Comment Of The Week #3 on”Open Forum (11/11/22)” Re: Armistice Day

Other Bill raised another aspect of Armistice Day ethics: is there such a thing as war ethics? Ethics Alarms has barely touched on the subject, as I absorbed the values of my father on this topic among so many others. He believed, like General Sherman, that war was such hell that the only ethical way to fight it was in a manner that would end it as quickly as possible. Dad supported the dropping of the first atom bomb (he was less certain about the second), admittedly with a bias: he was preparing to be part of the U.S. invasion force when Hiroshima was destroyed. He strongly felt that the Nuremberg Trials were hypocritical, and our many debates and arguments about that controversy led to my directing “The Andersonville Trial” twice and producing “Judgment at Nuremberg” at my late, lamented professional theater company. My father also thought the Geneva Convention was unenforceable, disingenuous, and naive.

Here is Other Bill’s Comment of the Week from this week’s Open Forum:


Armistice Day has me thinking about war ethics. How’s that for an oxymoron? Russia has been getting crap for targeting civilian infrastructure, including apartment buildings and the electrical grid. There has been talk about the Russians destroying a dam to flood an area and deprive the Ukrainians of a river crossing.

What’s the deal? What did the U.S. destroy during shock and awe in Iraq? Other than regime change, why did the U.S. invade Iraq? During WWII, the Allied strategic bombing campaign, which included bombing cities, was intended in large part to “discomfit” the German populous, thereby reducing Germany’s industrial output (not to mention the firebombing of wooden Japanese cities, purporte ly to destroy dispersed manufacturing facilities). A famous British operation “busted” a dam and flooded large parts of the Ruhr flood plain.

Are rules different if you’re an aggressor as opposed to a defender? How is Russia’s reason for invading Ukraine any different from our invading Iraq? Are rules different if we’re the aggressor? Is consistency the hobgoblin of small minds?

Remembering Steve Gomez, our neighbor on 4th Terrace, one cut through lawn from our house on Fifth Street, a classmate of my brother at St. Michael’s for all eight grades, only child of Mr. Gomez, our neighborhood barber and husband of Mrs. Gomez, Steve’s mom, killed in action in Vietnam. Steve, we hardly knew you. I doubt you were even nineteen.

8 thoughts on “Comment Of The Week #3 on”Open Forum (11/11/22)” Re: Armistice Day

  1. Criticizing Russia bombings in Ukraine is valid in the context that bombing is overrated as a war strategy. We should know this by now because the bombings to “discomfit” generally doesn’t work (the Japan nukes were an exception, and even that is debatable). The targeted population’s resolve to win generally only hardens after a bombing. Bombing infrastructure has gotten better with targeted munitions, but the results are still limited, and no substitute for boots on the ground. Russia is finding this out the hard way, since much of Ukraine’s military assets are coming from outside the country. Hence much of the current blowing up they’re doing is for spite. For more detail I recommend this post:

    • I can heartily recommend Bret Deveraux’s blog. He has a number of excellent posts on a variety of subjects including history, military history, military tactics as applied in wargaming, a series on medieval bread production, and many more.

      I’m eager to read his take on strategic air power.

    • … Bombing infrastructure has gotten better with targeted munitions, but the results are still limited, and no substitute for boots on the ground…

      And vice versa: boots on the ground are no substitute for bombing and other uses of air power (done right).

      The thing is, air power works best when used in a complementary way as part of a combined arms approach. Britain pioneered using it as an alternative to punitive expeditions on the North-West Frontier, in which the idea wasn’t simply punishment but giving the targets a choice between applying their energies to raiding or to rebuilding shelter in time for winter. Post D-Day aircraft used rockets against tanks and guns against troop movements, which did little against either if they dug in (see Che Guevara on this) – but their digging in did everything to take them out of action against allied tanks and troop movements, and their not digging in took them out of action more directly and permanently (initial German success in the Battle of the Bulge rested in large part on taking advantage of a temporary lack of allied air cover). And it turned out that straight bombing worked very effectively if what you wanted was to compromise fuel resources and logistics bases (which Dresden never had been earlier in the Second World War, but became once the Eastern Front got close enough). It mainly comes down to forcing a strategic or tactical choice on the enemy, neither leg of which is good for him.

      There are other complementary uses of air power too, e.g. in air resupply of flying columns, but those aren’t really what this issue is about, just here.

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