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L. Neil Smith's
Number 693, October 21, 2012

"We are compelled to choose between voting for the lesser
of two or three or four evils and not voting at all"

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Reguarding "Bravely Bombing the Boche: The Morality of Killing Civilians" by Sean Gabb
by Rich Matarese

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

"Bravely Bombing the Boche: The Morality of Killing Civilians" by Sean Gabb was published in our previous issue—Editor

If only the moral character of the strategic bombing offensives undertaken by the Allies during World War Two were that simple.

Whenever I read second-guessing about whether there had been justification for the indiscriminate aerial attacks upon civilian populations during that conflict, I know for certain that the authors of these exercises in after-the-fact hand wringing know nothing whatsoever about the realities of warfare, particularly as these realities manifested in the 19th and 20th Century guerre à l'outrance involving the mobilizations of whole nations in arms.

There's truth in the old saying that amateurs consider warfare as tactics while professionals focus on logistics. Let's try to rise above the question of whether the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian population centers is moral and ask instead to what extent the actions of Bomber Command (and the strategic bombardment assets of the U.S. Army Air Forces) had any effect upon the outcome of hostilities in Europe from 1939 through 1945.

The war-waging assets of the Luftwaffe were of enormous importance to the military success of Nazi Germany and the Axis powers subordinate to NSDAP operations and objectives. In every theater of action where those men and machines were able to function without effective opposition, ground warfare was conducted to the overwhelming advantage of the German Wehrmacht.

To resist Nazi attack and to defeat Axis arms in the field, the aerial combat capability of Germany and its allies had to be engaged, countered, degraded, and destroyed. No question about that. But how to do it? Particularly in the years immediately following the fall of France, there was no way for the Western allies to engage land warfare that posed a direct danger to the Nazi heartland, and therefore bring the Luftwaffe to battle.

This gave German (and other Axis) military aviation assets the liberty to attack and defend wherever needed. Historically illiterate hand-wringers have no goddam idea how mobile were tactical air forces during World War Two. The flexible firepower conferred by the German Luftflotte was an advantage the German general staff officers again and again proved themselves capable of leveraging.

Leaving the Wehrmacht commanders the freedom to shift the bases of these bombers and fighters from one point of attack or defense to another was simply not an option. They had to be fixed in place, forced to fight, and if not utterly destroyed, they had to be prevented from making their impact felt against Allied offensives elsewhere.

And offensive warfare against the Axis had to be undertaken. The strategic defensive can't win a war. You must attack.

Military aviation is over a century old, and throughout these decades, combat fliers have understood the concept of "the Golden BB." Every aircraft is vulnerable to a single projectile properly placed. One bullet, one scrap of shrapnel, one goddamned bird hitting an airplane in one key location can and will bring it down.

The Nazi Luftwaffe was a hideously potent tool at the command of the Axis military, but it was relatively fragile and it was unspeakably expensive to build and operate, both in terms of material resources and skilled personnel. Force the Nazi high command to commit those men and materiel to defensive operations in areas far removed from the battlefield, put enough "Golden BBs" in the air against them, and it becomes possible to deprive the Nazi war machine of that deadly capacity.

The strategic aerial offensive against the Axis wasn't simply engaged against the enemy's industrial war-waging capabilities but also to compel the diversion of aircraft, guns, technical expertise, and manpower to increasingly costly defensive operations. Every gun crew member manning a Flak battery throwing shells at Bomber Command aircraft, night after night, was not available to support an artillery unit in the field, firing howitzer shells at attacking Allied ground troops. Every German fighter pilot engaged against Lancasters and Liberators over the Fatherland was not available for battlefield air superiority missions anywhere else.

Axis combat air power could not be left unengaged. Bomber Command had to cross the Channel and the North Sea, night after night, to slaughter and be slaughtered, just as the men of the Eighth and Ninth and Fifteenth U.S. Air Forces had to go forth by day. They had to draw the Luftwaffe into a defensive fight, giving the Nazi generals no choice but to expend their material and human resources, to feed their combat strength into the fire over their homeland, both to prevent its use against the Allied armies and to destroy it by attrition.

The Luftwaffe had to be drawn into battle, and the only way to accomplish this was to make of the entire Nazi homeland - all their cities, all their industries, all their transportation net, the whole of their power grid, everything - Sun Tzu's "deadly ground."

As for "morality," well.... Inter armes, silent leges, and there's an end to it.

Win and you can wring your hands afterwards. Lose, and the enemy will leave no eye open to weep.

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