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Losing the War by Winning the Battle: John Warden's Theory of Strategic Bombing Applied to Limited Conflict

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Air power is both a promise and a problem. The promise is that strategic bombing may shorten wars by striking at the heart of the enemy and sapping either his will or his ability to continue hostilities. In theory, aircraft have a more direct approach to an opponents center of gravity and are less susceptible, once air superiority has been attained, to defensive counter measures. The result should be a faster, and therefore more humane, end to the conflict. But the problem with bombing, aside from still unanswered questions about its actual effectiveness, is that in both planning and execution, it tends to blur or erase the distinction between combatants and civilians. At the very least, collateral damage claims unintended victims, especially in urban areas. While precision weapons may reduce the likelihood of noncombatant deaths, air power doctrine itself, which since the First World War has legitimated attacking enemy population centers, makes them all but certain. This unpleasant fact leaves strategists with a dilemma. The potentially most effective use of air power also may be the most morally questionable. In wars for national existence, such as the Second World War, the suffering of innocents may be proportionate to necessary military objectives. But in the limited conflicts that have been fought since the end of the cold war, civilian deaths, especially if they outnumber combatants, may undermine the political influence sought. In the late twentieth century, the problem with strategic bombing may eclipse its promise.

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  • Military Aircraft Operations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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