The Bombing of Kabul

Great Falls Daily Tribune/June 12, 1919

A news item coming by way of London tells us that British aviators have been dropping bombs on Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Just what the occasion for it was is a little vague in the dispatch. Afghanistan is not British territory. It is an independent state on the borders of the Indian empire. But the British have always had a good deal to say about affairs political in that country. They have made war on it more than once. They changed the ruling dynasty there on one occasion when the ameer got unfriendly and listened to intrigue from Russia. The Afghans were much given to making raids across the borders of the British Indian empire, cutting the throats of British citizens who were traveling in that country and other playful exhibitions of their natural and national spirit. This, led to frequent “punitive expeditions” of British troops across the border and some strong talk from the British authorities in India. There is not much love lost between the British and the Afghans, and never has been. Just what deviltry the Afghans have been up to lately we do not just know. In these days of censored cables the world’s news from distant parts is hard to get at. As there is considerable unrest in India, and Great Britain and the Indian empire have most of their troops in Mesopotamia and Palestine, it may be that the Afghans thought the time ripe for their favorite sport of raiding the northern India provinces. Or perhaps they have been taking a part in the movement of the Indian population to rebel against the British. But whatever the reason may be it is evident that the British are conducting a punitive war against the Afghans, and that as a means to that end their aviators have been dropping bombs on the capital city of the Afghans.

The statement is interesting because it is not long ago that the British capital was bombed by German aviators, and British public opinion was not slow to express its opinion about that performance. Its newspapers, statesmen and people were unanimous about the morality of the thing. Baby killers, they called the aviators. If we understood them rightly only barbarians and cowardly murderers would drop bombs on a city not knowing where they would strike or what innocent non-combatant lives would be snuffed out by them. We agreed with that line of reasoning ourselves. We understood that it was to be outlawed in the future and no civilized nation would ever attempt it again under pain of international outlawry. We understood the peace treaty and the League of Nations were going to put an end to this form of murder. Therefore we are somewhat surprised to read a London dispatch telling about the bombing of Kabul, and not a word of denunciation, explanation, or apology for it. There are probably unarmed and non-combative citizens in Kabul. There are women and little children there as well as in London. We have a conviction that their relatives may have much the same feeling as London fathers and mothers had when their children were scattered into fragments of flesh spattered against the walls by a bomb falling on them thru the air. And doubtless the Afghans are still more helpless in defending themselves against such sudden death from the sky. They have no air guns to search the clouds with shrapnel for the cowardly assassins. They have no airplanes to take flight and meet their enemies in the air on equal terms as the Londoners had. The Afghans have no defenses against this kind of war. No doubt that fact will make them regard it as cruel and unfair war and against all the rules of the game of war. They probably regard the British as barbarians and cowardly assassins for using it against them, and who can blame them if they do. Out of our own mouth they can convict us of insincerity and duplicity if we dispute their assertion. We are fairly impaled on the spearpoints of our own logic in such dispute.

The Afghans are a semi-civilized people at best. They are notoriously cruel and treacherous and untrustworthy. “As faithless as an Afghan” is a proverb in north India with the natives who have known them long and suffered much by them. And of course they are superstitious and cowardly in the presence of superior force. It may be that this visitation of death from the skies may work on their superstition or terrorize them into false professions of peace and repentance for their errors. As a means to accomplish the desired end where roads are few and transport for an army most difficult the bombing machine of the air may be most efficient. And yet we are of the opinion that its use by the British is a mistake. The thing itself is no different whether London or the peaceful villages of Kent be the objective of the falling bombs or the mountain capital of the Afghans. It makes a difference whose cow or bull is gored by the other fellow’s cross animal to be sure. But a civilized nation is not justified in making barbarian war even on barbarians. The doctrine of reprisal, and an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is justified by the old testament, but not by the new testament. As a means of defense against the infernal gas machines used by the Germans against us we used gas on them. As a means of defense against German bomb-dropping machines we sent more powerful machines against their cities. But if the Germans had not used these means of assault and had no knowledge of them or means of attaining them we could not justify ourselves in their employment. And that is just the case in Afghanistan. The British cut the ground out on which they stood in their protests against the morality of the German air raids on London, when they make air raids with bombing machines on the capital city of the Afghans.

(Source: Library of Congress, Chronicling America,

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