I enjoyed listening to Logical Insanity—as much as one can enjoy a thorough historical discussion of large-scale human death. Carlin defines logical insanity in the context of the questions and answers: the answers are logical, but the questions themselves are insane. He explores how the people of the world regarded war, what was morally acceptable and what wasn’t in the face of war, and how this mindset ran parallel to the development of air warfare.
In the first half of the show, Carlin was making the argument that the development and use of air bombing was the unequivocal marker of the shift in how we thought about war; the use of air bombing meant that collateral damage (the loss of civilian life) was morally justifiable. Carlin maps out this shift, and I chose a few points that I believe best summarizes his argument.
- During WWI, technology developed that changed how we fight wars—air bombing. At first, aircrafts, called “lighter than air”, were used as mere scouting tools, but they were soon used as a means of bombing. This was a new, devastating way to wage war that was quickly embraced and evolved rapidly with the idea that the prospect of such destructive power would deter future conflict. With bombing becoming more and more prevalent, people became desensitized to it. Early bombing techniques were rather ineffective and so people did not object to it.
- Over the course of WWI, land warfare had changed as well. Battles were fought on much larger and longer lasting scales. In previous wars, a battle that last three days was considered especially heinous, but the battles of WWI lasted for years.
- During WWII, the views of an Italian general named Giulio Douhet, who insisted that nations had to utilize air bombing because the enemy was surely going to, greatly affected the way the world looked at war . Douhet developed this philosophy that disregarded the morality of fighting and focused on the effectiveness of it—war would be “over in five minutes” with this new power.
- Finally, after the frightful evolution of air bombing technology and the public idea of war, it became impossible to ban it. The League of Nations was not a strong enough global power to enforce such a thing and, even if they did ban it, such a policy would be easy enough to get around. At any rate, most nations were reluctant to let it go for fear that their enemies would not and would then have the upper hand on them.
In the second half of the show, Carlin illuminates the downward spiral that was the Second World War. The use of air bombing became prevalent, and while all nations insisted that their targets were exclusively military ones, usually factories concerned with military production, there was no way to accurately drop bombs. In fact, Carlin tells us that at one point in the war, only two thirds of bombs dropped landed within five miles of the target area. This accuracy was compromised even more because bombs were usually dropped at night because any aircraft that attacked during the day was quickly shot down. Despite all of these concessions, the powers of the world sanctioned the use of air bombing, which meant the inevitable loss of civilian life. Bombing became a means of controlling morale; if you were bombing the enemy, it was “morale bombing”, but if you were the one being bombed it was “terror bombing”. World War II, compounded with the philosophy of Douhet, became a war of attrition, and any “means of stopping the killing machine became morally justifiable”.
I thoroughly enjoyed this discussion of how the world’s view of war changed and how this change allowed the use of air bombing even though it cost thousands of innocent civilian lives. I particularly enjoyed a few of the examples that Carlin gave. I loved when he described how science fiction writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells affected the public view of air bombing, it reminded me how powerful literature can be on popular culture. I also enjoyed the example of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea, who blatantly attacked civilians during the Civil War in the hope that it would pressure the opposing government to seek peace. This example blew my mind—a man really believed that killing innocent people would help end a war, and this happened years before even WWI. Just crazy.
|(top) London, 1940|
(bottom) Berlin, after war
both cities, both sides of the conflict,
laid to waste