthy excerpts from Schelling’s article:

Considering that enough plutonium to make a bomb could be hidden in the freezing compartment of my refrigerator, or to evade radiation detection could be hidden at the bottom of the water in a well, I think only the fear of a whistle-blower could possibly make success at all questionable.

I believe that a “responsible” government would make sure that fissile material would be available in an international crisis or war itself. A responsible government must at least assume that other responsible governments will do so.

The natural implication:

…[I]f, at the outset of what appears to be a major war, or the imminent possibility of major war, every responsible government must consider that other responsible governments will mobilize their nuclear weapons base as soon as war erupts, or as soon as war appears likely, there will be at least covert frantic efforts, or perhaps purposely conspicuous efforts, to acquire deliverable nuclear weapons as rapidly as possible.

The result would be greater global instability, rather than greater stability:

In summary, a “world without nuclear weapons” would be a world in which the United States, Russia, Israel, China, and half a dozen or a dozen other countries would have hair-trigger mobilization plans to rebuild nuclear weapons and mobilize or commandeer delivery systems, and would have prepared targets to preempt other nations’ nuclear facilities, all in a high-alert status, with practice drills and secure emergency communications. Every crisis would be a nuclear crisis, any war could become a nuclear war. The urge to preempt would dominate ; whoever gets the first few weapons will coerce or preempt. It would be a nervous world.

Part of the fallacy behind the desire for a “world without nuclear weapons” is the false notion that the evil resides within the weapons, rather than within the aggressors who would use them against us. (This is just a grander example of the same fallacy that drives many gun-control advocates.)

If a US President truly wanted a safer world, perhaps he should eliminate America’s enemies, rather than eliminating our means of striking against them.

(Link to the Schelling article via Marginal Revolution.)

Ethics In Wartime

 Posted by on 29 September 2009 at 4:00 am  Ethics, Military
Sep 292009

I don’t necessarily endorse this review of two particular philosophy books, but I did find this particular passage interesting:

…Take the old classroom chestnut about the runaway trolley: should you allow it to kill five workers on the track, or divert it onto another track where it would kill only one person? There is something comfortably abstract about this problem — it invites leisurely debate, since we know that it couldn’t actually happen to us.

But then Sandel turns to a real incident that took place in 2005. A Navy SEAL operating behind enemy lines in Afghanistan came across some unarmed goatherds: should he kill them, though they hadn’t done anything hostile, or let them go, and take the risk that they would warn the Taliban?

In a Hollywood movie, we know what the hero would do: he would be merciful and let the men live. And in fact, Sandel shows, Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell did let the goatherds go; then they alerted the Taliban, his unit was ambushed, and 19 American soldiers were killed.

It makes a pretty convincing case for killing innocent civilians, and Luttrell himself now regrets his impulse to do what seemed like justice: “It was the stupidest, most southern-fried, lamebrained decision I ever made in my life.”

If a war is morally justified, then the resulting deaths of any civilians of the opposing country are the moral responsibility of that country’s government.

For more on this topic, see:

Q & A with Ayn Rand on the Death of Innocents in War
and “Innocents In War?

Interesting Lessons About Urban Combat

 Posted by on 29 March 2009 at 11:01 pm  Military
Mar 292009

StrategyPage has a recent post summarizing some interesting lessons about urban combat from the US experience in Iraq and the Israeli experience in Gaza.

Here are a few excerpts:

…Tanks are a necessity, unless you want to take very high infantry losses (5-7 of your troops for every enemy soldier). The ratio of infantry to armor vehicles should vary from 30 to 100 infantrymen per tank.

…The most useful armored vehicle is the D-9 armored bulldozer. This beast is large enough, and powerful enough, to plow through buildings, or to shake buildings to set off booby traps or force civilians (and sometimes fighters) to clear out. You’ve got to protect the D-9 with infantry, as it is not invulnerable to anti-tank weapons.

…Deal with the underground. The sewers will be used by the enemy to move around. You will have to blow up portions of the sewer system. It’s not worth the casualties to go down and fight in the sewers.

…Snipers are the biggest problem, followed by machine-guns and booby traps. The troops have to learn to stay under cover at all times. And if they smoke at night, don’t do it anywhere that an enemy sniper can get a shot at you. Most snipers will be in the upper stories of buildings (but not the roofs where your helicopters can get at them.) A smart foe will booby trap the ground floor entrance and arrange for another escape route, so that if you send troops into the building, the sniper will escape and your guys will run into the trip wires and explosives. The antidote for this is to take the high ground first and use your own snipers to take out the enemy snipers. This is where night operations are essential. The sniper cannot hit what he can’t see, and enemy snipers will have a lot fewer clear shots at night. When you do encounter a sniper, take him out with your own snipers, or tank fire, or take the building he’s in down with a smart bomb.

…Flashlights are more valuable than you think. Make sure all the troops have them, and a good supply of fresh batteries.

…If the battle goes on for more than a few days, sleep becomes a weapon. Trained and disciplined troops are better able to get sufficient sleep to keep the battle going. These troops take turns fighting, and then sleeping. The undisciplined and poorly led enemy does not, or cannot, do this, and the enemy fighters become slower and sloppier because of the fatigue. This is an ancient technique. The Romans, two thousand years ago, trained their troops to engage in close combat for 10-15 minutes, then to fall back and rest, while another line of swordsmen advanced and went at the enemy (who got worn down quickly because they fought until killed, without being relieved by fresh fighters.)

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