Shock and Awe Aims

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Mar 10 08:53:52 MST 2003

Rob Ryan wrote:
> In my opinion, this should be called the Hiroshima tactic.

Published on Monday, January 27, 2003 by
Shock & Awe: Is Baghdad the Next Hiroshima?
by Ira Chernus

Have your heard of Harlan Ullman? Everyone in the White House and the
Pentagon has. They may very well follow his plan for war in Iraq. He
wants to do to Baghdad what we did to Hiroshima.

Ullman is what they call a "defense intellectual." He was the Navy's
"head of extended planning" and taught at the National War College. One
of his students was Secretary of State Colin Powell, who says he "raised
my vision several levels."

What Powell and everyone in the Bush administration sees now is Ullman's
vision for high-tech war. He calls it "rapid dominance," or "shock and
awe." The idea is to scare the enemy to death. To win, you don't need to
inflict physical pain and destruction. Just the fear of pain, and the
massive confusion it creates, is enough.

Ullman wants the U.S. to (in his words) "deter and overpower an
adversary through the adversary's perception and fear of his
vulnerability and our own invincibility." "This ability to impose
massive shock and awe, in essence to be able to 'turn the lights on and
off' of an adversary as we choose, will so overload the perception,
knowledge and understanding of that adversary that there will be no
choice except to cease and desist or risk complete and total destruction."

Ullman is ready to use every kind of weapon to create shock and awe. He
once said it might be a good idea to use electromagnetic waves that
attack peoples' neurological systems, "to control the will and
perception of adversaries, by applying a regime of shock and awe. It is
about effecting behavior."

When it comes to Iraq, Ullman likes the idea of cruise missiles -- lots
of them, right away. CBS News reports that Ullman's ideas are the basis
for the Pentagon's war plan. The U.S. will smash Baghdad with up to 800
cruise missiles in the first two days of the war. That's about one every
four minutes, day and night, for 48 hours.

The missiles will hit far more than just military targets. They will
destroy everything that makes life in Baghdad livable. "We want them to
quit. We want them not to fight," Ullman told CBS reporter David Martin.
So "you take the city down. You get rid of their power, water. In
2,3,4,5 days they are physically, emotionally and psychologically

Ullman is sure it will work as well in 2003 as it did in 1945: "You have
this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima,
not taking days or weeks but in minutes." "Super tools and weapons --
information-age equivalents of the atomic bomb -- have to be invented,"
he wrote in the Economic Times. "As the atomic bombs dropped on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki finally convinced the Japanese Emperor and High
Command that even suicidal resistance was futile, these tools must be
directed towards a similar outcome."

When he first invented "rapid dominance," Ullman talked about an
"eight-level hierarchy of shock and awe," with the atomic bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the top. Now, it seems, that's where he wants
to start.

Is the Hiroshima model just a metaphor? Ullman recently wrote that one
way to "shock and awe" Saddam is to remind him that the U.S. has
"certain weapons" that can destroy deeply buried facilities. That's a
not-even-thinly-veiled reference to the newest kind of nuclear weapons,
the B-61 "bunker-busters." L.A. Times columnist William Arkin has
confirmed that the U.S. is preparing to use "bunker-busters" against
Iraq. That would "break down the firewall separating nuclear weapons
from everything else," Arkin warns, and "forever pit the Arab and
Islamic world against us."

Suppose we drop the nuke in the wrong place? Even Harlan Ullman admits
it could easily happen: "Of course, there will always be intelligence
gaps, and no solution is perfect." But that's just the point. "The
threat would be a Damoclean sword that might or might not descend." In
other words, the fear of nukes falling who-knows-where would scare them
into surrendering without a fight. Let other Islamic nations get as
angry as they like. We'll just shock and awe them too.

And why not North Korea, while we're at it? Ullman wants a nuclear
threat there, if North Korean leaders don't heel to U.S. commands: "To
remind the North of its vulnerability, one or more Trident ballistic
submarines could be permanently assigned to target North Korea."
Tridents carry 240 nuclear warheads each. One Trident might not be
enough, it seems. When you use shock and awe, you use it big-time.

So here we are, preparing to destroy a huge modern city, kill tens of
thousands, and threaten nuclear attack -- all against people who have
not fired a single bullet at us. Yes, it's about oil. But it's also
about shock and awe, putting on a terrifying show for the whole world to

If all this leaves you in shock and awe, you have had your vision raised
several levels too. You see what Ullman, Powell, and all the Bushies
see: the U.S. frightening the whole world so badly that no one will dare
fire a single bullet at us. Let them be as angry as they like, just so
they know who is the meanest, toughest son of a bitch on the global block.

That is now becoming the essence of U.S. foreign policy. And they
seriously believe it will put an end to war. I suppose the Romans
believed it too.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of
Colorado at Boulder.
chernus at


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