- Paperback: 478 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; New Ed edition (10 Sept. 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300044143
- ISBN-13: 978-0300044140
- Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 2.4 x 25.4 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,424,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon Paperback – 10 Sep 1989
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From the Back Cover
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
Mr. Sherry goes into great depth writing about the philosophy behind the men who helped to create the Air Force and those who fought for it. At its beginnings it was thought (much like nuclear weapons) that this method of warfare would be so terrible, so horrific that it would force an end to all war. It was thought that an attack on a nation's capitol or major cities would cause the civilian populations to panic and flee causing economic collapse and thus quick ends to any war. Of course WWII completely eradicated this myth. Instead of a new weapon that assured no more war, air power just became a an aspect that ensures that the price of war is increased and is now paid by civilian and soldier alike.
He also chronicles the failures of combat thinking, planning and philosophy during WWII. Hundreds of thousands of people died in useless bombings that had no strategic value whatsoever and did not hasten the end of hostilities at all. The fire bombings of Japan and the Dresden bombings were examples of the needless destruction of innocent lives. Mr. Sherry details many of the fire bombings of Japan and gives the reader the Japanese (or victims) perspective of this horrible new weapon.
Mr. Sherry discusses the strategic limitations of this warfare and why it failed to bring about the surrender of the Axis powers even with the horrendous tolls it took during the war. He discusses how air power still looms as a potential disaster for all people.
This is an extremely thorough and scholarly look into all aspects of air power, and how it affects warfare and peace for every nation. It is a fascinating read and one that I felt taught me so much that I would not have gotten from any other single book. If you only read one book on air power make sure it is this one because it is the only one you will ever need.
As the field of aviation began to grow, many people began to contemplate the military applications of such an advanced piece of technology. The ability to fly over the enemy’s capital and rain hell from above was thought by many as a way to end a conflict and prevent future wars. Sherry deconstructs this theory by analyzing the various bombing campaigns of the Second World War and their impact on the conflict as a whole. Sherry argues that the American bombings of civilian populations did not instill the levels of fear and panic that the military leaders had anticipated and they did not shorten the duration of the war. Aerial bombing was an extremely powerful military tool, but it easily detached aviators from the horror the bombs would unleash.
Sherry is opposed to the bombing of civilian populations and he argues that it was immoral and largely ineffective. He believes that the vast majority of the civilians who were killed were innocent and played no role in supporting the war effort. This view ignores the complexity of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Each of these regimes was responsible for millions of deaths and it is understandable that military leaders would have tried anything if they thought it would bring about an end to this conflict. Sherry relates this to the use of the atomic bomb and the threat of nuclear war throughout the Cold War.
The Rise of American Air Power gives a very impersonal account of the bombings, using mostly statistics to show the horrors of these campaigns. The inclusion of eye-witness accounts could have helped Sherry drive home his point. Rather than simply relying on statistics to prove large-scale bombings were horrific and traumatic events, personal testimonies could have added legitimacy to his argument.
Rise out of the realm of fantasy, American air power played a pivotal role in the Second World War. The impact of that role is debatable, but it certainly had a tremendous impact on the lives of those living in the targeted cities. Sherry has created an excellent work that provides a thoughtful analysis of American military aviation and the impact it had on the course of the Second World War.
Sherry identifies three related developments which his study should address. These are the creation of the apocalyptic mentality, the creation of an apparatus for realizing that danger, and the creation of the modern nuclear dilemma. Sherry decided to limit his dealings with nuclear warfare and deal with that last issue primarily in comparison to the first two issues. What Sherry is after is an understanding of the bomber in the imagination of the American public before and during World War Two. He believes that to understand wartime developments one needs to know the story of the rise of American airpower and perception of bombers and bombing in the popular imagination. He suggests that after WWI aircraft became inextricably linked to civilian uses. Airplanes were immediately familiar in their civilian role and had practical peacetime applications. Sherry suggests that these factors resulted in the imagined use of the bomber often outpacing the practical realities of actual bombing. According to Sherry, "the warplane was created in imagination before it was invented as a practical weapon." In this way Sherry focused his study of the social and cultural history to explain the rise of American airpower.
Sherry arranged this book in a generally chronological format with ten chapters. The chapter titles almost tell the story themselves, they are "The Age of Fantasy", "The Age of Prophecy", "The Decline of Danger", "The Attractions of Intimidation", "From Intimidation to Annihilation", "The Dynamics of Escalation", " The Sociology of Air War", "The Sources of Technological Fanaticism", "The Triumphs of Technological Fanaticism", "The Persistence of Apocalyptic Fantasy". Although he occasionally deviates from a strict chronology, the primary diversion from the format is the chapter on "The Sociology of Air War". In this chapter he looks at the actors, the generals, civilian expert advocates and aircrews of the bomber forces.
In his opening chapter, "The Age of Fantasy", Sherry starts not with a direct examination of the airplane, but an examination of the popular civilian perceptions regarding technological advances in warfare during the nineteenth century. This is the base upon which his later arguments rest, and I believe that it is a solid base. Sherry notes that the airplane was "like a host of other weapons invented or imagined in the nineteenth century and celebrated for their capacity to diminish the `evils of war'." Sherry points to the writings of such well known people as Jack London and Victor Hugo as evidence of this social phenomena. In fact, as early as 1864 Hugo stated that airplanes would make armies "vanish, and with them the whole business of war, exploitation and subjugation". Others made similar claims for Tri-Nitro Tolulene (TNT), the machine-gun, and the large caliber artillery piece.
These claims and perceptions did not end with the nineteenth century, rather they accelerated prior to the First World War. Civilian theorists exaggerated the destructiveness of new weapons so that they might inflate their power to keep the peace. Sherry also draws a link between the nature of nineteenth century war and the popular perceptions. In the civilian imagination wars were short, and although bloody for a few days, relatively cheap. (The American Civil War was generally overlooked or seen as an aberration.) They took this as substantive evidence that their theories were correct. These two factors combined to lay the groundwork for consideration of air bombardment of civilian population centers. Their logic suggested that if war was inevitable, then a short war is best. The best way to have a short war is to use terrible weapons quickly and be done with the matter. With these thoughts in mind the world entered WWI.
Sherry deals only briefly with World War One, but the treatment is important. It is important not for what was learned, but for what the world did not learn from the first war involving significant numbers of aircraft. During World War One both Germany and Great Britain experimented with the first strategic bombing raids. These raids were not the result of military theories regarding civilian production and demoralization. They occurred as a series of raids then reprisals motivated by popular civilian demand for vengeance on both sides. No specific targets beyond "the enemy" were sought or targeted, hatred was the primary motive in a Europe locked in a stalemated war. The lesson that was missed was that bombing civilian population centers does not necessarily result in panic, chaos and surrender.
During the 1920's America and Europe underwent what Sherry calls "The Age of Prophecy" with regard to military aviation theory. The two most significant events of this period were the 1921 sinking of a battleship by Colonel Billy Mitchell and the 1927 solo trans-Atlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh. Sherry sees these two events as uniting to form, in the American national psyche, a positive opinion towards aircraft as expressions of individualism in the wake of mass warfare. Americans, a people that had never been bombed from the air, saw aircraft as marvelous inventions. They tied grand prophecies to the powers of these machines. Together, the effects of cultural imagination and prophecy formed in the American mind a benign image of the airplane. From that image Americans began to see the bomber in a similar light, powerful yet somehow detached from the actual horror that they could potentially inflict. Sherry claims that in this way the military theories and forces required to actually conduct a bombing campaign advanced faster than any debate on the legality or morality of doing so.