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Why the U.S. Army Is Stuck in the 19th Century

Why the U.S. Army Is Stuck in the 19th Century

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A few commentators have already raised the obvious issues: that the USAF already provides essential enablers to the Army and Navy, rather than being obsessed with bombers and independent airpower; that neither the Army nor the Navy would be well suited to take over things like space launch and operations, or airlift; and that not much money would actually be saved without eliminating entire missions.

But Farley’s book makes a bigger argument: that the case for an independent air force is based on the false assertion that airpower can win wars on its own. In doing so, the book exemplifies a toxic, and irrational skepticism towards airpower, and only airpower, which pervades some military thinking.

The founding philosophers of independent airpower—Britain’s Lord Trenchard, America’s Billy Mitchell and Italy’s Giulio Douhet—shared a gut-level desire to avoid a repeat of World War 1. Their heirs, World War 2’s bomber generals, promised to defeat Germany and Japan from the air, almost unaided. This did not happen. So what? At best, it is a classic strawman argument to challenge 90-year-old claims that nobody asserts today.

But let’s dig a little deeper. Farley’s criterion for “winning” is whether airpower succeeds at “disarming the enemy”—a goal borrowed, with full and frequent credit, from the early 19th-century Prussian philosopher of war Carl von Clausewitz.

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