This prizewinning book is the first in-depth history of American strategic bombing. Michael explores the growing appeal of air power in America before World War ii, the ideas, techniques, personalities, ad organizations that guided air attacks during the ear and the devastating effects of American and British 'conventional' bombing....
|Title||:||The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon|
|Number of Pages||:||478 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
|Last checked||:||21 Minutes ago!|
The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon Reviews
Few events in world history have garnered as much controversy as the advent of nuclear weapons. For some historians, like Michael S. Sherry, the use of the atomic bomb can be seen as an extension of air power. His 1987 work The Rise of American Air Power examines just this connection. The title is somewhat misleading, however. Sherry does not examine air power as a whole, instead he focuses on the use of strategic bombing, and how it relates to the Atomic Bomb, hence the subtitle The Creation of Armageddon, and he explores this idea from primarily a cultural, political and social standpoint, as opposed to a strictly military history. Other aspects of air power, such as fighter planes, service craft, ground support and logistics are almost ignored. The book's thoroughness (given its narrow scope) renders it an incredible resource, yet it is ultimately flawed by its harsh, almost polemical criticism of American leadership in World War Two.Sherry structures the entire book around the ideas of prophecy and fantasy. He examines the ways in which air power, specifically the use of strategic bombing, was prophesied to make old methods of war obsolete. Many people, upon seeing the first uses of primitive aircraft, theorized that bombing “would rescue humanity from the horrors of stalemated, industrialized war, making conflict either so mercifully decisive or so mercilessly horrible that it could not continue.” This dualistic view of air power as either a savior or eradicator becomes a prominent theme. Sherry traces this thinking into the interwar years, where proponents like Billy Mitchell argued for the technique of precision bombing, which could conceivably dismantle enemy economies by selectively targeting key production centers. Although, some worried that if this tactic did not prove effective, then larger systematic attacks on civilians would be necessary to break a country's will. Sherry here, as elsewhere, aptly presents arguments on all sides of the issue from many voices, yet remains critical of all of them. While he is effective at pointing out the flaws of each side of an argument, the reader is left with the impression that not only was there little consensus, but there is no satisfactory way of solving the issues raised by air power, that it is an unsolvable evil. Sherry also continually points out that these prophesies and fantasies were exactly that, and they could not be fulfilled in reality. Yet he is also quick to ascribe motives to political and military leaders, depicting them as inevitably drawn to air power like a sort of talisman. He describes how air power “evoked ambivalent reactions of danger and temptation, and the idea of it was more compelling than the reality.” Sherry focuses much of the first half of the book on social and cultural attitudes towards the use of air power (often emphasizing civilian involvement in research, development and production), specifically it's use as a deterrent, or, if actually employed, to render complete victory nearly instantly. This fantasy of air power is shown to be almost chimerical. On the eve of the Pearl Harbor attacks, he describes that “the crucial element was not simply faith in American technology. Nor was it precisely faith in air power. It was faith in the idea of air power... air power was still largely for Americans an idea, an alternative to war as much as a way to wage it.”As Sherry tracks the escalation of World War Two on both the European and Pacific fronts, he begins to sketch a dim view of American military and political leadership too caught up in self-perpetuation and bureaucracy to either make effective plans or evaluations of strategic bombing. He describes a “gulf between ideas and action,”4 caused by an inward focus of perfecting technique, that did not connect with the political goals of ending the war. “The issue was how best to bomb, not how to win the war through bombing.”This concept culminates in the centerpiece of the book, a long discussion of the war with Japan, where Sherry accuses American leaders of being consumed by “technological fanaticism.” Sherry venomously writes: “The leaders and technicians of the American air force were driven by technological fanaticism—a pursuit of destructive ends expressed, sanctioned, and disguised by the organization and application of technological means. Destruction was rarely the acknowledged final purpose for the men who made air war possible. Rather, they declared that it served the purpose of securing victory and that its forms were dictated by technological, organizational, and strategic imperatives. In practice, they often waged destruction as a functional end in itself, without a clear comprehension of its relationships to stated purposes.” Later, he verges on bitter invective by adding, “technological fanaticism was the product of two distinct but related phenomena: one—the will to destroy—ancient and recurrent; the other—the technical means of destruction—modern. Their convergence resulted in the evil of American bombing.” Firebombing in Japan was no doubt atrocious and can hardly be defended, nor need it be. However, to level such pointed criticisms with the hindsight of several decades seems somewhat unjust.Sherry does attempt to back up his censure with evidence of bureaucratic confusion from several primary sources, and is somewhat successful. Yet, when discussing the firebombing of Tokyo, he makes blatant appeals to emotion by quoting witnesses to the event, using vivid imagery. The passage is a stark departure from the strict academic prose of the rest of the book. Depictions of a spiritual, religious, animalistic and even cosmic nature cast the firebombing in a horrific light, as the “translucid, unreal... fantastic glass dragonflies” of the B-29's float on “glinting wings sharp as blades,” as “ghastly reflections of the fire were seen on the wings of those silvery ghosts.” Again, while the firebombing was indeed a horrific event which is difficult, if not impossible to defend, the sharp break in Sherry's style undermines his arguments, bordering on the manipulative (A number of manipulative tactics are used, most notably revealed in Sherry's notes on 404-5. Note 59 describes an interview Sherry conducted with Curtis E. LeMay, in which not only are Sherry's interview techniques shown to cause severe discomfort for LeMay, but Sherry draws deep conclusions, even assumptions based on LeMay's physical behavior). Ultimately, these depictions of a large, self-perpetuating and overly complex bureaucracy lead to a decision to use the Atomic bomb, which Sherry insists was not an individual decision made at a particular moment, but simply the logical end to a larger process of strategic bombing that had, by that point, been going on for quite some time. Use of the bomb was not a hard choice, but rather, the result of a lack of willingness to make a tough choice. It indeed was the culmination of the fantasy, the original promise of old prophecies of air power. The atmosphere surrounding discussion of the bomb was permeated by “a long-standing view of air power as a weapon capable of fulfilling so many purposes that hard choices and precise rationales for its use did not seem necessary.” What is perhaps worse, as Sherry sees it, was the lack of connection between the bomb's use and the war's end. As with the firebombing, Sherry shows that the idea of bombing for its own sake was paramount, and could not be directly connected to a method for securing Japan's surrender. In his final analysis, Sherry proclaims that “The fantasy... of a new weapon that transcended and thereby ended war—had been realized. Yet Hiroshima and Nagasaki mocked the fantasy that they seemed to fulfill.” Sherry seems to be harshly condemning not just those who used strategic bombing in the 1940's, but any and all who have flirted with atomic power since.One area that Sherry can hardly be criticized for is research. His extensive use of archival primary source materials does create a complete picture of the time period and the culture of air power. While his conclusions are perhaps overly harsh, his diligence and comprehensive use of sources makes this book a wonderful doorway for research into air power history, as well as a starting point for debate on the issues raised by strategic bombing and nuclear power. The book is made especially useful by his detailed notes section, not only providing bibliographic information, but prose overviews and summaries of important sources and types of research on a chapter-by-chapter basis. These expositions provide a succinct synthesis of the relevant primary and secondary sources. This above-and-beyond approach to his scholarly apparatus makes Sherry's book a valuable resource for researchers, students and air power enthusiasts. Although, unfortunately, it appears that Sherry has not made use of any Japanese language materials, limiting himself to English works. Because his arguments hinge heavily on discussion of the Japanese side of the war, this exclusion seems particularly damaging. This striking omission mars his otherwise thorough approach, weakening his thesis.The Rise of American Airpower, despite its flaws, remains a very important piece of the discussion of strategic bombing and atomic weapons, even more so the history of air power in general. While he often admirably attempts to give all sides of an issue, Sherry ultimately attacks them all, condemning the use of strategic bombing and the American military and political leadership in the process, without providing solid alternatives. While his harshness undercuts many of his arguments, the books strengths have rightly allowed it to stand the test of time.
What a frustrating book! This 1988 Bancroft Prize-winning work on the history of American strategic bombing in World War II seemingly has a lot going for it. For one, the book finally brought both the cultural and intellectual history of air power into the history of strategic bombing. It discusses theorists like Guilio Douhet, the Italian air theorist who as early as 1920 in "The Command of the Air," argued that bombers could end major wars quickly by breaking the "will of the people." Likewise, the author deals with novels like H.G. Wells' "The War in the Air" (1908) and "The World Set Free" (1914), which both envisioned a world war in the air against major cities. Sherry describes how increasingly in the 1920s and 1930s, soi disant "prophets" of air war drew ever more elaborate fantasies about the overwhelming power of bombers and the end of ground warfare. Even more interesting, Sherry shows how in the United States in the late 1930s FDR could advocate building up an extensive strategic air force despite isolationist sentiment in Congress because bombers were seen as a defensive weapon that could protect the oceans around the U.S. from attack (even Lindbergh was for them when he fought all other armaments). The power of the U.S. Air Force in World War II thus emerges from this era.Sherry's main thesis, though, is that the prophets of air war convinced major powers that strategic bombing could be decisive against other populations, and once these countries had assembled massive bomber forces based on these theories, in the US mainly B-17s and B-29s, increasing evidence that a people's morale or economy were not subject to immediate collapse was ignored by the urge to keep such forces occupied. While Britain's Arthur Harris focused on the night-bombing of German cities from the beginning, America's commanders like Ira Eaker, Carl Spaatz, and Haywood Hansell thought precision strikes on key industries would cripple Germany and Japan. As the major targets were eliminated, however, new commanders like Curtis LeMay gradually slipped into indiscriminate bombing of urban populations. Sherry makes a good case that the influence of the Air Force in the postwar world was at the forefront of many of these commander's minds, and the "demonstration" of its power was a large part of their planning.Still, Sherry seems constitutionally incapable of telling a straight narrative, and veers and weaves and bobs around every fact and anecdote until its impossible for the reader to know what's important and what's extraneous, or to assemble a clear story of the whole. Almost as annoying, Sherry rarely gives a quote or a fact without editoralizing on it, usually unsupported by any evidence. Overall, Sherry is at pains to show that all strategic bombing was a useless diversion, and every indication to the contrary elicits pages of factless speculation. Of course, the debate about the efficacy of the bombing campaigns has been going on since they began, and is a legitimate and worthwhile debate to have. Furthermore, even if the efficacy of such bombing is conceded, the moral quandary of terrorizing innocent civilians remains, but Sherry seems incapable of severing the two. Whatever is immoral must therefore be militarily unneccessary in Sherry's eyes. If only it were so easy! In the end, Sherry also has to admit that the air war caused Japan's surrender, and therefore is confronted with the uncomfortable truth that it seemed accomplished something, and something very significant at that. So for all the fun stories and background, I beg someone to find a better book about strategic bombing out there, then tell me about it. This one whetted by curiosity but certainly didn't satisfy it.
Melissa is entirely correct in her estimation of Sherry's book. It is, indeed, a "bible," in that it is exhaustive but also in a way hopeful. Sherry seems not to believe that we are predestined for nuclear annihilation and I for one hope he is correct. The mythology surrounding the bomb and ballistic missile defenses are problematical and the contingencies and uncertainties concerning strategic bombing generally and thermonuclear warfare in particular are incalculable. The U.S. Air Force today possesses weapons of unprecedented precision, making "area bombing" unnecessary, and yet still deploys weapons "...such as Fougasse, the M202A1 Flash, white phosphorous, thermobaric, and other incendiary agents..." (GlobalSecurity.Org). Until Americans demand the abandonment of such weapons, any hope of reducing or eliminating thermonuclear weapons will likely be ephemeral.I suppose the growing tensions in the Middle East concerning Iran's "peaceful nuclear power program" will resolve some of the uncertainties about the future of nuclear proliferation. Either the world will learn to live with a nuclear-capable Iran or the powers in the region will risk mutually assured destruction. I, for one, hope for the best and fear the worst.Thank you, Melissa, for bringing this important work to my attention.******************Here's a precious moment from the history of American aviation:"A confrontation [by chief of staff Douglas MacArthur] with President Franklin Roosevelt on the [Air Corps] budget issue left [MacArthur] so upset that he threatened (not for the last time) to resign and so ill that he vomited on the White House lawn." (p. 49)Good times."The bomber always gets through" was a common assumption in the years immediately following World War I. The assumption was misstated. It should have stated, "the ICBM always gets through." It is interesting to speculate whether if the British and Germans actually had "bombers that could get through" as well as a survivable second strike bomber capability, would they have deterred each other from attacking each other in the first place, much as the United States and Soviet Union deterred each other in the 1960s and 1970s?A silly question but an interesting thought.
This is another book I would have liked to have more time on. While the author is definitely biased and a significant number of his propositions seem to be more theory than supported argument, the questions he asks are essential to anyone interested in the profession of arms.Sherry's book reads like a cross between Jervis and Biddle, with a heavy dose of pacifism thrown in for good measure. His ideas regarding self-deception and delusion are intriguing, if not well supported by the historical record. With that said, it is appealing to view America's ability to conduct massive raids on "civilian morale" as a product of an increasingly distant perception of exactly what our machines and weapons were doing. Whether or not these considerations changed our calculus (I believe they did not - we believed we faced an existential threat), it is important to consider their possible effects on leadership and national psyche.
If Walzer's and Biddle's books were to have a love-child, this would be it. Sherry focuses on the ethics and morality of the American approach to bombing in the Second World War. In particular, he focuses heavily on the racial aspects of American policies towards Japan.The thesis appears to be, American bombing policy was not guided by any clear conception of what the desired ends were for the bombing. The focus was on the means of destruction, not the reason for destruction. Sperry tracks the development of air power theory, specifically bombing theory, and highlights how the flaws in US air strategy were not examined with progress made on assumptions.An interesting book that provides food for thought. Most useful read in conjunction with other books on the subject, rather than as a stand-alone to understand air power in the Second World War.
I wrote a whole essay criticizing this book, but still it should be read. However, if one reads it alone you will probably come away wildly misinformed about many issues. Its tendency to simplistic moralizing is a serious defect complex moralizing requires trade offs and counter-factuals, these are not investigated.
Read parts of this as part of my studies. Military history isn't my field but I am definitely going to re-read in full down the line. Sherry skillfully weaves together air power theory, with institutional and operational histories with a skeptical eye for the interplay of rationales and expediency.
A very well researched and scholarly piece of history with some interesting viewpoints. I just didn't enjoy reading it. I wanted to but never did.