Giving Obama His Due




From the New York Times Sat. 1/16/16…. This should start a worthwhile dialogue about the quiet impact of the unprecedented Obama Presidency.
Timothy Egan new York times Jan. 16, 2016

I still hold onto a couple of magazine covers and newspaper front pages, despite their preservation in the digital afterlife, marking the moment when a nation that had embraced African-American slavery chose a black man to be its president.
Barack Obama’s election in 2008 swept “away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease,” The New York Times reported. The New Yorker, with its cover of a glowing Lincoln Memorial, heralded “the resurgence of America’s ability to astonish and inspire.” They sensed “the beginning of a new era.”
You couldn’t help thinking of these trumpets of hope while watching the graying head of the president on Tuesday night. As he walked to the exit, he turned to soak in the scene of his final State of the Union address. “Let me take one more look at this thing,” he said.
By any objective measurement, his presidency has been perhaps the most consequential since Franklin Roosevelt’s time. Ronald Reagan certainly competes with Obama for that claim. But on the night of Reagan’s final State of the Union speech in 1988, when he boasted that “one of the best recoveries in decades” should “send away the hand-wringers and doubting Thomases,” the economic numbers were not as good as those on Obama’s watch.

At no time in Reagan’s eight years was the unemployment rate lower than it is today, at 5 percent — and this after Obama was handed the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression. Reagan lauded a federal deficit at 3.4 percent of gross national product. By last fall, Obama had done better than that, posting a deficit of 2.5 percent of G.D.P.
Still, Obama can shape only so much of his own legacy. A big part of the 44th president’s place in the national narrative will depend on what happens to the forces of darkness that were unleashed in his time — things that can’t be quantified by a government agency.

Much of the country is now more openly intolerant, quick to hate and nasty. One reaction to Obama has been the rise of an opposition party that is a home for xenophobes, defeatists and alarmists. They are the Eeyore Party with a snarl. As we heard again during the Republican debate on Thursday, Obama’s opponents are drawn to the “siren call of the angriest voices,” as Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina artfully put it. If the majority follows those voices, the Obama presidency will shoulder a sizable amount of the blame.
Is that really his fault? Did his presidency give rise to a bigoted billionaire with know-nothing followers? Part of the ugliness seems a reaction to the straitjacket of political correctness, which preceded Obama, and got worse in some corridors, mainly academia. But it may also be that the country was not ready for a transformational president; rather than sweep away the last racial barrier, his years in office showed just how deep-rooted the sentiment behind those barriers remains.

These are tricky questions, ones that cannot be answered with certainty. But give Obama, the rare politician who is prone to honest self-reflection, credit for raising the issues himself. One of the “regrets of my presidency,” he said on Tuesday, was that the “rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”
Could Obama, with that first-class intellect to go with a first-class temperament, with that pitch-perfect sense of humor, have been a better schmoozer and deal maker? Certainly. He was never very good at hiding his condescension for Republican leaders. But that party was united in a single goal — to defeat him at every turn.

This Congress is done with him. That was as clear as the blank prairie stare on the face of House Speaker Paul Ryan. What was a dysfunctional, bickering relationship is now a divorce. Call in the lawyers. Obama could propose Grandmother Appreciation Day and not get a single vote from Republicans because, well, he proposed it.

On policy, then, Obama has been a remarkable doer, though you wouldn’t know it from the curiously inept self-promotional apparatus of his White House. The swagger we saw from this president on Tuesday — saying, “anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” and “if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change have at it, you’ll be pretty lonely” — was absent most of the last seven years.

But on the mastery of changing hearts and minds, the “ability to astonish and inspire,” he falls short. His presidency, as of now, has not been transformational. He has 370 more days, or thereabouts, to make a dent in a hard history.

How Progressives Can—and Must—Regain the Moral High Ground




The Nation

How Progressives Can—and Must—Regain the Moral High Ground
In the South, we’re building a broad, new movement rooted in right and wrong, not left and right.
By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber IITODAY 5:00 AM

National movement: Rev. William Barber (center) speaks to media at a Moral Monday rally in Albany, New York, in 2014.
National movement: Rev. William Barber (center) speaks to media at a Moral Monday rally in Albany, New York, in 2014. (Courtesy of North Carolina NAACP)

After the Civil War, when the peace had been won and Reconstruction had begun, The Nation sent a writer through the South to report on the fledgling democracy. Both the heirs of William Lloyd Garrison and the new black citizens of Dixie understood that winning the South could mean a new America. Fifty years ago, when the South stood in the throes of a Second Reconstruction, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. filed reports on the civil-rights movement for this publication. King sought not only to document the South as it was, but to envision the nation as it should be. “Throughout our history, the moral decision has always been the correct decision,” he insisted. And the struggle for that moral decision, King added, was being waged in the South.
Fifty years later, it is easy for progressives to write off the South. Whatever flag flies over them, statehouses across Dixie harbor extremists who have gerrymandered voting districts and, now freed from the Voting Rights Act, have launched a raft of new anti-voting legislation. To many liberals, these George Wallace look-alikes are precisely what the South’s new Duck Dynasty deserves. In any case, the conventional wisdom goes, the struggle for the South is hopeless.

I beg to differ. As a preacher rooted in the Southern freedom movement, I find myself strangely hopeful at the beginning of 2016. Like Dr. King, I hold this hope as a moral conviction and a practical concern. But I, too, do not hold it without attention to the South as it is.

As in America’s First and Second Reconstructions, the South is crucial—and winnable—today. It matters not only because it is a region where American democracy has been envisioned, embattled, lost, and won for more than a century. It matters also because hard data, like those outlined in a 2014 Center for American Progress report, suggest that “registering just 30 percent of eligible unregistered black voters or other voters of color could shift the political calculus in a number of Black Belt states.” In North Carolina and elsewhere, black voters now turn out at percentages rivaling those of white voters, which is remarkable given the socioeconomic realities of the racial landscape. President Obama won North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida in 2008, and only narrowly lost North Carolina in 2012. Latino turnout rises every election cycle in North Carolina. And issues like healthcare, voting rights, and public education have sparked new “fusion” coalitions. If people of color in the South can learn to utter and understand new languages, a reshaped political landscape is possible through coalitions with Latinos, the LGBTQ community, labor, and religious progressives.

* * *

The question is not whether CNN will see this, but whether progressives themselves will see it. The patches of the fusion coalition in the South lie all around us: Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, the Equality Federation, Southerners On New Ground, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, and progressive churches. But progressives and liberals must learn not to throw away the moral high ground and walk away from religious discourse. At the heart of faith is love, justice, fairness, and a measure of mercy for all people. Many people get to a social ethos grounded in love by way of ethical reasoning or political tradition. But we must not write off the millions, from Baptists to Buddhists, who get there by way of a myriad of faith traditions.

Over the past decade here in North Carolina, we have witnessed the power of moral dissent to challenge the forces of injustice. Our adversaries have hijacked the concept of morality and shifted it to such personal matters as abortion and homosexuality. But by taking back the moral high ground on issues like Medicaid, voting rights, and poverty, our Moral Mondays movement won the support of a dozen major religious denominations and rallied tens of thousands in the streets of our cities and towns.

Though Democrats narrowly lost the 2014 US Senate race in North Carolina, our coalition mobilized voters of color at record levels. More than a thousand civil-disobedience arrests kept our issues in the news, which drove opinion polls sharply in our direction. The extremist legislature’s approval ratings fell to as low as 17 percent. The South as it is demands that we learn to hear and speak languages not our own in a fusion coalition that can usher in a Third Reconstruction.

This is why progressives must learn to “speak in tongues” toward a new political Pentecost, because the issues we face in 2016 are not matters of left and right; instead, they are matters of right and wrong. What religious tradition urges its devotees to fleece the poor and destroy public schools? What concept of God informs the believer that it is right to turn hungry children away from preschool programs where they can get a head start in life and a nutritious breakfast, or to deny poor children medical care and dentistry? What Scripture permits the beating of prisoners or refuses a person a fair trial? We have a genuine moral vision, and it is time that we embraced it.

* * *

Ten years ago, I became president of the North Carolina NAACP, promising to move us “from banquets to battle.” We soon learned something important about North Carolina: There wasn’t a huge crowd standing together in any one place, but if you added up all the different groups who were standing for their justice issues, the potential base for a coalition was large.

So we sketched a list of 14 justice “tribes” in North Carolina: folks committed to public schools, a living wage, access to healthcare, environmental justice, immigrant rights, redress for black and poor women forcibly sterilized in state institutions, the public financing of elections, affordable housing, and better funding for historically black colleges and universities. We had people battling discrimination in hiring, the death penalty, and the glaring injustice of our criminal-justice system. These tribes consisted of committed people who’d been working on their issues for years. Some had been able to mobilize thousands of people for a particular event, especially when their issue was a hot news item. What could happen, we asked, if we all came together for a People’s Assembly in the state capital?

Representatives of 160 organizations showed up and identified their issues. Then we asked them to list their enemies and obstacles. Though our issues varied, we all recognized the same forces opposing us. What’s more, we saw something we hadn’t had a space to talk about before: There were more of us than there were of them.

This was the beginning of North Carolina’s moral movement. We built power for seven years, winning several victories in coalition with other progressives. We passed same-day on-site voter registration and early voting before electing Barack Obama in 2008, thereby breaking the Republicans’ “Solid South,” which national strategists had relied on since Nixon’s 1968 Southern strategy.


This victory inspired the well-financed backlash that brought our movement national attention. When Republicans spent $30 million to take control of state legislatures in 2010, we saw their plan in action: Here in North Carolina, they defunded state government through a flat tax that increased the burden on poor people while giving the wealthiest a windfall; denied federally funded healthcare to half a million people; rejected federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 workers and their families; made dramatic cuts to public education; deregulated industries with a demonstrated record of environmental abuse; proposed a constitutional amendment to deny equal protection to gay and lesbian citizens; and passed the worst voter- suppression bill that America has seen in half a century.

In response, our Moral Mondays protests emerged as the largest state-focused civil-disobedience campaign in US history, because our coalition saw that this attack on North Carolina wasn’t just about us and our well-being. As the national electorate shifts to become majority nonwhite, reactionaries who would hold onto power have decided to remake government at the state level, especially in the South. On the ground in North Carolina, we’ve seen their agenda for the nation.

* * *

We stand together because we have learned in practice the importance of our shared history. Fusion politics emerged in the late 1860s, right after the Civil War, when blacks and whites together created a new electorate in the South. They rewrote state constitutions, guaranteed voting rights, and defended equal protection under the law. Fusion coalitions expanded labor rights and pushed progressive tax reforms to build the first public-school systems and address the economic injustices created by slavery. The same fusion spirit animated movements in several Southern states into the 1890s, when white conservatives, unable to beat them at the polls, crushed them with violence.

If these extremists are cagey enough to work together, we should be shrewd enough to unite against them.
Again in the 1950s and ’60s, fusion politics took on Jim Crow segregation. Blacks, whites, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, students, and labor unions united to create a new kind of politics: Rooted in opposition to racism and poverty, the new fusion movement displayed a deeply moral center along with a commitment to nonviolent direct action. The right to vote was essential, but the movement was far larger than that, standing against what Dr. King called the “thingification” of human beings and creating what he termed a new “sense of somebody-ness.” It won legal victories like Brown v. Board of Education and legislative milestones like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. None of this would have been possible, of course, without strategy in the streets.

Fusion history teaches us to see strength in coalition. Much like the First and Second Reconstructions, the forces fighting us on voting rights, educational equality, and racial disparities in the criminal-justice system are the same ones behind the attacks on LGBTQ rights. The advocates of huge tax cuts for the wealthy and greater burdens on everyone else are the same ones pursuing a new Jim Crow through voter-suppression bills and race-based redistricting. They are the forces refusing to expand Medicaid and driving the resegregation of our public schools. If these extremists are cagey enough to work together, we should be shrewd enough to unite against them. None of us can wait until our special issue is under fire and then try to rally the people.
We must commit to 21st-century fusion politics and build a multicolored movement. “I go back to the South,” Dr. King said, and we must see that our future is down in Dixie, in homegrown, state-based coalitions. If we win even a couple of states in the region, the presidency becomes a foregone conclusion and the movement will have blossomed.

* * *

Down here in North Carolina, we have been witnessing signs of a political Pentecost that offers a way forward together for the nation. A recent Southern voting-rights conference in Durham drew young organizers from across the South. Most were activists from the Moral Mondays movement, Black Lives Matter, the Dream Defenders, Southerners On New Ground, the NAACP, and other progressive groups. About a third of the attendees were venerable warriors from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, including Bob Moses, Dave Dennis, and other movement legends. Another third were solidly middle-aged voting-rights activists from Mississippi, Georgia, and North Carolina. And the final third were student activists, black and white.

Early on during our time together, a tension emerged when some participants dismissed Black Lives Matter in passing as “just a hashtag,” as if no “real” organizing had been going on. Certain elders also indulged the cliché that “We have the wisdom, but young people have the energy.” All of this infuriated the under-30 crowd of activists, who knew they had wisdom worthy of attention. The younger folks immediately stood up and called an early-evening caucus—­young people only—and then a later session for everyone to hammer out our differences. Some thought the conference would soon break up (which wouldn’t be a first in movement meetings).

But the young people showed immense democratic poise. The spirit of Ella Baker seemed to guide their deliberations as they listened to one another closely and gave everyone a chance to speak. The conversation was as much poetry as prose, occasionally literally, as speakers cited spoken-word wisdoms and hip-hop visions. Fingers popped in acknowledgment of a point. A consensus began to form. At a later plenary, where their elders waited uneasily, the youth did some patient teaching. Dispelling any notion that energy was their lone asset, the young people turned to voting rights. Voting itself was important, they conceded, but only as part of a larger movement strategy. And the battle for voting rights had crucial consequences, they observed, but in large measure as a tool for recruitment. Only a movement could change things deeply enough.

The elders caught the spirit and recognized the power of this discernment. It was true, they said, and this was really the point. They had perhaps gotten lost in nostalgia for the voting-rights struggles of the past or distracted by the mere mechanics of the current ones. Building a movement was the point—and that could only happen by bringing together all of the pieces of our common struggle.

The spirit that emerged in that room is one we’ve seen stirring across the South. It was named well by the prophet Joel, whom St. Peter quoted at a Pentecost celebration some 2,000 years ago: “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.”

The signs we’ve witnessed in North Carolina point to a fresh political wind in 2016. A deep sense of unrest drives the success of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. But the radically Pentecostal populism we’ve witnessed in the moral movement pushes us to consider the possibility of a higher ground for both parties. We’ve seen conservative preachers stand with LGBTQ activists to resist a constitutional amendment against marriage equality. Our rallies on the Statehouse lawn turned into old-style revival meetings where we came together in the most diverse gathering in North Carolina’s history, not only to celebrate our common future but also to put our bodies on the line in civil disobedience. Black, white, and brown; civil-rights and labor activists; gay and straight; rich and poor—nearly 100,000 of us marched on Raleigh together in the dead of winter. We went east and organized with a Republican mayor and the local NAACP to save a hospital in Belhaven. We went west and organized seven new chapters of the NAACP in counties that are majority Republican and nearly all white. And in the 2014 midterm elections, we defeated a number of Tea Party candidates in those western North Carolina counties where we planted young organizers.

* * *

We need this kind of moral fusion movement to build power for a Third Reconstruction. Even if morality is not your mother tongue, a Pentecostal moment means learning to speak new languages. But it also means learning to hear and understand them, seeing our common cause with sisters and brothers we didn’t know we had.

This much is certain: When the elders see visions and the young people dream dreams, something new is possible. My prayer for 2016 is that this new America might become the headline we can’t stop talking about.

REV. DR. WILLIAM J. BARBER II The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is co-author of The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, published in January 2016 by Beacon Press. He is filing regular dispatches from the southern movement for racial justice for The Nation.

Barack Obama Refuses to Be a Lame-Duck President


We hope this is true. TIME WILL TELL. Paul Ryan’s face helped the Democrats during this speech.


Barack Obama Refuses to Be a Lame-Duck President

  •  Obama’s final State of the Union address left no doubt that he intends to give 100 percent in the final 12 months of his second term. And he started doing so on Tuesday night.“I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse—and heroin. We just might surprise the cynics again,” he told Republican members of Congress, adding that he wanted to work on an agenda that extended “from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients. And I’ll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs doing. Fixing a broken immigration system. Protecting our kids from gun violence. Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage. All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done.”
  • Obama rips a politics and an economics that is “letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules.”And he used his State of the Union address to do just that.It will only happen if we fix our politics.But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.
  • What Obama was proposing was an honest debate—as opposed to one that divides and demonizes for purposes of political positioning—and he took a side in that debate.“[We] need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion.” —Barack Obama “[We] need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong,” said Obama. “The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that ‘to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.’ When politicians insult Muslims whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.”!“The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage,” Obama explained. “We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq — and we should have learned it by now.”So it was that, while Obama detailed the successes of his presidency, he also laid out a fresh vision.
  • At the heart of this State of the Union address was an argument that America can meet the challenges posed by a technological revolution, globalization, climate change, and threats to domestic and global security by recognizing opportunities to change and grow as a nation.We live in a time of extraordinary change—change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet and our place in the world. It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families. It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away. It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality. And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.
  • That’s a grand vision, which is worthy of pursuit.This president must work with a Republican congressional opposition that has taken obstructionism to extremes. That opposition continues to seize on every opening to attack and ridicule Obama; on Tuesday, Republicans sought to exploit tensions following the brief detention by Iran of the crews of two small US Navy patrol boats that reportedly drifted into Iranian territorial waters.The better strategy is to focus on uniting the Democrats behind popular initiatives, such as a minimum-wage hike or initiatives to address the crushing burden of student-loan debt, and to take advantage of election-season jitters to convince vulnerable Republicans to do the right thing.
  • The combination of a bully pulpit and an election year can be a powerful one for a savvy president, and Obama is savvy.These are the tools available to any president. But they are only of value when a president is ready to use them, rather than to slip away into a diminished lame-duck status.
  • Obama’s final State of the Union address signaled a determination to use those tools. Progressive and responsible Americans should be excited by this prospect. Barack Obama says he wants to do great things in the final year of his presidency. That’s great news for everyone who recognizes that, while the 2016 presidential race may be exciting, the person best positioned to achieve progress in the country in 2016 is not a candidate. It is the sitting president, who in 2012 was reelected with a popular vote and Electoral College mandate to serve a full four-year term. A quarter of that second term remains, and Obama has indicated that he is ready to make something of it—in Washington and on the 2016 campaign trail—as a president who remains “optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
  • But if it is not possible to build coalitions to do the right thing, Obama has other tools. His increasing comfort with the use of executive orders is significant, as it allows Obama to make immediate and popular policy shifts that will be hard for a successor to undo. The president should be just as comfortable using his veto power. And he should employ every opportunity to make appointments and to fight for the approval of those appointments where it is required.
  • The task will be made even more difficult if the president focuses his energies on advancing the fundamentally-flawed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Congressional Democrats overwhelmingly oppose the agreement, as do many Republicans. If Obama squanders his last year trying to cobble together a coalition of corporate Republicans and corporate Democrats to vote against the best interests of working Americans and the environment, he runs the risk of creating deeper divisions—not just between parties but within them—and he might still lose the TPP fight.
  • The pursuit will not be easy, however.
  • America has been through big changes before—wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights. Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.” Instead we thought anew, and acted anew. We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more and more people. And because we did—because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril—we emerged stronger and better than before.”
  • In the key section of the speech, Obama said:
  • While the president used a good deal of his address to acknowledge the reality of the race to replace him, he also reminded Americans that he has a year to lock in accomplishments and to initiate progress that will extend into the tenure of the next president—whether that president is a Democrat or a Republican.

  • Extending on that theme, as part of a substantial discussion of foreign policy, Obama argued for diplomacy and global cooperation rather than more wars. This was not an anti-war address, but it was a speech that argued against the sort of indiscriminate and ill-thought war making proposed by the likes of Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
  • The president was at his strongest when—in a clear rebuke to billionaire presidential contender Donald Trump and his fellow Republican contenders—he decried the anti-Muslim rhetoric of billionaire presidential contender Donald Trump and his fellow contenders.
  • “I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy. I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed, and there’s red tape that needs to be cut,” he said. “But after years of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at the expense of everyone else; or by allowing attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered. Food Stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did. Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts. In this new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less. The rules should work for them. And this year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers ends up being good for their shareholders, their customers, and their communities, so that we can spread those best practices across America.”
  • Obama acknowledged that “there are areas where it’s been more difficult to find agreement over the last seven years — namely what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations. And here, the American people have a choice to make.”
  • The president even proposed some ground rules for the politics of 2016, arguing for voting rights, for an end to gerrymandering and for genuine campaign-finance reforms—saying that “we have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.”
  • A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and imperatives of security.
  • “The future we want—opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids—all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates,” said Obama, who added that
  • At a point when the race to replace him is as volatile as it is unsettled, Obama cannot simply presume that he will be turning the Oval Office over to another Democrat following the 2016 campaign. As politically agile and engaged as any president in modern times—he is the first Democrat to win a majority vote in two successive presidential races since Franklin Delano Roosevelt—Obama knows that what he does in coming months could influence the presidential contest.
  • The pressure to “do the right thing” is real—and immediate.
  • Obama recognized that, while it is important for purposes of history and politics to reflect on what has been accomplished since January 20, 2009, it is even more important to focus on what can and must be accomplished before January 20, 2017.
  • Barack Obama has finished 87 percent of the mission to which the American electorate assigned him with overwhelming mandates in 2008 and 2012. But he is not prepared to coast cautiously or quietly through the last of his eight years as president.
  • President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address, Tuesday, January 12, 2016.(AP Photo / Evan Vucci, Pool)




SYRIA BOMBING BY US    Image result for tokyo bombing photos 195

This for Americans may not be the best time to reflect on bombing as a strategy, but here goes. Syria is being bombed by several disciplinarians, including the U.S. from time to time, but to what effect? Certainly 1 is to send refugees out in record numbers– among other factors. As background, here is a quote from Kurt Vonnegut (who knew a bit about bombing—and see/read Slaughterhouse Five); and it goes well beyond bombing as a questionable tactic:

“I think a lot of people teach savagery to their children to survive. They may need the savagery but it’s bad for the neighbors.”

And I offer this old paper/ article I wrote 10 years ago on reasons for bombing, especially by America, and especially in World War II. Those who stick it out and even Skim the article to the end shall be rewarded with a gift certificate to TARGET.


  For true believers, such as Gen. Curtis LeMay, architect of bombing strategies for both the ending German and Japanese war strategies, it was all a logical if brutal solution:
We were going after military targets. No point in slaughtering civilians for the mere sake of slaughter. Of course there is a pretty thin veneer in Japan, but the veneer was there. All you had to do was visit one of those targets after we’d roasted it, and see the ruins of a multitude of tiny houses, with a drill press sticking up through the wreckage of every home. The entire population got in the act and worked to make those airplanes or munitions of war…men, women, children. We knew we were going to kill a lot of women and children when we burned that town. Had to be done.”


“WHY WE BOMB” Frederick Shiels / Olson Project for OXFORD UNIVERSITY



            Following many years of intense interest in the subject of the United States’ impact on Third World countries, the events of the first three years of the 21st Century prompted me to start a systematic study of civilian deaths resulting from U.S. military actions in the 20th. These include wars, police actions, and other occupations. It might be asked: why not also study American deaths resulting from the aggression of others, such as the 9/11 attacks, Pearl Harbor, or the Lusitania sinking in 1915? This is work that needs to be done and has been done to a limited extent, and the roughly agreed-upon figure for such 20th C. fatalities stands somewhere around 4000— nearly 2000 deaths at Pearl Harbor (three fourths of the dead) were military.


            Or why not study American military deaths caused by the political/ military hostility of Others? This, too, is a worthy scholarly mission , one that has been attempted, and the 20th C. death count for Americans, mainly in two World Wars and the Korean and Vietnam wars, hovers at around 500,000. The military deaths on the other sides of American wars is harder to calculate, for reasons that will become apparent. To take but one example, American battles in the two world wars and, to a lesser extent, Korea and Vietnam, were fought alongside allies. But a fair estimate for such deaths in these wars— and a very conservative estimate–would be around 4 million.– half in Germany and Japan, half in Korea and Vietnam.


            For my study, civilian casualties on the other side is the preferred focus, because:


  1. Conservative estimates just for civilians in Japan, Germany, Korea and Vietnam would put the death toll at above 4 million,


  1. The killing of civilians of any sort in a military action would have been appalling to most Americans in the 1700s and 1800s with the exception of wars against American Indians,


  1. The killing of civilians in wars, declared or undeclared, is frowned upon in international law and the human rights literature regardless of which states are seen as having started the hostilities, and


  1. Americans, rightly or not, believe themselves to be” outside the curve of historical imperialism” and generally to display more sensitivity to human life and safety and welfare than, say, Germany, Russia, China or Japan, and perhaps, if one looks at Indochina and India, France and Britain.


            The argument to this point is not that Americans or their government like killing foreign civilians or even that they tolerate it casually, but rather that the American government, with the tacit approval of its citizenry, has killed civilians, mostly from altitudes of greater than 10,000 feet, often with considerable planning, and intentionally, with the use of carefully designed weapons (and–less often– unintentionally).


So focusing for now on World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, we want to highlight several reasons given as justifications for treating non-military people as expendable in some measure and perhaps with some reluctance. Foreign civilians in these conflicts died in very large numbers, mostly from aerial bombs, which we will account for here, but also from chemical sprays, ground artillery fire, and as more or less innocent bystanders near the fields of battle.


            One of the most horrific aspects of the World Trade Center and Pentagon killings of civilians was that they were so unexpected. No sense of danger attended the thousands of office workers heading into lower Manhattan and Arlington, Virginia on the morning of September 11, 2001. Many, though not all of the civilians in cities like Dresden, Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Nagasaki–to name a few–and Pyongyang and Hanoi and the numerous smaller towns and villages of North Korea and Vietnam did go through a prolonged awareness of danger, risk, and deprivation before meeting their ends. The loss of loved ones in firestorms and blast-collapsed structures was more or less anticipated as a possibility, sometimes over a period of years–say, 1943-45, 1950-53, or 1965-72.


            The broad reasons for the killing of civilians in Germany, Japan, from bombs dropped over urban centers, might be summarized as follows:


(1) Germans and Japanese had the misfortune to live under governments, either unelected (Japan)or elected by a minority (Germany)that had launched aggressive wars in Europe and that had themselves taken millions of lives, military and civilian,


  1. The United States had committed several million men, mostly between the ages of 18 and 30, to extract or help allies extract several million German and Japanese military men from places like France, Scandinavia, the USSR, China, the Philippines and Korea. To shorten the war and reduce the cost in America lives, it might be necessary to sacrifice an unspecified number of civilian lives, mostly in about 80 German and Japanese cities (each). This unspecified number turned out to be about 900,000 each in Germany and Japan– these are the most conservative estimates and focus largely on the air raids during the 2-year period mid-1943 to 1945.


  1. A certain number of German and Japanese civilians, who perished and a similar number of those who were maimed for life, worked in factories, government offices and transportation networks vital to the Axis war effort. Also there were large numbers of doctors, postal employees, nurses, sanitation workers, firemen, and other civil personal who, while at the center of the war machine, were involved in keeping the war machine’s more active participants healthier, cleaner, safer and to be able to communicate better.




            Before breaking this reasoning down, we might anticipate a powerful question from the reader or audiences.: why devote so much attention to the populace in warring states so clearly devoted to the mass killing of others and conquest by force? To answer that “two wrongs don’t make a right” would be to oversimplify in more than one way. But in any case, before moral judgments are made, any national American project involving tens of thousands of bomber crew members under orders from career officers and civilians to carry out acts that result in a loss of life roughly equaling the combined populations of Baltimore, Boston, San Francisco and St. Louis, or the entire state of Oregon OR Connecticut or Oklahoma, is surely deserving of careful study. Such investigations have been made– and some very good ones**– but mine is the only one that both focuses on civilian deaths and attempts to compare the way in which civilians died in at least seven different military conflicts.


            Return to the central question of why we bomb civilians. A breakdown of reasons for the official sanction of carefully planned actions leading to large numbers of deaths and injuries can


proceed as follows:

  1. Following Sherman’s 1864 dictum that “war is all hell” and needs to be made as painful as possible, generations of strategists have used “Shorten The War” as a rationale for all sorts of war intensifying strategies. These have included: massive drafts to throw as many soldiers as possible against the enemy, development of terror weapons such as the machine gun, heavy naval vessels capable of devastating coastal shelling and, beginning in the 1930s, aircraft designed to drop explosives, or even deadly gas, onto masses of infantry, fortifications, and, finally, cities. In chilling words of Douhet, the Italian air-war theorist, depicting air attack:


First would come explosions, then fires, then deadly gases floating on the surface and preventing any approach to the stricken area. As the hours passed and night advanced, the fires would spread while the poison gas paralyzed all life. ** Schaffer 21, Douhet



            Politicians and generals on all sides in World War II spoke longingly of shortening the war and no doubt they were sincere.* More recently, the creation of “smart” bombs and “shock and awe tactics,” especially for use against Iraq in 1991 and 2003, provide an updated strategy of using highly accurate and very noisy bombs to cow the enemy into a faster surrender, while taking world public opinion sensibilities into account.

                        Even before World War Two, a US Army Air Corps tactical manual regarded air attack as “a method of imposing will by terrorizing the whole population.” It was, as Schaffer puts it, vastly preferable to long wars of attrition like the First World War[cite p 27]


            Proving that hammer blows against a foreign population can shorten a conflict has been more difficult. It has made intuitive sense to say that Germany and Japan might well have fought longer had they not lost so many cities and industrial cites to massive air attack. This is most dramatically illustrated in the hasty Japanese call for a cease fire after the second atomic bomb obliterated Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 and the little- known final devastating conventional bomb raid in Tokyo August 13th.

            It has argued for example been argued, for example, that Hirohito’s speech coming shortly after the second atomic bomb, represented a consensus that the level of destruction had become intolerable:

[Surrender Speech by Japanese Emperor Hirohito, August 14, 1945 [five days after Nagasaki]

The surrender announcement, broadcast by radio, was the first time Japanese people had ever heard the voice of their leader.To our good and loyal subjects: After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in our empire today, we have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure. We have ordered our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that our empire accepts the provisions of their joint declaration.



Indeed, we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to insure Japan’s self-   preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement. But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone——the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of our servants of the State and the devoted service of our 100,000,000 people——the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.

Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization. **


However there is also evidence that a little publicized final convention bombing raid on Tokyo, after Nagasaki on August 13, was decisive in bringing about surrender. On August 10, 1945, a day after Nagasaki, Japanese leaders still disagreed on the desirability of surrendering according to the Potsdam unconditional surrender terms. Hirohito ordered that the surrender be accepted, provided he be allowed to retain the throne. The Americans responded on August 11 that they recognized the Emperor but could not guarantee his position. All bombing was suspended pending a definitive Japanese response. When none was received, Gen. Arnold ordered the largest conventional raid of the war, with over 1000 planes, which took place on August 13th. The raid received little publicity and is little-mentioned in accounts of the war . The Emperor’s public statement of surrender (quoted above) followed the next day. It is not entirely clear whether further consideration of the implications of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the final Tokyo raid was decisive. Perhaps both together were. [See J. Smith and M. O’Connell, The Last Mission, Broadway Books, 2002]



  1. Save American lives– Although nobody likes a long war, Americans in particular have

placed a premium on speed and the use of machinery to shorten fighting time and perhaps transfer the human sacrifice (almost literally) that is war, from our side to theirs. High technology air and armed vehicle fighting tends to protect American– and other– combatants relative to the number of killed and injured on the other side, and the conflict shortened. It has been argued that not only American military lives would be saved and men transferred to the protection of high altitude aircraft and armored ground machines, but also, ultimately, many “enemy” lives–especially civilian–could be spared by the application of concentrated intense force.


  1. Make war more “merciful”- A shorter war with less loss of life would certainly be more humane, if it could be demonstrated that it could be achieved. The argument has been used, as with the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945 and with the Iraq wars of 1991 and 2003. Of course such arguments are very difficult to prove: the best one can normally do is make a strong case. In the August, 1945 case of Japan, a sort of acceleration of the Japanese willingness to consider surrender occurred, first privately and then quite openly, publicly, and quickly with the Emperor’s call to end the fighting after the Nagasaki bomb was dropped on 9 August. What might be easier to establish is that shortening wars through terror bombing can take place, that the loss of life might not be reduced overall, but may be transferred from U.S. forces to foreign civilians. The term “merciful” (Churchill’s term for the use of atomic weapons was “avert a vast, indefinite butchery”) in any universal sense seems inappropriate unless there is a way of demonstrating that more American military would have died in a drawn out land battle such as the Japanese “home island” invasion envisioned for the fall of 1945.


            The moral and strategic implications of these first three arguments for bombing are not simple. Even if it appears that a war has been shortened because of city-busting tactics (e.g., Japan, summer, 1945) it is very hard to demonstrate that fewer civilians would have died if the war continued with more ground fighting and less aerial destruction. Merciful to the American soldier probably, but merciful in universal human terms, probably not. A World War Two with more intense aerial attacks on German and Japanese infrastructure outside of cities, or on concentration of German and Japanese military forces, say in Russia or the South Pacific islands, would have killed different civilians, but probably smaller numbers of civilians and certainly more uniformed military. Most would agree that reducing civilian deaths in favor of military would be desirable, except that many of the military were young draftees and a number of civilians were directly involved politically or economically with the war effort. There are some shades of gray here to be reckoned with. The classic account of the debate over the “necessity” of using atomic weapons is Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, updated 1996. **


  1. Easier to demonstrate is that bombing campaigns dramatically reduce the production and output of “enemy” economic systems in Germany and Japan, and certainly North Korea, though to a lesser extent . Bombing damaged the North Vietnamese economy as well, although in a more limited way because of its less centralized and capital intensive infrastructure. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey published September 30, 1945, goes into great detail about the gradual destruction of German and Japanese industries by U.S. (and in the case of Germany British) bombing sorties. Preferred targets were steel, machine tool, tank, aircraft, other munitions factories and oil refineries. There were many other target categories as well. During World War Two the kind of pinpoint bombing available in the 1980s and 1990s into the Twenty First Century was not an option. When the nearly 300,000 tons of bombs were dropped over the two Axis powers between 1943 and 1945, much of the targeting was industrial and infrastructure sites. However, as other parts of this essay relate, a significant minority of bombings took out largely residential areas and an additional percentage of bombings against the war related cites, especially urban took the lives of tens of thousands of civilians as “collateral damage.”


5.A more specific and quite interesting American argument about the assault on enemy populations is that bombing civilians –literally the “inhabitants of cities”– thins out the number of industrial workers and potential soldiers, “castrating” (in FDR’s memorable metaphor) the opposition and quite literally reducing the number of future war-makers. For Roosevelt it was weakening German society by reducing the number of war-prone Germans:

                        We either have to castrate the German people or you have got to treat them

in such a manner so they can’t just go on reproducing people who want to continue the way they have in the past…[Schaffer 88]

Ronald Schaffer goes on to cite Robert Dallek’s citation of Roosevelt’s comments to Secretary of War Henry Stimson that:

                        It is of the utmost importance that every person in Germany should realize that this time Germany is a defeated nation. I do not want them to starve to death, but, as an example, if they need food to keep body and soul together beyond what they have, they should be fed three times a day with soup from Army soup kitchens…The fact that they are a defeated nation , collectively and individually must be so impressed upon them that they will hesitate to start any new war. ** [in Dallek, Roosevelt, 472-473]


  1. Bombing cities is more simply an efficient way of destroying industry, infrastructure and human capital. The problem with this reasoning is that attacks on cities destroyed much that was not directly involved in industrial production, although perhaps demonstrably involved in war-making indirectly: residential neighborhoods in non-industrial areas, urban targets of limited industrial value (e.g., Dresden and Nagasaki) including also schools, churches, hospitals and small businesses. An important part of the literature on aerial bombardment examines these non-industrial targets and questions the need for their destruction much as military policy-makers debated the wisdom of such targeting during the wars under consideration here. ** [Michael Sherry’s and Ronald Schaffer’s books are especially good in short sections on non-industrial “psychological” urban targets and residential areas; also Werrell]


  1. An early and more specialized motive for the bombing of German, Japanese, and–later– Korea and Vietnamese cities, especially toward the beginning of those conflicts, was to demonstrate the physical vulnerability of the civilian population and urban centers that could affect both popular and leadership morale. It was believed that the post-Pearl Harbor air raid on Tokyo led by Gen. James Doolittle in April, 1942 achieved a stunning morale victory for the U.S., even though damage was quite modest by later standards. Early raids on Berlin (Nov. 1941) had been costly for the British but symbolically important. These raids were suspended during 1942 (until 1943) because of the heavy anti-air defenses around the city.


  1. A demonstration effect for non-enemy but rival powers– this is a curious but credible perspective that notes the desire of some generals directing attacks on eastern German cities to make a statement about U.S. air power to the Soviets occupying those regions in ever greater numbers as well as to the Germans themselves. Schaffer notes that the (British) Royal Air Force bomber command was especially convinced that striking the heart of Berlin would impress the Russians with the “effectiveness of Anglo-American air power.” Schaffer quotes Air Force General David Schlatter, writing in his diary just before the Yalta conference:


I feel that our air forces are the blue chips with which we will approach the post-war treaty table and that [Operation THUNDERCLAP] will add immeasurably to their strength, or rather to Russian knowledge of their strength.” **[D.M. Schlatter Daily Diary, Jan 28, 1945, file 168.7052-5, 44/10/41-45/07/11, Alfred F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, cited in Shaffer, p. 96]




  1. 9. Self-preservation for pilots-Another reason to bomb German, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cities thoroughly was to take out industries and military installations that would endanger bombers and crews (!) Through construction or emplacement of anti-aircraft equipment: guns, fighter planes, etc. [specify which cities had such factories and installations].


  1. Terror bombing– related to many of the already mentioned reasons for air bombardment but worth focusing on as a special motive is the terror and morale-eroding effect of punishing air raids. This has been one of the most sensational and closely argued debates in the reconsideration of the value of city destruction, 1943-45, 1950-53, and 1965-72. In 1944 noted Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport sent out a survey, later forwarded to the Strategic Bombing Survey, asking “leading members of his profession” their views on the probable effects of bombing on German and Japanese morale. The responses reflected as much division on the question as their was in the upper ranks of the Air Force leadership.** [Schaffer, p. 90]


  1. Dehumanization–   Related to and magnifying some of the effects of the rationale for bombing missions listed above, is the oft-commented on tendency of societies and their military forces to dehumanize the other side. This process starts with leaders: Hitler, the Kaiser, Tojo, Hirohito; extends to the enemy military forces: “Huns” “Storm Troopers” “cruel Japs” and finally, in an age of total war, to the Other Society itself. Amerindians become expendable, more modern foes need to be castrated, exterminated, etc. There is a great range of feelings within the societies: not all Germans had contempt for Jews and Slavs, too many did; not all Japanese had disregard for the lives of conquered Asians– too many did; not all Americans felt the large numbers of civilian deaths in Germany and Japan were acceptable, but many did.


There seems to be some correlation between the power and scope of “enemy conquest” and the degree to which the corresponding society is deemed evil and worthy of severe counter-blows. Racism and differentiated xenophobia, discussed below, certainly contribute to rationalizing mass counter-killing. But the success of Germany and Japan and the perceived direct threat they posed to the United States, made the massive onslaught against their cities in some ways easier than the less publicized air attacks on North Korea, and the much more criticized attacks on North Vietnam.


**This might be an opportune time for a short but needed digression from the flow of this presentation: [consider inserting this earlier in oral presentations]: by cataloguing the devastation inflicted by American bombing missions, we are not saying that the German, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese leadership and military were less than cruel or violent themselves. Atrocities abounded and excessive violence was not just “fallen into”, but carefully planned in some cases in substance if not in form and exact execution. And we are not saying that American allies do not share responsibility for helping get the U.S. involved and coordinating the attacks on enemy cities alongside the Washington leadership. The point is that the atrocities of enemies and shared brutality of Allies only partly absolves the U.S. from confronting fully the acts of collective destruction it has practiced.


  1. Racism and Differentiated Xenophobia– Fueling the “Anger and Revenge” motives for strikes against Japanese cities in particular was a long- standing American animus toward Asians (the “Mongol race”) and particularly the Japanese, who had never been colonized. A history of immigration restrictions, anti-Japanese laws in California, resentment in the 1930s as the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere became bigger and rougher, capped by the post Pearl Harbor internment of Japanese American civilians, raised the tolerance for total war against “the Japs.”


And when Allied prosecutors sitting in the gutted capital city of Japan in 1946 accused the country’s leaders of promoting the indiscriminate destruction of “men, women and children alike”, they still did so with little sense irony. Japan had merely reaped what it had sowed. ** Dower p. 41


This was compounded by newsreels of Japanese atrocities in China and the Philippines. The Bataan Death March would establish a public opinion climate against Japan that would give license to the fiercest air assault on any nation, including Germany, in the history of warfare before or since. It is essential to note, however, that the public opinion contempt for Asian culture and the differentness of its people predated the aggressive phase of Japanese expansion after 1931 and was reflected in US newspapers nearly 40 years before that time:


Some, like the Hearst newspapers, warned of a yellow peril led by Japan as early as the 1890s, and maintained an unwavering editorial policy of anti-Oriental polemics over the next half-century.**Dower, p. 157

In the war itself, the no surrender, no-prisoners policy of Japanese soldiers and officers in the island hopping campaigns of the Pacific reinforced the image of a people for whom life was cheap and sacrifice a given. One of many famous Japanese soldier/sailor poems reads:


                                    Across the sea, corpses soaking in the water

                                    Across the mountains heaped upon the grass

                                    We shall die by the side of our lord

                                    We shall never look back. ** [Dower 25}


Dower and other scholars have also noted that the Japanese entertained many of their own racial stereotypes of effete Westerners, including Americans, with their exaggerated noses and ears, reflected in cartoons and drawings and in the press generally.

            The Pacific war has been characterized as “The War Without Mercy.” 1941-1945 was replete with surprise attacks, forced marches, torture of prisoners, island battles in which the dead outnumbered the square mileage of the island to a power of 10 or 20, aerial firebombing, and, ultimately, kamikaze and flame- throwers-in-caves attacks (Okinawa), capped off by two bombs 1000 times more powerful than any explosive ever dropped from an airplane.


            The race-based analysis that the atomic bomb was used against the Japanese but would not have been against the Germans is debatable. The first A-bomb was tested in New Mexico on July 21, 1945. Had Germany still been in the war, the chances of a sizeable bomb being used against a German city would have been high. I know of no memorandum or scholarly writing that indicates that the Manhattan Project was designed for Japan only.


            In addition to racial prejudice intertwining with other forms of resentment against Japan to fuel the deadly incendiary assault on its cities, there was an American public opinion history– by no means unique to this country– of what might be called differentiated xenophobia. As a relatively isolated power 3,000 miles from Europe and 8,000 from Asia, the Americans had contact over the years with foreign cultures mainly through immigrants coming into the U.S. and from foreign travel, mostly by the elite classes– at least until World War One. Although there was not the kind of distaste for foreign cultures found in, say Korea or Japan before 1870, Americans did share what might be called an Anglo-American disdain for non-white, but also in varying degrees, Latin based Cultures (American and European) and Slavic as well as Celtic cultures. This observation greatly oversimplifies, but does help explain a somewhat greater reluctance to participate in the city bombing of Germany than Japan and also the receptivity of Americans for assisting the British over the Germans. Political ideology and perceptions of who the aggressors were in the world wars thus accounts for a great deal.


  1. Anger and Revenge– When returning to the central question of “Why We Bomb,” we can differentiate between two genera of mid- Twentieth Century bombing: A. the use of bombs in later campaigns against North Korea and North Vietnam in which strategic and racial factors blended together to break the will of Asian communist nations that were upsetting the geo-political equilibrium sought by the United States and B. the earlier use of air attack against cities to cripple the populations of states engaged in costly wars of regional conquest, namely Germany and Japan.


            North Korea had its urban landscape flattened because it tried to reunite all of Korea under its rule in 1950. No other country was involved in its real estate altering efforts. North Vietnam similarly attempted, ultimately successfully, to bring the South under its control in the late 1950s and 1960s, and the price of doing so was made higher by punitive U.S. air attacks.


            In the case of Germany there was successful annexation of the Low Countries, Austria, western Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the rest of Eastern Norway, Denmark and France, with threats of conquest for Greece, Britain, and Russia by made-late 1941. The brutality of Hitler’s attacks on those societies, including civilians and particularly ethnic minorities like the Jews and gypsies and whole ethnic majorities like Slavs (the contrast between treatment of Germans and Slavs in Czechoslovakia was characteristic) is legendary: aerial bombardment of Dutch, Polish and British cities, concentration camps, execution of city officials wherever resistance was met and sometimes when it was not met. Japan’s equally unrestrained moves into China, Indochina, Malaya, the Philippines and much of the Western Pacific offended international human rights sensibilities (insofar as they were developed at the time) as well as the geopolitical status quo.


            I would argue that in any war, from medieval conflicts to religious and Amerindian wars in the 16th and 17th centuries to more modern wars, strategy has been colored in varying degrees by revenge and anger for past mistakes and slights. When the townsfolk of Puritan Massachusetts torched Wampanoag villages in King Philip’s War, they did so at first tentatively and later vigorously in response to attacks on Deerfield, Springfield, and other settlements. More to the current point, when the German Luftwaffe leveled Rotterdam, and parts of Warsaw and London, it mirrored the Nazi leadership and some of the German body politic’s loathing of European neighbors that had A. humiliated the Germans after World War I (UK), B. stood between Germany and those foes (Netherlands, Belgium) and C. held substantial German populations under the rule of the Slavic kin of Russia and then the Soviet Union (Czechoslovakia, Poland). While conquests and economic motives drove part of Berlin’s war machine, the octane of the fuel that the machine was running on was heightened by feelings of settling a score, rationalized by perceived slights from London, the Hague, Brussels and the Slavic capitals to the East.


            When Japan launched its assaults on China between 1931 and 1938 and then moved against Hawaii, the Philippines, Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, it was for far more than the establishment of Tokyo’s hegemony over and economic exploitation of those areas. The motives were, equally, contempt for Asian neighbors that had allowed themselves to be colonized and animus against the European and American hegemons defiling Asia. In a certain sense, when the bombs fell and shells flew and bayonets thrust, causing such agony in Shanghai, Nanking, Rangoon, and Manila, the collective contempt for lesser Asian peoples in the eyes of Japanese leaders and their soldiers was intensified by a national resentment of American, British and French slights—the U.S.’s pro-Russian mediation of the Russo-Japanese War was an early example– against the “People of the Rising Sun. “


            Right after the December 7, 1941 attack, General Leonard Gerow of the Army Chief of Staff’s planning office, had noted: “Perhaps the best way to offset this initial defeat is to Burn Tokyo and Osaka.” [Cited in Sherry, p. 115, note on p. 384]


            And as the war was moving toward a conclusion, top generals were mindful, in the wake of the first a-bomb attack, of how a score was being settled:


When General Leslie R. Groves , the director of the Manhattan Project, told [Gen. Henry] Arnold and General Marshall about the attack on Hiroshima, Marshall suggested that it would be a mistake to rejoice too much, since the explosion had undoubtedly caused a large number of Japanese casualties. Groves replied that he was not thinking as much about those casualties as about the men who had made the Bataan Death March. Afterwards, in the hallway outside Marshall’s office, Arnold slapped Groves on the back and exclaimed, ‘I’m glad you said that,–it’s just the way I feel.’” **[Schaffer, p. 154, also quoting Groves in Now It Can be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project (New York, 1962) p. 324.


            So it was, with different historical particulars, with the vast aerial counter-thrust against Germany and Japan. There was a need not simply to stop the Tokyo and Berlin juggernauts, but also to avenge the losses of innocents in the paths of the aggressors and to avenge the humiliation of London and Washington for the Blitz against London, Coventry, Liverpool, and the smashing into Pearl Harbor, Manila, and British Hong Kong, Rangoon, and Kuala Lumpur.


            British pilots over Dresden and Hamburg were well aware that those targets that were contributing to the war effort that had leveled sections of London, Manchester, and Belfast and equally as acutely, had necessitated the enlistment of many thousands of British and, later, American soldiers who were dying because of German bellicosity. American pilots and bombing crews flew mass sorties that lit up Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, and two dozen other Japanese cities of size with the knowledge that the targets below had spawned the soldiery that had laid waste to Chinese and Philippine cities and, far more centrally, brought hundreds of thousands of American farmers, businessmen, workers, and budding professionals overwhelmingly under 30 years of age into the path of harm and death in the Pacific.


            Because most accounts of bombing campaigns stress strategy, logistics, and statistical results: square mileage of flattened buildings, targets destroyed, civilians killed and injured, there is often not a clear way to gauge the extent to which the anger of leaders and the desire for revenge may shape these campaigns and their execution. The historian is forced to rely on anecdotal evidence: accounts of generals and politicians, memoirs of pilots and bombing crew-members, and– to a very limited extent– memoranda and journalistic pieces composed by players in the drama– in World War II men like Eisenhower, Arnold, Spaatz, Kuter, and even Roosevelt and Stimson. As with all of our motivation categories for the bombing of civilian areas, it would be valuable to have these sorts of recollections to leaven “the official record”. It would also be enlightening to compare these with memoirs of British, German and Japanese bombardiers. Anger does not always bottle and age well, however, and there is no guarantee the recollections would translate what went through the minds of theater commanders, mission weary pilots and worried White House and Pentagon occupants.



                        CONCLUSION: AND WAS IT WORTH IT?


Here we seek to pull together the strands of motivation to engage in what must surely rank as one of the most weighty and morally debatable human endeavors in history: the destruction of several dozen cities and 4 million or so civilian lives as part of the effort to subdue four adversaries: Germany Japan, Korea and Vietnam between 1942 and 1972. The distinguished British military historian, Gen. J.F.C. Fuller, in his The Second World War, writing of the July 1943 raid on Hamburg in particular, as part of a general discussion of the bombing of German cities said:


Eyewitnesses described how the holocaust was so terrible that the air was sucked into it from outside of the perimeter of the fire. Many were suffocated or shriveled up by the intense heat. Others were drowned on throwing themselves into the canals that ran through the city. Days later, when the nearby cellars were opened, thousands were found to have perished as if cooked in an oven….These appalling slaughterings, which would have disgraced Attila, were justified on the plea of military necessity– only military objectives were attacked. In Britain, there were vindicated by the Archbishop of York, because they would shorten the war and save many thousands of lives. **[Fuller, 238]


It is widely agreed that the cost of city-blitzing was extremely high. The debate rests on whether the strategic and national humanitarian objectives achieved (save American lives) were met (by the cost extended to others) and the surprisingly difficult and closely related question, for many, of whether the cost was too high. This inward debate played itself out early within the minds of the bomber crews themselves and those who advised them:


Airmen especially criticized the long and dangerous raids on Berlin. Typical complaints in a June 1944 survey were that the city is not a military target and bombed mainly for “headlines.” and “I don’t believe in spite bombing.” Almost three quarters of veteran flyers stated they occasionally or “quite often” had undergone missions “not worth the cost.” **[Crane, 38]   and


One man was only able to keep his sanity by following his chaplain’s advice to “keep it impersonal and not to focus on what happened on the ground “He rationalized that he was doing his best to hit military targets, helping shorten the war and save lives in the long run. Yet he was still troubled throughout his tour by recurrent thoughts of an incident in which he had almost hit the city’s amphitheater with an errant bomb. [ibid.]



These perspectives, it must be emphasized, still represent a small sampling, a “minority report” of doubts set against an orthodox consensus that many of the life-saving, war-ending goals were met. Our thirteen ways of accounting for city-bombing can be collapsed into four broad areas: A. “Taking lives to save other lives” B. “Help defeat the enemy by psychological and physical means” C. “The results of anger, revenge, sometimes aggravated by racism and xenophobia, and

  1. “Collateral damage”: that is, civilian lives lost in spite of an attempt to avoid taking them while aiming at other targets. For true believers, such as Gen. Curtis LeMay, architect of bombing strategies for both the ending German and Japanese war strategies, B & C melted together seamlessly:

                        We were going after military targets. No point in slaughtering civilians for the mere sake of slaughter. Of course there is a pretty thin veneer in Japan, but the veneer was there. All you had to do was visit one of those targets after we’d roasted it, and see the ruins of a multitude of tiny houses, with a drill press sticking up through the wreckage of every home. The entire population got in the act and worked to make those airplanes or munitions of war…men, women, children. We knew we were going to kill a lot of women and children when we burned that town. Had to be done. [LeMay with McKinlay Kantor, Mission with LeMay, Garden City, Doubleday, 1965, p. 384]




Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, Vintage Books, 1996

Crane, Conrad. Bombing, Cities, and Civilians, U. Kansas Press, 1993

Dower, John. War Without Mercy, Pantheon, 1986

Fuller, J.F.C. . The Second World War, 1939-1945: Duell, Sloan and Pearce (NY), 1954

Keegan John. The Second World War, Penguin, 1990

Neillands, Robin. The Bomber War, Overlook, 2001

Schaffer, Ronald. Wings of Judgment, Oxford, 1988

Sherry, Michael. The Rise of American Air Power, Yale, 1987

Stokesbury, James. A Short History of World War II, William Morrow, 1980

Werrell, Kenneth. Blankets of Fire, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996



Churchill, Winston, The Grand Alliance, Mariner Books (reissue), 1986

Le May, Curtis (with MacKinlay Kantor), Mission with Le May, Doubleday, 1965

Truman, Harry S. Memoirs, Smithmark reissue, 1995