NEW YORK – Ted Cruz, one of the Republican candidates for the US presidency, recently said that his solution to the turmoil in the Middle East would be to “carpet bomb” the Islamic State (ISIS) and see if “sand can glow in the dark.” Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, promised to “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” A third candidate, Chris Christie, has threatened war with Russia.
With such rhetoric from their candidates, it is no wonder that, according to a recent poll, some 30% of Republican voters (and 41% of Trump supporters) favored bombing Agrabah, the central (and fictional) location of the Disney film Aladdin. The place sounded Arabic, and that was enough.
One way to read such bellicose rhetoric is to assume that those who indulge in it must be bloodthirsty monsters. A more charitable view is that they suffer from an appalling lack of historical memory and moral imagination. None has any personal experience of war. And they clearly find it impossible to comprehend the consequences of what they are saying.
And yet even a cursory acquaintance with fairly recent history is enough to know that “bombing the shit” out of people does little to win wars. It didn’t work in Vietnam, and it is unlikely to work in Syria or Iraq. Even the Nazis were not defeated by carpet bombing. As postwar studies undertaken by the US and British air forces demonstrated, Russian tanks did more to bring down the Wehrmacht than did aerial bombing of German cities.