Ever heard the term “strategic bombing” and wondered what it meant? This cogent, readable history by Budiansky lays it out with all the context you need to understand this bizarre, fleeting dream: of war without fighting.
Imagine a war with no bloodbaths of opposing infantry. A war with almost no casualties, in which pinpoint strikes instantly cripple an enemy’s industrial capacity (or will) to wage war. A war ending virtually overnight in negotiated settlement, conceded by rational men because logistics rendered its outcome a foregone certainty. A war without bullets, disease, malice, or horror.
It’s easy to understand why this idea seduced idealists and military theorists alike before even powered flight was proven practical by the Wright Brothers. What’s harder to grasp is why it persisted the entire length of the 20th century, despite the nightmares of Guernica, the Blitz, Dresden, Hiroshima, and the Cold War’s inevitable doctrine of mutually-assured destruction. Budiansky follows the concept from its origin in the science-fiction of H.G. Wells, through the nuclear arms race and the second Gulf War.
Of course, you can’t really explain strategic bombing without discussing its perennially-neglected sibling, tactical air warfare. There’s plenty of good stuff about the role of Coningham’s RAF in the Battle of Britain (as it turns out, the bombers don’t always get through) as well as the hard-won (and promptly forgotten) lessons learned during WWII about close-air support, culminating in the air war of Vietnam, and that conflict’s embittered, prodigal son, the Fighter Mafia (whose championship of low-thrust-to-weight ratios led to a little ditty you may have heard of, the F-15).
Most importantly, this book’s aimed not at the airman, but the layman. You can easily digest its meaning and message even if you lack the slightest clue what I’m talking about. After all, I didn’t have a clue either, till I read it.
Damned good book.
Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas That Revolutionized War, from Kitty Hawk to Iraq