Bombing makes great propaganda, but not for the side that's doing the bombing

Josh Quiggin argues persuasively that the easiest way to seem "presidential" is to drop bombs on someone else, and reminds us that Americans only recognize bombing people as "cowardly and evil" when the people being bombed are Americans.

Moreover, dropping bombs on other countries is a really excellent way to get their people to support mobilizing huge numbers of people and massive spending to seek revenge on America (in exactly the same way that Americans, when bombed, will give their leaders a blank check to go bomb someone else in retaliation, without caring much who the retaliation is visited upon).

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.

Blowing stuff up [Josh Quiggin/Crooked Timber]