March 30, 2003


Watching images of the bombing of Baghdad brought to mind another American bombing campaign 58 years ago. On March 9, 1945, more than 300 B-29 Superfortresses attacked Tokyo. Their napalm bombs and magnesium incendiaries turned 16 densely packed square miles into an inferno. An estimated 84,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed, making this one of the deadliest days of warfare ever.

The enormity of the destruction is almost impossible to comprehend today, because the American armed forces fight so differently now. The new way of war emphasizes precision and aims for minimal casualties on both sides. This approach represents a considerable advance, but it also brings its own set of problems.

Although air strikes on Baghdad have intensified, leading to what Iraqi officials claim are more than 70 civilian casualties, the city is hardly being pounded into rubble. Electricity and other services remain. In the war’s early days, Baghdad residents even stood on their balconies to watch bombs and missiles pummel their city — secure in the knowledge that only a handful of government buildings would be hit.

This is a bit reminiscent of the first Battle of Bull Run in 1861, which drew as spectators the crème de la crème of Washington society. It is almost as if the United States has left behind the total war of the 20th century and returned to an earlier time of more limited combat, when columns of professional soldiers marched toward each other across open fields and civilians were hurt only by accident.

Boot’s not entirely sure that this is a good idea.

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