Summer Reading

The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

Bomber MafiaOne of the first names I had to memorize as part of my Doolie Knowledge at the Air Force Academy was that of Curtis E. LeMay, the then Air Force Chief of Staff but better known for his WWII exploits and later “father” of the Strategic Air Command. This book provides a fresh look at the culture in the Air Force in the period that led up to WWII. A key philosophy was that of precision bombing – the idea that the Air Force could selectively destroy key “chokepoints” and cripple the enemy into submission while achieving the idealist goal of minimizing loss of non-combatant lives and property. LeMay led many unsuccessful “precision” daylight raids into Germany and is perhaps best known for his abandoning that philosophy and instead using indiscriminate nighttime firebombing against Tokyo that was a major factor in Japan’s final surrender.

The fact was that the technology then available just wasn’t good enough to make precision bombing precise enough. Gladwell’s writing is up to his usual engaging way of explaining history and technology – here the Norden bombsight that the Air Force bomber command believed was good enough. Only many years later, in the 21st century, did we finally get the technology to enable true precision bombing.

Gladwell traces the evolution of the philosophy and the course of WWII as seen through the eyes of the Air Force generals trying to employ precision bombing in spite of criticism from our allies and the Navy and Army leaders.

In one section, Gladwell compares the cultures of the Air Force, Navy, and Army by describing the cadet chapels at their service academies. I was a doolie, first year cadet, at the Air Force Academy when the Cadet Chapel was dedicated and opened for services in 1963. Another piece of Doolie Knowledge – the 17 spires on the Chapel represent the 12 apostles and the 5 military chiefs of staff.

This book is a great read.

One Response

  1. I agree it is a great read. Rich in history that is little-known. I grow up an AF brat and my father ended his career with SAC. Curtis LeMay was a household name. But I never heard of Heywood Hansell.

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