[artinfo] Tjebbe van Tijen: Unbombing the World 1911-2011 project seeks support

geert lovink geert at xs4all.nl
Mon Feb 9 13:22:15 CET 2004

From: "Tjebbe van Tijen" <t.tijen at chello.nl>

5 years ago the Unbombing the World Project was launched.
I have been working on it on and off during the last years. A first stage
of inventory of all use of aerial bombing between 1911 and 2003 has been
reached and a short overview of 815 towns.areas is now available in PDF
format from my website.


In the coming period I will try to find financial and technical support to
realize parts of the Unbombing Project. It is clear that the scope of such
a project is far beyond the capabilities of one person. From the beginning
the idea has been to gather the content in a collaborative way, using the
knowledge and insight of many people. The Internet offers opportunities to
realize such a collective work on an international level.

Opportunities for financial support from the cultural and scientific sector
will be used. Applications for support will be posted as down-loadable
files in Acrobat PDF format:

2004/02 Proposal for German phase, blanco application (putting the German
"Bombenkrieg" discussion in a global perspective, 14 pages)

2004/02 Overview of content of global Unbombing database (1911-2003
overview of all bombed towns/areas 815 records, 36 pages)

This is a short introductionary text putting, again, the Unbombing project
in its actual conetxt:


one century of bombing of humans and human habitat
a way to both remember and forget - a way to reconcile
a project proposal by Tjebbe van Tijen

The idea for the Umbombing Project came after I visited Tokyo in 1995. At
first I could not understand why only such a few older buildings and
landmarks could be seen, and I was shocked to discover that a great part of
this huge city had been torched and burnt down during aerial bombing
campaigns of the USA Air Force in March-July 1945. I was ashamed not to
know that over a hundred thousand people died, probably more than the death
toll taken by the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August
1945. As 1995 was the 50 years anniversary of the dropping of the atom
bombs, an international debate arose. A discussion partly triggered by a
proposed exhibition in the American Smithsonian Institute of Technology of
the airplane that dropped the atom bombs, the Enola Gay. A discussion about
whether it had been right or wrong to drop the A-bombs; if it had "saved
lives" of American soldiers and, possibly, many sections of the Japanese
population that would have resisted a traditional sea-born invasion; if
"the aggressive and murderous" Japanese nation deserved to be strafed in
such a way; if the sea blockade had not already brought Japan on its knees,
and so on. 1995 was also the year in which discussion lists on the Internet
started booming and many people from the USA, Japan, the world over, used
this new discussion medium.

The discussion was marked by an obvious split between right and wrong,
victors and defeated, aggressor and counter-aggressor. It did not
sufficiently address the wider problem of the use of aerial bombing: ways
of waging war whereby civilians run even more risk to be killed than

The Unbombing Project is an attempt to go beyond the dichotomized way of
discussing war. It raises questions on the massive use of air power during
World War II as a means to defeat Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and imperial
Japan (it certainly does not fail to document the indiscriminate and
vicious attacks by the air forces of these Axis countries); it raises
questions on the practice of "terror-bombing", not aimed at military or
economic targets, but at the morale of the population, and thus at their
lives. A military strategy that has not sufficiently been put in question,
and even continued during the Korean and Vietnam/Indochina wars. The post
World War II international tribunals of Nuremberg and Tokyo failed to
address the issue of aerial bombing and the hundred thousands of victims it
caused. This has left a moral-vacuum, especially on the side of the
British, the Americans and allied countries that had a major involvement in
the air war (Canada, South Africa, Australia). This moral-vacuum is easily
filled with anti-Western, anti-American, sentiments. International justice
comes to be seen as a justice which exempts the victors.The debate about
the throwing of the atom bombs on Japan, the bombing of Dresden, the
Hamburg fire storm, the merciless pounding of Indochina (to mention only a
few major cases), smoulders and keeps flaring up at unexpected moments.
Air power (aerial bombing and missile attack) continues to be used in the
last decades. Not just by 'First World', "Western powers" like the United
States or Great Britain but also by 'Second World' powers like the Soviet
Union and its offspring, the Russian Federation, as in the case of
Afghanistan and Chechnya. 'Thirds World' nations have joined in, as in the
cases of Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Congo, Angola, and Columbia. Air power
is a tool both for internal repression in civil war like situations
(Nicaragua, Columbia, Congo, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Sri Lanka) and old
fashioned inter-state wars like the one between Iran and Irak. There
certainly is a decline in the number of bombing victims, massive and
indiscriminate targeting of urban areas is not anymore on the military
agenda, as public opinion and its management has become part of 'the
military operation'. Nevertheless Gulf, Balkan and Afghanistan Wars saw
"unintentional" killing, in spite of the praised "precision" of modern
weapons. There may be almost "zero casualties" for the perpetrators, the
ones flying, throwing, or merely plotting and pushing a button, human
bodies, human lives on the ground are fragile, victims continue to occur,
whereby one may also doubt whether the death of demonized adversaries (be
they labeled soldiers or terrorists) by explosion or fire is the best
solution for solving a conflict.

A historical reconciliation process, of bombing humans and human habitat,
is still needed, a process that starts with attempts at "truth finding" and
"truth telling", which will reveal that there is more than one truth, which
will give some understanding of the military-industrial-complex and the
weakness of political decision-makers dealing with it; a process which lets
us listen to those from the past who spoke against massive bombing and
torching of cities and villages, against the spraying of poison, the
casting of cluster bomb; a process in which the voices of the aircrews that
risked and often gave their lives, must be heard as well. For many fighters
of the air war it has been more than just following orders, it was a fight
against totalitarian and murderous regimes, or a defense of the own nation,
putting at risk their own lives. Of course this is raising questions in
hindsight, but still they need to be posed. Evading them and rigidly
continue to foster historical self-righteousness will be impossible. The
present is changing and the past will be reappraised.

Tjebbe van Tijen 9/2/2004

Tjebbe van Tijen

Imaginary Museum Projects (IMP), Amsterdam


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