Blowing stuff up

A while ago, I had a multi-topic post covering some things I hoped to expand on. One of them was this

Blowing things and people up is seen as a demonstration of clarity and resolve, unless someone is doing it to us, in which case it’s correctly recognised as cowardly and evil. The most striking recent example (on “our” side) was the instant and near-universal approval of Trump’s bombing of an airfield in Syria, which had no effect at all on events there.

We’ve now had another round of bombing from Trump, and yet more instant applause. As I reread the para above, and looked at evidence on the general ineffectiveness of airstrikes, it struck me that there is a big asymmetry. The satisfaction we get when our side blows something or someone up is trivial in comparison to the hatred generated when we are on the receiving end. In most cases, the people and resources mobilised against the bomber far outweigh the physical destruction the bomber can inflict. Here’s a study (paywalled, but the abstract is clear) making that point about Vietnam; it seems to be entirely general.

I’ve talked here about large-scale aerial bombing, but all of these points apply with equal force to bombing campaigns undertaken on the ground by non-state actors, going back to the “propaganda of the deed” in the 19th century. Experience has shown that deeds like bombings and assassinations make great propaganda, but not for the side that carries them out.

30 thoughts on “Blowing stuff up

  1. @jrkrideau

    I couldn’t resist to commend on your comment about the Western mainstream media play of words when it comes to international news reporting. As an Australian from a Chinese heritage who have lived here for more than half of my life, 9 out of 10 times (probably an underestimate) I would cringed at the our media’s use of words when it comes to reporting news from China and/or translation of interviews in Chinese.

    For example I remembered, though not exactly word for word, when ABC reported on its interviews of Chinese people’s reaction to Trump declaring of trade war. One interviewee said:

    ABC’s translation: “I hope there won’t be significant impacts on our local economy and businesses”.

    Correct translation: “I don’t think there will be significant impact on our local economy and businesses”.

    Now I don’t speak perfect English but I believe there is a difference between the two translations and this is only one minor issue compared to other reporting problems such as over the top exaggerations. Not to my surprise but I haven’t came across any colleague of mine from different heritage, whether Turkish, Bangladeshi or Indian etc. liked our local reporting of international news relating to their heritage country.

  2. @Mark Jonas

    You sound unhinged but maybe we’d better understand you, since it’s a crowded world with many nuclear powers, and I suppose any of them might hatch a similar scheme of “kill the enemy before they kill us”.

    Why do you believe that the rise of China will lead to massively destructive nuclear war?

  3. Israel has massacred at least 34 Palestinian protesters lately.

    Murdered them in cold blood. Not self-defence. The Israelis were hiding behind a fortified barrier with full combat/military equipment and the Palestinians were protesting on the other side.

    Most shot by snipers. Although at least one was a farmer shot by a missile from a tank.

    Surely Mr Jonas isn’t suggesting that the only way we can stop this slaughter is by killing Israelis?

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