The Persistent Myth of US Precision Bombing

U.S. media routinely repeat Pentagon talking points about the accuracy of U.S. bombing, but how precise are these attacks, asks Nicolas J.S. Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies
Special to Consortium News

Opinion polls in the United States and the United Kingdom have found that a majority of the public in both countries has a remarkably consistent belief that only about 10,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Estimates of deaths in Iraq actually range from 150,000 to 1.2 million. Part of the reason for the seriously misguided public perception may come from a serious belief in guided weapons, according to what the government tells people about “precision” bombing.  But one must ask how so many people can be killed if these weapons are so “precise,” for instance in one of “the most precise air campaigns in military history,” as a Pentagon spokesman characterized the total destruction last year of Raqqa in Syria.

The dreadful paradox of “precision weapons” is that the more the media and the public are wrongly persuaded of the near-magical qualities of these weapons, the easier it is for U.S. military and civilian leaders to justify using them to destroy entire villages, towns and cities in country after country: Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul in Iraq; Sangin and Musa Qala in Afghanistan; Sirte in Libya; Kobane and Raqqa in Syria.

An Imprecise History

The skillful use of disinformation about “precision” bombing has been essential to the development of aerial bombardment as a strategic weapon. In a World War II propaganda pamphlet titled the “Ultimate Weapon of Victory”, the U.S. government hailed the B-17 bomber as “… the mightiest bomber ever built… equipped with the incredibly accurate Norden bomb sight, which hits a 25-foot circle from 20,000 feet.

However, according to the website WW2Weapons, “With less than 50 per-cent cloud coverage an average B-17 Fortress Group could be expected to place 32.4% of its bombs within 1000 feet of the aiming point when aiming visually.”  That could rise to 60 percent if flying at the dangerously low altitude of 11,000 feet in daylight.

The inaccurate B17 “Flying Fortress”

The U.K.’s 1941 Butt Report found that only five percent of British bombers were dropping their bombs within five miles of their targets, and that 49 percent of their bombs were falling in “open country.”

In the “Dehousing Paper,” the U.K. government’s chief scientific adviser argued that mass aerial bombardment of German cities to “dehouse” and break the morale of the civilian population would be more effective than “precision” bombing aimed at military targets.  British leaders agreed, and adopted this new approach: “area” or “carpet” bombing, with the explicit strategic purpose of “dehousing” Germany’s civilian population.

The U.S. soon adopted the same strategy against both Germany and Japan, and a U.S. airman quoted in the post-war U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey lampooned efforts at “precision” bombing as a “major assault on German agriculture.”

The destruction of North Korea by U.S.-led bombing and shelling in the Korean War was so total that U.S. military leaders estimated that they’d killed 20 percent of its population.

In the American bombing of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, the U.S. dropped more bombs than all sides combined in the Second World War, with full scale use of horrific napalm and cluster bombs.  The whole world recoiled from this mass slaughter, and even the U.S. was chastened into scaling back its military ambitions for at least a decade.

The American War in Vietnam saw the introduction of the “laser-guided smart bomb,” but the Vietnamese soon learned that the smoke from a small fire or a burning tire was enough to confuse its guidance system.  “They’d go up, down, sideways, all over the place,” a GI told Douglas Valentine, the author of The Phoenix Program. “And people would smile and say, ‘There goes another smart bomb!’  So smart a gook with a match and an old tire can fuck it up.”

Kicking the Vietnam Syndrome

President Bush Senior hailed the First Gulf War as the moment that America “kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”  Deceptive information about “precision” bombing played a critical role in revitalizing U.S. militarism after defeat in Vietnam.

The U.S. and its allies ruthlessly carpet-bombed Iraq, reducing it from what a UN report later called “a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society” to “a pre-industrial age nation.”  But the Western media enthusiastically swallowed Pentagon briefings and broadcast round-the-clock bomb-sight footage of a handful of successful “precision” strikes as if they were representative of the entire campaign.  Later reports revealed that only seven percent of the 88,500 tons of bombs and missiles devastating Iraq were “precision” weapons.

The U.S. turned the bombing of Iraq into a marketing exercise for the U.S. war industry, dispatching pilots and planes straight from Kuwait to the Paris Air Show.  The next three years saw record U.S. weapons exports, offsetting small reductions in U.S. arms procurement after the end of the Cold War.

The myth of “precision” bombing that helped Bush and the Pentagon “kick the Vietnam syndrome” was so successful that it has become a template for the Pentagon’s management of news in subsequent U.S. bombing campaigns. It also gave us the disturbing euphemism “collateral damage” to indicate civilians killed by errant bombs.

The devastating aerial assault on Baghdad in 2003, known as “shock and awe.”

‘Shock and Awe’

As the U.S. and U.K. launched their “Shock and Awe” attack on Iraq in 2003, Rob Hewson, the editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weaponsestimated about 20-25 percent of the U.S. and U.K.’s “precision” weapons were missing their targets in Iraq, noting that this was a significant improvement over the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, when 30-40 percent were off-target. “There’s a significant gap between 100 percent and reality,” Hewson said. “And the more you drop, the greater your chances of a catastrophic failure.”

Since World War II, the U.S. Air Force has loosened its definition of “accuracy” from 25 feet to 10 meters (39 feet), but that is still less than the blast radius of even its smallest 500 lb. bombs.  So the impression that these weapons can be used to surgically “zap” a single house or small building in an urban area without inflicting casualties and deaths throughout the surrounding area is certainly contrived.

Precision” weapons comprised about two thirds of the 29,200 weapons aimed at the armed forces, people and infrastructure of Iraq in 2003.  But the combination of 10,000 “dumb” bombs and 4,000 to 5,000 “smart” bombs and missiles missing their targets meant that about half of “Shock and Awe’s” weapons were as indiscriminate as the carpet bombing of previous wars.  Saudi Arabia and Turkey asked the U.S. to stop firing cruise missiles through their territory after some went so far off-target that they struck their territory. Three also hit Iran.

In a war that’s being fought for the benefit of the Iraqi people, you can’t afford to kill any of them,” a puzzled Hewson said. “But you can’t drop bombs and not kill people.  There’s a real dichotomy in all of this.”

‘Precision’ Bombing Today

Since Barack Obama started the bombing of Iraq and Syria in 2014 more than 107,000 bombs and missiles have been launched. U.S. officials claim only a few hundred civilians have been killed. The British government persists in the utterly fantastic claim that none of its 3,700 bombs have killed any civilians at all.

Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd from Mosul, told Patrick Cockburn of Britain’s  Independent newspaper that he’d seen Kurdish military intelligence reports that U.S. airstrikes and U.S., French and Iraqi artillery had killed at least 40,000 civilians in his hometown, with many more bodies still buried in the rubble.  Almost a year later, this remains the only remotely realistic official estimate of the civilian death toll in Mosul. But no other mainstream Western media have followed up on it.

The consequences of U.S. air wars are hidden in plain sight, in endless photos and videos. The Pentagon and the corporate media may suppress the evidence, but the mass death and destruction of American aerial bombardment are only too real to the millions of people who have survived it.

Nicolas J.S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapter on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.

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63 comments for “The Persistent Myth of US Precision Bombing

  1. historicus
    June 26, 2018 at 11:12 am

    There’s an old precedent for “kicking the Vietnam syndrome.’ The United States government propagandized the Spanish-American War as a war to heal the wounds of the Civil War. They trotted out former Confederate General Joe Wheeler and gave him a Federal commission. The newspapers made much of the spectacle of a new generation of northern and southern men fighting side by side to “bring civilization” to the dark-skinned people of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

  2. Michael Cassidy
    June 24, 2018 at 6:19 am

    Hi Nicolas
    Maybe just maybe the destruction is intentional as a form of ethnic cleansing what better way to deny the local population who may not agree with their new masters any way to return to their homes just destroy water medical electric or any other necessity for a normal life.

    If some body actually thinks that USA cannot make a smart bomb it begs to question who took the development tax payers dollar and wrapped a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

    Regards Michael Cassidy

  3. June 23, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    Thank you for reminding us of our hypocrisy. The desires to look noble and control the flow of money our way are powerful motivators. I believed in our leaders during World War II and the Korean War. So much so that I voluntarily gave up my
    college deferment in my senior year and was drafted February 11, 1953. My Uncle Hugh warned me they would lie to me and they did and continue to do so today. As I separated from active to reserve duty in January 13,1955, I had an ah hah! moment that our future young people would not look at the military the same way we did and they did not as evidenced by their protests of the
    American War in Viet Nam. Today I am thankful that many people are working for truth, equality, justice and peace. Veterans for
    Peace, Code Pink, World beyond War, Friends Committee on National Legislation to name a few. As a life member of VFP I see
    lots of opportunities to contribute to improving our act. Calling out our ruler’s lies is a big one. Thank You.

  4. Old Jarhead
    June 22, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    Anyone here ever been around even a 500 pounder being dropped, much less 1000 pounder?
    I did FAC for a short time, and it’s no picnic.
    Even with perfect precision a Mk82 500 Lb Bomb produces (according to the specs.) a 5 to 11 meter crater, and (at 100 ft) a 5 psi overpressure. It isn’t exactly a sniper rifle.
    At 16-21 square feet of skin, that’s 2300 to 3000 pounds of overpressure over the whole skin surface. From 1000 yards away, you still don’t want to be in the open.

    • will
      June 22, 2018 at 4:00 pm

      friend of mine was ~150 yards from a 155 howitzer round hit(friendly fire in Vietnam)-he said the sensation he felt as he was laying on the ground (they took cover after they heard the shell coming) was the ground dropping away from him and then rising back up to smash him so hard that afterwards he thought his head was missing-but in reality he was just missing an ear drum and a bad nose bleed.

  5. Paul G.
    June 22, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Regarding WWII bombing, a quick lesson in meteorology. Dropping bombs from 20k or 24k feet, the ordnance will pass through a serpentine belt of winds at around 18k feet known as the 500 mb level winds. These winds create and guide weather systems below-too complicated to explain briefly. But the point being these winds blow from 30 to 120 knots; so any thing dropping through them may be dramatically blown off course.

  6. Paul G.
    June 22, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    The Army Air Force(US) did studies after WWII on the effectiveness of its bombing. They discovered that hitting residential, civilian areas actually had a paradoxical effect. It strengthened the population’s resolve and support of the Nazi regime. In other words all it did other than killing a lot of them was piss them off and make them work harder.

  7. mike k
    June 21, 2018 at 7:53 pm

    The pretension of good intentions in the shock and awe campaign against Bagdad, was belied by their precisely hitting targets outlawed in the Geneva Convention the US was party to. It was precisely on the basis of lies that the bombs were dropped at all.

  8. Mark Thomason
    June 21, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    In WW2, US and all other bombers were lucky to hit the right city, or any city. Compared to that, sure this is precision.

    In the Vietnam War countless missions were flow to hit specific targets, like a famous bridge, and missed it countless times. Compared to that, this is precision.

    But even this precision misses quite often. It does hit enough of a percentage to get the targets, but there are plenty of misses too. Not every bomb or missile guides perfectly, just enough of them to get the target with a reasonable number of tries. That is all “precision” means.

    • Known Unknown
      June 21, 2018 at 11:32 pm

      Yep, the military likes precise weapons, not because it is so concerned about human life but because fewer bombs or missiles are required to destroy the target.

      • Punkyboy
        June 22, 2018 at 10:31 am

        They don’t want to use fewer bombs, the whole idea is to keep the weapons manufacturers humming along. After all, war is our biggest export these days. Didn’t I read that we’re dropping something like 21 bombs a minute these days? Big bucks for bombs!

  9. stan
    June 21, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Peace.

    And yes there are a lot of idiots waving the Confederate battle flag for all the wrong reasons.

    Stan

    • mike k
      June 21, 2018 at 7:48 pm

      Thanks for your peace making answer Stan. I shouldn’t have been so snarky in my comments. My bad. Your friendly response is a lesson for me. Peace.

      • Joe Tedesky
        June 21, 2018 at 11:04 pm

        You are both find examples of reasonable and consider debate. If only the rest of our nation were to so humble ourselves, and find common ground to build upon, then what a wonderful world this would be…cue to Louis Armstrong. Then if you would like we will all sing John Lennon’s ‘Come Together’. And I’m not be sarcastic…I mean it damn it. Joe

  10. stan
    June 21, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    In response to Mike K,

    I understand this reaction of people who are so thoroughly manipulated with a particular myth that they will not accept any criticism of it nor will they expend any energy or time in trying to research the issue themselves. So certain is the belief.

    It is the dangerous manipulation of people by these myths which is the point of my comments. Americans will accept or even support the mass murder of people as long as they believe war is for a noble purpose.

    Slavery has been a human institution for thousands of years. The Old Testament gives rules on how to treat your slaves. The British Empire, the Dutch, the French, and most of the western world began the white man’s enslavement of the African people. It was Yankee slave ships out of New York and Boston that sailed to Africa and brought back the slaves.

    But have you noticed that only the Confederate States are blamed for this institution. The point is the South was bad so the big businesses and big banks of the North were good. This is how propaganda works. There does not have to be “good guys” and “bad guys” in the war. But that is what the war machine wants you to believe.

    The rest of the western world had hundreds of years of African slavery. They finally, after hundreds of years, eliminated slavery without a war. Has any other war in the entire history of the planet ever been fought to free someone elses slaves? I’ve never heard of it.

    But there is a reason the myth persists. It is propaganda which justifies the war machine. The war machine controls the narrative, which is the most powerful technique in the propagandist toolkit. I am talking about the nature of war. You are calling me names. This is the effect and purpose of the propaganda.

    As a gentleman’s challenge to you, I will bet you ten dollars that you cannot find any historical statement by Abraham Lincoln stating he is going to war over the issue of slavery. If you do find such a statement, please let me know. I have never seen it nor heard about it.

    Sincerely and in the pursuit of truth,

    Stan

    • mike k
      June 21, 2018 at 4:58 pm

      Hi Stan. I understand you are committed to your position on the Civil War, and will not engage in debate with you about it. This is from the wiki summary of the war – “in 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which made ending slavery a war goal.”

      In my opinion, people obsessed with the American Civil War are among the most boring souls on the planet. I say this not to demean you, but simply to make full disclosure of where I am at on this. Be happy with your interests and beliefs, and simply ignore folks like me.

      And BTW I did not “call you names” – I simply disagreed with you. Sorry if you felt offended by that. Why don’t we just agree to disagree on this one, and go our ways in peace. I’m sure there are plenty of things we do agree on.

    • Known Unknown
      June 21, 2018 at 11:37 pm

      Lincoln said he’d do what it takes to win the war, and if that means abolishing slavery so be it…and if it means keeping slavery, so be it. There is a quote where he spells this out precisely and unambiguously. It is indeed a myth that freeing slaves was the North’s goal in that war.

  11. stan
    June 21, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Americans accept this murder and mayhem because we have been conditioned to believe America goes to war for a noble reason, and that we are justified in mass murder to accomplish these moral aims. The end justifies the means. We have been manipulated by propaganda to believe this.

    One of the biggest propaganda myths throughout our culture is that Lincoln invaded the South to free the slaves. This is sometimes stated as the war was “about” slavery, the war was “over” slavery, the war “happened” because of slavery, etc. The propaganda effect of this myth is that people in the U.S. believe that our military kills hundreds of thousands of people to do something good for somebody else. This is why our children are taught this myth, and why it is repeated throughout our culture.

    But war is fought to conquer territory, conquer resources, and conquer people. Nobody goes to war to get rid of a mean evil dictator, or to bring another country the right political system, or the right economic system, or to free someone elses slaves. Nobody kills people to accomplish a moral end.

    The real question is what is the purpose in the mind of the invader. Lincoln stated in his First Inaugural Address that his purpose had nothing to do with slavery, because that issue had been resolved by the Corwin Amendment, but that he would invade if the Southern States did not pay their taxes. Google it and read it yourself.

    The other propaganda effect of this myth is that most people reading this comment will believe I am a racist defending slavery. They will also cite statements from the Southern States leaving the Union over the slavery issue. But leaving Union was not the cause of the war. Lincoln’s desire to make them bow down to his rule and pay their taxes was his purpose. John Booth yelled “Death to tyrants”, not “Long live slavery”.

    Propaganda is very powerful stuff, and you ignore it at your own peril.

    • Bill
      June 21, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      I think Lincoln said he’d free the slaves or not as long as he could ” preserve the union.” of course, that was the biggest mistake ever since we should have built a dog fence along the mason Dixon line and let the south leave the union…so they could continue to invade Caribbean islands, along with various nations in south and central American to add more slave states…but seriously…if you think the war was fought simply over taxes, you need to read some better books. I recommended Battle Cry of Freedom. after reading that,you’ll have a hard time making this sort of silly statement

    • mike k
      June 21, 2018 at 2:56 pm

      That damned Lincoln, eh? It was all his fault. Three cheers for Booth, standing up for freedom? And slavery was not even an issue. The Southerners as victims? The civil war simply a whim of Lincoln? The North hungry for the riches of the South – peanuts and slave picked cotton? Sure makes you think – of how people invent a history they feel comfortable with – facts be damned!

    • Joe Tedesky
      June 21, 2018 at 10:46 pm

      Stan your analogy using Lincoln maybe too soon for public consumption, but the essence of what you are saying is worth exploring. If you are saying that America lives by its heroic myth, then I’m with you. This wonderful heartwarming story of frontiersmen conquering an untamed continent always leaves out the slaughter of the millions of indigenous our forefathers robbed this vast land from. Little regard was ever given to the Black or Asian slave labor it took to help start to build this great agricultural & mechanized nation. South & Central America got theirs starting around 1898 with the Spanish American War, and it continues on to today. Better yet, read Smedley Butler (you may have already Stan, I’m just saying this for universal appeal), he tells it like it is, and he gets the point across much better than I do.

      I always worry when we get into Lincoln, and the Civil War. If the article were about that, and I get your point about Lincoln Stan, but I thought I would shed light on your deeper point that brings America’s love of conquest, and violence to lay waste to that conquest, to light.

      Sorry Stan, didn’t mean to offend, or lecture. Joe

    • June 23, 2018 at 9:39 am

      to echo Joe, agree with the spirit of the statement, not the substance. As an anthropologist I can tell you it is a FACT of human evolutionary history that there are proximate reasons to go to war which are offered to the public, (we are good they are bad) and there are ultimate reasons for war which are the actual reasons a country or group wars with another. The ultimate reasons ALWAYS (with very few exceptions if there are any) have to do with an effort to increase power and/or wealth. PERIOD. And the enemy ALWAYS undergoes dehumanization to galvanize the public, because after all who in their right mind would support or participate in a war fought so a few oligarchs gain more power and wealth? And since power corrupts absolutely, their is always an element of truth to the narrative that those in power in a foreign land are corrupt/evil/abusive, etc.

      I offer all of this in support of what you said. I do however believe slavery was an ULTIMATE reason for the war, but again probably not for altruistic reasons. I am sure someone more knowledgeable can speak on the power and wealth motives behind abolishing slavery, but I would point out that the pretty much the rest of the world had abolished African slavery and the US was pressured to follow suit, or else be alienated from a budding global economy. I believe you are correct that the motive to go to war being striking down racist slave owners and liberate the slaves, is a fairy tale and propaganda. Just as my daughter is being taught that we went to war in Afganistan because some evil Muslims flew their planes into the world trade center. Good vs. Evil wars are always a false narrative.

      • June 23, 2018 at 9:46 am

        Just to clarify, My undergrad degree was in anthropology, but I am not an “anthropologist”…it just felt grandiose not to correct that misstatement. :)

  12. Bob Van Noy
    June 21, 2018 at 11:43 am

    THE UNITED STATES STRATEGIC BOMBING SURVEY

    Summary Report

    (European War)

    September 30, 1945

    http://anesi.com/ussbs02.htm#c

    “The great lesson to be learned in the battered towns of England and the ruined cities of Germany is that the best way to win a war is to prevent it from occurring. That must be the ultimate end to which our best efforts are devoted. It has been suggested — and wisely so — that this objective is well served by insuring the strength and the security of the United States. The United States was founded and has since lived upon principles of tolerance, freedom, and good will at home and abroad. Strength based on these principles is no threat to world peace. Prevention of war will not come from neglect of strength or lack of foresight or alertness on our part. Those who contemplate evil and aggression find encouragement in such neglect. Hitler relied heavily upon it

  13. June 21, 2018 at 11:22 am

    Even if “only” 10,000 people were killed in the invasion of Iraq, it remains an aggressive war and Bush, Blair, Cheney, Powell, etc. should all hang, the way the defendants at Nuremberg did.

  14. mike k
    June 21, 2018 at 10:21 am

    The truth about the behavior of the United States of America in the world is so clear and simple, that when you really see it, you can only wonder how it is that most US citizens do not see it.

    The explanation of this paradox is that from the time we are born, we are taught not to see the obvious truth of our culture. Every possible means is bent towards concealing the obvious truth, and replacing it with fictions and lies. We are taught to be in denial of the reality of the American failure and worldwide sponsorship of atrocities. To see these realities makes us “unAmerican”, we are told. The implication is that in order to be “one of us” you must unquestioningly believe in the lies about our culture. So you cannot be a “true American” unless you are a liar about the most important human values and realities. Above the Temple of True Americanism is carved in large letters:

    ABANDON ALL TRUTH YE WHO ENTER HERE.

    • Cyrus
      June 21, 2018 at 11:51 am

      You have so clearly explained what has been my opinion as well. 100% to the point.

    • June 21, 2018 at 10:20 pm

      Thanks Mike. Well said

  15. June 21, 2018 at 9:15 am

    Good article but no surprise. In a twisted way, arguments about accuracy of precision bombs can be construed as a defense of bombing if it is just more accurate. I don’t know how many people ascribe to the dictum that the first casualty of war is truth, but it is the MO of generals and politicians and their willing media accomplices to lie by commission and omission. Some of the quotes of critics in Davies’ article are terrific..

    • Hank
      June 21, 2018 at 9:34 am

      USA “leaders” are constantly moralizing about the “evil” other nations commit in an ongoing boost to the armaments industries. The problem with Americans is that they can never imagine what it would be like if THEY were the ones being bombed to smithereens on a lie! This is hypocrisy to the ultimate level. All the “evils” that the USA works its foreign policies around should really apply to the USA itself. What a screwed-up world!

      • Joe Tedesky
        June 21, 2018 at 10:35 am

        Hank you and Herman in my estimation got it right. If only us Americans would stop our saluting the Pentagon for what that’s worth, long enough to contemplate the horrors our country is committing in our name, what a revelation it would be to realize our nation’s destructive power being imposed on instigated civil restless nations, as the U.S. worldwide hegemony project moves horrifically along. I fear the blowback our grandchildren are facing. What’s even more troubling is the death of innocents our constant warring produces. Our biggest problem, is to how we citizens can change this ongoing calamity of evil.

  16. Joe Tedesky
    June 21, 2018 at 9:12 am

    I posted this link on another article, but it probably belongs here.

    https://www.rt.com/op-ed/430420-121-bombs-per-day/

    The bomb business is doing very well thank you, as the U.S. drops a bomb every 12 minutes, every 12 minutes.

  17. Tom Welsh
    June 21, 2018 at 8:42 am

    “…the incredibly accurate Norden bomb sight, which hits a 25-foot circle from 20,000 feet.“

    Well, it does. Just not the 25-foot circle the bombardier was aiming at – more likely one three miles away in some random direction.

    Still, never mind – just as long as we are blowing SOMETHING up.

  18. Tom Welsh
    June 21, 2018 at 8:36 am

    ‘But one must ask how so many people can be killed if these weapons are so “precise,” for instance in one of “the most precise air campaigns in military history,” as a Pentagon spokesman characterized the total destruction last year of Raqqa in Syria’.

    Precision bombing implies the ability reliably to hit whatever one aims at. Unfortunately, human ignorance and fallibility mean that very often the wrong thing is aimed at. Consider, for example, the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. (Although some cynics believe that was no mistake at all).

    At the start of Gulf War 2 the US government announced with much pride that it would use its “precision bombing” technology to decapitate the Iraqi state by “taking out” Saddam Hussein. They launched dozens of “surgical strikes” at various places where they were “reliably informed” by “intelligence sources” that Saddam was hiding. Every single target was hit and destroyed, but Saddam was not even in the Baghdad area. Most of the strikes killed civilians, and at least one killed hundreds – it was an underground bomb shelter.

    It’s hard to get accurate intelligence about a country where you do not dare go yourself, whose language hardly any of your people understand, and whose customs are utterly alien to you.

    • mike k
      June 21, 2018 at 10:38 am

      I had a friend who was a bombardier in the Italian Campaign in WWII. He and a vet from the Vietnam war were the two people I knew who were crazier than I was. He told me stories of bombing runs. The crew of his plane were most fond of dropping their bombs harmlessly in the ocean. Flak was heavy over the real targets, and many planes were destroyed. It was the bombardier’s duty to hold the plane on a steady course on the bombing run through the increasing flak. He was not popular among the crew, hence the latter ocean drops to serve out their appointed number of runs before retirement. We both drank and drugged ourselves in an unsuccessful attempt to sooth our traumatic pasts.

      • Bill
        June 21, 2018 at 5:51 pm

        in US heavy bombing raids in WW2,usually, the lead bomber ‘s bombardier aimed and when the other planes saw his bombs drop, they then dropped their bombs. not a lot of bomb sight use by most of the planes in an attack.

  19. Theo
    June 21, 2018 at 8:05 am

    I never believed the lies of precision bombing.It’s technically impossible.It remains a pipedream of the masses.And really most people don’t care I’m afraid.I have also hated the euphemism .Why don’t they call it what it is?

    • Piotr Berman
      June 21, 2018 at 12:37 pm

      This is not a pipe dream, but one has to be clear what it means. From military point of view, the key thing is hitting vehicles, entrenchments, fortifications etc., while staying at higher altitude. That of course requires correct target identification which is an independent issue. From military perspective, getting from 10% of munition hitting combat targets to 50% is an enormous improvement, five-fold larger effectiveness. From humanitarian perspective, getting from 90% of munitions hitting civilians and civilian infrastructure down to 50% is a meager consolation, and claims of moral superiority of precise munitions contrasted to dumb bombs and barrel bombs used by “morally deficient regimes” is simply propaganda: we are morally better because we are different. If we do not eat pork, pork is evil, if we do not use “dumb bombs”, dumb bombs are evil, if we do not use Cyril alphabet etc.

      • June 21, 2018 at 9:19 pm

        Correct. You simply can’t drop 250lbs+ of modern high explosive in any quantity over a populated area and not blow up all kinds of shit you weren’t meaning to. Plus the initial problem, which is you are probably are guessing what you’re aiming at is actually the right target, and even if it is, you have no idea if there are civilians right next to that location. The only time ‘precision’ bombing really works is in unpopulated areas where you have a good idea where you’re being shot at from, etc.

        I have no doubt that basically everybody involved in unleashing munitions the way we did in say Mosul or Raqqa (and note, in Raqqa we were killing sovereign citizens of a state that we had no right to attack) were completely aware that we were killing innocents right and left. We simply traded civilian blood for the blood of our troops or proxies which would have been shed digging the opposition out with rifles and grenades. In Raqqa it looks like they just blew up anything that could conceivably be an ISIS position.

        We have a fantastic view of war, where civilian casualties are rare and our forces are very deliberately picking and blowing up precise targets. In reality, freaked out grunts are guessing where fire is coming from and trying to get strikes on everything that looks threatening, or controllers are looking at grainy video feeds and using completely unreliable ground sources to decide what to blow up. And most of the time, they miss anyway, and even if they do hit, the blast radius hits much more than they need to.

        The problem is simple, just like Billy Sherman said- “WAR IS HELL”. End of story. The only civilized option is to not engage in it.

  20. David G
    June 21, 2018 at 6:10 am

    Be fair. U.S. precision munitions have their moments:

    • an air raid shelter, Baghdad, Feb. 13, 1991, killing at least 408 civilians

    • Serbian public broadcasting center, Belgrade, Apr. 23, 1999, killing 16 civilians, others wounded

    • Chinese embassy, Belgrade, May 7, 1999, killing 3 Chinese civilians, others wounded

    All bullseyes. Don’t it make you proud?

    • June 21, 2018 at 9:21 pm

      Yep, ‘precision’ is not so great when you have no idea (or are simply scum choosing to kill innocents) what you’re hitting. Which is most of the time.

    • will
      June 22, 2018 at 4:07 pm

      two of those strikes you mention appear to have been purposeful and well aimed attacks. pretty easy to guess which two they were and why. Also, blowing up all those civilians in a restaurant where Bush thought Sadam might be eating dinner was pretty precise, it’s just that Sadam wasn’t there.

      • David G
        June 23, 2018 at 3:26 am

        I only left out the March 2003 attempted “decapitation” strikes aimed at Saddam because, if the missile/bomb in fact missed and hit some other civilian building – such as that restaurant – nearby, the U.S. military could (IMO would) claim ex post facto that they got the building they had been aiming for. (However, even if that happened, I’m not implying their intelligence for the intended target was any good either, or that massacring civilians would have been legitimate regardless.)

        • Piotr Berman
          July 1, 2018 at 3:47 am

          The way I remember, was it NYT? is that US knew about a favorite restaurant of Saddam, so the PTB decided to try their luck and precisely bomb the place. A decision worthy of a firing squad (or gathering everyone who was in the decision loop in a single restaurant…).

  21. john wilson
    June 21, 2018 at 3:53 am

    The claim that bombing with smart bombs which never hit civilians, is all part of the art of propaganda. I have asked a number of people if they could tell me what a barrel bomb is and how it differs from the 1,000 pound bombs that the Americans drop which kill everything in a radios of several hundred yards. No one can ever tell me, they just believe that barrel bombs are cruel (their actual words) and the American and British bombs are humane.

    • Tom Welsh
      June 21, 2018 at 8:39 am

      Yes. Just as Western white phosphorus and napalm – which literally burn people to death – and depleted uranium, which do the same more slowly, are presumably also thought humane.

      TV and movies probably are to blame, as they continually show huge explosions that harm no one and people being killed without pain or disfigurement.

      But another important factor is surely people’s downright refusal to think about anything that might make them uncomfortable.

    • Antonia
      June 21, 2018 at 2:31 pm

      I have had the same discussion with a couple of professional people. How they can believe the nonsense about smart bomb beats me.
      We in Britain should have more empathy to the citizens of the countries that being bombed.

    • June 21, 2018 at 9:24 pm

      Yes, it’s like Jimmy Dore always says, we (the US) drop good, humane, American made Christian bombs that dodge innocent civilians and hug the target people to death, which makes all the difference…

    • TS
      June 28, 2018 at 11:57 am

      > No one can ever tell me, they just believe that barrel bombs are cruel (their actual words)
      > and the American and British bombs are humane.

      Well, anyone who would believe the nonsense about “barrel bombs” in the first place is obviously so brainwashed and/or unable to think straight that you should not expect them to make sense about any aspect.

  22. John A
    June 20, 2018 at 11:40 pm

    And yet all we hear in the MSM is how terrible Assad’s ‘barrel bombs’ are, as though they are in some way uniquely awful. Even then, many observers have questioned how much the use of ‘barrel bombs’ is western propaganda along the lines of all the chemical gas attacks, Assad allegedly has used.

    • john wilson
      June 21, 2018 at 4:08 am

      There is an article written by Lee Camp where he shows that the US drops a bomb somewhere in the world every 12 minutes, so this puts the so called barrel bombs in a category of complete insignificance. I have seen pictures of barrel bombs and they are quite small and could easily be carried under your arm. The 1,000 bombs the US drops utterly devastate everything within several 100 yards. Men, women, children, animals and all vegetation, to say nothing of people’s homes and businesses. This entire article can be summed up as another account of US propaganda, as if we didn’t know. Anyway, all praise to the N. Davies for reminding us again.

  23. June 20, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    There are retired bombers running loose.
    ————————————————————–

    January 19, 2017
    “The Legacy of O-BOMB-A”


    The destruction, death, and devastation by this “Nobel Peace Prize” president is surely a hellish legacy. Now this man is going into retirement to live in a luxury home [1] while the victims of his bloody carnage (those still alive) have no homes at all. Many of his living victims are refugees, living in camps or wandering the earth. Some are drowning in the waters of the Mediterranean trying to escape from their countries that have been reduced to smoking rubble, “courtesy” of Obama and his bomb happy NATO allies. [2] Some legacy!…
    [read more at link below]
    http://graysinfo.blogspot.com/2017/01/the-legacy-of-o-bomb-a.html

    • Bob Van Noy
      June 21, 2018 at 11:22 am

      Many thanks Stephan J. I always thank you, because your linked documentation is flawless and amazingly plentiful. In this case, I couldn’t agree more. President Obama gets away with more aggressive behavior than any president in my memory, simply because he’s a Master Presenter. He is the very best Marketing Man I’ve witnessed.
      Hopefully, in the environment of a Peace and Reconciliation Trial, his true personality will be revealed…

      • Piotr Berman
        June 21, 2018 at 6:29 pm

        “… best Marketting Man…”

        Colin Powell and Tony Blair were very good if you are old enough to remember them. I recall comparing Powell with Condoleeza Rice. When Rice was spouting something she would look here and there, twitch her neck etc., Powell would rumble in his measured deep voice and stare with a steely gaze, an epitome of probity and experience. Apparently, he started to rise on officer ranks by expertly white washing My Lai massacre, so his experience at pretend probity was long and successful.

        Then we have Mr. Trump that has mediocre record at market analysis or finance, but superb and salesmanship and branding.

        That said, I contributed to Obama campaign, he would do in a sales department anywhere for sure. It is a mystery how Democratic establishment put all the chips on Hillary.

    • will
      June 22, 2018 at 4:10 pm

      Obama,both Bushs, Nixon, LBJ, Clinton, and even Jimmy Carter immolated their share of people. Not sure Obama was worse than any of them except possible Carter….who made the decision to make Afganistan “Russia’s Vietnam” and opened the gates of hell there.

  24. Jeff Harrison
    June 20, 2018 at 10:19 pm

    Precision? I would say that would be like within 10 ft. or less of where you want the ordinance to go. The marines want you to hit their adversaries right over there – about 40-50 feet away, max. without hitting them. They discovered in Vietnam that an F-4 (or any other aircraft) for example could not do that traveling at their minimum controllable speed of around 150 kts. Which is why the marines went with the AV-8 and the A-10 which can fly very low and slow and can deliver ordinance just on the other side of the road. The marine’s version of the F=35 should also be able to do that but by the time you dirty the aircraft up for slow speeds and load it up for an air to ground role (the F-35 can carry somewhere between 4 and 6 bombs in it’s internal weapons bays) which means you have to have weapons on pylons mounted on A/C hard points, you ain’t got no stinkin’ stealth left.

    The problem I have with pieces like this is that you don’t really tell the truth which is this: we continue to think of combat as ala WWI with side A here and side B there and most everything around sides A & B is just empty. That’s not what it be like. Every place where we are and have committed war in the last 50 years is crawling with civilians who have no place to go. So, even if you can hit a target’s location with a 10′ CEP (circular error probability) you may well be killing a boatload of civilians who are desperately trying to become one with the earth while they realize they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Frankly, it is my seldom humble opinion that all these assholes that have perpetrated war on other countries (none of which actually attacked the US), should be stripped naked, covered with honey, and staked out over fire ant colonies.

    • john wilson
      June 21, 2018 at 3:46 am

      Jeff, the ants would most likely only eat the honey and leave the body alone. I could think of much better ways to punish these swines, but I won’t tell you because it would put you off your breakfast.

    • June 21, 2018 at 9:30 pm

      If we really gave a shit about civilian casualties, they would have long since both improved accuracy of guided munitions (perhaps by having a kill mechanism which would disable the ordinance if it knew it was off target) and produced small warhead missiles/bombs with something like the explosive charge of a WW2 60mm mortar or 75mm HE shell, enough to blow up one house or position, with minimal danger to adjacent areas. Not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than slinging around stuff with half-block kill radiuses.

      • Known Unknown
        June 22, 2018 at 12:18 am

        Or not invading foreign countries that pose no threat to the United States.

    • Known Unknown
      June 22, 2018 at 12:17 am

      The public’s view of war, assuming they even think about it, is completely warped. Anyone who raves about precision ordnance and how it “protects civilians” should be sent to the front where these munitions are being used and made to hang out with the actual civilians that live and die there. The problem with America and Europe these days is they can wage war without consequences. Being a suburban chicken hawk is easy when it is always somebody else being bombed and invaded. Americans still think 911 was this huge travesty, when in reality it was a one off and the death toll was minuscule compared to the number of civilians regularly killed by the US and its allies/lackeys.

  25. jose
    June 20, 2018 at 8:31 pm

    If these military criminals were to tell the people the real inaccuracy of the wagons used when bombing their targets, they would be exposed for what they really are: deceivers and liars. For instance, the entity that wages constant and illegal wars worldwide should be named the war department, not the department of defense. US did not invaded Vietnam; US was trying to help the latter fight communism. Examples are abundant. One can take his pick.

    • john wilson
      June 21, 2018 at 3:57 am

      Yes, Jose, and there is also the point that even if the bombs are accurate we only have the word of the criminals dropping these weapons that the people under them are indeed terrorists.

      • padre
        June 21, 2018 at 4:54 am

        They use a reverse logic: if we hit him, he is a terrorist, because we don’t kill civilians!

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