A major revision of our understanding of long-range bombing, this book examines how Anglo-American ideas about "strategic" bombing were formed and implemented. It argues that ideas about bombing civilian targets rested on--and gained validity from--widespread but substantially erroneous assumptions about the nature of modern industrial societies and their vulnerability to aerial bombardment. These assumptions were derived from the social and political context of the day and were maintained largely through cognitive error and bias. Tami Davis Biddle explains how air theorists, and those influenced by them, came to believe that strategic bombing would be an especially effective coercive tool and how they responded when their assumptions were challenged.
Biddle analyzes how a particular interpretation of the World War I experience, together with airmen's organizational interests, shaped interwar debates about strategic bombing and preserved conceptions of its potentially revolutionary character. This flawed interpretation as well as a failure to anticipate implementation problems were revealed as World War II commenced. By then, the British and Americans had invested heavily in strategic bombing. They saw little choice but to try to solve the problems in real time and make long-range bombing as effective as possible.
Combining narrative with analysis, this book presents the first-ever comparative history of British and American strategic bombing from its origins through 1945. In examining the ideas and rhetoric on which strategic bombing depended, it offers critical insights into the validity and robustness of those ideas--not only as they applied to World War II but as they apply to contemporary warfare.
Reviews forRhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare : The Evolution of Br...
This work traces the evolution of air warfare–both what is reported and what actually occurs on the ground–from its genesis in WWI through the end of WWII. In it, Biddle dispels many of the myths that linger about air warfare to this day–largely the claim that it hurts the will of a society to fight a war. While it is not explicitly mentioned in the book, Biddle also describes parallels between the misconceptions of air warfare and the war on terror. Thus, this work fills an important role in that it reveals some of the hidden truths of history and helps illuminate present-day misperceptions.I draw two lessons from Biddle's work that remain fundamental for current policymakers: the "moral" utility of air power and the pervasive nature of assumptions when formulating policy.Biddle describes the "moral" concept in post-WWI terms. Using the record left by the head of British air forces during WWI, Trenchard, Biddle describes "the moral effect" as the ability to ensure that "no town felt safe." She quotes Trenchard as stating, "At present the moral effect of bombing stands undoubtedly to the material effect in proportion of 20 to 1, and therefore it was necessary to create the greatest moral effect possible" (48). She continues, through the rest of the book, to denote how little an effect bombing actually has on the population under attack. Life continued in both Britain and Germany during the two World Wars without regard to arial bombardment. However, this unsubstantiated notion lingers to this day.The most recent examples of this assumption that air warfare manifests itself to the greatest extent when designed to terrorize civilians arose from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and Bush's strategy when invading Iraq. One of the highly publicized responses to 9/11 (and one of the few things regarded as a resounding success on all sides) is Bush's call to the American people immediately after the attacks to carry on with life as usual. Implied in that statement is the assumption that an attack from the air will terrorize a population (most of which was far removed physically from the attacks) into paralysis. The fact that people returned to work and continued to fly is passed off as a result of the inspiring rhetoric of President Bush. However, history indicates that this response would have happened regardless of the government's actions. People learn to cope psychologically with the changing threat and are able to carry on. How else do we account for the fact that German industrial production continued through both wars regardless of the amount of ordinance dropped from the sky? Why would the American people have responded any differently?The second time this assumption reared it head was in the run-up to the Iraq War. Recall the "Shock and Awe" slogan presented by the Secretary of Defense, for example. By bombarding Baghdad and other industrial areas, the Iraqis would give up hope of defeating the American advance and be terrorized into submission. Indeed, the defeat of Iraq in a traditional sense occurred quickly, but this likely resulted from the disparity in force strengths, not the unwillingness of Iraqis to participate in their daily lives. I leave the application of the ineffectiveness of this assumption to dealing with the insurgency to the reader.I feel obligated to indicate that President Clinton made the same miscalculations based on assumption when participating in Kosovo and Bosnia–thus this is not just an anti-Bush assessment. What, then, is the utility of air warfare? Biddle draws on the report produced after WWII by several scholars and industry leaders about what did and did not work alongside more recent examples. Specifically, John Kenneth Galbraith, the lead author of sections depicting the results in Germany, indicated some of the tactics and strategies that helped the air offensive. However, rather than give the answer here (and the needed qualification), I leave it to you to read Biddle's book and decided how best air warfare can be used to win a war.read more
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