SHERRY, MICHAEL: The Rise of American Air Power                                                   

Thesis: “Traces the origins of the dangerous illusion that the bombing of cities would be so horrific that nations would not dare let it occur.” 

- Asserts that beliefs of airpower were dictated more by novelists and public opinion than by those who actually employed it.  These predictions ran far ahead of the realities of the current technology à the military was immoral for trying to do something that was not technologically feasible because the fantasy of what the people wanted airpower to do became more important that what it could do.  Public believed that technology would make war obsolete, therefore made an immoral action morally justified.  Argues that logic was never used to dictate the employment of airpower, that strategists could not show the reasons for striking the targets they did – ie: Industrial Web Theory. 

- Argues that strategic bombing was not necessary à fails to offer another option to replace CBO and his other option for the atomic bomb was a “demonstration” of the bomb.  States that planners were more attracted to the abstractions of what bombing could do than a realization of what it was doing à distance from the devastation made planners disconnected from the realities of bombing.  Counters Cataclysm’s info on what Arnold believed about airpower’s ability to win the war with Japan à Sherry say Arnold didn’t have a clear idea if airpower could win (pg 307), Wolk says he believed it could take longer, maybe Oct-Nov, but airpower could win the war (pg 180). 

- Claims that strategic bombing’s impact was “destruction delivered rather than political results achieved.”  Argues that the basic problem was that the link between the desired political and military effect and what airpower could actually deliver was too weak à the “problem” of airpower. 





'Applications to Strategy':

·      Example of the importance for strategist to know and understand the constraints and restraints that political policies establish à what are my lanes, how far can I go.  Military advisors owe their political leadership explanation on what the established boundaries mean as far as military action.

·      Example of overlaying the ethics of one period of time over those of another.

·      Demonstration that once all is said and done, the military is going to answer to someone at some point for their actions, even if they were  justified and legal at the time.

·      “On Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs” in real life.

  • Rise of AmericanAirpower
    • Thesis
      • Air power shaped the end of the world, it's just a matter of time
        • It was the little decisions along the way that led to Nukes dropping


  • Want to help people comprehend what happened as air war unfolded
  • How thinking about bombing before Nukes dropped shaped attitudes to their dropping


  • The persistent thought prevailed
    • Morality of Bombing Civilians
      • Adm Tirpitz: Seems OK if done with majestic force


  • Nukes, mass fires are no different than Bio/Chem weapons


  • Only stupid fascist do this


  • Debate lacked focus


  • Lack of official guidance
    • Americans told to PRODUCE


  • Needed to use it for something or FDR faced political backlashing
    • War Department senior admin recorded threats of Congressional investigation of Manhattan project
      • Fate of civilians little attention compared to famous buildings


  • De Seversky
    • Strategy must be geared toward elimination


  • JFK
    • Hoped it could be done with bombing over invasion


  • Christians said little of consequence


  • Should have said much bombing served little military purpose


  • Bombing only justified if shortened war "absolutely certain" 


  • Not required unless SURVIVAL is at stake


  • LeMay troubled and defensive about morality of bombing


  • No one's innocent


  • Use a LOT of force so not to prolong a war


  • Truman just ran noninterference...the plan was already set


  • 23% of U.S. polled wanted more Nukes dropped and were disappointed the war ended


  • More vengance!
    • Air power is indecisive
      • Destructive, but that's it


  • L-H, Douhet false prophets


  • D, confused the character of war with its pupose


  • World fell pray to air propaganda
  • Critical weakness in ACTS doctrine: failure to ID objective of morale or war-industry


  • Mitchell advocated U.S. empire expansion in Far East -- air would make it possible


  • It can take nothing nor hold anything


  • SOME-BODY has to deal with the enemy's body -- the Russians


  • Eliot: Cannot bring direct pressure on Japan unless you do something immoral like city-bombing


  • Doolittle raid did little other than propaganda


  • Actually promised to escalate Japanese tensions


  • FDR added fuel to unrestrained war


  • Cannot give a precise definition of success or failure
    • If a sink sank the Admiral was fired, lost ground = fired Army do you fire an AF guy?


  • Unless you say we hit a BAD target
    • Diplomacy ended the war....not the BOMB


  • Why did the Allies believe what they did about airpower?
  • How necessary was the bombing? Were other methods acceptable? Possible?
  • Was Allied bombing in WWII ethical?
  • What is the relationship between ethics and strategy?
  • Chapters 8,9,10
    • How U.S. demoralized itself
      • Munich crisis
        • Triggered change in thinking and accelerated momentum to use it


  • FDR
    • Saw air power as an instrument of negotiation and intimidation


  • Terror of bombing will give quick victory
    • Sheer numbers: economic productivity and government efficiency, not strategic genius


  • Threatened extermination of Japanese race if they continued executing U.S. POWs 


  • Threat to Japan prior to Pearl Harbor


  • Deterrence threat of bombing
  • Interest in Philippines as base for American action
  • FDR attraction to air power
  • FDR froze Japans U.S. assets
    • Racist attitudes


  • Attrition and annihilation replaced speed and selectivity


  • Pacific war seemed remote


  • Issue became how best to bomb, not how to win the war through bombing


  • LeMay apparently acted on his own


  • Set up for moral and strategic accountability if politically backfired
  • Like "Bomber" Harris
    • All cities legitimate targets


  • The Japanese will decide when it stops
    • Naval Blockades are better
      • Too slow to satisfy passions


  • FDRs initial strategy


  • Eliot says so too


  • Reconciles National Security and political freedom problem
  • War will not go away and neither air power or nukes will make it happen either


  • Less destruction


  • Just make people hungry for a while -- they are already malnourished
    • Strategic air power
      • Air attack on enemy's capacity and will to sustain military operations, rather than those on operations themselves


  • Background
    • Michael S. Sherry
      • Professor of History at Northwestern University
    • Published by Yale University Press, 1987
  • IC notes
    • Spanking with wrong motives
    • Comps
      • 600 and 632 most important courses
      • Be able to distinguish Douhet from Mitchell, etc.
  • Big Idea
    • Perceived self preservation makes the time line shrink on when you will use technology


  • you may not have considered their effects
  • There is a time to spank but your motives must be right
  • Might for right or might is right