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The Rise of American Air Power

The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon

Copyright Date: 1987
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 478
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  • Book Info
    The Rise of American Air Power
    Book Description:

    This prizewinning book is the first in-depth history of American strategic bombing. Michael S. Sherry explores the growing appeal of air power in America before World War II, the ideas, techniques, personalities, and organizations that guided air attacks during the war, and the devastating effects of American and British "conventional" bombing. He also traces the origins of the dangerous illusion that the bombing of cities would be so horrific that nations would not dare let it occur-an illusion that has sanctioned the growth of nuclear arsenals."A brilliant, biting and yet not ungenerous study of a momentous idea, the idea of war from the air."-Philip Morrison,Scientific American"Sherry's book demands to be read."-D. J. R. Bruckner,New YorkTimes Book Review"A big, heroic and chilling story, and Michael Sherry tells it with style, controlled passion, and analytical sophistication. This book is the best kind of strategic history."-Ken Booth,International Affairs"Both informative and provocative."-John Gooch,Times Higher Education Supplement"Sherry describes the course of the war in brilliant detail as a tug of war between what it was felt planes should do and what, at any moment, they could do."-Garry Wills,New YorkReview of Books"This riveting study has a distinct significance in today's world."-Library Journal

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18559-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. 1 The Age of Fantasy
    (pp. 1-21)

    Before the final battle inA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,the hero’s companion boasts, “We shan’t have to leave our fortress, now, when we want to blow up civilization.” After his electric battlefield has done its work, Hank Morgan, the Yankee genius, surveys the results. “Of course we could not count the dead, because they did not exist as individuals, but merely as homogeneous protoplasm, with alloys of iron and buttons.”¹ Mark Twain’s fantasy, full of doubt about the future of mankind and men’s wars, satirized the attractions and dangers of a dehumanized technology of war: destructive passion...

  5. 2 The Age of Prophecy
    (pp. 22-46)

    During the 1920s, the most sensational episodes in American aviation were Billy Mitchell’s demonstration in 1921 of how bombers could sink battleships and Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic in May 1927. Bracketing several years of speculation about the future of aviation, the two events signaled danger to a few observers but offered reassurance to most, particularly about how individualism could persist in the wake of mass war and in the midst of mass culture. The significance attached to the heroics of Mitchell and Lindbergh helps explain how the bomber became acceptable to Americans as an instrument of warfare. Though...

  6. 3 The Decline of Danger
    (pp. 47-75)

    During the 1930s, the attractions of air power that prevailed during happier days persisted, though in somewhat altered forms. Despite increasing world tensions and spreading use of the bomber in several conflicts, expectation that the United States might go to war, particularly that it would do so with the bomber as its foremost weapon, diminished for a time. The airmen’s new doctrine of precision bombing, public debate about air power theories, and American responses to the bomber’s use abroad all made danger appear remote. In turn, remoteness allowed technology and planning to proceed with important questions left unanswered, or even...

  7. 4 The Attractions of Intimidation
    (pp. 76-115)

    Writing from Paris at the height of the Munich crisis, Ambassador William Bullitt offered President Roosevelt a pithy summary of Munich’s lessons: “If you have enough airplanes you don’t have to go to Berchtesgaden.”¹ Roosevelt understood the message. In varying ways he acted on it during the three years following the crisis of September 1938. Once again, however, contemplation of aerial holocaust and preparation to wage it easily diverged.

    After the Munich crisis, it is true, the British, German, and American air forces all moved, in fumbling and differing ways, toward the use of the bomber on enemy cities. Yet...

  8. 5 From Intimidation to Annihilation
    (pp. 116-146)

    “Perhaps the best way to offset this initial defeat is to burn Tokyo and Osaka.” That possibility, posed two days after the Pearl Harbor disaster by a key army planner, was already galvanizing the nation’s officials. Frantically renewing the bid for Siberian air bases, President Roosevelt made an indirect approach to Ambassador Litvinov on the eighth, then gave Secretary of State Hull the thankless task of following up on his initiative. Although the American air force in the Philippines was mauled in the first days of hostilities, MacArthur cabled Marshall on the tenth that an attack on Japanese cities through...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 6 The Dynamics of Escalation
    (pp. 147-176)

    “You can’t hit a town like Cologne without its having a definite effect upon the morale of the entire German people,” said General H. H. Arnold in December 1942.¹ The Americans were not yet able to hit Cologne or any town in Germany, but many welcomed the British effort to do so without quarter and shared British illusions about its efficacy. In light of those illusions, it is clear that professional officers had difficulty viewing the air war any more realistically than did the general public. For a variety of reasons, including the role of strategic realities and perceptions, they...

  11. 7 The Sociology of Air War
    (pp. 177-218)

    Weeks after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the radical critic Dwight MacDonald attempted to characterize the mentality of the nation and people who built and used the atomic bombs. “Atomic bombs are the natural product of the kind of society we have created.They are as easy, normal and unforced an expression of the American Standard of Living as electric iceboxes…. Perhaps only among men like soldiers and scientists, trained to think ‘objectively’—i.e., in terms of means, not ends—could such irresponsibility and moral callousness be found.”¹ MacDonald’s characterization applied to the air force as well as to the Manhattan Project,...

  12. 8 The Sources of Technological Fanaticism
    (pp. 219-255)

    After November 1942, Lieutenant General Henry Harley Arnold ran the Army Air Forces from his office in the new Pentagon building. This labyrinthine structure, with its “narrow stairways that seemed to end in No Exit passageways suitable for disappearances of Alice’s white rabbit,” quickly came to symbolize the centralization of American military power. Whereas countless bureaus and commands previously had been scattered all about the Washington area, “‘The Pentagon thinks’ and ‘The Pentagon says’ soon became familiar in by-lined stories and ‘inside’ columns.”¹

    In time, and with reason, the Pentagon came to stand for something else. Its confusion of corridors...

  13. 9 The Triumphs of Technological Fanaticism
    (pp. 256-300)

    On December 18, 1944, Curtis LeMay’s 20th Bomber Command sent eighty-four B-29s loaded only with incendiaries to attack Hankow, a Chinese city serving as a base for Japanese operations. At the time, the raid seemed to LeMay and Arnold an annoying diversion from strategic operations against Japan. For months they had rejected Chennault’s requests to hit the city, acquiescing only when the Japanese threatened to drive deeper into China. But Arnold did not ignore the results of the raid, which fired residential districts as well as designated dock and warehouse areas. After the fact if not in intention, the raid...

  14. 10 The Persistence of Apocalyptic Fantasy
    (pp. 301-356)

    In the last week of May 1945, American bombers almost fulfilled an old fantasy about air power, that a catastrophic attack on an enemy’s capital would shock it into surrender. Like much else in the air war, success came about inadvertently. The fire raids against Tokyo on the nights of May 23–24 and 25–26 were designed to finish off the capital as an incendiary target and speed capitulation. But by now fire raids were almost routine, and nothing beyond scorching the remaining areas of Tokyo was expected. Five years of inconclusive bombing had deflated expectations for the terror...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 357-364)

    Today, few Americans know much about what happened at Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, and scores of other cities during World War II. The atomic bomb’s use against Japan—or rather, how people have chosen to remember and regard it—has largely obliterated awareness of the bomber’s earlier toll. In a longer view, however, continuity in the history of aerial warfare seems as striking as change. For all that 1945 demarcates the start of a second age in that history, indeed in human history, the burden of the atomic age has been similar to the one shouldered by an earlier generation.


  16. Abbreviations and Guide to Archival Sources
    (pp. 365-368)
  17. Sources and Notes
    (pp. 369-420)
  18. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 421-428)
  19. Index
    (pp. 429-435)