The Role of Hate

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

Terror bombing — pardon, strategic bombing — failed to terrorize its victims into submission. David Grossman (On Killing) suggests that this is because a fear of danger doesn’t cause psychiactric casualties without a fear of hate:

Airpower advocates persist in their support of strategic bombing campaigns (which are rooted in an attrition warfare mentality), even in the face of evidence such as the post-World War II Strategic Bombing Survey, which, in the words of Paul Fussell, ascertained that: “German military and industrial production seemed to increase — just like civilian determination not to surrender — the more bombs were dropped.” Historically. aerial and artillery bombardments are psychologically effective, but only in the front lines when they are combined with the Wind of Hate as manifested in the threat of the physical attack that usually follows such bombardments.

This is why there were mass psychiatric casualties resulting from World War II artillery bombardments, but World War II’s massed bombing of cities was surprisingly counterproductive in breaking the enemy’s will. Such bombardments without an accompanying close-range assault, or at least the threat of such an assault, are ineffective and may even serve no other purpose than to stiffen the resolve of the enemy!

This is why putting friendly troop units in the enemy’s rear is infinitely more important and effective than even the most comprehensive bombardments in his rear, or attrition along his front. This argues strongly for a doctrine similar to the World War II German principle of the Kesselschlacht (i.e., a constant striving for decisive action in the enemy rear) as an essential element in obtaining decisive victory. In this doctrine the Aufrollen (i.e., rolling up the flanks after making a penetration) becomes a secondary operation which is conducted solely to support the Schwerpunkt or the main thrust, which is flexibly directed into the enemy’s center of gravity by the commander’s intent.

In the Korean War the U.S. Army experienced the psychological effectiveness of an enemy who directed penetrations and surprise attacks behind our own lines. During the early years of that war, the rate of psychiatric casualties was almost seven times higher than the average rate for World War II. Only after the war settled down, lines stabilized, and the threat of having enemy forces in the rear areas decreased did the average incidence of psychiatric casualties go down to slightly less than that of World War II. Later, when U.N. forces were able to penetrate and threaten the enemy’s rear area during the Inchon landing, these same processes began to work in their favor.

Even in the ideal bombing grounds of the barren deserts of the 1991 Gulf War, where for over a month the full weight of American, British, French, Canadian, and Italian airpower was brought to bear on the conscript soldiers of a Third World despot, enemy units did not and would not surrender in large numbers until faced with maneuver units on the ground and in their rear.


  1. James James says:

    “enemy units did not and would not surrender in large numbers until faced with maneuver units on the ground and in their rear.”

    Grossman’s psychological interpretation seems less likely than the standard practical interpretation.

    The standard interpretation of this is that you can’t achieve strategic objectives purely through airpower — you need boots on the ground. For example, NATO bombed Serbia for weeks with little result until they started talking about a ground force. One reason is that without boots on the ground, there’s no one to surrender to.

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