Bombing Kyiv Into Submission? History Says "Unlikely"Breaking News
tags: military history, Russia, Ukraine, Bombing
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in ordering missile strikes on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, follows a long line of wartime leaders who have sought to cow their adversaries by bombing enemy capitals.
Ever since Nazi Germany’s bombardment of London in World War II, enabled by the first long-range missiles and warplanes, nearly every major war has featured similar attacks.
The goal is almost always the same: to coerce the targeted country’s leaders into scaling back their war effort or suing for peace.
It typically aims to achieve this by forcing those leaders to ask whether the capital’s cultural landmarks and economic functioning are worth putting on the line — and also, especially, by terrorizing the country’s population into moderating their support for the war.
But for as long as leaders have pursued this tactic, they have watched it repeatedly fail.
More than that, such strikes tend to backfire, deepening the political and public resolve for war that they are meant to erode — even galvanizing the attacked country into stepping up its war aims.
The victorious allies in World War II did emphasize a strategy of heavily bombing cities, which is part of why countries have come to repeat this so many times since. Cities including Dresden and Tokyo were devastated, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and forcing millions into homelessness.
Still, historians generally now argue that, even if that did play some role in exhausting those countries, it was largely because of damage to German and Japanese industrial output rather than the terror it caused. Axis countries were also aggressive in bombing enemy cities, casting further doubt on notions that the strategy could be a decisive factor on its own.
And any World War II lessons may be of limited utility in understanding the wars that came after, as countries quickly learned from that conflict to move military production away from city centers. Tellingly, such bombing has seldom worked since.