Governing From The Skies: A Global History of Aerial Bombing
by Thomas Hippler (Verso, £14.99)
by Gordon Parsons
Morning Star | 20 February, 2017
IN THIS global history of aerial bombing, philosopher and historian Thomas Hippler traces the development of air power in warfare from the “police-bombing,” by which imperialist powers controlled colonial peoples in the early years of the last century, to the present daily use of drones by the US to assert its declining influence.
It is doubtful whether Donald Trump will cancel Barack Obama’s weekly “bloody Thursday” White House briefings approving the list of people to be killed in the next seven days.
After a fairly brief period of air warfare, when the knights of the sky heroically matched up to each other, the stalemate of WWI saw the aeroplane become a key weapon, attacking not only the contending army but their support structures behind the lines, including the morale of the population.
As Hippler has it, “Aerial bombing thus became an essential element of ‘total war’ in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.”
Unlike colonial subjects, European citizens had previously been treated as non-combatants. Now war had become “democratised.”
From Dresden to Aleppo, no holds have been barred. But although the bomb is neutral and can destroy anyone, those who select the targets are not.
The people as a whole were now in the firing line but “some are more part of the people than others, given that class differentiation holds a determining place in air strategy … it is workers above all who are singled out, for reasons both technological and political.”
Hippler recognises that since the French revolution, “war between nations has always hidden a class war.”
He argues that the Establishment powers’ awareness of the revolutionary dangers in destroying the social framework of a state led to the need to demonstrate to the populace that “we’re all in it together.”
Consequently, in WWII both Germany and Britain provided air raid shelters and, in the latter case, introduced welfare systems which became foundations of the post-war deal with the people.
The newly developed national “social state became capable of actively taking responsibility for class conflict and absorbing it” and, as Hippler pithily observes: “bombing is the hell of a world whose paradise is social security.”
This fascinating book shows how the development of flight and the consequent dominant role of airpower in warfare has had a profound influence on our modern world.
With the technical advent of the hunter-killer drone “the people, the principle entity of politics, has become the principle target” of a “perpetual, low intensity war directly linked to a global war machine that goes beyond states.”
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