East London Humanist Chair Paul Kaufman believes bombing Syria is too simple a solution

PUBLISHED: 11:20 13 January 2016 | UPDATED: 11:36 13 January 2016


Many will welcome the decision by our Newham MPs not to support Cameron’s plans to bomb Syria.

Dropping bombs from the sky is a modern human invention which has attracted controversy from the outset.

East Londoners had an early taste of its devastating potential with the German Zeppelin raids of WW1. One particularly tragic example is that of 18 children killed when a stray bomb hit Upper North Street School in Poplar in June 1917.

The Middle East also has long and bitter experience of this form of warfare. It was used by the newly-formed RAF to crush uprisings against British rule in Somaliland and Iraq in 1920. An early opponent was local freethinker, Sylvia Pankhurst, perhaps better known for her activities as a suffragette. She campaigned against Mussolini’s bombing of Ethiopia in the thirties. Her anti-air war monument can still be seen in Woodford, erected in 1935 to mark the failure by the League of Nations to make such bombing unlawful.

The ‘blitz spirit’ shown by East Enders and others has since become synonymous with the way in which aerial bombardment can actually stiffen the resolve of those at the receiving end. Such attacks by their nature carry a high risk of innocent casualties and the destruction of infrastructure which sustains civilized life. It is not surprising so much strength of feeling is created by the terror they inflict. Even modern precision bombs cannot preclude the risk of what is euphemistically called ‘collateral damage.’ The most hawkish of hawks should be given pause for thought by another more recent episode in the dark history of aerial bombing.

Between 1969 and 1973 the US dropped more than two million tons of bombs on Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge thrived in the wake of the carnage. Its reign of terror, which lasted three years afterwards, has frightening parallels with the anti-intellectual death cult of ISIS.

Of course all decent people want robust action to defeat ISIS. But dropping bombs on its own is a simplistic response to a complex problem, and one which could yet prove horribly counterproductive. More from Paul

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