"This is a worthy history of civil-military relations in the pre-WWII years."—Choice
E. C. Dolman
The Politics of Air Power examines the turbulent development of relations between U.S. Army aviation leaders and civilian officials during the 1920s and 1930s. In the early 1920s Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell and a group of Army Air Service officers tried to force the creation of an independent air force against presidential/i>… See more details below
The Politics of Air Power examines the turbulent development of relations between U.S. Army aviation leaders and civilian officials during the 1920s and 1930s. In the early 1920s Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell and a group of Army Air Service officers tried to force the creation of an independent air force against presidential wishes. They forged political alliances, used propaganda to arouse public sentiment, and circumvented their superiors to appeal directly to congressmen. Mitchell, a flamboyant, popular, and powerful personality, led these efforts and was ultimately court-martialed.
Following Mitchell, aviation leaders were careful to avoid distressing presidents, Congresses, and an American public upset at Mitchell’s challenges to civilian control. Tensions persisted, however, and the Air Corps took another step backward when Major General Benjamin Foulois misled Congress and the president and revived the image of the Air Corps as a radical element. Not until Major Generals Oscar Westover and “Hap” Arnold, a former radical himself, abandoned the crusade for immediate independence and emphasized cooperation within the Army and with civilian authorities did the Air Corps develop a stable and cooperative relationship with the president and Congress. Rondall R. Rice demonstrates that during the interwar period, civil-military relations between Army aviation leaders and civilian officials developed unevenly from confrontation to cooperation.
"This is a worthy history of civil-military relations in the pre-WWII years."—Choice
E. C. Dolman
"I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of the complexities of the relationships in our form of government. . . . It's not easy to create an Air Force, but Rice has done a superb job of laying out the story."—Col. Scott A. Willey, Air Power History
Scott A. Willey
Michael Perry May
"In a sense, for Billy, the Armistice was an untimely interruption-as if the whistle had ended the game just as he was about to go over the goal line." With these words Colonel Henry H. "Hap" Arnold summed up the frustration of the man he admired as an air power pioneer, Brigadier General William "Billy" Mitchell. Mitchell emerged from World War I sure of the airplane's dominant role in future conflicts, and although he never commanded the Army's air arm, he became the nation's air power prophet and led the charge for a separate service until his court-martial drastically reduced his influence both within the Army and in the public eye.
To the flying officers, Mitchell became a martyr, but even his most ardent supporters often questioned his methods. He used a charming personality, his athletic abilities on the polo fields and hunting grounds, his family name and influence, and a highly cultivated public persona to attract attention for the air power crusade. Those he enticed included politicians and some friendly media, and he used them to further his cause. He targeted the American public and the legislature because he knew he would not get results from within a traditional military structurecontrolled by generals from the combatant arms, the "Old Army" officers, and a Navy that worshiped battleships and the writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan. Instead, his numerous published works and congressional testimony sought to circumvent the traditional chains of command. Therein lies the unexamined paradox of Mitchell's actions as a military officer: he overtly denounced the old power structure and inside politics of the influential Army officers with the administration and Congress, yet he himself openly violated rules appropriate for military officers and acted outside the traditional boundaries of proper civil-military relations. Although his actions never advocated or approached the level of a coup, he did subvert the stated policies of his civilian masters. For the first seven years of the interwar period, Mitchell stood at the center of the air power controversy, and he pushed the limits of appropriate conduct until a court-martial ended his government service and his immediate influence within the Air Service.
A FOUNDATION FOR INFLUENCE AND AN INTEREST IN AIR POWER
Mitchell's life was based on a "fair foundation," as biographer Alfred Hurley called it. Three elements composed Mitchell's character and set the tone for his career and his activities: his personality, a distinguished family and privileged upbringing, and his experiences in the Army during a time of great transition. These components allowed him to do what few other Army officers could-walk the halls of Congress with an air of comfort, familiarity, and self-assurance. He undoubtedly learned the political skills he would use with ease, and sometimes abandon, from a paternal line of congressmen and his upbringing between the pillars of power in Washington and the outdoor life in Wisconsin.
Although Mitchell's rise within the Army occurred through his own hard work and intelligence, his career began with an early push of political influence. His grandfather epitomized the American dream and the robber baron. Alexander Mitchell was born in Scotland, immigrated to America twenty-two years later, and made his fortune in banking and the railroads. He represented Wisconsin as a Democrat in the Forty-second and Forty-third Congresses (1871-75) and seemed popular in his adopted home, refusing candidacy for the next Congress and declining a nomination for governor three years later.
John Lendrum Mitchell carried on his father's tradition and followed a recognizable path for a son born into wealth and privilege who would rise to political influence. He attended a Connecticut military academy but later studied in Europe, returning to fight as an officer in the Civil War. After later serving in the Wisconsin legislature, he turned to the national scene and was elected as a Democrat to two terms in the House of Representatives, resigning during his second term upon his election to the Senate in 1893. John served only one term, declining candidacy in 1898, wanting to return to Europe to study and engage in agricultural pursuits in Wisconsin. Born in 1879 in Nice, France, Billy Mitchell did not see Wisconsin until he was three, but he then spent his early boyhood there at the family estate, learning the skills of horseback riding, including polo, and marksmanship. His father became a congressman as Billy entered his adolescent years. Tiring of Wisconsin, Billy persuaded his parents to bring him to Washington DC during his father's tenure in the Senate. Thus, Billy Mitchell's father entered Congress when his son was twelve, and they remained there during Billy's teenage years. Although none of Mitchell's papers or biographies dwell on this fact, one cannot fail to appreciate how his understanding of the world and its workings would have been molded by spending these years in a political environment.
Political influence and Army life merged early, and probably seamlessly, for Billy Mitchell. He enlisted in the Army as an eighteen-year-old during the early enthusiasm for the Spanish-American War, but he served only three weeks as a private before his father helped him gain a second lieutenant's commission. His abilities and adaptability gained the notice of important Army and congressional figures, including Senator William Jennings Bryan and Major General Adolphus Greely, the Chief Signal Officer of the Army. When Mitchell noticed other lieutenants gaining promotion, many of whom he believed were of lesser abilities, he again called on his father. Billy Mitchell once wrote, "influence cuts a larger figure in this war than merit." These brief examples highlight the development of a man who would clearly demonstrate exceptional talent and abilities and who performed best as a commander in the field, yet who clearly understood politics and how Washington insiders could affect the military.
Mitchell became acquainted with Washington at a relatively young age and early in his career. Only a thirty-two-year-old captain in March 1912, he became the youngest officer and sole Signal Corps representative on the War Department's General Staff. As the Signal Corps then included the Army's aviation (all four aircraft), Mitchell set out to learn more about this unexplored element of his branch. To do so he befriended Lieutenant "Hap" Arnold, an instructor pilot at College Park, Maryland. Mitchell also sought to create a solid foundation to assist his career and political influence. He used his natural abilities and athletic talents to work himself into the inner circle of social life-which also meant access to the halls of political power. He participated in high society through horse shows and playing polo as well as involvement in the proper clubs. As an Army captain's pay could not possibly support these endeavors, he called upon his mother for financial assistance. He also got to know several influential congressmen, including Virginia Democrat James Hay, chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee.
At this early stage, Mitchell viewed the air arm as necessary for the Signal Corps' role of reconnaissance and communication. He opposed a 1913 bill introduced by Representative Hay proposing the creation of an "air corps" coequal in the Army with the other combat branches, remarking that aircraft had not yet proved their offensive capabilities. Hay's first attempt to legislate an air service never left the committee. One year later he reintroduced the bill with minor changes (which Mitchell claimed he drafted) that kept aviation in the Signal Corps but created a new Aviation Section. If Mitchell had a hand in the legislation, he acted without War Department approval; more likely he merely advised Hay on essential elements. A reading of the bill's proposals suggests that Mitchell did not draft it alone, especially since the proposal excluded Mitchell from flying, as the law limited flying duty to unmarried lieutenants under thirty years of age. With an eye toward war in Europe, the National Defense Act of 1916 eliminated these limitations, and Mitchell, then deputy head of the small Aviation Section, paid for his own flight training. The next year he received orders to France as an aeronautical observer, and his fascination with flight would emerge, influenced by the foremost British proponent of air power, Major General Hugh Trenchard, commander of the Royal Flying Corps.
Mitchell's contacts and experiences in Europe sparked a desire to bring aviation in America, both commercial and military, to a point corresponding to the nation's growing international world stature. He worked with, and learned from, the British (who would soon create an independent service), the French, and the Italians. After taking an intensive course in aeronautics taught by the best Allied aviators only four days after his arrival in Paris, he began to formulate his views from what he learned and what he would soon experience. He believed that a combination of British methods of employment (aggressive fighting and a desire to carry out long-range bombing) and superior French aircraft constituted the ideal force. He also began to learn about Italian air power ideas from their main bomber manufacturer, Gianni Caproni, a friend and proponent of the great theorist Giulio Douhet. Using these ideas, Mitchell formulated his own concepts of air power and subsequently organized the two combined aerial offensives involving the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) during September and October 1918.
While in Europe, Mitchell also made enemies and tangled with men who would compete for influence and power in the postwar service. Prior to the arrival of an American military staff in Europe, Mitchell had established the contacts that made him valuable to the overall American commander, Major General John J. Pershing. Pershing originally made Mitchell the AEF's Aviation Officer, followed by appointment as the commander of the Air Service in the Zone of the Advance, and finally the top air combat commander, Chief of the Air Service, First Army. Then, in an appointment seemingly made in Washington and not by Pershing in France, Brigadier General Benjamin D. Foulois, one of the Army's original aviators (he had learned to fly from the Wright brothers), became Chief of the Air Service, much to Mitchell's chagrin. A conflict ensued between Foulois, who resented Mitchell for not "having one minute's flying time" as an official Army pilot (due to his civilian instruction course), and Mitchell, who resented Foulois and his "incompetent lot" for arriving late and taking over. Pershing soon became dissatisfied with the conduct of both and brought in a Corps of Engineers officer and trusted West Point classmate, Major General Mason M. Patrick, to take command of the air forces in the AEF. Foulois dropped to command First Army's aviation, and Mitchell moved down to command the air services of the First Brigade. This animosity probably drove Mitchell to accept a job in Washington after the war that he had originally declined. If the future of the air arm was ripe for change, he wanted to be the one in power.
Excerpted from The Politics of Air Power by Rondall R. Rice Copyright © 2004 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission.
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A veteran of three wars, Rondall R. Rice has been on active duty in the United States Air Force for more than fifteen years and is an assistant professor of history at the United States Air Force Academy.
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