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Nuclear policy expert speaks to interns about strategic bombing

Washington, D.C., June 11 – In our modern nuclear-prolific world, the concept of bombing civilian targets to accomplish military objectives has become a looming specter over our heads. Professor Sokolski traced back the military origins of strategic bombing to General Sherman’s “March to the Sea” in 1864.  Sherman’s March to the Sea, which inflicted crippling damage to the Confederacy’s economic and industrial centers decreasing efficiency and morale, became a significant model for modern military theory and practice.  

Prof. Sokolski then examined historical military interest in targeting innocent civilians from German unrestricted submarine warfare, to the Battle of Britain, and the fire bombings of Dresden and Tokyo. The culmination of strategic bombing in the Second World War was the dropping of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The result of Japan’s immediate surrender following the bombings only provided credence to the policy of strategic bombing. What made this newfound ability to decimate cities in the blink of an eye so troubling was our apparent willingness to use it.

Prof. Sokolski explored the nuclear revolution that took place with fervent zeal during the Cold War.  Beginning with the two bombs that started it all, “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” he examined the massive increase yields of weaponized nuclear reactions. Prof. Sokolski provided the class with graphic examples in order to demonstrate just how powerful these apocalyptic weapons became. The capabilities of these weapons increased exponentially over the course of 16 years, ending with the infamous detonation of “Tsar Bomba,” or King of Bombs recorded to have an explosive yield of more than 50 million tons of TNT.

We then examined the counter-revolution that developed in the latter half of the Cold War, replacing explosive yield with accuracy and laser-guided precision. The results of this counter-revolution have produced ordinance so accurate, bombs today rarely miss by more than a few feet. Accuracy, we learned, is actually more potent than yield in regards to destroying known strategic targets. For this purpose, dropping several laser guided bombs is far more effective and cost-efficient than dropping hundreds of unguided ones or even one large-yield atomic weapon. 

Professor Sokolski made us all realize just how relevant the policy of city busting still is today. Strategic bombing of economic centers, also know as cities, is again being considered by Washington as a possible military strategy that nuclear disarmament would require the U.S. to pursue. Prof. Sokolski then stated man’s progress is measured largely by urbanization and growth of economic centers; consequently, what effect would the complete destruction of progress mean for mankind? And what are the implications of using any means necessary to accomplish military ends? More importantly, is it justified? At the conclusion of his lecture, Professor Sokolski displayed two photos–one was a picture of a war crime (piles of dead bodies at Auschwitz), and one was the result of strategic bombing (piles of dead bodies following the fire-bombing of Dresden). They were indistinguishable.

Professor Henry D. Sokolski is a member of the adjunct faculty at The Institute of World Politics and specializes in nonproliferation, proliferation, nuclear energy, and arms control. He is the Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC).

-By Joe Paoletta
IWP Intern 

Please click here for a pdf of the power point from the lecture: Download file Henry Sokolski: Strategic Bombing Presentation, June 2013