From the shelf: A History of Bombing

I just read some blog post about drones bombing people in Afghanistan, and it got me thinking about this book. I think about this book often, actually, and would like to reread it. I originally read it about four years ago in a rhetoric class at UNL.

Sven Lindqvist‘s A History of Bombing takes you from Chinese rockets, to the first bomb dropped from an airplane, and all the way to the 21st century.

4 Death comes flying: The first bomb dropped from an airplane exploded in an oasis outside Tripoli on November 1, 1911.

“The Italians have dropped bombs from an airplane,” reported Dagens Nyheter the next day. “One of the aviators successfully released several bombs in the camp of the enemy with good results.”

It was the Lieutenant Giulio Cavotti who leaned out of his delicate monoplane and dropped the bomb–a Danish Haasen hand grenade–on the North African oasis Tagiura, near Tripoli. Several months later, he attacked the oasis Ain Zara. Four bombs in total, each weighing two kilos, were dropped during this first air attack. (pp. 1-2)

The whole book is fragmented, and the different bits of information seem to just pile on top of each other. And, though the book is written in chronological order, you’re encouraged to jump around through the text with Lindqvist as your guide. The style is really cool because among these vignettes are woven bits of sci-fi, showing how bombing has played a role in entertainment and popular thought, too.

6 Bombing the savages: In an illustration in Jules Verne’s The Flight of Engineer Roburs (1886), the airship glides majestically over Paris, the capital of Europe. Powerful searchlights shine on the waters of the Seine, over the quays, bridges, and facades. Astonished but unperturbed, the people gaze up into the sky, amazed at the unusual sight but without fear, without feeling the need to seek cover. In the next illustration the airship floats just as majestically and inaccessibly over Africa. But here it is not a matter merely of illumination. Here the engineer intervenes in the events on the ground. With the natural authority assumed by the civilized to police the savage, he stops a crime from taking place. The airship’s weapons come into play, and death and destruction rain down on the black criminals, who, screaming in terror, try to escape the murderous fire. (p. 2)

Lindqvist thinks bombing, basically by definition, is immoral. I think he makes a strong case. He also tries to convince you that bombs and rockets were developed to destroy people of color. This theory has a few holes. I think Lindqvist can come off as a bit dramatic when you get to the end, but I think he truly is scared about what the future holds. I learned a lot about bombing and past warfare from this book, and it has definitely made an impact on how I regard such things now. A History of Bombing is one of those books that stays with you. I know I’m not giving up my copy.

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