Terror Targeting: The Morale of the Story

By Ash, Eric | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Terror Targeting: The Morale of the Story


Ash, Eric, Air & Space Power Journal


One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapon, the finely-honed blade.

-Carl von Clausewitz

CLAUSEWITZ NOTED CORRECTLY that war is foggy. One of its foggiest elements is morale, a subject clearly less glamorous than high-technology precision weapons and information systems but no less important. There has been no "revolution in morale affairs" to make the gray shades of morale more black and white. Instead, because morale keeps us flying on instruments "in the soup," it serves as a governor to check the hyper pace of modern warfare. Morale inertia also carries an imperative that the will to win the fight is something the victor must maintain and the vanquished must lose.1 United States Air Force leaders know this because they continue to face challenges worldwide having to do with people's willing@ ness or lack of will to keep the peace. Morale played a major part during aerial bombing campaigns in Southwest Asia and more recently in Eastern Europe, where it again remained an elusive but critical factor. In addition, despite the Air Force's airpower and space power preeminence in the world, its people are suffering declining morale due to high operations tempo and unpredictable deployments. Fundamental to the Air Force's current scheduling transformation-using on-call expeditionary wings-is a desire to improve the current morale slump and its consequent impact on retention.

Morale's interface with high operations tempo and aerial bombing is nothing new to the Air Force, and sometimes a review of the past can help illuminate present situations. Clausewitz once again has appropriate words: "History provides the strongest proof of the importance of moral factors and their often incredible effect: this is the noblest and most solid nourishment that the mind of a general may draw from a study of the past."2

For this article, the study of the past involves primarily World War II, when US Army Air Forces leaders also faced tough choices as high aircrew morale corresponded to perceptions of success against the enemy, but low morale reflected excessive operations tempo and losses. The article explores morale theoretically as well as historically, linking it to leadership by analyzing how various military leaders approached morale and made it integral to operations. It presents a typology of positive and negative morale and analyzes the role of morale in past wars-in particular, World War II area ("terror")3 bombing-to suggest that morale was, and still is, fundamentally one of the most difficult issues with which aerial strategists and aviators have had to deal. Finally, it argues that although morale is a fuzzy subject, it requires both pinpoint accuracy and understanding when it comes to targeting.

This is a high-pitched theoretical study about some complex issues, but it is written for the Air Force flyer, who needs to consider what his or her predecessors were doing and thinking in the past when they launched into the wild blue. Operators need to be thinkers. Especially when one is under the increasing stress of combat and operations tempo, it is important to be morally committed to the mission, knowing that it is the right thing to do.

Morale is an age-old challenge. During World War Il's Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO), morale bombing was costly and its success unproven. Likewise, morale bombing still appears to be a major challenge today for "effects-based targeting," particularly for a quick win during the so-called halt phase of war. Another challenge is unit morale, the commander's constant concern. In a way, morale is like a trump card of war, and Air Force decision makers today must appreciate it as one of the major organizational and operational issues facing the Expeditionary Air Force.

At the previous turn of the century, military leaders considered moral force primary to victory. …

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