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Countervalue is a military targeting doctrine, in which the attacker plans to break enemy morale by attacks on civilian population, and to destroy the enemy industrial capability.[1] Before nuclear weapons, the air campaigns against Britain, Germany,[2] and Japan,[3] in after-the-fact analysis, showed that attacks on population could cause much misery, but did not break morale. Alternatively, with nuclear weapons, the morale of the population would be secondary to its physical total destruction.

This idea was not unique to the Axis; Marshal of the RAF Sir Arthur Harris, head of Royal Air Force Bomber Command, supported by Lord Cherwell, Winston Churchill's scientific advisor, insisted on "dehousing" targeting against Germany. Part of his reasoning was his bombers carried a heavier bombload that their American counterparts, but lacked the defensive armament to survive in day bombing. British bombers also had even less accurate bombsights than the much-overrated U.S. Norden bombsight, which, in theory, gave the accuracy to attack industry. Some individual RAF units, notably 617 Squadron, could be extremely accurate, but, overall, neither ally could do anything approaching modern precision attack.

It has been argued that while the dehousing strategy was definitely part of the theories Giulio Douhet, the Italian theorist of strategic bombing,[4] the British use was tied more to their technical capabilities. WWII British heavy bombers could not hit a target smaller than a part of a city [5]

It became the basis of Mutual Assured Destruction, sometimes called a "balance of terror" in the Cold War, in which both sides retained sufficient numbers of protected weapons for a "guaranteed second strike" that would carry out a devastating countervalue attack, no matter how strong a counterforce attack preceded it.


  1. Kahn, Herman (1968), On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios, Penguin
  2. United States Strategic Bombing Survey (30 September 1945), Summary Report: European War
  3. United States Strategic Bombing Survey (1 July 1946), Summary Report (Pacific War)
  4. Wilkinson, Alf, Bomber Theory: Air Power Between Two World Wars, History of Aviation
  5. Mets, David R. (April 1999), The Air Campaign: John Warden and the Classical Airpower Theorists, U.S. Air University