Wednesday, January 07, 2009

An Epiphany Meditation

Regarding the current situation in Gaza:

There is a chilling and nearly bloodless (which makes it chilling) point to examine here, and that's the "success" of "modern warfare."

It was once imagined the ability to drop bombs from the air would create a huge tactical advantage. That supposedly worked in World War II, although it still took ground troops to subdue Germany, and post-war studies indicate those who were bombed grew more resistant to the invaders (as did the Londoners during the Blitz), not less resistant. The only counter-example is supposedly the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but no one seems willing to repeat that experiment again. Certainly bombing doesn't seem to provide the complete advantage anymore, even as modern military technology comes more and more to rely on the delivery of bombs and missiles as the ultimate end of weapons systems. "Shock and awe" in Iraq didn't destroy the resistance. And despite an intensive bombing campaign in Gaza, Israel had to invade to stop Hamas from firing rockets.

And it still hasn't. But it has drawn unrelenting criticism for its actions. Mostly because the bombing is killing so many non-combatants, something that was deplorable when Germany did it to London, but not so bad by the time the Allies could return the favor. Still, despite bombing one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, Israel has only killed 600+ people, and hasn't subdued its foe one iota. (Neither, it should be pointed out, has Hamas; though the military argument, presumably, would be that Hamas lacks the firepower to impose its will on Israel.)

Why isn't technology (i.e., missiles and bombs) winning wars anymore? Or at least battles? And what does this say about the modern military state? What, indeed, does it say about the power of military power? Have things really changed that much since overwhelming force of arms, as employed by Genghis Khan, or Alexander, or Rome, or even the raiding parties of the clans who sang the story of Beowulf, was the rule? Have we really advanced warfare beyond the need for individuals bearing arms who can overwhelm other individuals, who are bearing arms or not?

It seems Hardy was right, in an ironic sense he didn't intend:

Christmas: 1924, by Thomas Hardy

Peace upon earth!' was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas.

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