A January 21 Los Angeles Times article on Iraq that led with an intertribal suicide bombing in Falluja ended twenty-six paragraphs later this way:
“The U.S. military also said in a statement that it had dropped 19,000 pounds of explosives on the farmland of Arab Jabour south of Baghdad. The strikes targeted buried bombs and weapons caches.
“In the last 10 days, the military has dropped nearly 100,000 pounds of explosives on the area, which has been a gateway for Sunni militants into Baghdad.”
Similarly, in a New York Times article that led with news of an American death from a roadside bomb was this sentence (stashed in its twenty-second paragraph):
“To help clear the ground, the military had dropped nearly 100,000 pounds of bombs to destroy weapons caches and I.E.D.’s.”
Both pieces started with “bombing” news, but the major bombing story of these past weeks–those 100,000 pounds of explosives that US planes dropped in a small area south of Baghdad–was simply an afterthought, though this is undoubtedly the most extensive use of air power in Iraq since the US invasion of 2003.
For those who know something about the history of air power, that 100,000 figure might have rung a small bell.
On April 26, 1937, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, the planes of the German Condor Legion destroyed the ancient Basque town of Guernica. More than 1,600 people may have died there as the Germans reputedly dropped about fifty tons, or 100,000 pounds, of explosives.
At Guernica, as in Arab Jabour seventy-one years later, no reporters were present when the explosives rained down. In the Spanish situation, however, four reporters in the nearby city of Bilbao, including George Steer of the Times of London, rushed to the scene of destruction. Steer’s first piece was headlined The Tragedy of Guernica and called the assault “unparalleled in military history.” As Steer made clear in his report, this had been an attack on a civilian population, a terror bombing. The self-evident barbarism of the event–the first massively publicized bombing of civilians–caused international horror. From it came perhaps the most famous painting of the last century, Picasso’s Guernica, as well as innumerable novels, plays, poems and other works of art.
Those last tag-on paragraphs in the LA Times piece tell us much about the intervening seventy-one years, which included the German bombing of Rotterdam and the blitz of London; the Japanese bombings of Chinese cities; the Allied firebombing of German cities; the American firebombing of Japanese cities; the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the cold war era of mutually assured destruction (MAD); massive US bombing campaigns against North Korea, North and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; American air power “victories” during the Gulf War and in Afghanistan; and the Bush Administration’s “shock and awe” assault on Iraq in March 2003. In those seven decades, the death toll and damage caused by war have increasingly been delivered to civilian populations.