The Failure of Force


During the Blitz of London in World War II, one wag was heard to suggest a deal with the Germans whereby the British would bomb London and the Germans Berlin getting the same result but saving on fuel. The story might not be widely known, or even true, but the image of the stoic Londoner coping with nightly bombing has endured through the decades. In fact, widespread bombing of civilians was practised by both sides to sap morale, but often with the opposite result.


And at what cost to civilian life? US Air Force General Curtis LeMay said after the War that had the Allies lost, he would have been tried as a war criminal. As it was, Germans were tried. For their part, as occupiers, they had found that nothing they did for or to local populations from rewards and infrastructure, to brutal collective punishment quashed the resistance to their occupation.

And what, we shouldn’t forget, was a major cause of World War II in the first place? The rise of radical nationalism in Germany, fuelled by the oppressive surrender conditions forced on a proud nation two decades earlier after World War I.

Fast-forward a few years the Japanese surrender leaves a power vacuum on the Korean peninsula; in the North, administered by the USSR, communists who had resisted the Japanese occupation step in, while in the US-administered South, ‘democrats’ (most of whom had collaborated with the decidedly undemocratic Japanese) are supported by the US. War ensues. Overwhelming air superiority allows the US to destroy the North’s 78 major cities and towns, several dams and many agricultural targets, killing an estimated 30 per cent of the population.

For what result? A ceasefire negotiated on the 38th parallel almost the same line as the initial division.

This was tried again in South-East Asia. Estimates vary of the numbers killed by bombing in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos some millions is the most accurate number we have, with many more scarred. Did this allow Western sympathisers in these countries to form governments in the face of local resistance? And were they still Western sympathisers after areas of their countries had been turned into something resembling a ‘lunar landscape,’ as journalist Nayan Chanda  observed of Laos’s Plain of Jars?

Away from bombing for a moment, official reports from England have admitted that country’s role in a reign of murder and terror in Northern Ireland. This included running double agents in both Catholic and Protestant organisations, resulting in deliberate and indiscriminate shooting of civilians, as well as torture and other nastiness. The unit responsible for this renamed the Joint Support Group is now operating with the same tactics in Iraq.

Obviously, just as the UN sanctions (the ones that prompted Madeleine Albright’s remark that 500,000 child deaths were ‘worth it’) didn’t force Saddam’s overthrow, the ‘shock and awe’ bombings hasn’t shocked and awed the Sunni resistance into accepting foreign occupation.

Aftermath of the London Blitz

And what of the world’s longest-running occupation: Palestine? Almost six decades in, Palestinian groups continue to launch rocket attacks against Israelis. Last year, according to the UN, around 1800 rockets were launched, for a total of 17 Israeli civilian deaths. In contrast, the Israelis fired over 14,000 shells into the Occupied Territories from artillery (which does not include tanks and ships), while helicopter attacks and sonic bombing kept Gaza in constant fear and insomnia. Several hundred deaths is the UN count.

On top of this, the blockade of Palestinian revenues and Palestinian workers from their rightful destinations, in conjunction with the bombing of ambulances, power plants and other civilian targets, has been intended to pressure the Palestinians into ceasing their resistance to Israel’s occupation of their lands. But the rockets and suicide bombers continue.

A Pentagon representative and a NATO general actually admitted that this was the idea in Serbia as well: that the destruction of civilian infrastructure and lives would eventually force people to overthrow their government it didn’t. Much the same was tried by Israel against Hezbollah last northern summer. The results? Not only did the Lebanese not rise up against Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah’s star has shone the brighter across the Arab world.

Now the US is threatening Iran, possibly with nuclear strikes. Currently, the Sunni and Shi’a worlds have their divisions. Will an attack on Iran, especially a nuclear attack, cow a proud people with a civilisation millennia old? Or might it unite Muslims across the Middle East, not just against the US but against the West?

History throws up many acts of subjugation like these, from colonial oppression in Algeria, Kenya and the Middle East to apartheid in South Africa. In the early glow of the post-colonial, post-World War II world, many people didn’t believe that subjugation was morally justifiable. Many pragmatists and vested interests, of course, disagreed, and now we can see a creeping new form of colonialism.

Even if we put the moral question aside, however, what cannot be argued is the lack of efficacy of aggression and oppression. They can set back a country’s or a people’s development by decades (this is enough justification for some believers in the hierarchy of countries, even if a war is ‘lost’ see Vietnam). But have any of the huge costs incurred resulted in the breaking of a people, the sapping of their will to resist? No. Have they created more enemies? Undoubtedly.

Why does each generation of government commit new atrocities believing that ‘this time it will work’? And why do we let them?

There are laws against unprovoked aggression all it takes is the will to prosecute.

It is clear to everybody now and should have been beforehand that the invasion of Iraq was based on falsehoods and conducted for resources and geopolitics, as many other wars have been. In fact, Bejamin Ferenccz, a chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, has called the Iraq War the war crime that it is.

It is also clear, if we dig deeper than the day’s news broadcasts, that the US’s current aggressive posture against Iran is based on falsehoods, and aims to subjugate a resource-rich, geopolitically strategic country. Will more people die for falsehoods, for resources, for preservation of the status quo? Will their country take this aggression without responding? Or will thousands or millions more enemies be created enemies who will have nothing against you personally but will attack your country, your economy, your friends and your family, as your country has attacked theirs?

Will this happen in your name?

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.