New Internationalist

A History of Bombing

June 2002

Sven Lindqvist’s Exterminate all the Brutes was a harrowing account of how European colonial acquisitiveness and theories of racial superiority combined to produce genocidal results. This theme is one of the elements in his new work, a detailed examination of the brutal history and indefensible consequences of aerial bombardment. The book has an unusual structure in which 399 short paragraphs are arranged into 22 parallel and broadly chronological themed sections which the reader follows rather like internet hyperlinks. For example ‘Bombing the Savages’ takes us from Jules Verne’s imagined airship visiting death and destruction on African villages in 1886 to Chinese air attacks on Shanghai civilians in 1932. Lindqvist describes his method as ‘a labyrinth with 22 entrances and no exits’. Although seemingly counterintuitive this is a surprisingly effective method of pointing up comparisons and connections as wherever you are in the book the strand you are following is surrounded by actions and ideas from the same time-frame. Of course, if this is not to your taste the book could simply be read conventionally as a single linear narrative.

However you tackle it, this is a highly topical and sadly necessary book. The author has skilfully blended literary, historical, autobiographical and, above all, moral elements into a learned and moving inquiry into the ideologies and atrocities of aerial warfare. After reading its appalling catalogues of technology in the service of barbarism, it is difficult to argue with Lindqvist’s angry and disturbing conclusion that ‘global violence is the hard core of our existence’.

Peter Whittaker

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 346 This column was published in the June 2002 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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