In my recent report on the death toll in America’s post-9/11 wars, I estimated that about 2.4 million Iraqis have been killed as a result of the U.S. invasion and hostile military occupation of their country. But opinion polls in the United States and the United Kingdom have found that a majority of the public in both countries believe that no more than 10,000 Iraqis have been killed.
An important factor in the public’s failure to grasp the scale of the death toll in America’s post-9/11 wars is that the U.S. military has worked hard to convince the public that its weapons are now so “precise” that they can kill terrorists and other enemies without harming innocent civilians. A U.S. military spokesperson recently described the bombing of Raqqa in Syria as “one of the most precise air campaigns in military history,” even as journalists and human rights groups documented the total destruction of the city.
The dreadful paradox of “precision weapons” is that the more the media and the public are wrongly persuaded of the near-magical qualities of these weapons, the easier it is for U.S. military and civilian leaders to justify using them to destroy entire villages, towns and cities in country after country: Fallujah, Ramadi, and Mosul in Iraq; Sangin and Musa Qala in Afghanistan; Sirte in Libya; Kobane, and Raqqa in Syria.
An Imprecise History
The skillful use of disinformation about “precision” bombing has been essential to the development of aerial bombardment as a strategic weapon. In a World War II propaganda pamphlet titled the “Ultimate Weapon of Victory”, the US government hailed the B-17 bomber as “… the mightiest bomber ever built… equipped with the incredibly accurate Norden bomb sight, which hits a 25-foot circle from 20,000 feet.“
In reality, the U.K.’s 1941 Butt Report found that only five percent of British bombers were dropping their bombs within five miles of their targets, and that 49 percent of their bombs were falling in “open country.”
In the “Dehousing Paper,” the UK government’s chief scientific adviser argued that mass aerial bombardment of German cities to “dehouse” and break the morale of the civilian population would be more effective than “precision” bombing aimed at military targets.