Lately I have been reading Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker’s pacifist history of the beginning of World War II. Although I don’t find Baker’s main argument – that Britain might have provoked Germany into war – convincing, I find the book interesting nonetheless. Among other things it’s always good to be reminded that Roosevelt and Churchill were not the saints that are often portrayed in popular culture.
One thing that Baker makes clear is that going back to the First World War, and possibly even earlier, military planners regarded the aerial bombardment of civilian populations to be a legitimate tool of warfare. Indeed, some of them seemed to eagerly look forward to this prospect. (Churchill once expressed disappointment that World War I ended before Britain could try out its new bombers.) The idea was that bombings will break a people’s will to fight. Yet if there is one thing that we should have learned from the twentieth century, it is that bombings do not break a people’s will to fight. Britain’s bombing of Germany did not break the Germans’ will to fight, nor did Germany’s bombing of Britain break the will of the British to fight. The US’s bombing of Japan did not break the will of the Japanese to fight. The US’s bombing of North Vietnam did not break the will of the Vietnamese to fight.
And so Israel’s bombing of Gaza has not broken the will of the Gazans to fight. We seem to learn nothing from history.