Representing horrorism

At In the Middle, Karl Steel reviews Adriana Cavarero's book Horrorism, which, as I understand it, seeks to reorient descriptions of violence from the perspective of its perpetrators to that of its victims. This part of the review seems like a good question to ask here:

I suffer an even pettier annoyance when she writes: "Any review of the refined arts of war developed over the course of the century would have to dedicate a separate chapter to the aerial bombardments inaugurated by German forces over Guernica and Coventry" (51). Why not Italian forces over Ethiopia the year before Guernica, or, arguably, RAF forces over Sulaymaniyah? (and while it's tempting to suggest the Zeppelin raids of English, beginning in 1915, the difference between these and Sulaymaniyah, Ethiopia, or Guernica is that the English could defend themselves: the Kurds, Ethiopians, and Basques could not, and thus stand as better representatives of horrorism (unlike the inhabitants of Coventry)).

Firstly, my petty criticism of the sentence quoted from the book would be that Germany didn't inaugurate aerial bombardment at either Guernica or Coventry. As Steel notes, there were plenty of earlier instances; I would probably point the Bulgarian bombing of the Turkish city of Adrianople in late 1912 as the inauguration of aerial bombardment of civilians. I would also quibble with Steel, and point out that while Britain as a nation could defend itself against bombing during the First World War, on an individual level its citizens could not shoot back, send up fighters or retaliate through counterbombing. At the point in time when the bombs were actually falling, can we say that the horror experienced by Kurdish victims of British air control was greater than that of British victims of the Zeppelins and Gothas? Conversely, non-Western, non-state targets of bombing tried a surprisingly wide range of strategies, up to and including their own small air forces.

But then what would be the best example of horrorism in the case of aerial bombardment? I'd pick Dresden, February 1945. Not only was is it one of the most devastating episodes in the history of bombing in and of itself, but it was one of the few cases when the horror was so great that it was felt by the perpetrators (or at least the perpetrating culture) as well as the victims. But then that's probably missing the point of horrorism altogether.

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4 thoughts on “Representing horrorism

  1. "in this story", I mean, in this all affair of being air bombed and it's repercussions in the press and after, when historians pick their events to illustrate their points of view on the hows and whys...

  2. Post author

    Firstly, sssh! I didn't mention Venice because I'm planning on writing a post on it for the 160th anniversary. Secondly, I agree it was the first aerial bombing of civilians in a technical sense (the best kind), but it was one which didn't set a precedent. The next instance didn't come until over 60 years later and it wasn't by unmanned balloon. So Adrianople was more significant, and more representative, in my opinion.

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