As I noted in an earlier post, I presented new research on organizational responses to sexual assault in the military at the Southern Sociological Society last Thursday. Happy to have received some helpful comments, particularly from other scholars of the military. A standout presentation was by staff at the Air Force Academy, who described a course where students are first taught about the sorts of legal and moral issues that have been common during the COIN/ GWOT era, and then implement their teachings in highly realistic combat drills, which include the use of a drone. That same day I happened across a cheap copy of Tami Davis Biddle's Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare. The combination of the USAFA experiment and Biddle's argument about strategic bombing got me thinking about the long history of air power's "double effect".
If the intention is to kill an adversary, and the side effect is terror in a civilian population, then the use of air power is justified according to some metric of minimizing that side effect. (This might create a moral burden to educate a civilian population about your air power capabilities, which would be a strange sort of propaganda.) The other possibility, of course, is that the goal is to instill terror in a given population and effective targeting is a side effect. Biddle's book (and others, e.g. Dodge's Inventing Iraq) stress that air power decisions also follow a third pathway, back to domestic politics. The true goal for some on the air staff may be organizational in nature, i.e. to gain resources in an existential struggle with the sister services. Killing enemies and terrorizing the population may in that case both be side effects. Which of the two is given priority may shift as the conditions for assessing making the case for air power itself shifts.