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Arnold Wilson, the first British governor of Iraq, later condemned the “air control” used by his government to attack “undefended places.” In an address to the Grotius Society in 1932, explaining why it was a poor substitute for government of the traditional variety Wilson said:

“To attack such a place by dropping bombs by aeroplanes is clearly a breach of International Law… There is no subject better calculated to test the wisdom of the Army Commander and strain the conscience of civil administrators than the question of bombarding places inhabited wholly or mainly by non-combatants, even though they may have been warned (perhaps in mid-winter) to leave the place and fly to the neighbouring hills or fields. Yet in this matter His Majesty’s Government has, of recent years, set the pace, and created a new set of usages of war by using the Royal Air Force, in support of the Civil Power, to suppress disturbances which are often primarily, if not solely ‘political’ in origin. There is no doubt whatever that the bombing of towns and villages is accompanied by little danger to the airmen; that it is cheap, spectacular and temporarily effective. My own view is that it is not, in the long run, effective, and that it is contrary both to The Hague Convention, to the usages of war as laid down in The Manual of Military Law, and to the larger interests of this country and of humanity at large. The ineradicable defect of action by air is that even though warning be given, the onslaught is sudden, the damage indiscriminate; there is no locus penitential and no chance of a friendly parley under a flag of truce and timely surrender after a few shots. To allow a belligerent to employ any measure at his own will because it is likely to abbreviate fighting is to set back the clock of International Law.” (The Laws of War In Occupied Territories, pp. 27-8)

But the use of Air Control became too attractive and cheap an alternative for the government of the Empire’s subjects. It had, as Wilson noted, detrimental effects for both the governing and governed. Previously, the intimate approach of the Indian Political Service had created functional relationships with local elites and some of the general populace, but the expedient of policing or governing from the air placed a wall of distrust between rulers and ruled:

“Perhaps the most serious long-term consequence of the ready availability of air control was that it developed into a substitute for administration. Several incidents during the Mandate period indicate that the speed and simplicity of air attack was preferred to the more time-consuming and painstaking investigation of grievances and disputes. With such powers at its disposal the Iraq Government was not encouraged to develop less violent methods of extending its control over the country.” (Peter Sluglett, Iraq Under British Occupation, pp. 268-9)

Whatever might be said about the former Imperialism it certainly confronted the Imperial subject with a more beneficial face than the new version, which confronted the ruled impersonally with bombs and machine-guns from the skies. The blueprint for the American and British bombing strategy of the late 20th/early 21st century against Iraq, Serbia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria etc. was developed by Britain as soon as she saw the possibilities of the aeroplane as a weapon of war. And as Wilson noted “His Majesty’s Government… set the pace, and created a new set of usages of war.”