11 November 2011 ~ 11 November 1911, today is the centennial of one hundred years of aerial bombing, the first example being the bombing of Turkish troops by Italian airplanes during the Italo-Turkish War in Libya in 1911. Some grenades hand held, dropped onto troops below. Aerial bombing is in fact incorrect as the launching of airborne missiles date back much further in time. Balloons have for instance been used by the Austrians when they beleaguered Venice in 1849 using unmanned balloons filled with explosives that could be triggered by electro-contacts using long wires (the idea of drones which are used in a more advanced way nowadays is born here). So today it is the centenary of airborne attacks by humans launching explosives from flying contraptions. The idea of airborne attack goes back into mythical times, though.
Seven years ago I made two visual scrolls telling the long story of aerial bombardment. The thunderbolts of Zeus thrown down from the Olympus, the ‘vajras’ of the Hindi Lord of Heaven and the God of War, Indra, the apocalyptical revelations of St John (“the stars of heaven fell unto the earth”), imagery of winged angels with revenging swords to punish earthly sinners, all these mythical tales and images of cruel gods and other divine beings, have later been translated into human warfare technology.
There are also ample examples of plans for warfare from above: – many made during the Napoleontic campaigns against England, with whole armies transported on gigantic ‘Montgonfliers’; – 17th century Italian priest and inventor Lana Terzi who designed an airship for war; – the Chinese – far before that – with all kind of launched flying devices that delivered fire into beleaguered cities; – huge kites that have been part of warfare from the Chinese and Japanese to Europeans, and in 1886 Jules Verne, who describes in one of his futuristic books the flying ship Albatros shooting down rebellious indigenous people in Africa…. All this and more can be seen in these two scrolls…
The second scroll depicts and describes the terrifying results of the advancement of the technology of destruction from the air, from a support of ground troops on battlefields during World War I to making whole cities into battlefields, changing the target from soldiers to civilians. The application of the theories of the Italian general Douhet with his 1921 publication “Il domino dell’area” (Domination from the air) where the ‘will of a nation’ is that what needs to be attacked, its civilian and cultural centers, this in order to cut war short, ideally just the threat of aerial bombing or hitting some example target would be enough for a nation to give up any resistance to another nation having superior air power. A doctrine that is exemplified on up to this very day by the United States Air Force. The devastation wrought over decades is immeasurable: by Italian air power in Ethiopia, Japanese airpower in China, German air force, starting in Spain and continuing over Poland, Yugoslavia, Netherlands, Great Britain, France and so on; early use of ‘air force’ to police “rebellious natives” from Sudan and Mesopotamia to Afghanistan by the Brits and later Anglo-American joint operations over the whole of Nazi occupied Europe, pioneering ‘terror bombings’ of vast cities, torching most of Germany’s cities, with only a few cases remembered: Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden. Arson from the air again in Japan by the American Air Force, generating possibly more victims during the fire bombing of Tokyo (estimates run from 80 to 160.000 dead), than the two atom-bombs that closed the curtains of the World War Theatre II on Hiroshima (estimates from 80.000to 160.000) and Nagasaki (60.000/180.000).
In 1995 I started to make a database of victims of aerial bombing and in 2003 a preliminary first overview has been put on line in PDF format. The real list is still in the making. My first research dating back to 1999 used a system of lowest, highest and most probable estimates of death toll from aerial war, resulted in a total of over one million of death and the devastation and erasure of over one thousand square kilometers of townscapes, …human habitat. This leaves out the rural bombardments during the wars fought in Korea and Indochina, the mining of land, the defoliation and poisening of forests, the breaking of dikes to inundate agricultural land.
Especially the Indochina Wars have resulted in widespread criticism of indiscriminate forms of aerial war fare, something the staffs of air forces and the weapon industry have been taken to heart in the last decades, resulting in endless propaganda representations of new “clean” and “precise” forms of force from the air. Precision bombardments are presented as ‘humanitarian’ having taken the place of primitive wholesale ‘carpet bombing’. Guided missiles do come to us with guided press campaigns to cover up what has widely come to be known as ‘collateral damage’, attempts at control of targeting goes together with control of news agencies with the ultimate military control instrument of the ’embedded journalist’, who signs away his/her independence for the comfortable war-spectacle offered by the military staff.
This text, meant as a short reminder, will expand beyond its boundaries when I would go in any further detail on the use of aerial power in the last three decades, Gulf Wars, Balkan Wars, Russian air force obliteration of the capital of Chechnya Grozny, Turkish raids into Kurdish rebellious areas, Sudanese civil war bombardments, Sri Lanka government attacks on Tamil strongholds, Israeli high tech bombings of Lebanon and Gaza in response to low tech rockets fired at Israel, and the continuing military test ground of Afghanistan having been battered from 1925 to this very day by the air forces of the British, the Soviets, American Air Force and NATO.Last Syria and Iran in the waiting room after ‘imperial’ aerial employments in Libya earlier this year.
We are one century from the moment that a grenade was dropped by hand from an Italian airplane circling over an oasis in the Libyan desert onto the heads of a few Ottoman soldiers. The Italian colonization of Libya that followed the break down of the Ottoman empire – at that time – created the circumstances that lead one century later to renewed usage of aerial power to force ou yet another reign, that of Gaddafi and his Green revolution. We may have progressed in technical sense a lo tin one hundred years, but politically speaking we have not yet freed ourselves of a system of crude imposture of imperial military power.
Scroll 1 = http://imaginarymuseum.org/OpenSKOR/UBWa.html
Context of scrolls = http://imaginarymuseum.org/OpenSKOR/index.html
Unbombing the world 1911-2011 project = http://imaginarymuseum.org/UBW/ubw01a.html