Friday, July 02, 2010

'Carpet Bombing' vs CARPET BOMBING!

Etymological Observations: A Safari into the Semantics of the Left

From the back and forth in my last adventure in the threads at Defense Tech here, it was driven home that industrious but small minds had sometime succeeded in perverting the English language (once again) to suit their purposes. In this specific instance I am referring to the use of the term: 'Carpet Bombing'.

From the thread at the referenced link, two individuals identify air strike activity conducted in wars after Vietnam as 'carpet bombing'. I ruminated as to why this must be, since I distinctly remember interviews and briefings with senior DOD civilian and military leaders where they corrected such mis-perceptions...repeatedly. I specifically remembered the 'repeatedly' part because it seemed that the questioners/interviewers seized on the term in Desert Storm and seized upon it again early during Operation Allied Force. It then reappeared again for Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. The term was not originating within DOD and NOWHERE is it spoken of in military community as an acceptable, much less preferred 'technique' in applying force through Airpower.

It did not take much researching to verify my memories of on the topic during the wars from Desert Storm forward were correct. From a 15 March 1991 briefing during Desert Storm (emphasis mine):
This is the 117, you've seen it. It's been operational now for nearly 10 years. It still represents the state of the art as far as operationally fielded technology. As far as we know, it's never been tracked by any Iraqi radar. It has certainly never been touched by bullets or SAMs or anything else. We operated for 43 days with this aircraft completely invulnerable,so far as we know. As it says, never touched by target defenses.
I want to make a little more on this point here, because with the combination of stealth and precision attack capability in the 117, we were able to attack targets very discretely. We did not carpet bomb downtown Baghdad. As a matter of fact, it's obvious to anyone who has been watching on television, the pictures of Baghdad neighborhoods untouched,people driving around, walking around on the sidewalks, and so forth. We took special care to make sure that we attacked only military targets, and we attacked them quite precisely.
Aircrews were informed to bring home the ordnance if they weren't sure they were locked to the right targets. We made very few mistakes. I'm quite proud of the fact that we achieved high levels of destruction against military targets with minimum collateral damage.
The statement reads as if someone was out there claiming that the US was 'carpet bombing' Baghdad doesn't it? Such claims must have happened more than once: From an article in the Spring 1997 Airpower Journal (emphasis mine):
When news from Basra in early February suggested carpet bombing, Pentagon spokesmen seemed increasingly exasperated. “We never said there would be no collateral damage,” Lt Gen Thomas Kelly complained at one of his afternoon briefings:
What we did say is that our pilots scrupulously adhered to good targeting . . .and in fact flew that target profile to the best of their ability. We go to great lengths . . . to avoid collateral damage. But war is a dirty business, and unfortunately, there will be collateral damage. There's no way one can prohibit it.
Iraq wasn't claiming even five hundred civilian casualties, yet military spokesmen were practically admitting hidden damage. One might have thought Dresden or Tokyo had occurred.
Now we skip forward to 1999, and Operation Allied Force. From a May 1, 1999 Pentagon briefing (again, all emphasis mine) where the briefer describes precision attack against area targets, and specifically how sticks of unguided bombs are laid down in very defined target areas:
One of the things that's been talked about a little bit is targets and collateral damage. We've talked about that a lot. There's some discussion about B-52s being used in carpet type bombing. We don't do that with B-52.
I mentioned yesterday that our B-52s have changed over the years dramatically, with increases to their avionics capability, increases to their GPS capability, increasing in their overall avionics.

[Chart - Prahovo Petroleum Production Storage Facility, Serbia]

This is a target, you've seen many of these before. This is about 1,000 feet long in this area, probably, maybe a couple of hundred feet wide. It's not an atypical target. We have several of those we've seen before.
Next slide.

[Prahovo Petroleum Production Storage Facility, Serbia]

This would be about the lay down pattern of the B-52 today at whatever altitude we want them to fly at. So you can see that, basically, this is not carpet bombing. This would be a perfect target for that type of weapon to hit. There are other targets, assembly areas we could use with the B-52, and it has a very, very capable delivery method with their avionics they have today to attack a target like this with very little collateral damage. As you can see, there wouldn't be much of a problem with anything around here being in the category of collateral damage.
So as we talk about the B-52, it has the capability to attack with standoff weapons or gravity weapons, and these gravity weapons are not dumb bombs anymore because of the avionics we have in the aircraft to make sure that we do, in this case, what would be called precision on that area target.
But it seems there is 'movement' out there who insists on perverting the term 'carpet bombing' for reasons of their own - perhaps as part of a fey attempt to evoke some emotional response among the weaker and more unprepared minds among the masses. I have to conclude as much because the knee-jerk response of crying 'carpet bombing' again emerged in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. First, from a 31 October 2001 DOD briefing (still my emphasis) on operations in Afghanistan:
Q: Admiral, of all the strikes south of Mazar-e Sharif -- the airstrikes on the Taliban positions, have they all involved precision-guided weapons? Or have the B-52s started to drop strings of 500-pound unguided bombs -- colloquially "carpet bombing" -- now that you have better information on where these divisions are.
Stufflebeem: I'm not sure if it's -- if it's necessary to get into specific mission by mission, but it is -- it is fair to say that we're using both precision and non-precision weapons while attacking Taliban forces -- you know, while they're deployed.
Q: Could use [sic] deterrent carpet bombing and the strings of the unguided bombs against those positions around Mazar-e Sharif?
Stufflebeem: I'm familiar with the term "carpet bombing." I think it's an inaccurate term. It's an old -- an old expression. Heavy bombers have the capacity to carry large loads of weapons, and oftentimes if a target presents itself either in an engagement zone, or when directed, it's possible to release an entire load of bombs at once, in which case -- the real formal term for that is called a "long stick," which has also been called carpet bombing.
So now 'carpet bombing is a 'colloquialism' versus a highly defined term? It is a slippery slope that we seem to be riding.
Now, from an interview that Paul Wolfowitz gave to the BBC in November the same year (more of my emphasis) we see further refutation of the the term 'carpet bombing':
BBC: Can I just ask you first of all about the latest developments in the war in Afghanistan which is that positions north of Kabul are being now carpet bombed,we hear. Is that a change of strategy?

Wolfowitz: I don't think it's a change of strategy. That's a journalistic term, I believe. We are certainly putting very heavy effort against Taliban positions. The strategy from the beginning has been to empower the opposition forces inside Afghanistan to be able to undermine and eventually hopefully overthrow the Taliban.

BBC: But moving from a position where clearly the strikes were one off from surgical to B-52s going in and it looks like carpet bombing to anyone who saw the pictures.

Wolfowitz: Again, I find it -- this is not carpet bombing
a la Dresden and World War II. It is one of the reasons, by the way, we did not send (inaudible) from the beginning is, it is twice the size, it covers a significant area, but it's areas that are chosen quite precisely to be front line units. When you're going after front line units you don't take out one soldier at a time.
So even the civilian leadership gets the difference between bombing a city and bombing 'front line' units in the field. A fine point as to why Dresden doesn't meet my high standard for the term 'carpet bombing' is one I will put aside as 1) irrelevant for this argument and 2) a more complex issue than can be tackled in a blog post - Heck, I have read books that have fallen short on the issue.

Finally, we note that the 'carpet bombing' meme survived to OIF, and that the press refuses to make/see the distinction between precision use of unguided weapons and 'carpet bombing' as a convenient scare term. From a March 3, 2003 briefing at the Pentagon we find the now-retired General McChrystal jumping in to correct a questioner on the topic:
Q: Torie, on the use of the heavy bombers -- and I address this to the general primarily -- the B-1s, B-2s and B-52s, can you tell what kind of ordnance they're dropping? The B-52 is dropping dumb bombs, what we used to call carpet bombing, on the Republican Guard troops?

McChrystal: Sir, they are not. They are dropping a combination of munitions, a large number of precision munitions. So there's really not carpet bombing occurring.
I would have loved to know who asked that question. The phrasing dismisses the distinction that exists between carpet bombing and techniques into a simple change or terms for the same thing.

You don't have to look hard for where the MSM gets their ideas on 'carpet bombing'. Just enter the terms "carpet bombing" with the name of the war you are interested in in your search engine and you get such lovely link suggestions:

"Operation Desert Slaughter":

PBS Frontline:

Rabid Montclair State University faculty (A Stalinist-English Teacher?-ROFLMAO!):

Project on Defense Alternatives: get the drift. All the usual 'Blame America First'

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